Human side – 2005-06-01

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor June 1, 2005

Incentive bonuses also affect overtime pay

Global Products’ unexpectedly large rush order, specifying a July 15th delivery date, created a hectic work situation plant wide.

As the shipping date drew alarmingly close, a management meeting was held to deal with the situation.

Production Manager John Tower pulled no punches when he declared, “Like it or not, some of those guys are going to have to postpone their vacations.”

Plant Engineer Charley Kosten agreed. “Global is one of our biggest customers. We have no choice but to get that shipment out on time.

“One thing I can guarantee,” Personnel Manager Lou Koslowski added. “We’re going to be working with a mighty unhappy crew over the next four or five weeks.”

Several supervisory heads nodded agreement.

Human Resources Director Ed Novack suggested thoughtfully, “It might be a good idea to sweeten the kitty from now until the 15th for some selected employees.”

“Good thinking, Ed,” Plant Manager Chuck Karmen said. “We have three weeks to go. I’ll instruct payroll to increase the hourly rate 7% for employees whose vacation plans had to be cancelled during this period.”

The conciliatory mandate, after being announced, didn’t put an end to the grumbling but helped considerably to taper it down.

The Global order was shipped on time and things appeared to be cooling down for a while. That is, until the day after payday when two maintenance employees whose vacation had been postponed, appeared at Foreman Harry Rothchild’s desk.

“What’s the problem?” the supervisor asked.

Bill Link, who acted as spokesman for the group, spoke up. “Our pay has been shorted,” he said.

“How do you figure that? You got the special bonus, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. Our regular hourly rate was adjusted, but no adjustment was made for all the overtime we put in.”

Question: Should the incentive bonus have been applied to the overtime that was worked as well as the regular time?

Franklin’s Decision : “Link is correct in his claim,” Plant Engineer Bob Franklin told Rothchild. “Another adjustment will have to be made. Bonuses for whatever purpose must be included in determining rate of pay during the applicable period. The rate has to be recalculated and additional checks distributed.”

Finding a compromise when vacation plans and work conflict

Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men conflict with the best-laid plans of mice and men. In this case two men (no mice) were involved.

Carpenter Grade II Joel Dumont, his wife Irene and two teen-aged boys, had been looking forward for months to their July 15 visit to Idaho where his sister-in-law lived with her family. It had been two years since the sisters had seen each other and the boys had seen their cousins.

It was thus something of a shock when Maintenance Supervisor Charley Gordon approached Dumont with the news that he was planning a special inventory of tools and supplies for mid-July and he would have to postpone his vacation until August.

“That’s impossible,” Dumont protested. “These dates were agreed on months ago. Irene’s sister and brother-in-law arranged their vacations to coincide with mine. August is their busy season; there’s no way they could get off.”

Gordon shook his head. “I’m sorry, Joel, but the work comes first. I know this is a big disappointment, but…”

“Disappointment, nothing; that’s the understatement of the year. You’re messing up the plans of two families.”

Gordon shrugged. “I wish I could help you. But like I said, the work comes first.”

“Oh yeah! We’ll see about that.”

Dumont made a beeline for Plant Engineer Tony Ricardo’s office.

Question: Should Dumont be permitted to take his long planned vacation?

Ricardo’s Response : After hearing out the carpenter’s appeal, Ricardo summoned Gordon to his office.

“Let Joel go ahead with his vacation arrangements,” the plant engineer instructed Gordon. “For one thing, the policy manual states that the company will ‘make every effort to comply with employees’ vacation needs and requests.’ For another, Dumont is a five-year veteran in the department with a good performance record and excellent attitude rating. And for a third, his absence during the period that the special inventory is planned will neither disrupt the operation unreasonably nor throw the company into bankruptcy. If need be, you can always hire a temp for that period.”

Junior’s seniority makes him the choice for the job

When a group leader vacancy occurred in the maintenance department, Maintenance Supervisor Harry Grossman combed the roster carefully. The contest wound down to a choice of two men: Carlos Fuentes and Vincent Stuckel. Carlos, a two-year employee, was classified as a junior. Stuckel, on the job less than a month, held the rank of senior.

Both men could probably handle the job, Grossman concluded. But, for one thing, Fuentes was long overdue for a raise and for another, his longer-term familiarity with the operation gave him an edge.

Nonetheless, when Fuentes’s promotion was announced on the bulletin board, Stuckel lost no time appearing at his boss’s desk.

“Hey what gives here?” he groused. “Since when does a junior employee get a promotion over a senior?”

“Since a long time ago,” Grossman replied. “Junior or not, Carlos has the edge; the job goes to him.”

“We’ll see about that,” Stuckel threatened.

Question: Can Grossman be forced to reverse his decision?

Humboldt’s Verdict : Not surprisingly, the dispute wound up on Plant Engineer Carl Humboldt’s desk. His ruling was swift and unqualified.

“Fuentes gets the promotion. The labor agreement calls for seniority as the controlling factor in awarding promotions where the ability to do the job and physical fitness are relatively equal. In such cases management can step in to decide that the junior man is qualified if he can take over without additional preparation or training. Stuckel is in no position to do that.”

Refusing to clean up is insubordination

Most arbitrators agree with supervisors that a dirty and cluttered workplace is an unsafe workplace. But some skilled employees are prone to be uppity when instructed to do cleanup work.

Mechanic Grade I Joe Romanski was one such worker. His response was a show of indignation when Maintenance Supervisor Troy Grabow chided him for clocking out the day before without following his instruction to sweep up and tidy his workplace.

“This is the second time I had to talk to you about cleaning up before leaving. If it happens again it will cost you.”

“Skilled personnel shouldn’t be required to perform menial work,” the employee snapped back. I’m paid to be a mechanic, not a janitor. We’re supposed to have sweepers for that.”

“Since when do you decide who does what in this department?” Grabow retorted angrily. “It make no sense to haul a sweeper over here to perform a crummy ten minute task. From now on I want to see your workplace swept up before you quit for the day. I won’t tell you again.”

Romanski skulked off without replying. The following day, when he again clocked out without cleaning up, Grabow slapped him with a three-day suspension. The mechanic threatened a grievance.

“File away,” Grabow replied.

Question: Is Grabow within his rights refusing to perform clean-up work?

Hoffman’s Verdict : “The suspension stands,” Plant Engineer Greg Hoffman ruled. “Keeping his workplace clean is a part of the job requirement whatever one’s classification. Other mechanics, welders, setup men and skilled personnel keep their workplaces tidy. Nothing in the company’s policy or labor agreement puts Romanski a level above his coworkers. On top of that, even if he honestly feels his claim justifies a grievance, what he should have done was follow his supervisor’s instruction first, and grieved later.”

Is performance a factor in meting out discipline?

There are too many grouches in this world, Instrument Repairman Dominick Castro believed. “You gotta have a sense of humor.” Castro made it known that he admired people who had a good sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the mechanic’s own sense of humor fell far short of deserving admiration. An example of this became evident the day he decided to play what he perceived as a good-natured joke and pulled out the chair from behind Ellen Durnish when she was about to sit down.

The maintenance department clerk took a nasty spill and hurt her back.

“That does it!” Maintenance Supervisor Archie Brown declared. “I’ve had it with you and your stupid horseplay shenanigans. You can clock out and collect your termination pay from the payroll department.”

Castro was stunned. “Aw, I didn’t mean nothing by it. I was just kidding around.”

Brown didn’t see it that way. “Enough is enough,” he declared.

Question: Is Castro’s ill-considered ‘practical joke’ serious enough to warrant his dismissal?

Calvin’s Verdict : “Castro’s so-called joke was about as stupid as could be,” Plant Engineer Harvey Calvin told the supervisor. “But it wasn’t malicious. Moreover, you didn’t warn Dom in advance about the consequences of his behavior. Finally, the employee has an excellent work record which must be taken into consideration.”

He instructed Brown to reduce the discipline to an four-week suspension coupled with a warning that a repetition of such behavior would result in termination.

Find a way to help employees when health, safety are an issue

Painter First Class Larry Brewer, age 45, was head of a family of five, and a six-year member of the maintenance department. On at least three occasions in the past he had suffered epileptic seizures on the job. His most recent attack found him painting ceiling trim while perched several feet high up on a scaffolding. Fortunately, Brewer was able to sound the alarm and two employees helped him down from his workstation.

“The incident quite frankly scared the hell out of me,” Brewer’s boss, Maintenance Foreman George Ratchett, confided to Plant Engineer James McDermott. “The guy could have been killed.”

McDermott shared his concern. “Can you find another job for Brewer?” he asked Ratchett.

“Nothing occurs to me offhand,” he replied. “I’ll check it out.”

Ratchett returned to his boss’s office next morning with the bad news that he could think of no other job.

McDermott nodded. “How much of Larry’s work would you estimate places him in hazardous situations considering his handicap?”

Ratchett pulled in a breath. “More than I’d feel comfortable gambling on.”

“Okay, leave it in my hands. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

Question: If it were your decision to make, under the circumstances would you terminate Brewer?

McDermott’s Solution : That evening at home the plant engineer called a half dozen executives and supervisors he knew. Next morning he summoned Larry Brewer to his office.

He got right to the point. “Larry, you’re a valued employee of this company and if there was another job open we would certainly offer it to you.”

Brewer paled. “Sir, I can’t afford…”

“I know you can’t. Hear me out. Are you familiar with a company called Acme Auto Parts across town?”

Brewer frowned. “Not personally, but I heard of it.”

“Good.” McDermott handed the painter an envelope. “Give this to Al Grumbach. He’s Acme’s general foreman and a personal friend of mine. Acme has a job opening for a general utility man that entails more than half painting and some carpentry work I know you can handle. None of the work will be hazardous. Acme’s a good company. I have every confidence you’ll do well there.”

Brewer’s eyes began to well. McDermott dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Pick up your final check at Personnel, and get over there as soon as you can.”

New equipment doesn’t mean a rate change is needed

The initiation of operational change is normally held to be a management prerogative. Similarly judged is the right to introduce new equipment in an effort to improve product, reduce costs, or increase productivity. However, when a new machine is introduced on the scene, bargaining unit personnel customarily spring into double alert with regard to the rate assigned to the job.

It was thus no surprise when, following the introduction of a new type of lathe that Committeeman Edgar Howard appeared at Maintenance Supervisor George Fritchie’s desk to complain that the rate for work performed on that machine should be hiked.

“How do you figure that?” Fritchie replied. “The nature of the job isn’t all that different.”

Howard disagreed. “A new procedure is involved. The guys are unfamiliar with the routine. It takes longer to finish a job.”

Frichie held firm to his conviction that, while differences existed, they weren’t significant.”

When Howard refused to back down, the case was brought to the attention of Plant Engineer Lester Grosch.

Question: How would you decide this case?

Grosch’s Verdict : “The rate remains the same,” the plant engineer ruled.

Howard continued to protest. “If a job takes longer to complete, a rate increase is warranted.”

“The job takes longer any time a change takes place. However, in this case no significant increase in skill or labor is involved, and after the job is performed a few times it should take no more time to complete. It might even take less time,” he added. “Claim denied.”

When 39 days on the job add up to 45 days of work

When a new product line went into full swing the customary early fall peak period disappeared. The heavy work pace was continuous, described by one production supervisor as “perpetual peak.”

Everything was behind schedule. Overtime assignments extended from regular workdays to weekends as well. Two additional work sheds were slated to be built, designated for product components of the new line.

It was at this hectic time that Mike Kiersten, a utility worker with good roofing experience, was hired with the standard 45-day probationary period specified. Along with the rest of the maintenance crew, Kiersten found himself working 60 and even 70 hours per week including Saturdays and even a Sunday or two.

One day Kiersten appeared at his boss’s desk.

“What’s the problem, Mike?”

“No problem. I was just wondering how come my name still appears on the probationary list?”

Maintenance Supervisor Carl Hoenig checked the record. “You only put in 39 days; you have six days to go.”

The utility man disagreed. “The policy manual describes the probationary period as 45 days of actual service with the company. If you calculate the overtime I put in, my actual service amounts to more than 46 days.”

Hoenig frowned. “It doesn’t work that way — 45 days means 45 calendar days. Overtime doesn’t figure into the calculation. We’ve been so busy we haven’t had the time to run down a performance evaluation on your work.”

Kiersten insisted he had more than fulfilled the probationary period. He asked Hoenig, “Please do me a favor and check it out for me.”

Question: Is the new man entitled to include his hours of overtime as part of his probationary period?

LaFollette’s Decision : “Switch the guy to the regular payroll,” Plant Engineer Louis LaFollette instructed Hoenig. “From arbitration cases I can recall, overtime work cannot be excluded from the seniority calculation. There’s no guarantee every arbitrator will rule this way, but since Kiersten has sweated through this rough period with the rest of us, I think we can take a chance on him.”