Stop Workplace Bullying - Wear red


April 3, 2024 —
The consensus among staff at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center in Brooklyn is clear: It’s time to stand up and fight back against the rampant bullying, retaliation, and nepotism that members face every day on the job. 

STOP Workplace Bullying“This is what our members want,” said PEF Region 11 Coordinator and Kingsboro recreation therapist Bernadette O’Connor. “They said to us, enough is enough. They are sick and tired, and we’ve got to do something. I work here and I know firsthand what’s going on at Kingsboro. It is the worst that I’ve ever seen it with the disparities and bullying.” 

Issues at Kingsboro include bullying, nepotism, short staffing, and retaliation. Members are not being considered for positions they are fully qualified to hold, and agency workers are being hired to fill vacancies over permanent staff nurses. 

Before going public with their “Stop Workplace Bullying” campaign, the union sat down with Kingsboro officials at the labor/management table, but the issues were not satisfactorily addressed. 

“They just ignored us,” O’Connor said. “We spoke with President Spence and as a membership we let the president know what was happening.” 

The union then took it up a notch and members, PEF President Wayne Spence, Vice President Darlene Williams, and PEF staff met with the statewide Office of Mental Health commissioner’s second-in-command and her team. 

“We gave them 30 days to respond to the issues we brought up,” O’Connor said. “A letter was written to them, describing all the issues members faced, and what the union would like to see happen. We got back an answer, and it was unsatisfactory.” 

Another meeting, with senior OMH representatives, PEF staff and elected officials, plus six rank-and-file nurses from Kingsboro, was equally unsuccessful and members at Kingsboro decided it was time to go public with their message.  

“The things we asked for they didn’t recognize,” O’Connor said. “We needed to hit the streets. That was the decision of the entire membership at Kingsboro.” 

O’Connor said she, too, faces bullying and retaliation, especially considering her role as a union leader and activist. 

“This is the way management treats you here on the grounds of Kingsboro,” she said. “They treat you even worse if you are standing up for what is right.” 

When meetings fail, take action 

PEF Division 252 at Kingsboro and the union as a whole are not accepting the inadequate resolutions offered by OMH. A public campaign began in February, when members met at Kingsboro and agreed to move forward with a “Stop Workplace Bullying” campaign. 

On March 6, red shirts flooded the building, the first in a series of visual reminders to management that PEF members won’t stand for the status quo. On March 13, staff proudly wore buttons emblazoned with the stop bullying message. On March 20, PEF distributed signs and members took pictures of them in their cars or in groups holding them up. And on March 27 a lunchtime rally was held at Assembly Hall in the psychiatric center. 

“Everyone was excited,” O’Connor said. “These activities were planned for us to get in the mood leading up to a rally on May 1.” 

On April 3, the actions will continue, with members displaying signs and buttons wherever they can and on April 10, there will be a balloon release, during which members will write what they are going through on a balloon and then release it. On April 17, stickers will join the previous “Stop Workplace Bullying” gear. April 24 will be “Blackout Day,” where members will be dressed in all black. 

The big rally will take place on May 1 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the facility. PEF is inviting elected officials from the surrounding area, members of the community, and the media to attend so they, too, can learn what is happening at Kingsboro. 

O’Connor commended former Division 252 Council Leader Robin Hamilton Browne, now retired, and PEF Organizer Lisa Pinkard for their roles pulling together the fightback campaign.

“When you’ve been taken advantage of and everybody is looking the other way, there is a way to be heard,” O’Connor said. “Do a day of action and stand up for the members and yourselves.” 

Tell us your Toxic Tales; support the campaign 

If you have a tale of workplace bullying to share, visit PEF’s website dedicated to the campaign or reach out to Communicator@pef.org. 

Participation will help PEF fight for passage of legislation the union drafted last year that defines workplace bullying and requires training for employers and employees to reduce harassment in workplaces. It was passed by the Assembly Majority but is awaiting consideration by the Senate. 

You can also send a letter to your elected officials supporting the legislation, here.