Human Side

By Raymond Dreyfack Contributing Editor September 15, 2002

Assignment dispute: Must unit rep be summoned while on overtime?

Saturday morning a skeleton crew was on hand working overtime. Maintenance Supervisor Joe Moody instructed Utility Worker Frank Durkin to scrub down two large tanks in the lab.

The tank scrub-down was the dirtiest job in the plant.

“It’s not my turn,” Durkin protested.

Ordinarily an effort was made to split up the scrub-down as evenly as possible among the department’s three utility workers. Durkin pointed out he had done a scrub-down only a week ago.

“Sorry about that,” Moody sympathized. “You’re the only man available and the job has to be done.”

“No way!” Durkin persisted. “It’s not fair.”

Moody was losing patience. “That’s a direct order, Frank. Either do what you’re told or suffer the consequences.”

Durkin refused to give in. He insisted on calling Unit Representative Arthur Gold to help plead his case. Gold, an electrician, was on a wiring job at another part of the plant.

“No can do,” Moody replied. “You guys are on overtime. I’m not going to kill valuable time at time-and-a-half on a minor squabble. Do the job and you can resolve your beef on Monday.”

Durkin held firm in his demand. “I’m entitled to talk to my unit rep.”

Question: Is Durkin within his rights demanding to access his rep while on overtime?

Belknap’s decision: Durkin wound up doing the scrub-down as instructed and issued a protest Monday morning. Reviewing the case, Plant Engineer George Belknap conceded that the utility worker had a valid beef. “The labor agreement makes no mention regarding an overtime restriction on the unit rep’s services,” he said. “Overtime or not, he should have been summoned.” “So what do I get in return?” Durkin asked. “How about if your name is skipped in the rotation the next two times the scrub-down job comes around? Does that sound fair?” “It sure does,” the worker agreed.

Can management unilaterally set production standards?

Plant Manager Jeff Dorkin decided to develop a structured set of performance standards in the hope of raising plant productivity. A civil engineer and time study specialist were assigned to the task and a consulting firm was hired to assist them.

When this job was done supervisors were summoned to a meeting and the formalized standards distributed for their review and evaluation.

The standards were marginally higher than previous specs. Supervisors unanimously agreed they were fair and would be accepted by workers. The new standards were then published in a manual and handed out to employees.

A closing statement informed personnel that they were required to adhere to the standards, and that disciplinary action would be taken where performance fell short.

A few workers griped about the standards, but carried their dissatisfaction no further.

Most employees accepted them without protest, and productivity was boosted about 5%.

After six weeks passed three workers whose performance failed to meet the new standards were issued warning notices that if they continued to fall short, disciplinary action would be taken.

Two workers heeded the warnings and their performance improved. Employee three, Don Sturdy, was a welder whose productivity continued to decline. He was laid off for a week and quickly protested that the discipline was unfair because line employees had neither been informed in advance of the standards nor consulted about how they were set.

When Maintenance Foreman Pete Schiffo replied that management had a right to set fair and reasonable standards unilaterally, Sturdy threatened to file a grievance.

Question: How do you think Sturdy will fare if he follows through with his threat?

Graham’s verdict: “Sturdy is whistling Dixie,” Plant Engineer Chris Graham replied when informed of the welder’s threat. “Inform Sturdy that management has a right to set reasonable performance goals without either notifying or consulting with line and staff employees.”

Is senior applicant entitled to bid?

When an opening occurred for a senior service equipment mechanic, Maintenance Foreman Al Pezzuti took pains to spell out that amateurs need not apply.

“The job calls for an experienced service mechanic,” he said. “We’re not in the training business around here.”

Having made this clear, he was surprised to see Joe Haber’s name in response to the posting.

“Haber’s a good man,” he conceded, “but he never worked as a senior service mechanic.”

Since no one else on the crew qualified for the job an ad was placed in the local newspaper. This produced three candidates, one of whom filled the bill. Haber lost no time in protesting.

“I’m a 9-yr veteran employee in this plant, 4 as a senior mechanic. Even though my job classification was never labeled service equipment mechanic, I’ve filled most if not all the requirements for years. I’m familiar working with blueprints and diagrams; I’ve monitored heating and AC systems; I can read gauges and thermostats; I have experience troubleshooting plant systems. I’m qualified for the job; the only thing missing is the title. I have a good job performance record and feel I deserve a crack at the job.”

When Pezzuti continued to express doubts, Haber threatened to file a grievance.

Question: In your opinion, should the mechanic be given a chance at the job?

Polsky’s verdict: When the case came to Plant Engineer Mort Polsky’s attention, the executive advised Pezzuti to give Haber a crack at the job. “Nowhere in the contract is it specified that a bidder must have held the actual job in question to put in a bid. His related experience and rights of seniority must also be taken into consideration. Give him a reasonable trial period. You’ll find out soon enough if he can handle the job.”

Jews and Arabs are equally human

This happened a month or so after Sept. 11th, 2001. In San Francisco a disturbance was heard from the screw machine section of an auto parts manufacturing plant.

“What is going on here?” Maintenance Foreman Joe Torrence wanted to know.

“It’s Ahmed and Jerry,” someone replied. “They’re trying to kill each other again.”

Jerry was an observant Jew. Ahmed a Palestinian.

Fighting in the plant was forbidden at the risk of dismissal. Ahmed and Jerrry had been warned more than once in the past.

This was it, Torrence decided. He summoned the machine operators to his desk and instructed them to go to personnel for their termination checks.

“He started it,” Jerry accused.

“That’s a lie,” Ahmed shot back.

“I don’t care who started it,” the foreman snapped. “I can’t run an efficient operation with employees at each others’ throats all the time.”

He filled out a termination form and brought it to Plant Engineer George Calvin for approval.

Question: In Torrence’s shoes, would you have fired the two men?

Calvin’s response: Calvin read the dismissal notice thoughtfully, shaking his head. “Ahmed’s Palestinian, isn’t he?” “That’s right,” Torrence replied. “His family’s still living there. Jerry is Jewish; he has a son in Israel.” “Send both men to my office.”

When they appeared Calvin wasted no time on preliminaries. “You guys must really hate each other,” he said.

Both men lowered their heads.

“Are your jobs important to you?”

Jerry said, “Yes sir, I need the work.”

Ahmed replied, “I have a wife and three kids. After 9/11 no one would hire me.”

Calvin nodded. I’ll give you guys one last chance to save your jobs, on the condition that you both enroll in a Jewish-Arab Dialogue Group.”

“What’s that?” Ahmed asked suspiciously.

“It’s a program that was launched in San Francisco and is spreading rapidly in an effort to encourage understanding between Arabs and Jews. If it succeeds in opening your minds it might put an end to this nonsense. Will you do it?”

The two men exchanged solemn glances and nodded assent. Torrence gave them a number to contact. Since that day Ahmed and Jerry have attended dialogue sessions regularly. They are not yet the best of friends, but there has been no further conflict.

Are discrimination law suits a concern?

In CEO Jim Petri’s opinion, the company was as honestly and forthrightly an equal opportunity employer as any of its competitors.

More so, in fact, than some he could name. Why then were they being plagued by discrimination law suits — two threatened and one actual during the past year, and now, most alarming of all, a threatened class action suit.

The idea that his company was racially discriminatory was ridiculous, Petri thought. Or was it?

He picked up the telephone and called Plant Engineer Bob Markham.

“Do me a favor, Bob. I’d like to set up a meeting at two o’clock with you, Charley, Eileen, and Ted. Will you take care of it for me?”

“Sure thing. What about?”


“Uh oh.”

Charley, Eilleen and Ted were General manager, personnel director, and human resources manager,


The meeting was held in the small conference room. The president announced his concern.

He asked flat out, “Do any of you guys feel that this company is racially discriminatory, or discriminatory in any other way?”

The question was met with unanimous denial, except that Human Resource Manager Ted Frost appeared to be frowning.


Frost hesitated. “Racially? No way! Gender? I’m not so sure.”

Petri nodded thoughtfully. No one else commented.

“So what do you think?” Petri asked.

Question: If you were an executive at this meeting, would you have any comment to make?

Markham’s suggestion: “I came across an article recently referring to an undisclosed sum paid by Office Depot in an effort to stave off a class action suit,” Plant Engineer Bob Markham said. “That could act as a wake up alert.” “I saw that piece too,” said General Manager Charley Leiberman. “Jim, Office Depot shares your concern. In response they hired a first vice president of diversity and won acclaim from the law firm that had threatened the suit.”

“I’m all for it,” Personnel Director Eilleen Goodkin said. “Office Depot isn’t the only one going this route these days.”

The others echoed her sentiment.

“Okay,” Petri said. “Let’s do it. Eilleen, you get the ball rolling.”

Who’s the culprit?

Two forklift operators, Andy Mork and Ted Kaufman, moved machinery, tools, crates, and cartons back and forth across the plant floor on a daily basis. One Thursday afternoon Maintenance Supervisor Chris Matthewson, passing through one of the aisles, happened to notice that a stack of cartons had been badly damaged. Investigation disclosed that the obvious cause of the damage was the stacks having been rammed by a forklift vehicle.

The question was who was driving the forklift?

Matthewson questioned Andy Mork first. Mork claimed to have no knowledge of the accident.

Kaufman was equally ignorant.

One of the men had to be guilty, not only of ramming the stack, but of lying as well. Which one was the culprit?

Matthewson brought both men to the stack of damaged cartons and showed them the evidence. Neither man disputed that the damage must have been caused by a forklift. But each clung to the assertion that he wasn’t the culprit.

“You’re the only two guys authorized to drive forklifts,” the supervisor said. “One of you is guilty. If the guilty person doesn’t own up and take his medicine I’ll have to discipline both of you.”

Question: Failing an admission of guilt, can Matthewson discipline both forklift drivers?

Elman’s verdict: “No can do,” Plant Engineer Jeff Elman ruled when the supervisor proposed disciplining both men. “There are some situations where group discipline is acceptable, but this isn’t one of them.”

Is revenge a dischargeable offense?

Four Grade Two electricians and two Grade Ones were employed in the maintenance department. When Foreman George Arnold decided to promote Grade Two Viola Dannon to Grade One it put Grade Two Alice Lowe in a dither.

“I have seniority over Dannon,” Lowe said. “The promotion should go to me.”

“I call them the way I see them,” Arnold replied. “Viola stacks up better for Grade One than you do.”

“I’ll bet. You mean she’s better stacked. Who do you think you’re kidding?”

The foreman was growing impatient. “Return to work, Alice, the decision has been made.”

Lowe snapped back through tight lips. “Maybe so, but don’t think you’re getting away with it.”

At Arnold’s warning look she returned to her workstation.

That evening on his way to the parking lot a 6-foot-2 bruiser of a man accosted Arnold with an angry look on his face. Alice Lowe hovered nearby, along with two other employees.

“What’s the problem?” Arnold asked.

“You’re the problem. What’s the idea of giving my girlfriend a hard time?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean: Giving the promotion she was supposed to get to someone else.”

“I already explained that to Alice. My responsibility as a supervisor is to promote the person who’s best qualified to do the job.”

“That’s bull and you know it.” Whereupon Lowe’s boyfriend hauled off with a haymaker throwing Arnold to the ground, after which he and Alice took off laughing.

Next day Arnold presented Lowe with a termination notice on the grounds of her threat and subsequent assault. Lowe denied the threat and protested the dismissal.

Question: Is Lowe within her rights to protest the dismissal?

Murdock’s ruling: “Lowe stays fired,” Plant Engineer Les Murdock ruled after Arnold produced the two witnesses who had seen the assault. “Even though there’s no proof of the threat, the situation is clear enough. Lowe and her boyfriend are lucky you haven’t filed a suit for assault, which you are still free to do if you wish.”

Is asking for a date harassment?

Storekeeper Eileen Graff, an attractive married woman in her 30s with two children, didn’t appreciate Mechanic Grade II Norm McIntyre’s compliment.

McIntyre, also married with a family, had the reputation of being a womanizer. “What do you want Norman?”

“A spanner wrench. But honey, I want more than that.”

Graff ignored the remark and looked for the wrench, which she seemed to have trouble finding.

“I’ll give you a hand,” McIntyre offered, unhooking the gate and entering the storeroom, which was forbidden.

“I want you out of here,” Graff snapped stiffly.

“Come on,” the mechanic urged, “don’t be a fuddy duddy. What you’ve got is too good to waste. How about meeting me tonight after work. I’ll make it worth your while.”

Sliding an arm around her waist he tried to draw her closer as Graff struggled to wrestle free. At that moment Ed Furstein, a carpenter, appeared at the gate to return a tool and observed what was happening. He dropped the tool on the counter and left.

Graff wrestled free, but McIntyre didn’t give up easily.

She replied tightly, “Norman, if you don’t stop harassing me I’m going to file a complaint.”

“Harassing! Are you kidding? I just want to be friends.”

“Friends like you I don’t need.”

McIntyre grinned. “You’ll come around sooner or later.” Whereupon he kissed her on the neck and departed.

Graff headed for Maintenance Supervisor Chet Crowley’s desk where she poured out her anger. When Crowley confronted McIntyre, he made light of it and denied Graff’s charges.

Furstein admitted he had seen McIntyre behind the gate where he shouldn’t have been with his arm around Graff.

Familiar with McIntyre’s reputation, Crowley told McIntyre, “That’s it. I’ve had it with you. Pick up your check at the cashier.”

Question: Is termination too harsh a penalty for McIntyre’s offense?

Pollack’s verdict: “Too harsh, no way! Plant Engineer Mark Pollack ruled when Crowley reported his protest. “It was not only this latest incident that did him in,” he added, “it was his reputation as well. Good riddance.”

How sick is too sick to work overtime?

Carpenter Grade II Harry Rokowski was under the weather on Thursday and after lunch received permission from Maintenance Foreman Andy Clyde to clock out and go home.

He was absent the following day, but when he showed up on Monday he was dismayed to learn that overtime had been scheduled on Saturday.

“How come I wasn’t called in for that overtime?” he demanded. “I was next in line for it.”

“You were out sick on Friday.”

“Maybe so, but by Saturday I was in shipshape condition.”

“You weren’t on hand to be assigned.”

“You could’ve called me.”

Rokowski declared he deserved to be compensated.

Question: Is the worker within his rights in insisting that he should have been notified?

Tomkin’s verdict: “No compensation for Rokowski,” Plant Engineer Charles Tomkin ruled. “A supervisor can’t be expected to assume that a sick employee will be sufficiently recovered the next day. Nor can he be expected to telephone an absent worker to come in on short notice.”