April 2013
March 28, 2013

Watchdog network creator named 'unsung hero'

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Retired CUNY professor and PSC member Joan Greenbaum says maintaining healthy working conditions is a tenet of unionism. Photo by Marty Kerins Jr.

Retired CUNY professor and PSC
member Joan Greenbaum says
maintaining healthy working conditions
is a tenet of unionism.
Photo by Marty Kerins Jr.

City University of New York retired professor Joan Greenbaum monitors workplace conditions with tenacity, using skills she acquired in academia and within her union: identify, acknowledge, document and take action.

"It has always seemed to me that healthy working conditions and attention to environmental issues are the basis of good unionism," she said.

Greenbaum, co-founder of the health and safety group "The Watchdogs," was given the Unsung Hero Award in March at the NYSUT Health and Safety Conference. The award honors a NYSUT member who has gone above and beyond in addressing health and safety problems for his or her local. Greenbaum is professor emerita of environmental psychology at the Graduate Center of CUNY, and a faculty retiree of computer information systems at LaGuardia Community College.

Founded in 2000, The Watchdogs are a network of unionists who motivate members on CUNY's 24 campuses to gain better control of working conditions through education, tracking and activism. Greenbaum launched the group with fellow retired Professional Staff Congress member Dave Kotalchuck.

"After a decade of disinvestment, CUNY's buildings and infrastructure were in dire straights and members had ongoing and pretty terrible health and safety complaints," Greenbaum said.

Next, she hopes to examine workplace stress through online surveys that will collect data on "how we feel and experience our environment."

"What does it feel like to walk into a workplace that is crumbling around us?" she asked. "Or, to work with a lack of respect? With changing rules at work that we have no control over? With increased hours of work; with fewer people to do more work; with an increase of bullying and violence?"

Educators facing these challenges, and more, can suffer headaches, immune system dysfunction, gastrointestinal problems and sleep problems, Greenbaum said.

"We need to take our bodies seriously, and what this does to us."