Honoring the efforts of Matos
Graciano Matos spoke about the harmful effects of workplace bullying at a PSC event in the Fall of 2019. The anti-bullying efforts of Matos, who passed away this summer, will be honored through the work of the PSC Anti-Bullying Committee. (Photo Credit: Dave Sanders.)
Building on the legacy of PSC anti-bullying advocate Graciano Matos (1948–2021), who worked as a laboratory hygiene officer at City College, PSC members are pushing CUNY to adopt more stringent measures targeting bullying in the workplace, a scourge prevalent in academia that has been exasperated by the pandemic. PSC advocates against bullying honored Matos by rededicating themselves to the fight to end workplace bullying at CUNY.
One key goal of the PSC Anti-Bullying Committee is to establish labor-relations policies that ensure employees are supported and fairly represented when raising complaints about workplace bullying, which is defined as the repetitive, unwarranted, and harmful mistreatment of a colleague.
Presently at CUNY, there are no institutional mechanisms to deal with these grievances. “Members are telling us that is unfair, unjust. HR is not impartial. They are not on the employee side. They are there to protect management,” Amy Jeu, a member of the PSC Anti-Bullying Committee and a College Laboratory Technician at Hunter College, told Clarion.
“From the membership’s perspective, if we want to address workplace bullying, we need processes that are just and equitable, transparent [and] accountable,” added Jeu.
The PSC has fought for antibullying legislation and contract language, including proposing anti-bullying procedures during bargaining for the 2017–2023 PSC-CUNY contract. Although the language was ultimately rejected, Matos and other anti-bullying advocates continued to work to reform CUNY.
“We are pushing the union to push the chancellor to do something about this. We are pushing for anti-bullying language to be included in the next contract,” Matos said in a pre-recorded presentation on workplace bullying shown during the tribute organized by PSC members on October 18, Matos’s birthday.
Tackling bullying at CUNY is urgent. Bullying and mobbing – when groups target a person for ridicule, humiliation and removal from the workplace – are prevalent in academia. According to a survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 23% of those who work in education experience bullying. Although those in health care reported the highest rates of bullying at 27%, incidences of mobbing and the duration of bullying were reported to be greater in higher education than in any other industry, the survey found.
The PSC’s own findings are similar: 22% of respondents to the PSC’s 2017 membership survey (1,637 people) reported having experienced bullying or harassment on the job. More than 70% of these respondents reported a hostile work environment, and a third of those respondents said they encountered “threatening behavior.”
Workplace harassment undermines CUNY’s mission to provide a first-rate public education to all, regardless of means or background, according to Nichole McDaniel, a an associate professor of biological sciences at Bronx Community College who wrote a report on the topic. Since bullying targets otherness, said McDaniel, it thwarts efforts to increase diversity, affecting productivity and innovation and ultimately harms students.
For workers, the consequences of workplace bullying are often devastating. According to a fact sheet on bullying put out by the New York State United Teachers, the PSC’s state-level affiliate, research found that workers exhibit symptoms similar to those of soldiers returning from combat. Bullied workers often end up leaving their jobs involuntarily because the situation is so demoralizing and stressful.
The pandemic has multiplied these problems. “Conditions of austerity and institutional poverty are likely to increase the incidence of workplace harassment and bullying, as supervisors are put under increasing pressure to do more with less and colleagues are put in the position of competing for scarce resources,” noted the District Assembly resolution that established the PSC Anti-Bullying Committee in December 2020.
“We certainly feel that the stress and the bullying have gone up,” said Jeu, “exacerbated by the pandemic.”
In July, the PSC Executive Council approved a community norms and practices statement to promote “a work environment that is respectful and free from discrimination, harassment or bullying of any individual regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender or gender expression, age, sexual orientation, disability, ancestry, class or any other salient identity, protected or otherwise.”
The document stresses the importance of becoming an “upstander” as opposed to being a bystander. An upstander is ready for “speaking, intervening, or acting on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.” The committee also made resources about bullying available for employees to learn how to identify and act against it.
After Matos’s passing on June 13, the PSC Delegate Assembly agreed to hold the Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week annually to raise awareness about the problem. It is often the case that the target of bullying behavior does not even know that they are being bullied and may tend to blame themselves.
“I didn’t know I was a target of bullying until I heard someone speaking about this,” Matos said in the pre-recorded presentation, adding that hearing someone else talk about their own experience was an inspiration to stand up and to do the right thing. “To know that you are a target is liberating. You start saying you are not afraid.”