So far, efforts to combat bullying in the American workplace largely have centered on a campaign spurred by the Workplace Bully Institute to pass anti-bullying legislation on a state-by-state basis. To date, the effort has yet to yield a single success (defined as a state that has adopted such legislation).
What would happen if workplace anti-bully advocates took a different approach?
One idea might be federal legislation to amend Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to permit any worker to sue if subjected to a hostile workplace environment.
Another idea is to approach the problem as an important public health issue – which it is – and adopt health and safety regulations to protect employees on that basis. Finally, one might think local – push cities and towns to adopt legislation to protect employees from workplace abuse.
Advocates for anti-obesity measures took the local approach, with some initial success. However, industry groups are now finding a way to halt local initiatives, using stealth tactics to erect statewide road blocks.
Public health advocates persuaded some progressive cities and counties around the nation to pass anti-obesity measures, such as requiring restaurants to list fat and calorie content on their menus or to prepare food without unhealthy trans-fats. The New York Times reported June 30, 2011 that industry groups are acting pro-actively to quash these anti-obesity efforts. and they are using stealth tactics.
The Times notes that Ohio’s 5,000-page state budget contained sweeping limitations on local government control over restaurants. Florida adopted similar limits, tucked into a bill that largely concerned amendments to state regulations on vacation rentals. Other states with limits include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Utah. Earlier this year, Arizona prohibited local governments from forbidding the marketing of fast food using “consumer incentives” like toys.
Not surprisingly, state restaurant groups are leading the charge for the preemptive state legislation. State legislators who sponsored preemptive legislation in Florida and Alabama say they were contacted by their state’s restaurant associations, which expressed concern that California’s latest food rules would be adopted by their own local governments.
The Los Angeles City Council has banned fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, where rates of poverty and obesity are high. In April, the Santa Clara County supervisors adopted a policy that forbids fast food restaurants from selling meals with toys, like those connected with movie promotions.
The Ohio law gives the state’s director of agriculture “sole and exclusive” authority to regulate the use of consumer incentives in food marketing and prohibits localities from requiring menu labeling and using incentives and laws to address “food-based health disparities.” The statute may nullify a law passed by the Cleveland council in April that banned restaurants and food makers from using “industrially produced” trans fats in products.
One of the fundamental concepts of the U.S. Constitution involves the importance of state’s rights – the idea is that real change and progress comes from experimentation among the states and not through a federal bureaucracy. It doesn’t take a PhD. to see that this concept also is relevant to states, which tend to adopt progressive statewide legislation in response to local initiatives. I’d rather be guided by the framers of our U.S. Constitution than self-interested industry groups. Wouldn’t you?
The state-by-state campaign to adopt workplace anti-bully legislation began in 2003 in California and has encountered steady opposition from business groups, who apparently are largely ignorant about the enormous toll bullying exacts on the employer’s bottom line. This, despite the fact that the Workplace Bullying Institute is pushing a proposed Healthy Workplace Bill that is considerably weaker than legislation adopted in other industrialized countries around the world. American workers deserve strong protection from bullying in the workplace, which causes health problems and destroys lives and families.
* The new state laws limiting public health measures will have no effect on a federal law that requires menu labeling by chains with 20 or more restaurants by 2013. But more than half of the nation’s restaurants will not be required to meet the federal rules for listing calories and fat content.