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E-M:/ "WORKPLACE MOBSTERS": Scenes from a Local Environmental Health agency in Michigan.



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Enviro-Mich message from joonmck <joonmck@gateway.net>
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Dear EMers, 

Dateline: Hades, Michigan. There is a local governmental health agency
in Michigan where THREE, count'em THREE environmental workers are
currently being MOBBED. There was a FOURTH ONE, but he just took early
retirement. Thank God! Over the past several years these four
individuals have suffered untold amounts of emotional abuse. None of the
individual cases are related to one another except for one fundamental
element: each employee challenged authority by expressing a point of
view that differed from the health (and environmental) administration. 

After a precipitating incident on the part of each worker (see below),
the victim was quickly branded by management as a having exhibited
"strange" and "bazaar" behavior. Rumors flashed throughout the
organization that the scarlet-lettered dissident might join the others
and go "GO POSTAL" at any time. Each of the four was shackled with a
slander that would be difficult to remove: "potentially homicidal." Each
worker was, in turn, soon shunned by the vast body of the organization.
Some were pressured into seeing a therapist to verify their sanity (or
propensity to commit violence). (After a humiliating screening none were
found to be a violence threat.) This was (AND STILL IS) a deep
humiliation to these mothers and fathers who have seven children between
them. What makes it more difficult is the fact that these administrative
calumnies are openly abetted by several of their fellow UNIONIZED
employees, who eagerly spread the lies and innuendoes. 

Sadly, I am not making this up. (To protect all involved workers I shall
not name the organization nor the four people involved). What does it
feel like to be in this work environment? Remember the McCarthy
witch-hunts? Remember Author Miller's The Crucible?" Well, my dear
fellow environmentalists, the crucible is alive and well in Hades
Michigan.   

The environmentalists' chief infraction? Standing up to management lies,
deceits and unprofessional behavior (the subject of a future posting).
And, for one of them, at least, the charge was failing to complete a
product on time, a product that advocated for the community right to
know about toxins in the local environment, rather than sweeping them
under the rug. "If you even tell one soul [about the report that
management buried], you will suffer serious discipline," one employee
was told. 

Now I ask you, the reader, what are the odds that this organization of
about 200 workers has had FOUR people about who are likely to appear one
morning at work, armed to the teeth, ready to reenact the horrors of
Columbine?

I'll tell you. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace
violence against bosses or co-workers accounts for only about 4% of the
about 1,000 people a year who are killed at the worksite. 

That's only 40 or 50 people in the entire United States! 

If we take the conservative view that there was one killer for one
victim, that means that there were about 50 individuals who "went
postal" last year. If we divide that by the number of U.S. employees
(about 110,000,000 or so), we discover that the odds of that any one of
us is likely to "go postal" is about 0.0000045%. Somebody with a better
math background will have to calculate the odds that 4 of those 50
individuals WORKS AT THE SAME PLACE. 

This would be amusing if it wasn't so devastating to the four individual
environmentalists (and their families) who work at this local
governmental (& environmental) institution. Depression, pneumonia, flus,
hypertension and a host of other maladies have befriended these workers.
Former friends are now silent, which hurts so much the more. 

For an overall (rational) discussion of workplace violence I refer you
to the AFSCME fact sheet on "Workplace violence" statistics (and
prevention): 

http://www.afscme.org/health/faq-viol.htm

Although the press focuses on "postal worker-type violence," where a
berserk worker kills his supervisor or co-workers, such
"worker-on-worker" violence makes up only about 40 to 504% of all
workplace homicides. The rest are the result of robberies, or assaults
by residents, patients or customers against workers.

But that is not stopping management at this particular local Michigan
governmental department from cavalierly branding a person as likely to
commit violence and then refusing to intervene when that person's
reputation is ripped to shreds within the organization. What's worse,
the UNION LEADERSHIP, (DESPITE ITS GOOD WILL AND CONCERN), has remained
powerless to do much other that telling the workers to lay low, not to
antagonize management, and maybe look for another job. 
You see, there are no good statutes on the books to protect us from
administrative abuses like this. (HINT, HINT).

At the same time, there seems to be a tendency for Michigan management
(and U.S. bosses in general) to "go Soviet" in their techniques to
discipline labor. A recent edition of "Labor Notes" has a good article
detailing this phenomenon. Much of what I've described here at a local
governmental body is also found on the assembly line. " As the article
puts it, "Dissidents Find Their Sanity Questioned Ford Uses Shrinks
Instead of Thugs," Read about it yourself at:

http://www.labornotes.org/archives/2000/1200/1200b.html

What a country!

Again, for those of you out there who are experiencing this and seek
relief, I suggest you buy a copy of:  "MOBBING: Emotional Abuse in the
American Workplace" by Noa Davenport Ph.D., (an anthropologist)  Ruth
Distler Schwartz, and Gail Pursell. Again, I'll declare that OPRAH
WINFREY MUST BE MADE AWARE OF THIS BOOK!

Please go to the following websites to get detailed information:

http://www.mobbing-usa.com/Book.htm
http://mobbing-usa.com/Main.htm
www.leymann.se
http://www.bullybusters.org/
http://www.wage.org/doc/text/12mob.html

In the wake of my posting on the mobbing phenomenon yesterday, I have
already received information that two well-known Michigan
environmentalists were MOBBED. They asked that I protect their
confidentiality and of course, I shall. 

It's probably one of the TOP THREE job hazards of environmental workers,
but no one talks about it much. It's our nasty little secret. We are
like the Big City cabbie who knows he is three times more likely to die
on the job than a policeman, but brazenly forges on taking FARES. Is
this just part of our work, something that we should shrug off? Or is it
an outrage that speaks to the deepest core of what it means to be an
environmentalist?  The toxins of most consequence are the TOXIC
RELATIONSHIPS borne out of a drastically hierarchical, unequal social
order that we call the United States.  We need to shine a little more
sunshine on this phenomenon and WORK TO TOUGHEN-UP WHISTLEBLOWER
PROTECTION LAWS IN MICHIGAN  (as one attorney suggested to me today). 

I'm from wild Philadelphia, where, in the late 1980s, South Street
mobsters under Angelo Bruno rubbed out fifteen gangsters in territorial
war for control of the rackets. Snitches and government informants were
also targeted and met with bloody ends. One famous Inquirer newspaper
photo I remember depicted a stoolie meeting his Maker with his mug
felled into linguini at a popular Italian eatery. It was hard to discern
the blood from the tomato sauce. 

One thing about the Philly MOB: there was honor among crooks. They never
went after the police nor their families. And they never threatened
feisty journalists like the Inky's Steve Lopez who openly exposed  their
corruption, and even taunted them at times. 

Were that true for the WORKPLACE MOBSTERS.

There are TWO MOBS, the Godfather goons and the WORKPLACE MOBSTERS. One
thing's for sure, the workplace mob is a far greater threat to life and
limb. . .and to our work in bringing "the truth" to light. 
 
Again, I implore any and all of you who have stories to tell about
'WORPLACE MOBBING" as it related to environmental workers in Michigan to
contact me as soon as possible.

If you are hesitant to e-mail me, please call and leave a message at
Michigan State University's Department of Anthropology (517) 353-2950.
Or send correspondence to Dr. Brian McKenna, Department of Anthropology,
308 Baker Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824.
 
Or just E-Mail me at: joonmck@gateway.net
 
In Solidarity,

Brian McKenna, Ph.D.
Environmentalist,
Anthropologist &
Public Citizen
 
"If there are connections everywhere, why do we persist in turning
dynamic, interconnected phenomena into static, disconnected things?"
            -- Eric R. Wolf, Anthropologist (1923-1999)
 
"Insanity in individuals is rare, in nations, epochs
and eras it is the rule."
            -- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Philosopher (1844 - 1900)


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