Special Report: Racism & Homophobia at Connecticut Valley Hospital

From the archives…

October 6, 2012

This column appears in the October 11 – 18, 2012 edition of the Hartford News… Last week the Community Party spoke with Connecticut Valley Hospital employees Rosa Badillo and Carlos Vargas, who are currently serving 10-day unpaid suspensions. Rosa and Carlos told us about racism and bigotry that they have experienced while working at CVH. Because of legal reasons we cannot yet discuss the complete details regarding their suspensions, but we can share their stories of discrimination. Rosa has worked for the State of Connecticut for 7 years, the last two at CVH. She had a clean disciplinary record prior to her suspension. Rosa was one of five CVH employees who recently were suspended by the facility; she informed us that while all five employees were charged with the same offense, her and Carlos and another employee were initially hit with 20-day unpaid suspensions with an option of a 5-day paid suspension or a 5-day “working” suspension, while their two other co-workers received 5-day unpaid suspensions with the option of a one-day paid or a one-day “working” suspension. Rosa pointed out that one of the individuals (who is white) who received the one-day suspension was actually charged with more work rule violations than she was, yet this person received a much more lenient punishment. Rosa said that she could not get an explanation for the discrepancy from her union steward, who told her that the terms of the suspensions were “confidential”. After we made a reference to the plight of Rosa and Carlos in last week’s column, Rosa told us that the 20-day suspensions were suddenly reduced to 10 days with no explanation. Rosa is adamant that her and Carlos should not have been suspended at all, as they vehemently deny the accusations which are based strictly on hearsay and her statement to CVH has never changed. Rosa believes that the suspension is the latest injustice in an ongoing pattern of discriminatory treatment which Latino employees working in her department have endured. “The bosses in our department are all white; we feel like we have no support,” Rosa said. “If I have an issue at work and need help, nothing is done. A co-worker was harassing me so I filed a report; I had a witness to back up my story, yet nothing was done. I was in tears. Now someone mentions a rumor about a Latino employee and we are all punished.” I asked Rosa about the impact that her suspension will have on her family. “I’m a single mother with two kids, one in college and one in diapers; this will be very hard,” Rosa said. Finally I asked Rosa her opinion of CVH’s new “morale campaign” and their pledge to stop workplace bullying at the facility. “I have not seen a difference. We’re (Latinos) still treated poorly,” Rosa said. Carlos echoed Rosa’s feelings regarding discrimination against Latinos by CVH. He also believes that race played a role in the punishment that he and Rosa received. “It’s not fair; there is no difference in what we were all accused of,” Carlos said. “CVH treats Latinos badly. They believe everything that the white workers say. When there are complaints made against Latinos they don’t ask if it’s true or not, they just want to immediately warn or discipline us.” Carlos said that nepotism by his white bosses is also a major problem, as the relatives of white CVH managers/supervisors are routinely allowed to break work rules, while Latinos are scrutinized. “Tell me who your daddy is and you can do what you want,” Carlos said regarding the attitude of his bosses. “White workers with less experience than Rosa and I act as if they’re superior to us.” Carlos told us that one of the white employees who received a 1-day suspension was recently promoted, which is a violation of state work rules. According to Carlos, an employee must work a full year after being suspended to be eligible for a promotion. Homophobia is another serious issue at CVH. Carlos, who is gay, told us that two months ago he was confronted by a white manager for saying hello to two male co-workers. “I was told that the employees said the way I said hello to them was ‘too funny’,” Carlos said. “The manager did not want to hear my side of the story; he said that I should leave my sexual life at home and if he received another complaint about me, I would be disciplined. I told him that I have sex at my house and do not need to seek out sex here at CVH.” A CVH employee who wishes to remain anonymous corroborated Carlos’ story. Carlos said that the experience has left him fearful of socializing with male employees on the CVH campus. “I feel scared to say hello to male co-workers now,” Carlos said. I asked Carlos how his suspension will affect him. “I’m supposed to be moving to a new apartment. I have bills. I send money to my family in Costa Rica. They will be hurt by this,” Carlos said. We will continue to follow the story of Rosa and Carlos. Stay tuned for updates.

Hartford News Managing Editor Andy Hart has provided CP with a platform which empowers me to speak on behalf of employees at CVH and all over Connecticut who are being subjected to abusive workplace conduct but feel as if they do not have the power to fight back, as well as workers who are courageously standing up to the abuse despite the consequences. CP’s objective is to educate the public and Connecticut lawmakers about the seriousness of this issue which results in victims suffering from physical and mental health problems and in some cases, taking their own lives because they see no other way out. Thank you to those who have provided supportive feedback regarding my personal battle with CVH; I sincerely appreciate it. If you’re a victim of bullying or know someone who is being subjected to abusive workplace conduct, there are steps you can take to get lawmakers to address this issue during the 2013 legislative session. We need elected officials to work on this serious public safety issue every year, not just in 2013. For every solution that we come up with to combat workplace bullying, attorneys for employers such as CVH will be looking for loopholes. After the November statewide elections we’ll provide information on how you can take action. This week we’ll discuss mobbing and how CVH managers, supervisors and employees use this tactic against their targets.

Gail Pursell Elliot is an expert on workplace bullying; you can check out her website, http://innovations-training.com/ for educational resources on abusive workplace conduct and coping strategies. Pursell Ellliot provides the following definition of mobbing on her site. “Mobbing is a ‘ganging up’ on someone to force the person out through the use of rumor, innuendo, discrediting, humiliation, isolation and intimidating. It is a group bullying process that occurs repeatedly over a period of weeks, months, or even years. The mobber(s) portray the victim as the person at fault. This is one of the nastier forms of emotional abuse and the impact on the individual can be devastating. As a result of the experience, many victims suffer from post taumatic stress disorder, disabling physical illnesses, mental and emotional problems, experience the dissolution of their own closest personal relationships, and some have even committed suicide. In fact, the Swedish research revealed that about 15% of all suicides in that country were a direct result of mobbing in the workplace. Mobbing is a serious behavioral risk management issue for organizations. It results in high turnover, low morale, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, loss of key individuals. It undermines teamwork, trust and a sense of shared vision.”

Since workplace bullying legislation has been introduced at the State Capitol and CP publicized the results of the CVH workplace bullying survey after the facility sat on the numbers for two months, CVH has been attempting to bamboozle the public and legislators by launching a “morale campaign” and implementing mandatory workplace bullying training. As Chuck D of Public Enemy said, “Don’t Believe the Hype.” I’ve been talking to employees who are telling me horrific tales of abuse but are afraid of speaking out publicly because they fear retaliation. I’m not engaging in hyperbole when I say that CVH administration continues to foster a culture of bullying by authorizing sociopathic managers and supervisors to intimidate and undermine their workers, while utilizing selected hooligans among the rank and file who act as agents/informants. I witnessed some more of this behavior last week from two CVH managers during my latest grievance hearing regarding what I believe to be ongoing preferential treatment of a white co-worker by CVH management; I’m certain that CVH has been using this employee to target me. Like Rosa and Carlos, I have watched management allow this individual to habitually break work rules. The managers were clearly utilizing the mobbing playbook during the hearing as they attempted to provoke me with their belligerent behavior; this included a surreal scene where the manager who called the CVH police on me in response to the July 26th CP column on workplace bullying attempted to justify her actions. This individual made the preposterous assertion that she felt “threatened” by me outlining the connection between the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting and the need to enact strong workplace bullying laws. First, I’ll point out the absurdity of me (an anti-workplace bullying activist) publicly threatening someone at my job in the middle of a newspaper column on abusive workplace conduct. I made the point that the Colorado shooting is a prime example of how vulnerable we all are to violence in public spaces and that workplace bullying is a threat to public safety, not a “partisan political issue” as she characterized it in a staff meeting which was clearly a veiled response to CP’s Hartford News columns about CVH. Andy obviously didn’t consider my comment to be “threatening”, because he printed the column. No Hartford News readers wrote or called Andy to say that I was “threatening” anybody. Only in the current legal climate could this person use such nonsensical rubbish as a defense and not be laughed out of the room. Under the current system the employee must go to the criminal (the employer), who acts as the prosecutor, judge and jury, for justice. The story of Rosa and Carlos underscores the urgent need for the Connecticut General Assembly to reform the labor laws in this state, which are clearly rigged in favor of the employer. Special thanks to both of them for showing the courage to come forward.

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