By AFL-CIO  Guest Blogger Tula Connell

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We all know about Bad Bosses. But this summer, when Working America held its first-ever My Bad Boss Contest, the roaches really crawled out of the woodwork.

Like the boss who told his part-time staff person she had to work longer hours—even though she wanted to spend more time with her dying mother.

Or the one who made his employee pay for his own chair at work.

And the boss who “Googles™” employees to dig up dirt on their personal lives and spends time walking around the office barking like a dog, whinnying like a horse and making cicada noises.

More than 2,500 employees submitted their bad boss stories to Working America, an AFL-CIO community affiliate. Visitors to the My Bad Boss Contest site voted for the worst boss of the week, and the embattled grand prize winner got a much-deserved week’s vacation getaway and $1,000 toward airfare, compliments of the AFL-CIO membership benefit organization, Union Privilege.

The winning entry described her boss as a millionaire dentist who, because so many patients canceled appointments on Sept. 11, 2001, took the money he would have made that day out of his employees’ paychecks.

Al Franken and other notables commented weekly on the state of working America as reflected in the general disregard, disrespect and downright ugliness U.S. employers displayed toward those who spend a third or more of their lives working for them.

Economist, author and commentator Julianne Malveaux pinpointed the real story behind bad boss behavior. Co-author of Unfinished Business: A Democrat and A Republican Take on the 10 Most Important Issues Women Face, Malveaux was among guest panelists commenting on Bad Boss entries:

When people talk about their bosses, they are really talking about imbalances of power, the absence of civility, and a disrespect for working people that is reflected in the fact that the average CEO makes more than 800 times as much as a minimum wage worker. Lots of folks have good jobs with good pay, but an increasing number have good jobs with good pay and poor working conditions.  The numbers suggest that the job market is healthy and robust.… The stories that people tell about the way they work are discordant notes in the gleeful song of prosperity and success.

The Bad Boss Contest is a lot of fun and highlights how far we still must go to improve the nation’s workplaces. But Working America doesn’t stop at just pointing out injustice at the workplace.

Since it was created in 2003, the organization has signed up more than 1.5 million members—and has done so by sending canvassers door to door, day after day in middle- and working-class neighborhoods where people are hungry to become part of a dynamic movement in which they can take action and make a difference.

Working America enables workers who do not have the benefit of a union on the job to join forces with 9 million union members in the AFL-CIO to work for good jobs, health care, retirement security and more.

The majority of Working America members identify themselves as politically moderate  (54 percent), and 32 percent own guns. But when Working America canvassers come to their doors and discuss how the policies of the Bush administration affect them and their families, they make the connection—and divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage that may have impacted their vote fade when compared with the benefits of voting your pocketbook.

In the 2006 elections, Working America membership translated into big-time political action, with members being instrumental in the union movement’s get-out-the-vote efforts. More than 400,000 Working America members live in the 20 congressional districts that were considered the highest priority House races.

Election night polling by Peter D. Hart Research Associates showed that 80 percent of Working America members who had not voted in 2002 said they turned out to vote this year. Non-2002 Working America voters supported Democratic candidates for Senate by 80 percent to 20 percent; non-2002 voters supported Democratic House candidates by 77 percent to 23 percent.

In the union movement’s “Final Four” days of the election, Working America members knocked on 153,000 doors in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota in a final push to get out the vote.

Working America members are joined in an online community where they regularly vote on the issues that most concern them, issues like health care they want Working America to focus on. Working America members can get free workplace advice through Working America’s Ask a Lawyer option. And they can access Job Tracker, which provides data on job exporting and health and safety records of 250,000 employers in a huge database that indicates where jobs have been outsourced in their communities.

Through regular e-mail updates, Working America members take action throughout the year. In 2006, they sent 500,000 e-mail and fax messages directly to elected officials and corporate leaders.

Earlier this year, activists in Washington state took the offensive and won a major victory when the state Legislature passed a state family leave act. Working America members generated 724 letters to state legislators supporting the bill, which was signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire (D). The state leave act is necessary because the Bush administration’s Labor Department recently has been threatening to gut the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a personal illness, to care for an ill family member or to care for a new baby.

Bad bosses don’t just happen. We let them happen. Taking action through Working America is one way to change the laws and elect the politicians who will create an environment in which neither workers nor bosses are forced to buy their own chairs.