MTA president testifies in support of legislation requiring public employers to address bullying in the workplace

MTA President Barbara Madeloni joined other educators and public employees in testifying in support of House Bill 1728, An Act Prohibiting Bullying of Public Employees. The bill requires employers to address any bullying that occurs in the workplace. The hearing took place July 21 before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Here is Madeloni’s testimony:

Good afternoon, Chairs Wolf, Scibak and members of the committee. I am Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. On behalf of our 110,000 members — preK-through-12 teachers and staff at our public schools, and faculty and staff at our community colleges, state universities and UMass — I want to go on record in support of H.1728, MTA priority legislation to prohibit the bullying of public employees.

The MTA also supports H.1771, a bill to address workplace bullying. H.1728 is newly filed this year and applies only to public employees, including public school teachers and staff, faculty and staff at our public higher education institutions and all other public employees.

Bullying is usually defined as intentionally inflicting pain or distress, subjecting the target to threatening, humiliating or intimidating conduct, or involving the repeated use of derogatory remarks or insults, or the intentional sabotaging or undermining of the employee’s work performance, causing the employee physical or psychological harm.

“There is nothing normal, routine or acceptable about bullying. This applies to adults and children alike.”

Bullying is real, pervasive and devastating, not only to the individual who has been targeted but to the school or agency that harbors bullies. Productivity, morale, creativity and teamwork, among other things, suffer when bullying is allowed, and the costs are high. Perhaps most alarming and destructive is the loss of talented and experienced employees who are driven out of their jobs because bullying is not curtailed.

H.1728 requires public employers to address bullying in the workplace. This is critical because as things stand now, the target of a bully has no recourse unless he or she is a member of a protected class and can show that the bullying was discrimination or harassment based on the protected class. Since most employers refuse to do anything to stop bullies, in most cases a target can do nothing but leave the job when bullying is destroying his or her physical or mental health.

The MTA supported the school bullying law, and we want to thank House Chair Scibak for his work to protect students and create safe and healthy schools. As we work to implement that new law, it’s clear that in order to ensure safe and healthy learning environments for students, similar protections are needed for teachers and other school staff.

Just as we learned about the bullying of students, the first step is recognizing that bullying is not harmless or “just part of growing up.” There is nothing normal, routine or acceptable about bullying. This applies to adults and children alike.

The second step is doing something about it. The student bullying law requires the school district to protect students by establishing a safe school environment that prevents bullying and by setting up a process that addresses bullying when it occurs. H.1728 has a similar structure: It requires the employer to ensure that employees are not subject to an abusive or hostile work environment, and it requires the employer to take actions to prevent bullying and to address bullying when it happens.

Today you will hear about the bullying of adults in our schools and colleges and across local and state government. There probably isn’t more bullying in the public sector than in the private — but we know that bullying in our schools and colleges is hurting our public institutions and our public employees. The public sector should lead the way in being a model of safe and healthy working conditions. We already have a developing model for a workplace bullying policy at UMass Amherst, which came about when the unions, tired of filing grievances for bullying that were never resolved, surveyed employees: Thirty-eight percent had been bullied and 60 percent had witnessed bullying in the workplace. The UMass administration, shocked by the overwhelming response, helped set up training for all employees and established a process to resolve bullying incidents.

No one should have to leave a job or give up a career due to bullying. Many European nations, including Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden, along with Canada and some states in Australia, have recognized the obligation of employers to protect employees against bullying. We can and should lead our nation on this important issue.

Please be bold and compassionate. Your action in support of H.1728 will give hope to thousands of public employees across the Commonwealth.

Thank you.

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