Taking the Lead Against Workplace Bullying

May 2014

Who is the most likely target for bullying in the workplace? Unlike the weaker, outcast kids who get picked on by schoolyard bullies, it’s often the most competent and well-liked workers who get singled out by workplace bullies. Less surprising for UNAC/UHCP members: health care is one of two settings, along with education, where bullying is most prevalent. Most of us have probably seen or experienced it, whether from management, member-to-member or patient families. It can be devastating to the health and careers of targets. These are all reasons that UNAC/UHCP has stepped up to lead on this issue.

A team of UNAC/UHCP state officers, staff, affiliate officers, stewards and contract specialists received three days of training in February. In the coming months the group will continue to meet, with the goal of becoming an anti-bullying resource team for the union. The training came from Dr. Gary Namie, whose wife Dr. Ruth Namie was targeted in 1996 while she was employed as a Kaiser social worker in Northern California. The couple founded the Workplace Bullying Institute to fill a resource and research vacuum in the United States and to spearhead legislation against workplace bullying. Every other Western industrialized democracy besides the US has passed such laws.

As Union activists, we’re specially qualified to tackle workplace bullies. Often, targets become isolated. Fearful co-workers distance themselves or even join in. But we know the power of solidarity. We’re used to acting collectively against unjust conditions to protect ourselves and our patients. Already members of the team have been able to put the training to work. When nurses at one affiliate learned a nurse they were training in their unit had more seniority, they tried to bully her into failure. Their Staff Rep intervened. He appealed to their solidarity and fairness to turn it around. Another team member helped SPNN nurses demoralized by a bully supervisor when he explained that their strength and competency had made them a target. A hostile work environment grievance got the supervisor reassigned. Workplace bullying is a widespread and difficult issue, and it won’t be conquered overnight, but UNAC/UHCP is committed to taking it on. We’ve also joined with other unions to fight workplace violence against health care workers. A UNAC/UHCP team traveled to Sacramento recently to testify to Cal/OSHA in support of an initiative called the California Safe Standard.

To learn more: workplacebullying.org and safecarestandard.org.