Gov. Hassan Rejects HB 591 (A Bill About Abusive Work Environments)

Maggie Hassan

CONCORD – Governor Maggie Hassan released the following message after vetoing HB 591 today:

“By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, Article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on July 28th, 2014, I vetoed House Bill 591, relative to an abusive work environment and the health and safety of public employees.

“In New Hampshire, our hard-working and skilled state employees consistently execute the responsibilities of state government with great competence and ability. They deserve our admiration and respect for their public service and should always be afforded, along with their private sector counterparts, the opportunity to work in a respectful and dignified environment.

“HB 591, while well-intentioned, contains a number of poorly defined and unworkable provisions that will inevitably lead to a dramatic increase in unwarranted workplace-related litigation which, in turn, will materially disrupt workplace supervision and hinder productivity within state agencies. The bill also attempts to legislate politeness, manners and the interpersonal relationships of co-workers. Ultimately, it would head us in a direction toward extending these onerous and unnecessary directives to our private sector business community, making our state an undesirable destination for expansion and economic development.

“The Attorney General, Commissioners and my office worked diligently with legislators and the State Employees Association and developed a reasonable compromise that would have served our employees well without greatly undermining the continuity and effectiveness of state government.

“However, the Senate ultimately rejected the compromise and instead elected to send an extremely flawed bill to my desk.

“Among its most onerous provisions, this legislation defines “abusive conduct” in a broad and unworkable manner based on an individual employee’s subjective perception, not on an unbiased objective standard. While I know it was not the intent of its sponsors, this bill, as written, may make the most routine workplace interactions – and the human give-and-take they entail – potential causes of action. Under this bill:

  • An individual may claim workplace abuse if an employee believes he or she has an “unreasonable” workload, even if it is a workload similar to their co-workers.
  • An individual may claim workplace abuse if his or her supervisor or co-worker uses language that “criticizes” the employee in public – even if the criticism is constructive, appropriate and done within the confines of the workplace.
  • An individual may claim workplace abuse if he or she feels his or her co-workers are not answering emails in a timely manner, and therefore “ignoring” a request for information or assistance. Given the workloads of employees, they are likely to have very different definitions of what amounts to a reasonable amount of time to respond to a non-urgent request.
  •  An individual may claim workplace abuse if a supervisor gives what the employee feels is “unreasonable criticism” outside of the typical evaluation process. Under the proposed legislation if an employee, for example, fills out the same form wrong every day, or returns late from a break every day, a supervisor who offers corrective guidance outside an annual review could be accused of bullying.
  • An individual may claim workplace abuse if a co-worker or a supervisor shows “constant and harsh displays of disrespect,” even though the legislation offers no guidance of what it means by “constant” or “harsh” or “disrespect.” For example, under this legislation, an employee would be able to claim abuse if a co-worker regularly failed to say hello in the morning.

“While many specious complaints would ultimately be dismissed by the courts, the state would still incur the time and expense of litigation. In addition, the specter of claims would create a culture of fear where supervisors are unable to manage, and a handful of employees could push their workloads onto their co-workers by filing bullying complaints.

“This bill also creates an entirely new – and expensive – system for addressing public employee complaints, without any funding to establish it. Under existing state rules, personnel complaints are expected to be made first to a supervisor and then through the agency head.

“In circumstances where employees are either uncomfortable making a complaint to their immediate supervisor or the complaint is about their immediate supervisor, existing rules also provide other avenues for redress for employees. In such cases, employees are also able to bring their complaints to other supervisors, their agency head, their human resources officers or the Division of Personnel.

“This bill effectively nullifies those standard lines of mediating workplace disputes.  In doing so, the legislation effectively ignores the fact that many instances of alleged “abusive conduct” under this legislation may not involve supervisors but instead involve co-workers. The bill would allow employees with complaints against a co-worker to circumvent the employee’s supervisor, who is often the very person best suited to address the concern.

“Under the current system, the Division of Personnel, which has limited resources, conducts investigations into sexual harassment, and some other serious cases of workplace misconduct. The Department of Labor has no experience, no expertise and no personnel for mediating such inter-personnel disputes. This legislation does not provide the Department with any funding or staff to take on this major new role. And, even if it did, HB 591 is silent on what the remedies might be, and what authority the department has to enforce a remedy.

“In proposing to enact this new set of policies, HB 591 ignores current remedies in place provided through existing personnel rules, existing administrative practices and the existing right to a private cause of action for those instances that are the most extreme in nature.

“I have additionally heard numerous concerns from the business community, including the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, which opposed the bill and are concerned about the impact of such provisions if extended to private sector employers statewide.  In addition to the fact that this legislation will hurt state government’s ability to effectively and efficiently manage its workforce, the possibility of its application to the private sector would be counter-productive to the efforts of our innovative businesses to grow and create good jobs.

“I believe a respectful workplace is important to ensure productivity and fairness to all of our state employees. In response to the concerns I heard from employees soon after I took office, I tasked the Division of Personnel with developing a new “Respect in the Workplace” training initiative aimed at promoting a respectful and civil work environment for the benefit of all employees. Administered through the Division of Personnel in conjunction with the Employee Assistance Program, the “Respect in the Workplace” initiative provides training for both employees and supervisors to ensure that we are providing a high-quality work environment.

“Every state employee should work in a safe and respectful environment and I remain willing to work with our employees to move forward to build on and improve on these efforts.

“This legislation, however, does not accomplish that goal. It would create an expensive and likely litigious system; would incite conflicts between co-workers; and would make it difficult for supervisors to reasonably and fairly manage employees, making state government less efficient and effective. This legislation is not funded, nor are the necessary positions authorized, to perform such significant new tasks. In addition, there are reasonable – and I believe better – approaches to addressing this issue, which I remain open to working with employees to accomplish. Therefore I have vetoed HB 591.”

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UPDATE:

The State Employees Association response to the veto message.

Rep. Jan Schmidt responds to the veto message.

Guest Column: The Age Of A Fractured Political System

ILWU - longshoremen union

Dr. Thomas J. Mackell, Jr.By Thomas J. Mackell, Jr., Ed.D.

This is an age of fractured jobs, a fractured economy, fractured families, a fractured political system, a terribly fractured American Dream and where the political protagonists, our elected leaders, are in need of spinal transplants.

The soon-to-retire greying generation is experiencing no pensions. Those pensions are promises that will not be kept, leaving thousands of employees in dire straits when they are most vulnerable. Roller-coaster retirement accounts subject to the whims of the market. Longer life spans and higher health care costs. Children in college. Young adults with staggering student-loan debt who are financially incapable of purchasing a home. Aging and ailing parents. A will to work but fewer jobs to be had.

America is dying for a champion who makes preserving the middle class a top priority. They want somebody who can level the playing field so that Main Street doesn’t always come second to Wall Street. Someone who is not running networks of oligarchs who take advantage of our weakened campaign finance laws to manipulate the democratic process in pursuit of their self-interests.

This is the scenario as we head into the 2014 Congressional elections with predictions that Republicans will hold the House of Representatives and, perhaps, gain control of the Senate.

If that happens, forget a Congress that looks out for the little guy.  In conjunction with a non-caring Congress, today, unfortunately, the concept of freedom has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for the rest of us. In reality, the 1 percent has undertaken a serious effort to buy elections.

At any kind of gathering whether it be at work or at home, Americans are expressing disappointment about the way things run in Washington. They don’t see them dealing with the multitude of problems facing our nation. Their approval rating is at an all-time low. Many citizens say they see no value in bothering to vote.

Clearly, the constant bickering between the Republicans and Democrats is wearing thin on Main Street and leads to a notion of false equivalency. The Pew Research Center says that Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the last two decades.

The GOP has done all it can to undercut the Obama presidency. Democrats had to fight back. The line is drawn in the sand which has resulted in blind allegiance or blind hatred.

But let’s put the blame where it belongs: on the Republican side of the aisle. The Republicans must end their internal civil war between the moderates and the Tea Party aficionados.

Recently, a number of the members of Congress who have announced their plans to retire have expressed their frustration with the cantankerous environment in Washington and their inability to get things done.

When even the pols start complaining, you know that things are really bad. If they can’t find solutions then we are, truly, in deep trouble.

Despite this horrendous dilemma, failing to vote surely will make things worse. We have a solemn obligation to go to the polls. Neglecting the most fundamental responsibility of citizenship invites complacency and encourages political abuse. Showing up on Election Day proves we are in the game, that we care and that we want to see change.

There are areas of this country where people have been removed from the ranks of eligible voters and GOP operatives are doing all they can to suppress participation by traditional Democratic constituencies.

Today, the American workplace is plagued with wage theft, disrespect of culture, pressure, unsafe environments, unbridled automation and more. Everything solid is melting into air. This should not be tolerated in modern America. We must vote our pocketbook to protect our livelihoods and our well-being.

We must encourage our union memberships, thoughtful young folks and retirees to go out on Election Day and exercise their right to vote. They must be engaged in their communities and serve as an example to those who might stay away. Staying home is not an option. It will only continue and calcify this dangerous divisiveness.

Dr. Thomas J. Mackell, Jr. is Senior Consultant to the International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO for political, legislative and public affairs.

Save The MET: Metropolitan Opera’s Management Threatens To Lock Out Workers

Save The Met IATSE 1

Save The Met IATSE 1Statement by Joe Hartnett, Assistant Dept. Director Stagecraft for I.A.T.S.E.

On Metropolitan Opera Management’s Threat to Lock out Performers and Backstage Employees

We want the show to go on. Our bargaining teams are very serious about hammering out an agreement with opera management. Several negotiating sessions have been scheduled over the next week. Management and their legal team have drawn red lines through our contracts, but seem to have very little understanding about what items cost or even how the opera functions backstage.  This has slowed contract talks.

A lockout would be an opera tragedy, likely resulting in a lost season and a long-term loss of operagoers and subscribers for years to come. A lockout would not only leave theater seats empty in Lincoln Center — it would result in movie theaters going dark around the globe where the Met is simulcast.

Most of all, a lockout would be an indication of management’s failure to manage productions and manage negotiations. We all should be working together to save the Met, not locking out artists and shuttering this opera house.

Joe Hartnett, I.A.T.S.E’s Assistant Department Director of Stagecraft, is coordinating negotiations for the six IA locals at the Metropolitan Opera.

Poultry Inspectors Union Calls for Public Review of USDA Outsourcing Plan

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AFGE Logo 2AFGE urges government to allow public comment on rule before enactment

WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees says the public should be allowed to review and comment on a U.S Department of Agriculture plan to overhaul the poultry inspection system before the rule takes effect.

By gran  [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)  Wiki Common

By gran [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) Wiki Common

USDA submitted a revised version of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget on July 10, seeking final review and approval. USDA officials have stated that “significant changes” have been made to the original proposed rule, which has been strongly criticized by AFGE and other labor and consumer groups, members of Congress, and other federal agencies.

USDA has refused to reveal what changes have been made to the proposal until the final rule is published in the Federal Register.

AFGE today sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Howard Shelanski, administrator of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, urging a full public review of the rule before it is finalized. Specifically, AFGE is calling on the agencies to publish the revised version of the proposed rule, open it up for a 120-day public comment period, and hold public meetings on the revised proposed rule.

“Considering the importance of this rule, stakeholders and the public should be given the opportunity to comment on the ‘significant changes’ made to the proposed rule before it is finalized,” AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten wrote.

The USDA plan, which was first proposed in January 2012, would remove most federal inspectors from the slaughter line and turn over inspection activities currently performed by federal inspectors to untrained employees hired by the poultry processing plants. The proposal also would allow plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute, meaning that the lone remaining federal inspector on the slaughter line will have one-third of one second to examine each chicken carcass for disease, infection and contamination.

“The USDA’s original plan has been roundly criticized as a blatant attempt to cut costs without regard to the serious ramifications on the health and safety of consumers and plant workers,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “The public has a right to see what changes USDA has made to its cost-cutting plan and be able to respond to the revised plan before any action is taken.”

The chief goal of the USDA’s plan has been to save money, not to increase safety for consumers or workers, Cox said. The plan as originally proposed would save USDA about $90 million over three years, while poultry plants would reap more than $250 million a year in profits from increasing line speeds, according to the agency’s own documents.

AFT Hails Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Law

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WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on President Obama’s signing of the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act:

“Career and technical education programs provide incredibly important pathways to success. The bipartisan bill that President Obama signed today extends the ladder of opportunity to middle-class Americans by providing the guidance, skills and training needed to compete for good 21st-century jobs. The law will help young people, the disabled, the long-term unemployed and those barely getting by on hourly wages to become economically self-sufficient.

“The workforce law provides a blueprint for the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act, which has been a lifeline for job training opportunities and focuses on career and technical education programs and collaborative partnerships among employers, communities, schools and labor. We hope that as Congress works on the Perkins reauthorization, it provides much-needed funding for guidance counselors, who can help students explore career options as they contemplate their futures.

“I have witnessed how great career and technical education high schools change lives, such as New York City’s Aviation High School; New York City’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech, which has IBM and the City College of New York as core partners; and the Toledo (Ohio) Technology Academy, whose partners include the United Auto Workers union. The Albert Shanker Institute and the AFT have been stalwart advocates of career and technical education programs, and we will continue our efforts to help high-quality CTE programs flourish to create innovative pathways to a high school diploma and college and career readiness.”

Labor of Love: How The American Labor Movement Is Securing LBGT Equality

Labor of Love
Labor of Love

From Left to Right : Amanda Terkel, Congressman Mark Takana, Roland Leggett, Kate Childs Graham, Cari Stevenson

“Labor has been fighting for LBGT rights for the last 30 years,” Carli Stevenson told the audience of the “Labor of Love” panel at Netroots Nation.  Carli is an openly gay woman who has done communications for multiple labor unions and is currently working with AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky Organizing Committee 962.

The basis of the panel was talking about the direct influence that labor unions played in fighting for the rights of our brothers and sisters in the LBGT community.  There is no doubt that labor played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, working to end segregation, and fighting for equality.  Let us never forget that the reason Dr. Martin Luther King was in Memphis, where he was assassinated, was to march with AFSCME sanitation workers.

It is no coincidence that labor has been a leader in pushing for the current civil rights battle, the battle for equality and LBGT rights.  Congressman Mark Takano told the audience that “2013 may have been the gay-est year in history.”  He also said that younger members of the LBGT community do not remember the struggles in the past and who was there to help the LBGT community continue to move forward.

It was people like Cesar Chavez, who as President of the United Farm Workers union was the “first major civil rights leader to support gay and lesbian issues visibly and explicitly.”  Chavez also led the “Second National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights” in 1987.

Congressman Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians elected to San Francisco City Council, helped the Teamsters organize a boycott of Coors in the mid ‘70s.  Milk organized the local gay bar owners to stop selling Coors while the Teamsters truck drivers were on strike.  In return, Milk asked the Teamsters to hire more gay and lesbian drivers.  The partnership was extremely successful, taking Coors from a 40% market share to 14% and ending the strike.

The United Auto Workers pushed equality forward.   “The UAW was the first union to get same sex couple benefits into labor contract,” said Roland Leggett, the Michigan State Director for Working America.  After the UAW successfully got domestic partner benefits into their contracts in 1982, more and more Fortune 500 companies started to adopt similar policies.  By 2006, 49% of all Fortune 500 companies offered domestic partner benefits.

“The patchwork of legal protections across the country underscores the reason why a union contract is an LGBT worker’s best friend,” wrote T Santora, Co-President of Pride At Work, in a 2009 article.

Labor was bold and progressive in their approach to get LBGT protections for all workers, and was right there to fight back when workers were being discriminated against.  Labor used their influence in State Houses and on Capitol Hill to push for same-sex marriage provisions and to pass provisions against worker discrimination.

Before becoming a politician, Congressman Takano was a public school teacher for over 20 years.  He talked about the importance of the partnership between the LBGT community and the teachers unions.  In 1978, they fought back against the Prop 6, the “Briggs Amendment” that would have “banned gays and lesbians from working in the California public schools.”

Together the labor movement and the LGBT community celebrated as the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.  This monumental decision is leading to the destruction of the anti-gay marriage provisions passed throughout the states.

 

Pushing To End LBGT Discrimination

From the beginning labor and the LBGT community have been working to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  However, after the Hobby Lobby decision, the “religious provisions” in ENDA took on an entirely new meaning.

The Supreme Court’s decision allows Hobby Lobby a “religious exemption” from a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act.  Within days of that ruling, “closely held corporations” and religious institutions wanted to use the religious exemption to discriminate against the LBGT community.  (Read the story “Hobby Lobby’s harvest: A religious exemption for LGBT discrimination?” from the LA Times)

Just as quickly as religious institutions began to file for the ability to discriminate, national gay rights advocacy groups began pulling their support for ENDA.

“While we fully support strong protections for LGBT workers in the workplace, something that for many workers is currently only afforded by a union contract, after the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, it is clear that these broad religious exemptions would gut the intent and purpose of ENDA,” said Pride at Work interim Executive Director, Jerame Davis, in a written statement. “LGBT workers deserve strong, enforceable workplace protections and we look forward to supporting a bill to that end.”

The current version of ENDA has a religious exemption clause that would allow the “closely held corporations” and religious institutions to openly discriminate against workers because they are gay.

Carli Stevenson laid out the perfect example at Netroots Nation, when she explained that her partner works for a Catholic organization.  If the administration learned that Carli’s partner was in a same sex relationship, she could be immediately fired, and unable to collect unemployment.   “We’re not just talking about marriage, we’re talking about basic workers’ rights. Many of these religious and ministerial exemptions are an attack on basic protections most of us take for granted.” Carli continued. “We should not be pushing for any bill that will leave out any members of our LBGT family.”

Congressman Takano said that the staff from the Equality Caucus is working on the right language to protect the workers and the religious beliefs of religious institutions.

Roland Leggett, whose husband is a Lutheran minister, talked about the how “religious exemptions have been used a way to discriminate against people throughout history.”  He continued by saying, “there is a difference between a baker who does not want to make a cake for a gay wedding, and being fired for being gay.”

Some of this anti-gay messaging comes from the Catholic Church.  Kate Childs Graham, who does media affairs for the American Federation of Teachers, was raised Catholic and said she is “hopeful that this new Pope will make changes to move the church towards marriage equality.”

 

Moving Forward

After a long and moving discussion about how labor unions helped to push for many of the rights and protections that the LBGT community now enjoys, it was Kate Childs Graham who posed a question to the audience: “What can the LBGT community do to help labor?”

For decades, labor unions have seen a slow decline in membership and less of the private sector is covered by union contracts.  Over the past few years, labor unions have seen unprecedented attacks on workers rights.

Kate talked about the recent fight in Michigan, where Republican Governor Rick Snyder forced a “Right To Work (for less)” amendment through the state Legislature.  While that was happening, Kate talked to some of her friends at Equality Michigan, and asked for their help organizing people to rally against the legislation.  Without skipping a beat, Equality Michigan helped to gather hundreds of the LBGT community to a rally less than a week later.

In the 1970s when “gay rights” was a relatively new term, labor was there. Now these LBGT advocacy groups are very well organized, and very powerful.  Labor needs them to help push for better wages and better working conditions.  We need the LGBT community to help us push for a higher minimum wage.  We need the LBGT community to help us as we are organizing low-wage workers and restaurant workers.  We need the LBGT community to help us push for a single payer healthcare system. Sometimes, we just need people to stand with us at rallies. That is what the LBGT community can do for labor.

 

Closing Note

I have been running the New Hampshire Labor News for almost three years now.  My work has connected me with some wonderful people from around the country.  Many of the communications professionals inside the labor movement are gay.  They are some of the funniest, creative, and most dedicated people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  I wanted to personally thank my friend Asher Huey (AFT Digital Media) for putting this panel together.  I also want to congratulate all the people who participated in this panel, and especially my friend, and fellow Granite Stater, Carli Stevenson, who plans on being married to the love of her life in 2016!

 

July 19, 1848

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The first ever women’s rights convention convenes in Seneca Falls, New York, with almost 200 women in attendance, calling for equal rights and suffrage. A local newspaper’s response: “This bolt is the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity. If our ladies will insist on voting and legislating, where, gentlemen, will be our dinners and our elbows? Where our domestic firesides and the holes in our stockings?”

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July 18, 1969

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A 113-day strike by hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina ends. In March, after two years of local organizing efforts, the workers established the first hospital union branch in the country, Local 1199B of the National Health Care Workers’ Union, and went on strike over discriminatory practices, unequal pay, institutional harassment, and widespread racism.

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