For Ray Dreyfack, it’s not ‘retirement’ but a new chapter

All good things must come to an end. That includes my almost four decades of writing The Human Side for PLANT ENGINEERING. I long have had, and still have, a warm feeling in my heart for this magazine and its excellent staff. I hope my efforts have been useful to many and appreciate the kind and helpful reader response to the column.

By Raymond Dreyfack December 1, 2005

All good things must come to an end. That includes my almost four decades of writing The Human Side for PLANT ENGINEERING . I long have had, and still have, a warm feeling in my heart for this magazine and its excellent staff. I hope my efforts have been useful to many and appreciate the kind and helpful reader response to the column. I dislike the word “retirement,” and do not consider myself retired. My decision was motivated not only by age considerations, but by the opportunity it will provide to pursue one of my earliest and most passionate loves – an addiction to fiction. At the moment I have two novels in the marketplace that are seeking publication. Please look for them.

Sincerely, Ray Dreyfack

The issue marks the final installment of The Human Side as written by Ray Dreyfack. His unique contribution to PLANT ENGINEERING magazine is immeasurable – not just for its longevity, but also for its style.

Ray’s efforts over the years have brought humanity to the issue of human resources. His work has been fascinating, funny and always thought-provoking. He always saw both sides of each dispute.

Over his four decades of writing these case studies, Ray has probably fired and reinstated more employees than any other human resource professional in history. In doing so, he pointed the way for plant managers and workers to treat one another with dignity while ensuring that all employers deal with personnel issues in the best interest of the company and with fairness to all workers. In that way, he may have saved as many jobs as anyone in manufacturing.

You can’t replace Ray. We won’t try. We will continue to write about the issues that affect employee relations and the issues of employee recruitment, training and retention. The greatest tribute we can make to Ray as he moves on to the next chapter in a remarkable life is to let The Human Side stand as a tribute to a unique individual.


In tight financial times, build a plan, not resentment

The edict came down from above. Profits in recent months had been drab. Customer orders were down. Dividends had been cut and shareholders were griping. On top of that, plant productivity was marginal and costs too high. The edict was clear: No new hires, and overtime was taboo except in an emergency.

“The edict doesn’t make sense,” maintenance supervisor George Delaney groused to plant engineer Alan Strong.

He had approached his boss’s desk with a dour look on his face and an armful of paperwork relating to projects and tasks overloading his to-do list.

“I need more bodies,” he complained. “And with a freeze on overtime how am I supposed to meet schedules and goals?”

“Not by griping and grousing,” his boss replied. “Let me give it some thought.”

QUESTION: Does Delaney’s bind ring a bell? Have you any suggestions to offer that might help solve this dilemma?

STRONG’S SOLUTION : The plant engineer sat down with the supervisor to review the rundown of tasks and projects overburdening the maintenance department. With the help of a yellow magic marker pen Strong underlined selected items on the list. He asked Delaney, “Do you see any reason why these jobs I marked couldn’t as well be performed by independent contractors as by employees on the workforce?”

Delaney frowned and replied hesitantly, “No, I guess not.”

“Typically,” Strong said, “independent contractors are self-employed which means savings through the elimination of taxes, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance payments, and employee benefits.”

Delving further into the situation Delaney and his boss came up with a potential estimated cost reduction of almost 15% through the use of independent contractors.

“But we have to proceed cautiously,” Strong said. “For one thing, we have to make sure the independent contractors are properly classified, and for another, that we’re not in violation of the labor agreement.”

“Which means,” Delaney added, “we’ll have to clear it with both Legal and Personnel.”

“You’ve got it, pal. Get to work.”

Make adjustments to keep valuable people in place

Nothing can be more gut wrenching to managers than a key employee’s announcement that he has decided to quit. It was just such a decision one day that changed maintenance supervisor Frank Etri’s expression from cheerful to dour.

Minutes later he passed his boss in the corridor.

“What’s the problem, Frank?” plant engineer Sam Simonson asked. “You look like Ellen just left you.”

“Ellen would never leave me,” Etri groused. “But Alice Osmond has decided to. She just handed in here resignation.”

“Wait a minute. Not so fast. Why is she leaving? Money? Health problems? Is her husband relocating? What?”

“Beats me,” Etri replied. “She was in a no mood to discuss reasons or negotiate. She said she thought this over at length and discussed it with her husband who agreed with her decision.”

Etri wouldn’t have understated the situation had he said that Alice Osmond was as hardworking and productive as anyone in the department. She was the key person when it came to records, reports, or anything else involving paperwork. Reporting that she would be missed would be a gross understatement.

Simonson frowned. “Hey, let’s not give up so easily. Send Alice to my office.”

QUESTION: Alice has already made up her mind. How could Simonson possibly change it?

THE RESULT : After interviewing Alice, Simonson summoned Etri to his office. “Relax,” he told the supervisor. “She’s staying.” Etri’s jaw almost dropped. “What did you do: Double her salary.” Simonson smiled. “Nothing that drastic. We had a long friendly talk. Alice wanted to quit so she could spend more time with her kids. It’s a simple problem to solve. Half her tasks can be done as easily at home as in the plant. I told her we would work out a schedule that would allow her to do so. Frank, this lesson is worth its weight in shares of IBM stock. No corporate asset is more valuable than a productive key employee. Going overboard to prevent someone like Alice from resigning is a responsibility no manager can afford to take lightly.”

Union literature distribution: Fair, but within the rules

In an Ohio plant, during a meeting at union headquarters chief unit representative Alan Burke was approached by Union Vice President George Romanoski who had a troubled look on his face.

“Alan, I don’t have to tell you that the labor movement in this country has come upon hard times in recent years.”

“That’s true, you don’t have to tell me; I read the papers. So what can we do about it?”

“Not a great deal I’m afraid, but every little bit helps.”

Romanoski asked an associate to bring him a batch of newly created union literature.

“We’re trying to get this message across to all our people,” the union official told Burke. “Starting as soon as possible please distribute this throughout the plant.”

The union had a right to discuss union business and hand out flyers and other literature during the lunch hour. Next day the unit rep set about performing his assigned task. His first trip with this in mind was to the company cafeteria crowded with workers were having lunch. Here the handout went smoothly enough.

But some employees took lunch at their workstations. When Burke approached them with the literature, he was stopped by maintenance supervisor Arthur Young.

“No distribution of literature in work areas,” he informed Burke.

“That’s violation of the contract,” the unit rep protested.

Young disagreed.

QUESTION: Although distribution is permitted during the lunch break, can the union be prohibited to do so in work areas?

KOSKO’S RULING : “Refer Young to Clause 143 of the labor agreement,” plant engineer Rudy Kosko instructed Young. The clause was clear enough. “Distribution of union literature is only permitted during non-work time and in non-work areas and must be cleaned up at the end of each non-work period.”

Case dismissed.

Pick the proper form of discipline

Enough is enough, maintenance foreman Harry Cooper decided one day.

The object of his decision was Mechanic Ralph Morgan, a marginal employee at best and one of Cooper’s most flagrant hiring errors. For three years he had put up with the guy’s crummy attitude, second-rate performance, and unacceptable productivity. The time to take action was long overdue.

That time was now. Morgan’s latest abuse involved time card finagling. The day before he had taken off early and had a buddy clock out for him. He was not only a poor performer but a crook as well. In effect Morgan had stolen an hour’s extra pay. Employees had been fired for lesser violations.

Confronted with the theft, the mechanic had at first denied it. But after pressing him hard on the matter, in the end Cooper had nailed him down. Now at last was his chance to discipline this dud. All he had to do was to carefully work up a case that was so solid Morgan wouldn’t be able to squirm out of it.

The next day was payday. At about 11:15 Cooper started distributing the checks throughout the department. Morgan waited patiently for his. When he saw it wasn’t forthcoming he demanded, “Hey, where’s my check?”

“It’s on hold.”

Morgan’s cheeks flushed. “What the hell is going on here?”

Cooper spelled it out in no uncertain terms.

Morgan said through tight lips, “We’ll see about that!”

QUESTION: Does Cooper have a right to withhold Morgan’s check?

LOPEZ’S VERDICT : “Sorry,” plant engineer Fred Lopez told Cooper when brought up to date on the situation. “Holding up Morgan’s check as a form of discipline is a bad idea. In most states the practice is disallowed. You’ll have to find a better way to make this guy pay for his violation. Work up a case that’s strong enough to get rid of him.”

Uniform charge can’t cut pay too far

The company’s image was important to management. Customers, prospects, suppliers visited the plant on a regular basis. With this in mind employees were required to buy uniforms bearing the company logo. The charge was reasonable since the garments were purchased in bulk by the company at close to wholesale prices.

When Charlie Gonzales was hired as a utility worker in the maintenance department this practice was explained to him. Gonzales did not object to this stipulation and was signed on as a probationary employee. After passing his probationary period, his measurements were taken and a uniform issued. The cost of the uniform was deducted from his following week’s pay.

Next day, clearly nervous and anxious, Gonzales appeared at maintenance supervisor Joe Arco’s desk.

“What’s the problem, Charlie?”

Gonzales showed him his paycheck.

“The cost of the uniform was deducted from my check.”

His boss answered, “You knew this would happen when you were hired. You agreed to it.”

“I know, but my dad says I can’t be charged for the uniform if the cost reduces my income below the minimum wage.”

Arco promised to check it out with the boss.

QUESTION: Does Gonzales have a legitimate beef? Must the deducted cost of the uniform be returned to him?

TURNER’S DECISION : “Reimburse Charlie for the cost of the uniform,” plant engineer Ben Turner instructed Arco. “Since the guy is starting at the entry level wage, the deduction would have the effect of reducing his wage below minimum. His dad knew what he was talking about.”

Excused absences, so no excuse to withhold raise

Electrician Grade II Henry Komatu looked forward to receiving his paycheck. As one of the most productive employees in the maintenance department, there was no doubt in his mind he would get the quarterly merit increase he so clearly deserved.

So it’s no surprise that his face fell several notches when, after being handed his check he noted that the amount paid was no different from what it had been the previous week and several weeks before that.

Could a mistake have been made? With this thought in mind, Henry headed for his boss’s desk.

Noting his expression, maintenance supervisor Charley Hobson asked, “What’s the problem, Henry?”

Komatu showed Hobson the check. “I think a mistake was made. The amount is the same as it’s been for months. My merit increase isn’t included.”

“That’s no mistake,” Hobson said. “Check this out and you’ll see why.”

He showed Henry a report spewed out by a computer that was headed “Department Six Maintenance: Attendance Report.”

“Merit increases aren’t awarded automatically,” Hobson said. “Your productivity is good, but only when you show up for work. Your absenteeism is below the acceptable level. That’s why you were disqualified for the raise.”

“It’s not fair,” Henry groused. “I may have had absences, but they couldn’t be helped. Either I was ill, or there were family problems I couldn’t ignore.”

QUESTION: Is Henry entitled to the merit increase despite his poor attendance?

MAXWELL’S VERDICT : “Give Henry the increase,” plant engineer Boyd Maxwell instructed Hobson. “Excessive absence, if the cause is properly explained and legitimate, is not sufficient to deny a productive employee the raise he deserves — especially if there is no contractual specification that ties the merit increase to attendance.”

Consistent discipline – but don’t ignore the facts

In an effort to be consistent, some managers go overboard to the point where they risk drowning.

We have all been exposed to preachments from various sources – lawyers. arbitrators, consultants – equating fair discipline with consistent discipline. But how important actually is consistency? HR Matters E-Tips, a newsletter published by Personnel Policy Service, hit the proverbial nail on the head. “Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to treat all employees the same when disciplining them. You just have to treat similarly situated in a consistent manner.”

Charley Silverman, a Rhode Island maintenance supervisor, learned this lesson the hard way.

Carpenter Class II Arnold Delman had been a substandard employee for a long time. When he took 25 minutes to respond to his boss’s call to his workstation Silverman asked, “Where have you been for the last half hour?”

“Call of nature. A guy’s entitled – “

” – Maybe so,” Silverman snapped back. “But not three times in one three-hour period. Are you being treated by a kidney specialist?”

“Very funny,” Delman replied.

He was right, the supervisor thought, it wasn’t funny at all. He issued a two-week suspension notice, accompanied by his third and presumably final written reprimand. The carpenter protested vigorously when he was handed the discipline that was headed “Absence From Work Station.”

“Okay,” Delman conceded grudgingly, “maybe I deserve the discipline. But two weeks is excessive.” He referred to two other employees, McGee and Jamison, who had been disciplined for the same offense. One had received a week’s suspension, the other three days.

QUESTION: In the interests of consistency, is Delman’s two-week suspension too harsh?

GALLO’S VERDICT : “Too harsh? No way!” plant engineer Frank Gallo ruled when given the suspension notice to sign. “This guy should have been fired months ago.

You can’t equate Delman’s situation with those of McGee or Jamison. For one thing, they had more reasonable excuses for their absence; for another, their performance ratings were superior to that of Delman who has been skating too long on the thinnest of ice.”

Be ready for work, or pay for it

It had happened before. And before. And once again before that. One time too much, to the mind to maintenance foreman Alex Mobray. The time was long overdue to get the message across to welder Grade I Charlie Wickham.

“Someone has already been assigned your regular job,” Mobray informed the welder who approached his desk with a guilty look on his face. “The only spot open is utility man Grade II. You can either get to work there or clock out and go home.”

Wickham had no intention of clocking out and losing a full day’s pay so he reported to assistant foreman Jim Greese and accepted the downgrade with a philosophical shrug.

But life wasn’t that simple, Wickham realized, when the checks were handed out on Friday. Embarrassment was one thing; a cut in pay quite another.

“Hey, what goes on here?” he wanted to know. “Payroll screwed up. My check is more than $3 an hour short.”

“It wasn’t payroll who screwed up, it was you,” Mobray replied. “You reported too late for your regular job – again — and you were assigned what was available. You were paid for the day at the rate for that job for the number of hours you worked.”

Wickham’s lips tightened. “That’s the same as being demoted.”

Mobray nodded. “You got it, pal. Demotion for a day.”

QUESTION: Is management within its rights demoting Wickham for the day?

KELLER’S RESPONSE : “The pay cut stands,” plant engineer Art Keller ruled. “Wickham was lucky he wasn’t sent home — or worse. Nothing in the labor agreement guarantees an employee his assigned place in production. He has to earn it by showing up on time. Maybe this time he’ll get the message.”