Many thanks to Denise Romano for allowing us to cross-post this speech. The original post can be found at her blog, Workplace Credible Activist, along with a lot of of other great information for workers and people who care about all workers’ rights — in the United States and internationally. Some of it might surprise you. Some of it might help you. Some of it might help you help your fellow human beings (and the planet).
Speech at #OccupyWashingtonSquarePark on 11/28/11 at 7pm General Assembly (audio for this will be added soon):
My name is Denise Romano
I have trouble speaking –because of disabilities.If I can’t speak at some point –someone here will help.I might start coughing.I’m not contagious or choking.It’s just what my body does.I am going to talk to you todayabout Direct Actionand labor issues.Point of Informationand especiallyin case my disability company sees this speech;I have taken a special medicine todayto help me speak to you.I can’t take it often.The Occupy Wall Street Declarationmentions labor issuesin several different ways.Before I get to Direct Action-A short teach-inabout workplace issues and your rights:If you have questions after this,see my blog or ask me after this.Point of Information:I am a workplace expert-a former whistleblower-a former Human Resources Director-and an author on labor issues.I am not here to sell books-In fact, don’t buy my book.
Get it at a libraryor visit my blog-where much of it is posted for freeI will be donating a copy of my bookto the Zuccotti Park libraryand also hereif a library is establishedI wrote it for Human Resource professionals-to help them when they are pressured to violate labor laws-which is an epidemic in US Workplaces.This happens every day to millions of HR professionalsin private companiesin government workplacesin academiain non-profitsMany times employees think-their Human Resources people at work-are not to be trusted.That might or might not be true.Keep in mind-they are employees like you-and are also part of the 99%.Most HR professionals-are pressured daily-to violate labor laws.This is not okay with us!I call upon you all-to Occupy Your Workplace!What does this mean?This means:Understand what your rights AREand ARE NOT.We are not taught our workplace rights in school.We are not taught Labor History in school.By law,workplaces are requiredto post lawsso employees can understand themWhen I worked & studied at Columbia Universitythey were postedon a yellowed crumpled piece of paperon the back of a door;this is not unusual,and it’s unacceptable.Education is the first step.Our labor historyis a rich history.Many people suffered and diedso we could havethe 8 hour workdayweekendschild labor lawshealth insuranceworkers comppaid sick leaveand other rights we now enjoyI call on you to Educate yourselves-your coworkers, your family & your friendsabout your workplace rightsand responsibilites.When we demand zero harassmentwe must not engage in harassmentWhen we demand zero discriminationwe must not engage in discriminationWhen we demand zero retaliation,we must not engage in retaliationWhen we demand zero bullying,we must not engage in bullyingThis means we must understandWHAT those things areso we understandhow NOT to do themIf your workplacedoesn’t train all employees about these things,Ask them to do so.It is their legal responsibilityto PREVENTharassment, discrimination and retaliationUnfortunately,Workplace bullying is legal in the USThis means it is legalfor employees to be harassed and mistreatedUNLESS they are mistreated BECAUSE OFrace gender color disability religion age etcThis is not only unacceptable –It is also unwise.We have troops coming homewho have invisible disabilites.Many disabilities are invisible;PTSD is invisible.My disabilities are invisibleunless I’m coughing badlyor if I don’t have my walker.Many workplaces have employees-who for various reasons-think it is fun to bully and harass otherswho are different from themselves in some way.Most of us knowThis is immature unnaceptable behavior.Most of us have experienced thisor witnessed this.One direct action you can takeis to Speak UPif you witness this kind of thing.It might make you nervous to do so-Please consider doing it anyway.There are different ways to do it.I’ll get to that.Tell your HR person or boss:you want a policy to prevent thisyou want a training to address thisyou want all harassment and bullying stop.If you don’t want to say so directly,slip this speech under their door-you can get it on my blog tomorrow.There are more than 12 statesthat have grassroots movementsto make workplace bullying unlawful.Direct Action in workplacescan be frightening-and for good reason.US Labor Laws are insufficient.Unfortunately it is truethat many employees who speak up at workand make legitimate complaintsdespite laws that are supposed to protect uswind up being disciplined or fired.Unfortunately it is truethat US labor lawswhen comparedto the labor laws in other first-world nationsare insufficient.We are NOT okay with this!We can and we mustdemand better lawsand demand that existing lawsbe fully enforced.Here are some direct actionsthat I have takenand that I ask you to consider taking:They have varying levels of riskso choose what is best for you.to let the President and your congresspeople knowthat you demand that US labor laws be enforced.You can do this with a few clicks.It states that currently most workplacesconsider labor laws to be optional.Employers knowthat most employeesdon’t know their labor rightsdon’t know about complex complaint proceduresand don’t know about important time limitscrucial to filing complaintsand getting justice.Employers knowthat most employees cannot afford an attorneyand that it is very rarefor lawyers to take cases on contingency.Employers knowthat most employees are a few paychecks awayfrom homelessnessand will sign a gag orderfor money they desperately needif they are fired for making legitimate complaintsWhat they do NOT knowis that we will NO LONGER accept thisWe WILL educate ourselvesour co-workersour friends and family membersand we WILL take direct action.We will demand that our workplacesprovide trainings that addressharassmentdiscriminationretaliationsafetyand bullying.Even though workplace bullyingis legal in every state,smart workplaces create policiesthat make it unacceptable.We will demand that US labor lawsbe enforced in workplaces--that instead of disciplining and firingemployees who make legitimate complaints-
We demand that workplaces
PREVENT violations of labor lawsWe demandthat workplaces discipline and firethose who harass, discriminate, and retaliate-even if they are in positions of authorityeven if they are the top salespersoneven if they have tenureeven if they are famous.You would think you could do this safelyin the US-exercise your freedom of speech at workThink again.We have to do this very carefully.One safe way to do thisso you do not get retaliated againstor disciplined or fired-is to print out one of the pages on my blogand slip it in the mailbox of your HR person or bossThere are pages on my blog that address them directlyAnother direct action you might takeis to get involvedin the grassroots movement in your stateto make workplace bullying unlawful.Another direct action you might takeIs to talk to your unionif you have one.If you don’t have a union,consider trying to get oneorjust educate yourselves and coworkers.Another direct action you might takeis to make legitimate complaints at workin groups.It is safer to complain in a group than alone.Keep in mindyour complaint must be true.Try using the communication toolswe’ve learned at General Assemblyto get consensus on a written statementa group of you can sign.If you only witness harassment or discriminationbut it hasn’t happened to you,you can still complain about it-and I hope you will.We must rememberthose who harass and discriminate and retaliateare often clever.They know better than to say or write“I’m firing you becauseof your race or gender or disability or age”But we are also clever-And we will NOT accept violations of labor laws.I encourage you all-when you complainto be diplomatic,gracious,direct and professional.Write it down.Make it easy on yourselfThere are sample memos on my website-feel free to use them.I know from experience it is very difficultto think clearly enoughto write an effective memowhen you’re being harassed.I encourage you allto stand in solidaritywith each other at workand with all workersin the US and in the world.Do not isolate or fearthose employees who complain;they need your supportthey need your solidarity.I encourage you allto not take sidesin workplace issuesif you don’t have the facts.Get the factswhenever you can.Many times,workplaces will saythat someone is incompetentas a way of retaliating against thembecause they’ve made legitimate complaints.Get the facts as much as you canbefore you give your solidarityagainst someoneIf your workplace or managerwants you to sit througha lecture or videoabout why unions are not a good ideaconsider reporting your employerto your state Attorney Generalfor union-busting.Please think aboutwhere the things you buy are made.Please learn aboutslave labor around the world.Please considerboycotting goods made in Chinaor sold at companies in the USthat have rampant abuses of labor lawse.g. Wal-MartIf you are unemployed,there is a link on my blogwith job-search resources.If you have experiencedharassmentdiscriminationretaliationbullyingunsafe working conditionsunion-busting –You can tell your storyon my blog-sometimes telling the truth can help.The more we speak up and tell the truthabout this epidemicthe less they will be able to get away with itLabor Rights are Human RightsLabor Issues are Political IssuesThink before you vote-There are serious consequencesto voting-and not voting.People died so we could voteJust as there is a serious problemin the American Justice Systemand some get harsh sentences or the death penaltywhile others go free –
The same kind of thing happens
in US workplaces.Those in high-level positionsare often let off the hookor protected from discipline or firing –while the rest of usare laid off, disciplined or firedeven when we’ve done nothing wrong.What happened to Shirley Sherrodhappens every day to millions of American workersBut they have no recourse.We Are All Shirley Sherrod!We are All Troy Davis!We are All Scott Olsen!I stand in solidaritywith anyone and everyonewho works for a livingall over the worldand who protests peacefullyand practices freedom of speechand freedom of assemblyI hope you all will, too.Thank you.