Fighting workplace bullying
Joel Chan uses the tools of representation to take on abusive managers


There’s a word for managers who yell, play favorites, deny hard-earned working conditions and trample the rights of workers who engage in union activities: bullies. And when your boss is a bully, you need someone to be a champion for you. For an increasing number of our members, that champion is Joel Chan.

Chan, a business tax specialist at the Board of Equalization in Oakland who’s been in state service for over ten years, became a steward last year after he completed the Leadership Apprentice Program for Stewards (LAPS) and learned the tools of member representation. Since that time, he has found numerous ways to stand up for the members in his DLC—especially when they find themselves facing harassment from a manager.

Our members at the Department of General Services (DGS) building in Oakland had just such a manager; he had a long history of humiliating and abusive behavior toward the workers. Members report he was a chronic yeller, that he would try to take pictures of them while they were not looking and that he would wait weeks before approving vacation schedules.

The hostile work environment came to a boiling point at DGS when the supervisor unleashed a torrent of verbal abuse on a handful of custodians speaking Chinese and tried to convince them, erroneously, that there was an “English Only” policy.

“That was the last straw,” said Chan. “Our custodians came to me and another steward named Christine Soo. They explained their situation to us, and we formulated a game plan.”

Chan, Soo and Local 1000 filed a grievance and circulated a petition which they delivered—along with a warning that any retaliation would violate our contract as well as state and federal law—to the boss’ office.

After all the pressure and attention, the abusive supervisor is now holding his tongue and the custodians are speaking to each other in whatever language they choose.

“Now people are actually standing up to him,” Chan said. “It’s an uncomfortable situation for him.”

Chan pointed out that having strong union membership in the workplace is the best insurance policy against management bullying.

“Supervisors understand who is a union member and who is not,” said Chan, who recently became Chief Steward of DLC 744. “They walk by the cubicles every day. They see the people who have union posters. They see the people who wear purple on Wednesdays. They see people who are active. At job sites where almost everybody is a union member, supervisors follow the contract by the letter; they don’t mess around.”