OccupyWorkPlace Speech by Denise Romano Washington Square Park GA

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 today
about Direct Action
and labor issues.
Point of Information
and especially
in case my disability company sees this speech;
I have taken a special medicine today
to help me speak to you.
I can’t take it often.
The Occupy Wall Street Declaration
mentions labor issues
in several different ways.
Before I get to Direct Action-
A short teach-in
about 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 library

or visit my blog-
where much of it is posted for free
I will be donating a copy of my book
to the Zuccotti Park library
and also here
if a library is established
I 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 professionals
in private companies
in government workplaces
in academia
in non-profits
Many 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 ARE
and ARE NOT.
We are not taught our workplace rights in school.
We are not taught Labor History in school.
By law,
workplaces are required
to post laws
so employees can understand them
When I worked & studied at Columbia University
they were posted
on a yellowed crumpled piece of paper
on the back of a door;
this is not unusual,
and it’s unacceptable.
Education is the first step.
Our labor history
is a rich history.
Many people suffered and died
so we could have
the 8 hour workday
weekends
child labor laws
health insurance
workers comp
paid sick leave
and other rights we now enjoy
I call on you to Educate yourselves-
your coworkers, your family & your friends
about your workplace rights
and responsibilites.
When we demand zero harassment
we must not engage in harassment
When we demand zero discrimination
we must not engage in discrimination
When we demand zero retaliation,
we must not engage in retaliation
When we demand zero bullying,
we must not engage in bullying
This means we must understand
WHAT those things are
so we understand
how NOT to do them
If your workplace
doesn’t train all employees about these things,
Ask them to do so.
It is their legal responsibility
to PREVENT
harassment, discrimination and retaliation
Unfortunately,
Workplace bullying is legal in the US
This means it is legal
for employees to be harassed and mistreated
UNLESS they are mistreated BECAUSE OF
race gender color disability religion age etc
This is not only unacceptable –
It is also unwise.
We have troops coming home
who have invisible disabilites.
Many disabilities are invisible;
PTSD is invisible.
My disabilities are invisible
unless I’m coughing badly
or if I don’t have my walker.
Many workplaces have employees-
who for various reasons-
think it is fun to bully and harass others
who are different from themselves in some way.
Most of us know
This is immature unnaceptable behavior.
Most of us have experienced this
or witnessed this.
One direct action you can take
is to Speak UP
if 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 this
you want a training to address this
you 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 states
that have grassroots movements
to make workplace bullying unlawful.
Direct Action in workplaces
can be frightening-
and for good reason.
US Labor Laws are insufficient.
Unfortunately it is true
that many employees who speak up at work
and make legitimate complaints
despite laws that are supposed to protect us
wind up being disciplined or fired.
Unfortunately it is true
that US labor laws
when compared
to the labor laws in other first-world nations
are insufficient.
We are NOT okay with this!
We can and we must
demand better laws
and demand that existing laws
be fully enforced.
Here are some direct actions
that I have taken
and that I ask you to consider taking:
They have varying levels of risk
so choose what is best for you.
Sign a petition atChange.org (http://chn.ge/bO31L8)
to let the President and your congresspeople know
that you demand that US labor laws be enforced.
You can do this with a few clicks.
It states that currently most workplaces
consider labor laws to be optional.
Employers know
that most employees
don’t know their labor rights
don’t know about complex complaint procedures
and don’t know about important time limits
crucial to filing complaints
and getting justice.
Employers know
that most employees cannot afford an attorney
and that it is very rare
for lawyers to take cases on contingency.
Employers know
that most employees are a few paychecks away
from homelessness
and will sign a gag order
for money they desperately need
if they are fired for making legitimate complaints
What they do NOT know
is that we will NO LONGER accept this
We WILL educate ourselves
our co-workers
our friends and family members
and we WILL take direct action.
We will demand that our workplaces
provide trainings that address
harassment
discrimination
retaliation
safety
 and bullying.
Even though workplace bullying
is legal in every state,
smart workplaces create policies
that make it unacceptable.
We will demand that US labor laws
be enforced in workplaces-
-that instead of disciplining and firing
employees who make legitimate complaints-

We demand that workplaces

PREVENT violations of labor laws

 We demand
that workplaces discipline and fire
those who harass, discriminate, and retaliate-
even if they are in positions of authority
even if they are the top salesperson
even if they have tenure
even if they are famous.
You would think you could do this safely
in the US-
exercise your freedom of speech at work
Think again.
We have to do this very carefully.
One safe way to do this
so you do not get retaliated against
or disciplined or fired-
is to print out one of the pages on my blog
and slip it in the mailbox of your HR person or boss
There are pages on my blog that address them directly 
Another direct action you might take
is to get involved
in the grassroots movement in your state
to make workplace bullying unlawful.
Another direct action you might take
Is to talk to your union
if you have one.
If you don’t have a union,
consider trying to get one
or
just educate yourselves and coworkers.
Another direct action you might take
is to make legitimate complaints at work
in groups.
It is safer to complain in a group than alone.
Keep in mind
your complaint must be true.
Try using the communication tools
we’ve learned at General Assembly
to get consensus on a written statement
a group of you can sign.
If you only witness harassment or discrimination
but it hasn’t happened to you,
you can still complain about it-
and I hope you will.
We must remember
those who harass and discriminate and retaliate
are often clever.
They know better than to say or write
“I’m firing you because
of 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 complain
to be diplomatic,
gracious,
direct and professional.
Write it down.
Make it easy on yourself
There are sample memos on my website-
feel free to use them.
I know from experience it is very difficult
to think clearly enough
to write an effective memo
when you’re being harassed.
I encourage you all
to stand in solidarity
with each other at work
and with all workers
in the US and in the world.
Do not isolate or fear
those employees who complain;
they need your support
they need your solidarity.
I encourage you all
to not take sides
in workplace issues
if you don’t have the facts.
Get the facts
whenever you can.
Many times,
workplaces will say
that someone is incompetent
as a way of retaliating against them
because they’ve made legitimate complaints.
Get the facts as much as you can
before you give your solidarity
against someone
If your workplace or manager
wants you to sit through
a lecture or video
about why unions are not a good idea
consider reporting your employer
to your state Attorney General
for union-busting.
Please think about
where the things you buy are made.
Please learn about
slave labor around the world.
Please consider
boycotting goods made in China
or sold at companies in the US
that have rampant abuses of labor laws
e.g. Wal-Mart 
If you are unemployed,
there is a link on my blog
with job-search resources.
If you have experienced
harassment
discrimination
retaliation
bullying
unsafe working conditions
union-busting –
You can tell your story
on my blog-
sometimes telling the truth can help.
The more we speak up and tell the truth
about this epidemic
the less they will be able to get away with it
Labor Rights are Human Rights
Labor Issues are Political Issues
Think before you vote-
There are serious consequences
to voting-
and not voting.
People died so we could vote
Just as there is a serious problem
in the American Justice System
and some get harsh sentences or the death penalty
while others go free –

The same kind of thing happens

in US workplaces.

Those in high-level positions
are often let off the hook
or protected from discipline or firing –
while the rest of us
are laid off, disciplined or fired
even when we’ve done nothing wrong.
What happened to Shirley Sherrod
happens every day to millions of American workers
But they have no recourse.
We Are All Shirley Sherrod!
We are All Troy Davis!
We are All Scott Olsen!
I stand in solidarity
with anyone and everyone
who works for a living
all over the world
and who protests peacefully
and practices freedom of speech
and freedom of assembly
I hope you all will, too.
Thank you.
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About Sharon Wachsler

Sharon Wachsler divides her time between writing, activism, and dog training — passions that overlap. Sharon has been a freelance writer and editor of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for two decades, focusing primarily on lesbian erotica, disability rights and culture, humor, and service dogs and their training.
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