BP, Massey, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and Ludlow: Why The US NEEDS Unions and Anonymous Hotlines for Employees

At a 2009 SHRM conference, there was a call to make unions “irrelevant” by implementing the kind of corporate governance that would make employees not even consider a union. There is nothing wrong with this ideal as a goal to aim for, as long as there is no union-busting, which is unlawful.

When corporate governance is what it needs to be in terms of legal compliance, a lack of cronyism, and good-faith dealings with all employees, we do not see employees trying to bring unions into their workplaces, though that is every American’s right.

If you had access right now to an anonymous hotline that truly protected you from unlawful retaliation – to report wrongdoing at your workplace – what might you report? .

Whether you work in HR or in any other position, Tell YOUR Story here

Are the existing complaint mechansims at city, state and federal levels effective? Do the IGs, AGs, Commissions on Public Integrity, Governors’ Offices, Corporate and Government Fraud Hotlines, City and State Divisions of Human Rights, EEOC, OSHA, and other reporting avenues truly protect employees from unlawful retaliation and truly soundly investigate and remediate wrongdoing in American workplaces? How are injured and wronged employees made whole?

BLS statistics and the many reported government and corporate scandals we know about suggest that these are not as effective as they need to be. Imagine just how many corporate and government scandals we do not know about.

How do we ensure that those who receive complaints in and outside of workplaces are properly trained in the relevant areas of necessary technical knowledge, sound critical thinking and investigation skills, salient diversity issues, sound conflict resolution and ADR methods, competent communication and self-awareness skills; and issues of ethics, avoidance of conflcts of interest and cronyism, and work within appropriate standardized guidelines that are protected from any form of improper interference?

If HR/OD professionals and business and government leaders want to make unions irrelevant, competitive corporate governance (TM Pending) is necessary. Read more about competitive corporate governance in my book: The HR Toolkit: An Indispensable Resource for Being a Credible Activist.

LinkedIn groups such as Corporate Integrity, Compliance X, and HR/OD Credible Activists are good places to engage in discussions with professionals who take seriously the crucial issues of corporate governance, legal compliance, ethics and integrity.

Tell YOUR Story here.

The Ludlow Massacre, and the poem below about it, are very instructive for all employees, organizational leaders and HR/OD professionals. What was considered violence then and what wasn’t? What was acceptable then and why? Why were Greek immigrants considered “okay” to slaughter? Why were employees who expected fairness considered “okay” to silence with intimidation and death?

If there is apathy among leadership and corporate lawyers to ethical arguments, what are the monetary costs of engaging in unalwful union-busting, unlawful retaliation, unlawful terminations, disdain for knowledge and best practices, and other unlawful practices in the courts of public opinion, civil court, criminal court, and in terms of regulatory fines? There were union-busting methods used at the WV mine where 40 miners died, and there was also a pattern of documented safety violations. What can we learn from this? Are OSHA fines not expensive enough? Is the loss of forty lives simply the cost of doing business? Will those responsible for those deaths and for union-busting be aquitted just like those responsible for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Ludlow massacres?

What are the injustices in our modern workplaces? Harassment, discrimination, retaliation, unsafe working conditions, workplace violence and cronyism are just a few. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that our modern workplaces are still sullied by these ways of doing business in epidemic proportions. How is this possible if they’re all unlawful and what will we do about that?

What is important to realize is that the massacre at Ludlow in 1914 resulted in little to no criminal charges against those responsible for the massacre. How often do we see this happen in the 21st century when it comes to slaps on the wrist for those who are responsible for workplace violence, harassment, discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and other unlawful acts?

In fact, when we consider the BLS stats on workplace violence, unlawful EEO and ADA violations, FLSA violations and workplace fatalities – it doesn’t seem that we’ve come that far from the entirely preventable Triangle Shirtwaist Factory deaths of over 140 people in 1911. And, remember, the factory owners were aquitted of the charges brought against them.

West Virginia is implementing a telephone hotline for WV employees to call to report unsafe working conditions. This is an excellent step and obviously needed. However, it also begs the questions: Why is it necessary for this to be anonymous when we have supposed OSHA protections against unlawful retaliation against those who complain about safety issues? – and- Why aren’t employees already empowered to simply make legitimate complaints at work?

Because unalwful retaliation still occurs daily in our corporations. Forty people were killed in the recent WV mine accident, yet we still need an anonymous tip line for the reporting of unsafe working conditions. What does this tell us about the state of corporate governance in these mines?

Tell YOUR Story here.

The very important micro building block of all of this comes down to the Emotional Intelligence (or lack thereof) of those corporate leaders who choose to engage in unlawful behavior and assume they will get away with it or that those whom they wrong will not be able to afford to fight back. This is nothing more than more of the intentional exploitation we’ve seen throughout the history of labor issues. This is a micro component with very significant outcomes.

What drives such exploitation? A lack of Emotional Intelligence, greed, valuing profits over human life, and a refusal to acknowledge when one has made errors and to correct those errors – which is rooted in interpersonal and intrapersonal issues.

There is also an element of refusing to LEARN. There are obstinate, angry refusals to acknowledge that Emotional Intelligence, sound conflict resolution methods, BLS statistical patterns, OD knowledge, and best practices are elements of real solutions. This is often due to deeply-rooted shame in acknowledging that if one can learn something, one is somehow “inadequate” as one is now. This is unfortunate and unnecessary – as well as a failure of our educational and workplace systems to impart sound critical thinking skills, understanding of what a credible source is and is not, and a love for learning that does not diminish anyone personally for continuing to learn.

Leaders are paid higher salaries for a number of reasons, one of which is that they are charged with acting responsibly, legally, ethically, without conflicts of interest, and without cronyism. If it is personally or interpersonally difficult for a leader to NOT engage in cronyism, conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, unlawful retaliation or other EEO/ADA violations then that leader is not fit to lead. Such behaviors and violations are significant failures to meet the job description of leadership. The same is true of any leader who seeks to push the envelope of what is legal and what can be gotten away with in terms of disenfranchising employees and treating them differently than leaders treat themselves and those who fit the defintion of cronies.

We do not like to acknowledge that cronyism exists in the US, however it does and is, in fact, epidemic, based on emails I’ve received from employees all over the US.

What can we conclude from workplace leaders who refuse to hear and respond to safety complaints from employees until someone is killed – and even not then? What can we conclude from workplace leaders who refuse to hear and respond to concerns about legal non-compliance or ethical violations from anyone from line staff to their HR/OD professionals yet will pay external counsel $400 an hour to be told the very same things?

What is the state of corporate governance in your workplace? Can you report violations of any employment law without fearing unlawful retaliation? Do you need anonymous hotlines in your company or in your state? Why or why not? Would you fear raising issues of legal non-compliance, ethics concerns, or safety issues at your workplace? Why or why not?

What can we say about a US in which the consequences for Americans exercising these rights is often the loss of one’s job and health insurance? How do these very real consequences serve to silence American employees and allow unlawful and unethical actions as well as unsafe workplaces to thrive? Who is protected and who is not? Why do corporations protect some but not others? What drives cronyism, disparate treatment, unlawful retaliation, and other violations of law? How can we all prevent these?

My book provides several solutions, but I want to hear from you about your experiences.

Tell YOUR Story here.

by John Wright

not in the tourguide
of America’s roadside attractions
treeless exit on I-25
south Colorado
handmade billboard Visit UMWA Monument
yellow prairie west toward the Rockies
old snow on the ground
nothing remains
Ludlow only a name
a story
a whitewashed tomb
fenced off, sentimental
with statue of Man, Woman and Child
only a story
IWW Zenith of power
western miners of Wobbly stronghold
Colorado coal miners’ strike
Rockefeller interests
evicted from company houses
tent city attacked by
strikebreakers hired guns
Colorado National Guard
machine guns, bushwhacked
miners cut down
tents set on fire
two women eleven children
burned alive
coal for Rockefeller mills
flames leave nothing but
a story a monument
a Woody Guthrie song
a wooden box of looseleaf paper
like any guestbook
covered with names dates and places
COMMENTS:“son of a union miner”
“long live the Wobblies”
“my grandmother, Dolores Aguilar,
survived shooting”
“never forget!”
“someone should tell this story”
tell this story
American Auschwitz
white Wounded Knee
witch burning
numbers small, intent the same
Ludlow, Colorado
National Guard
never forget

(from Bookstore Cowboys, by John Wright, 1991, Snake Oil Press, Boulder, CO)*

What experiences of poor corporate governance have you had in your work life? Feel free to blog about them here.

Tell YOUR Story here.

Please do not use real names of people or companies unless what you’re telling about is part of a public record, to which you can provide a link. Otherwise, use aliases. As more and more Americans tell the truth about the injustices they face at work despite those being unlawful, we can begin to truly address and improve these things.

Who makes decisions about whether to operate in a legally compliant manner or not in your workplace? How do HR/OD Credible Activists speak up to workplace leaders who direct them to violate laws or to push the envelope on what is legal?

If you had access right now to an anonymous hotline to safely report wrongdoing at your workplace, what might you report?

The HR Toolkit: An Indispensable Resource for Being a Credible Activist has scores of sample memos for HR/OD professionals and employees of any level to submit to their workplace leaders to demand legal compliance in their workplaces.

Tell YOUR Story here.


*In 2008, an official Memorial for the Ludlow Massacre was created. Denver University’s Dean Saitta, Phd was instrumental in making this happen. His research on Ludlow is an important history lesson for all Americans.


In Good Conscience

With the current scandals surrounding Governor David Paterson of New York State and the several resignations of top staffers, the question of integrity in workplaces is a main focus.

Denise O’Donnell of Paterson’s staff is only one NYS employee who wrote in her resignation letter, “I cannot in good conscience continue to serve as…”.

Most Americans cannot afford to have such integrity. Most Americans need their jobs and tethered health insurance and have expenses like mortgages, children, student loans, medical bills, etc. This is not NOT good for businesses, which suffer when employee concerns are stifled by fear and when unlawful retaliation is used to silence legitimate employee concerns and complaints. Tell YOUR Story here.

Most Americans are afraid to exercise their rights to make internal and external complaints in their workplaces despite claims that “retaliation will not be tolerated”. This is because of several realities:

1. Unlawful retaliation does happen, often because those who unwisely decide to retaliate convince themselves that in fact, they’re not retaliating. They will often delusionally convince themselves that the employee who has identified unlawful and/or unethical behavior has been “disloyal”, completely forgetting that when they agreed to conduct business in the US, they agreed to abide by all relevant employment laws, including those that prohibit whatever the concerned employee has spoken up about. When this occurs, it is a clear sign of what Henry Thompson, PhD has identified as “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” (TM) which is related to diminished Emotional Intelligence. I have written about this on my Emotional Intelligence Blog.

2. Most Americans cannot afford attorneys to represent them.

3. Going to federal court with civil rights and unlawful retailation claims can be a gamble many employees are unwilling to take.

4. State Divisions of Human Rights will often appoint an attorney to complaining employees free of charge when their cases are strong, but there is no guarantee of this.

5. Other complaint resources for employees with integrity, such as Inspectors General, Attorneys General, and Commissions on Public Integrity, do not always investigate complaints they receive – and may in fact be unethically and/or unlawfully abandoning their own missions if they do not investigate due to conflicts of interest.

6. Though the gold standard of any workplace harassment policy will make any and all harassment (including “legal” harassment) unacceptable, there are many employees who are driven out of their workplaces via bullying or unlawful harasssment in response to having spoke up about unethical and/or unlawful practices. At times, this can be difficult to prove. However, it is again a sign of “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” (TM) for any workplace that allows such actions to occur. I have also blogged about such practices and how harmful they are to workplaces, employee health, profits, taxpayers, and shareholders on my post about Workplace Violence and Bullying.

Some Americans are lucky enough to have a skilled employment attorney in their family or who will otherwise take their case on contingency or at reduced fees. This is rare, however, and it is extremely important to have an employment attorney represent such claims; lawyers with other expertise are not going to know what is necessary to know in such cases.

Tell YOUR Story here.

How many American employees would be compelled to resign in protest of ethical or other violations in their workplaces if they could afford to do so?

How many American employees would be compelled to internally address unethical behavior by their peers and leadership if they knew there would be no consequences in the form of retaliation?

In a perfect world, there would be no consequences or unlawful retaliation for employees speaking up about unethical and/or unlawful behavior. However, we all know that there often is unlawful retaliation.

Human Resources, Compliance, and Legal executives have additional ethical and professional responsibilities to speak up about unethical behavior. This is part of what being a Credible Activist is all about.

Aligning with business goals does not include engaging in or turning a blind eye to unethical or unlawful behavior.

The costs to businesses for employing unlawful retaliation are enormous; silencing employees denies the organization of receiving crucial feedback about its operations and prevents Competitive Corporate Governance* (TM).

But what about when there are risks related to speaking up? What is a Credible Activist to do?

Denise O’Donnell could afford to resign. Her resignation was part of a prominent story in the New York Times.

Courageous credible activists resign from companies “in good conscience” every day. But their stories are not in the New York Times, so we don’t hear about them, the details, or the outcome.

And that’s a shame.

When corporations are able to prevent the truth about their unethical and/or unlawful practices being made public and known, they are then able to continue those practices. These are practices that harm employees, employers, families, and corporations, which is why they are unethical and/or unalwful.

Those who allow unethical practices to go on, who turn a blind eye to the abuses of civil rights violations, who cover up unethical behavior, and who unlawfully retaliate against employees who speak out against these abuses deserve to be under the same public and formal investigative scrutiny which David Paterson is now experiencing.

Human Resources, legal, and leadership professionals have a responsibility to speak out against such abuses. Will American corporations truly protect those who exercise their responsiiblity to speak out about civil rights and ethical violations or will they allow and enable unawlful retaliation?

There is a myth that those who pursue complaints addressing civil rights violations have a goal of “making money” when actually these are people who have been gravely wronged and who are merely exercising their rights and fully deserve to be made whole – and in most cases file such complaints as last resorts and when in a position where doing so is their only choice after communication attempts within organizational parameters have failed and resulted in unlawful retaliation.

However, it is often much more than being made whole, and is just as much about making it known to as many people as possible what behaviors their corporation allowed to go on, turned a blind eye to, chose to reward and not punish, and/or allowed to continue despite civil rights and ethics laws that govern American workplaces.

Kudos to Denise O’Donnell and all those other courageous credible activists who cannot in good conscience continue to serve in such organizations.

And kudos to those who are unable to resign, but who refuse to perpetuate unethical or unlawful practices — and instead communicate about them in their workplaces with the clear intention of remediating such practices. Often this is even more difficult than resigning, is not always welcome, and may result in unlawfully retaliatory consequences for those professionals who do speak up.

And kudos to those in organizational positions of power who have enough emotional intelligence to change course when conscientious employees and credible activists warn against taking egregiously unlawful and/or unethical actions. If only such changes in course had been chosen at Enron, at the SEC in response to warnings about Madoff, and in countless other completely preventable corporate scandals that have resulted in very real harm for millions of people.

One can only wonder how many times a day in the private, public, and non-profit sectors there are actions taken by high-level employees that jeopardize organizational effectivenss and the very foundations of legal protections from unlawful retaliation on which all American employees, consumers, taxpayers, and shareholders depend.

Smart Employers realize that it only takes one determined employee or former employee to expose wrongdoing and that retaliation should never occur.

What are your experiences in this area? Indicate whether you are an HR professional, an attorney, or if you have or have had any other job title – and let us know how having integrity in your workplace has been responded to. Have those with the courage to be Credible Activists been responded to with appropriate gratitude, with unlawful retaliation, or in some other ways?

How can we all support credible activists in the HR profession as well as in any and every profession in the American workplace?

Feel free to use a screen name if you are uncomfortable using your real name. Tell YOUR Story here.


*”Competitive Corporate Governance” is pending a trademark by Denise A. Romano and will be discussed in future posts.

The HR ToolKit: An Indispensable Resource for Being a Credible Activist

The HR Toolkit: An Indispensable Resource for Being A Credible Activist by Denise A. Romano

Aligning with business and organizational goals does NOT include engaging in or turning a blind eye to unlawful and/or unethical actions.

With more than 100 templates, memos, and checklists, there’s nothing this toolkit can’t fix! HR professionals know that addressing issues before they escalate can make the difference in saving the company time and money. The HR Toolkit is the must have handbook if you’re looking to skillfully identify, diplomatically address, and strategically resolve any issue that confronts your organization. Including a handy indexed listing of the most common workplace conflicts and solutions for ease-of-reference, expert author Denise A. Romano, MA, EdM provides practical and actionable ways to empower and educate HR professionals and management.

This book will help you identify and address workplace dysfunction, recommend improvements for the workplace, and remain within ethical and legal parameters valued by HR/OD professionals. It will give every HR professional— – no matter what their position or educational level— – the tools to articulate his or hertheir concerns to the right people in management in a way that increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. This book will also help you discern the best ways to spend your company’s training allowance or your own personal training allowance, if you are lucky enough to have those. I encourage Emotional Intelligence (EI) assessment and skill development for every HR/OD professional, corporate leader, consultant, coach, and trainer. It will only make you even better at what you do than you already are.

This book will also cover some common pitfalls any of us can encounter, and I encourage you to keep it nearby, as you never know when one of these situations will pop up. As we who work in HR/OD know, work is never dull. I also hope you will check out the LinkedIn Group I created for Credible Activists and join us in our quest for legally and ethically compliant corporate governance. The Credible Activist group on LinkedIn is growing every day!

Tell YOUR Story here.

Denise A. Romano has an MA in Organizational Psychology and an EdM in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University, as well as an MFA in Writing from Naropa University. She has more than 14 years of experience working in the Human Resources and Organizational Development (HR/OD) field in government, nonprofit, and for-profit companies, including 6 additional years of whistleblower activity. She has built two different HR/OD departments from the ground up.