Reaction to Cornell Lewis’ Victory Over DCF

Activist Marcia Morris wrote an essay on Cornell Lewis’ victory over the Department of Children and Families. Cornell was fired by DCF July 17, 2013 in retaliation for his activism against structural racism at that agency. On Friday an arbitrator ruled that DCF must reinstate Cornell and reimburse him fully for lost wages and benefits. My reaction follows Marcia’s essay.

David Samuels

Founder

Community Party

 

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                                          VICTORY FOR US ALL
 
It is with some great joy that I have heard the news this week of the arbitrator’s ruling in favor of Cornell Lewis’ reinstatement in his job at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, with full compensation for missed time, full pay and benefits. This is a victory of reasoned justice and common sense.  
 
At this juncture, I pause to take note, with admiration and respect, that it is also a victory of one man’s “radical integrity”… his unyielding insistence, in the face of a great deal of pressure and temptation otherwise, on being treated with fairness and respect.  The good news for all those who have stood by him throughout this long ordeal is that what he has demanded for himself, is also won for his fellow colleagues and all others who are struggling to be heard. 
 
We can only hope that this will be an opportunity for DCF to take a time out, to re-evaluate their response to some of the criticisms that have been leveled by Cornell Lewis and others, and to try to more fully understand the basis for some of the accusations of unfairness toward employees of color at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, rather than fight to defend themselves reflexively against  charges of bias and discrimination they do not seem to understand.
 
I suspect management at CJTS is mystified by Cornell Lewis’ arguments.  I can imagine that it is terribly difficult for people who have devoted their careers to the “helping professions” to begin to see their world through his eyes.  But his perspective is of importance to their work, and if they would cease defending and begin instead to listen and reflect on some of his challenging statements, positive change might be possible.
 
I have no doubt that DCF officials are appalled by the accusation that there is in any way an instructive analogy between the way the agency operates towards its employees and the “plantation system” of slavery that is the unavoidable legacy of our nation.  I am sure they find this suggestion offensive.  It flies in the face of their self perception as people devoted to bettering the lives of the underprivileged and impoverished.  
 
However, it behooves us all to take a hard look at the ways in which insidious institutionalized racism performs the function of reproducing hierachies of power that have plagued our democracy for generations.  There is merit in acknowledging that we have more hard work to do before we can truly say that people of color have achieved an equal place at the table and that we have empowered them to become fully independent agents of their our destiny – even in their own communities.  
 
As long as management retains a sense of being a privileged elite, and workers perceive themselves as submissive underlings, we cannot say that we have achieved racial or economic equality.  As long as upper level management is disproportionately white, and rank and file employees are people of color, the power disparity within the bureaucracy will create festering wounds amongst even the most talented.  
 
The really hard truth is that well intentioned people in government have unwittingly created a large, profitable industry of the “helping professions” including DCF, with high barriers to entry at the upper levels of management including expensive advanced degrees from elite universities which tend to “self select out” many talented people of color.  These jobs pay high salaries to privileged white people, and some people of color who find it possible to work within the present system – to “go along to get along”.  For better or worse, Cornell Lewis will never be one of these people.
 
Finally, and most  importantly,  I also happen to believe that this week’s victory for Cornell Lewis is also a victory for the students at the CJTS.   I suspect these young people stand to benefit greatly from his capacity to understand their lives, their struggles and their challenges in a way that other more privileged, educated members of the elite simply could never do.    In addition to his professional training and experience, Cornell Lewis has the lived experience which is an essential component of helping young people overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to turning around their lives.  
 
Marcia Morris Activist
New Hampshire
July 13, 2014
 
                                                                 *****
Cultural Dictionary

 

He who laughs last, laughs best definition

You may laugh now, thinking you have won, but you may not prevail in the end.

                

Marcia graciously tried to give DCF management the benefit of the doubt in her essay. I cannot be so forgiving. Data and internal management emails that Cornell, Adam Osmond, my Connecticut Valley Hospital co-worker John Hollis and I have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and the results of CVH’s own workplace bullying survey, which they tried to suppress, say otherwise (see Resources). The racist disparity in terminations and suspensions at DCF and CVH is reprehensible.  When Cornell confronted DCF management with these facts, they lynched him, just like whites lynched Blacks back in the day who didn’t stay in their place. These murderers would bring their children to witness the event. After the lynching was completed, whites would cut off pieces of the Black person’s corpse and keep them as souvenirs. DCF management behaved in a similar fashion.
 
Unsatisfied with just taking his job, DCF attempted to figuratively dismember Cornell by employing legal tactics to prevent him from working with children. They vigorously fought Cornell’s effort to get his job back. The response of DCF and CVH management to allegations of racism, despite the overwhelming statistical evidence, is to deny, deny, deny. Internal CVH management emails show that they have been constantly monitoring my social media activity and attempting to manufacture excuses to target me for termination and / or legal action. John, who is white, has been subjected to ruthless intimidation tactics. 50 years ago, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner , who were both white, were murdered along with Black activist James Chaney near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were participating in a campaign to register Blacks to vote.   
 
DCF and CVH management are fully conscious of their racist policies; they use Policy and Procedure to target employees, especially Blacks. My position is supported by the data we have obtained from both facilities. The pattern of racial bias is clearly systemic. Since John and I publicized the results of  the CVH survey and the racist disciplinary  data, the hostile behavior by supervisors and managers has continued; in grievance hearings they continue to give nonsensical excuses when we confront them with irrefutable email evidence of workplace mobbing on their part. This is an obvious indication that their superiors continue to support and encourage their sociopathic behavior. The objective is clear; to maintain total obedience by the workers. Although racism is a key component, classism is also a major factor as employees of all colors are being oppressed. The CVH survey results are proof.
 
Cornell was buried alive by DCF management. He has clawed his way through the dirt, wiped off his shirt, and emerged victorious. Other victims of workplace bullying have met a different end. A 2008 study found that 15% of total adult suicides are related to workplace bullying. The  CVH managers who are stalking me online will read that statistic, go to bed tonight, sleep like babies, and resume their bullying tactics when they return to work tomorrow morning. This is the criminal element that workers around the world, some who are already battling mental illness, must face every day.
 
In 2015 Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield will introduce the Community Party’s Safe Work Environment Act. The AFSCME Local 318 Safe Workplace Committee (which includes John and I as members) will call for a change to the employee grievance process. We want workplace bullying language added to the contract. Last year SEIU in California was successful in getting a Dignity Clause added to their contract. We also want an independent arbitrator to hear grievances. The current process is a joke, as the employer hears worker complaints. The manager who hears the grievance at Step 1 defends the employer at Step 3. John has submitted an FOI request to obtain the outcome of state worker grievances for the last three years.
 
Congratulations to Cornell for winning his battle against DCF. The global war against workplace bullying continues.
 
Resources
 
DCF / CVH disciplinary data, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests:
 
http://dcfplantation.blogspot.com/2012/11/dcf-disciplinary-2011-harsher-penalties.html?spref=tw 
 
https://twitter.com/CTLotteryWatch/status/412319176674799616/photo/1    
 
Community Party Hartford News columns on structural racism at CVH. Includes CVH workplace bullying survey results and data / internal CVH management emails obtained through FOI requests: 
 
https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/workplace-bullying-report-structural-racism-at-connecticut-valley-hospital/
 
https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/connecticut-valley-hospital-plantation/  

Special Report: Racism and Homophobia at Connecticut Valley Hospital:

 
https://www.facebook.com/notes/david-samuels/special-report-racism-homophobia-at-connecticut-valley-hospital/10151418650215432
 
Workplace Bullying Report  – A Survivor’s Story: 
 
https://www.facebook.com/notes/david-samuels/workplace-bullying-report-a-survivors-story/10151447046360432 
 
Cornell Lewis Legal Defense Fund:
 
http://dcfplantation.blogspot.com/2013/07/help-with-legal-fund.html    

Proposed Nevada workplace bullying bill:

http://abusergoestowork.com/nys-proposed-healthy-wkpl-bill/

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