Human side – 2004-08-09

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor August 9, 2004

Labor management committee

Define its power

In the interest of labor-management cooperation and goodwill, the general manager decided to establish a joint committee that would hopefully create improved understanding and efficiency.

The committee was composed of six members, three selected by management and three from the bargaining unit. The purpose of the committee as defined in the company’s policy manual was to:

  • Discuss work areas where modifications designed to improve operations might be made.

  • Consider ideas designed to favorably alter communication and working conditions.

  • Come up with ways to improve productivity, conserve materials, or introduce other economies.

    • The joint committee functioned harmoniously for six months. Then at one meeting a proposed change involving the introduction of automated equipment was revealed by a member of management. Bargaining unit members exchanged glances and immediately objected.

      Discussion became heated, and a spokesperson for the bargaining unit threatened to grieve. “That would be in violation of our agreement,” a management spokesperson countered.

      Question: Does the bargaining unit have a right to dispute the proposal disclosed by management?

      Attorney’s opinion : “A grievance would be in violation of the agreement,” Labor Attorney Beth Richardson agreed. In support she pointed to a clause that specified as follows that: ” ‘Matters considered by this committee shall not be subject to arbitration, and the adoption of ideas proposed shall remain a management prerogative.'”

      Case closed.

      Recalling employees on layoff

      Take care

      With orders falling off and the bottom line shrinking, the time for work force curtailment was at hand. Among employees laid off was Frank Prentice, a maintenance department mechanic.

      As weeks passed by economic conditions did not improve significantly, but a temporary job in Maintenance opened up. Maintenance Supervisor Harold Drimmer scanned down the layoff list and summoned Mark Richtor to work.

      Two weeks later Richtor was still on the job. That afternoon Prentice appeared at the supervisor’s desk.

      “How come Mark was recalled and not me? I have better seniority; the job should be mine.”

      Drimmer disagreed.

      “Take a look at your work record compared with Mark’s. Not only is your performance rating lower, but you were warned three times and suspended twice for poor attendance.”

      “That has nothing to do with it,” Prentice protested. “Recall is based on seniority, not work record.”

      Question: Is Prentice entitled to recall?

      Russo’s verdict : “An employee’s work record, however poor, does not deny his seniority right,” Plant Engineer Vincent Russo told Drimmer. “Nor does the fact that the available job is temporary deprive him of this right. As the senior worker on the recall list, Prentice should have been called back. An adjustment in back pay will have to be made.”

      Can he choose a job he prefers?

      With efficiency and overhead reduction in mind, management decided to discontinue a second shift where only three men were employed. One of the displaced workers was Utility Man Charley Winkler.

      Two jobs were available on the day shift, both in Charley’s classification and both paying the same rate. On the one hand, Charley was happy being transferred to days. On the other hand there were aspects of the newly assigned job he didn’t like. As he made clear to Maintenance Foreman Harry Waterman, he much preferred the other job that was open.

      “Sorry about that,” his boss replied, “but in this department the supervisor makes the assignments, not the employee.”

      Question: Should Charley be allowed to select the job he prefers?

      Dunlap’s decision : “Allow Charley his preference,” Plant Engineer Bill Dunlap instructed Waterman. “Because both jobs carry the same rate,” he said, “doesn’t mean other factors don’t exist that make one preferable over the other to an employee.”

      Can supervisor pitch in when shorthanded?

      A supervisor’s headaches never cease. The department was three workers short, and with vacations coming up, the situation was aggravated. If there’s one thing line employees monitor religiously, Maintenance Foreman Irv Pinsky realized, it’s bargaining unit work performed by supervisors. Absolutely taboo.

      But every rule has its exception, Pinsky reasoned.

      It was quitting time on Friday. A wiring job in the lab being performed by Electrician Grade I Joe Tyler was four or five hours short of completion. Joe was scheduled to leave on vacation Monday.

      “Hey, Joe,” Pinsky said, “how about working overtime tomorrow to wind up that job?”

      “No way,” the electrician replied. “Joyce would kill me. We have a million things to do before taking off for Oregon on Monday.”

      Joe’s decision was firm; Pinsky was unable to change it.

      When Monday rolled around the lab job was still incomplete. The foreman figured he could do the work himself in three hours or less. Despite reservations to the contrary he went at it. Before long Shop Steward Sam Klein was at his side.

      “That’s bargaining unit work you’re doing,” he charged. “Verboten.”

      “Joe Tyler refused to work overtime to finish the job. It’s just two or three hours. No big deal.”

      That’s not the way Klein saw it. To him it was a big deal.

      Question: Should Pinsky be permitted to wind up the job?

      Kaplan’s verdict : “Knock it off,” Plant Engineer Hy Kaplan instructed the foreman. “The contract clearly states that only in an emergency can a supervisor be permitted to perform bargaining unit work. In no way does this job qualify as an emergency.”

      Don’t get personal when assessing performance

      Carpenter Grade II Allen Dukoff was a marginal employee at best. He was argumentative, and his attendance was poor. Maintenance Supervisor George Gross didn’t look forward to confronting him in the department’s quarterly appraisal meeting.

      Dukoff, who felt his boss was prejudiced against him, slumped into the small conference room with a chip on his shoulder. Gross motioned him to a seat at the table and opened his personnel folder.

      Scanning the record he shook his head in disapproval. “Allen, your performance shows no improvement since our last meeting three months ago.”

      The employee grunted.

      “Your main problem is attitude. You don’t seem to have any ambition. Don’t you have any pride?”

      If Dukoff was resentful at the outset, by now he was fuming. Not surprisingly, by the end of the session, Gross decided the session was an exercise in futility. His best bet would be to get rid of this guy once and for all.

      It was customary in this company for supervisors to review appraisal sessions with their superiors.

      That afternoon Plant Engineer Ralph Turnball summoned Gross to his office.

      Question: In this situation, as Gross’s boss, what would you tell the supervisor?

      Turnball’s response : Plant Engineer Ralph Turnball sighed after scanning the supervisor’s notes following his interview with Dukoff.

      “Peter, professional managers and consultants invariably advise, ‘In appraisal sessions, focus on performance not personality flaws.’ Judging from your notes, this message never got through to you. I view Dukoff’s performance as marginal but not hopeless. I would suggest that you set up another meeting with him. This time focus on the positive aspects of his work and behavior on the one hand, and on his shortcomings on the other. Make it clear that you are giving him one final chance to shape up and that if he works with you you’ll do your best to help him keep his job if he wants it.”

      Can layoff time be charged against vacation?

      Even the best of labor agreements omit unusual situations from time to time. A contract clause in a Maryland company’s contract contained the following proviso:

      “An employee’s seniority shall be regarded as unbroken if he or she is on layoff for less than four weeks.”

      Two months after Stockroom Attendant Alice Schildkraut returned to work after having been on layoff six weeks, vacation sheets were passed around the maintenance department. Alice, a longtime employee, was entitled to three weeks vacation. Or so she believed when she filled out and handed in the sheet.

      She discovered with dismay when the sheet was returned to her that only two weeks had been approved. Within moments she appeared at Maintenance Supervisor Frank Carlin’s desk to protest.

      Carlin checked the calculations made by Personnel and explained to the attendant that her entitlement time had fallen short as a result of the six-week layoff period.

      “That’s a rip-off,” Alice replied. “There’s nothing in the contract that specifies the loss of vacation time due to layoff.”

      “That may be true,” Carlin conceded, “but the clause on p 88 should cover the situation. You were out six weeks, two weeks too long.”

      “That four-week clause refers to seniority,” Alice persisted. “The word vacation isn’t mentioned.”

      “The same thinking would apply. I’ll check with Mr. Fosdick,” Carlin said.

      Question: Do you think Alice should get the three weeks she expected?

      Fosdick’s ruling: “Viewed literally, Personnel may have a point in reducing Alice’s entitlement,” Plant Engineer David Fosdick told Carlin. “But this is an unusual situation. Since Alice is a well-rated employee, give her the benefit of the doubt and approve the extra week.”

      When the party turns sour

      Some managements never learn. At an Ohio manufacturing plant the annual Christmas party was regarded as a tradition. Plant Engineer Horace Franken wasn’t opposed to the celebration per se. But in view of unpleasant occurrences in the past, what he did object to was the dispensing of free and unlimited liquor. General Manager Joe Turner saw his point, but felt that the crew would resent the curtailment of a long-time benefit.

      “We’ll monitor the behavior closely,” he told Franken.

      Good intentions notwithstanding, at that year’s year-end party, the behavior wasn’t monitored closely enough, if at all. In fact, in some cases managers and supervisors were no less “under the influence” than rank-and-file employees.

      Before the party was over Nick Molofsky, a maintenance department painter was, to understate the situation, tanked. So much so that in a heated exchange with Maintenance Supervisor Don Francis, he tossed the contents of a vodka cocktail into his face.

      “That does it,” Francis snapped sharply.

      Molofsky slumped away sheepishly.

      When he returned to work three days later the painter found a dismissal notice waiting for him. He hurried to Tom Costeau, his unit representative, for support. They both appeared at the supervisor’s desk.

      “It’s not right to fire a man for a dumb remark made at a Christmas party,” he said. “He didn’t mean anything by it.”

      When Francis refused to be moved, Costeau threatened to grieve.

      Question: Should Molofsky be fired for insubordination?

      Franken’s verdict : “Kill the discharge notice,” Plant Engineer Franken instructed Francis. “For one thing, the insubordination didn’t occur during working hours. For another thing, it was triggered by an excess of alcohol.”

      When General Manager Turner heard about the incident, he went hat in hand to the plant engineer. “I should have listened to you, Horace. We’ll have to make a few changes for next year’s Christmas party.”

      Veteran re-employment

      Maintenance Department Utility Worker Carl Koslowski had been bypassed twice for promotion and was fed up with his job. One day he handed in his resignation on the hopes of finding a better job.

      Koslowski’s efforts continued to be unsuccessful as the weeks passed into months. Eventually his frustration reached the point where he gave up trying and signed up for a three-year stint in the Navy. Lazy and unreliable by nature, he achieved no more in his Navy job than in his civilian career.

      Recalling the hardship of his job-seeking efforts prior to joining the Navy, Koslowski decided to get his old job back if he could. He contacted his old boss, Maintenance Foreman Charley Gribbiner.

      “I’m being discharged from the Navy in two weeks,” he informed Gribbiner. “I’m ready to start on my old job again.”

      The foreman had trouble for a while recalling the caller’s name. Checking the records he replied, “Hey, you have got to be kidding. That was more than three years ago.”

      “So what? I’m a veteran. It’s a law that you have to rehire me.”

      Gribbiner disagreed.

      Question: Is the company required by law to put Koslowski back on the payroll because he’s a veteran?

      Levy’s verdict : “No reinstatement,” Plant Engineer Fred Levy ruled after being informed of the threat. “You can explain to Koslowski that the legal requirement to reinstate a veteran only applies if he resigned for the sole purpose of joining the service and not in order to seek other employment.”

      Accommodate leave to management’s convenience

      Machine Operator 2nd Class George Axelrod appeared at Maintenance Supervisor Grover Hadley’s desk Monday morning and requested a four-week medical leave of absence to begin in five weeks.

      “What for?”

      “I’m scheduled for a knee replacement.”

      Hadley nodded. “Let me check the roster and work book. I’ll see what we can work out.”

      Hadley returned later with the answer. “That leave is going to put the department in a bind.”

      Axelrod shrugged. “I’m not requesting it because I want a holiday.”

      “I know,” his boss assured him. “It’s the section’s heavy workload I’m thinking of. I’ll switch you to Section C until you go on leave and transfer one of their people here. Their workload is lighter; it’ll help balance things out.”

      “That’s fine with me,” the mechanic said. “So long as the job duties and hours are the same.”

      “No problem,” Hadley replied.

      The arrangement worked out fine until payday when Axelrod appeared with a long face at his boss’s desk.

      “What’s the beef?” Hadley asked.

      Axelrod presented his check for inspection. “My pay is seven bucks short.”

      “That can’t be helped. The Section C rate is lower for the job.”

      “That’s not fair. I’m entitled to my regular rate.”

      Question: Is the mechanic’s assertion correct?

      Durkin’s decision : “Authorize the seven dollar differential for Axelrod,” Plant Engineer Marvin Durkin instructed Hadley. “When you initiate a temporary transfer of this kind for purposes of convenience, the employee is entitled to receive the same compensation and benefits.”

      Employee right to record an appraisal interview?

      Maintenance Department Mechanic Grade II Don Carlson had an appraisal interview scheduled for the next afternoon. The day before, he appeared at his boss’s desk and said he wanted to tape the session.

      “Why would you want to do that?” Maintenance Supervisor Ed Brewer asked.

      Carlson, a marginal employee at best with an attendance problem, shrugged. “Just so that I have a record of it.”

      “I’ll be frank with you, Carlson,” Brewer replied. “I don’t see the point. If you want a record you can take notes.”

      That didn’t satisfy the mechanic. “What’s the harm if I make a tape recording. I have a right to do that.”

      “Where does it say that you have such a right?”

      “It doesn’t have to say so anywhere. It just makes sense.”

      “It doesn’t make sense to me. Sorry, Carlson, request denied.”

      Carlson decided to take the matter up with his unit supervisor.

      “That’s your privilege.”

      Question: Must the mechanic be permitted to tape record the appraisal session?

      Duffy’s response : Plant Engineer Calvin Duffy supported Brewer’s stand. “No law states that management must allow an employee to tape a meeting. From the best of my recollection most such requests are denied.

      “For one thing, when a meeting takes place the supervisor is in charge, not the employee. For another, meetings don’t always proceed on a friendly and harmonious basis. Emotional outbursts sometimes occur. Impassioned arguments could take place. Feelings and intentions can be easily misconstrued if a session is on tape. In some states, in fact, taping is only permitted if both parties agree to have it done. If Carlson is worried about being unfairly treated, you might give him permission to review your written report of the meeting.”

      Fighting when provoked

      It happened in the employee cafeteria during lunch period. What started as a peaceful discussion among a few maintenance employees about a horrific suicide bombing in Israel gradually turned into a heated argument.

      “What causes all the violence and killing in the world?” Joel Katz asked.

      “Hatred and racism,” another worker replied.

      “What causes hatred and racism?” Katz said. “Religion, that’s what.”

      John Lawton, a welder, put in his two cents. “That’s crazy. Since when does religion preach hatred and violence?”

      “When extremism is involved,” Katz said. “Look at the Middle East.”

      “That’s bull!” Lawton shot back.

      Katz cited an example that Lawton objected to. The argument became increasingly heated. Among other epithets, Lawton uttered a profane slur.

      “See what I mean?” Katz said. “It’s guys like him who turn into killers and bombers.” He walked away in disgust.

      Lawton followed him, grabbing him by the sleeve and pulling him around. Lawton picked up a piece of lumber. Katz found a length of pipe. Lawton swung and missed. Katz swung and connected, knocking Lawton to the floor. By this time Maintenance Foreman Pete Schiffo appeared.

      Fighting in the plant was strictly prohibited. Schiffo presented Lawton and Katz with discharge slips.

      Question: Do you think that the discharges were warranted?

      Todman’s ruling : Plant Engineer Arthur Todman instructed Schiffo to cancel the dismissal notices and issue 30-day suspensions. “Under the circumstances,” he said, “passions were provoked, with emotions overheated. However, in view of the excessive response to the provocation, the month-long suspensions are warranted.”