Human Side

When Jeff Dugan, a former warehouseman, walked into the plant one sunny afternoon, he took Maintenance Foreman Harry Cooper by surprise. "What are you doing here?" Cooper asked. "I thought you were in the Army." Dugan had volunteered for service the week following the September 11th attack, and had been sent to the Middle East where he served in Afghanistan.
By Raymond Dreyfack Contributing Editor December 15, 2002

When Jeff Dugan, a former warehouseman, walked into the plant one sunny afternoon, he took Maintenance Foreman Harry Cooper by surprise.

“What are you doing here?” Cooper asked. “I thought you were in the Army.”

Dugan had volunteered for service the week following the September 11thattack, and had been sent to the Middle East where he served in Afghanistan. There he suffered a severe back injury and was recently discharged.

After explaining this to Cooper, the foreman said, “It’s good to have you back, Jeff. You can start on your old job Monday with no loss of seniority.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that, but it isn’t that easy. Because of the injury to my back, I can’t lug those heavy cases and cartons around any more. But I can handle some other job, like maybe clerical or bench work.”

Cooper frowned. “I wish I could accommodate you, Jeff, but I can’t think of another thing that is open.”

Dugan was unhappy with that answer and made no effort to display his feelings.

“The company should be able to do better than that for a man who was hurt serving his country.”

“Yeah, I see your point,” Dugan replied. “Let me talk to the boss.”

“Thanks. I need the work, and not for financial reasons alone. My shrink says I should try to get myself back into a normal routine.”

Cooper nodded thoughtfully. “I can see how that would be important.” With those words he made a beeline to Plant Engineer Greg Sherman’s office.

Question: Is the company obligated to find another job for Dugan?

Sherman’s response: Plant Engineer Sherman told Cooper, “The Labor Department’s Office of Veteran’s Reemployment Rights makes it clear that if a veteran is unable to resume his former job, management is obligated to offer him one that he can fill at the prevailing rate. The moral obligation is to give a returning disabled veteran any assistance we possibly can, even if it means creating a job.

Disabled veteran:

Must you hire him if he can’t hack his former job?

Age vs. experience: Where do you draw the line?

Project Supervisor Grant Kramer was a heavyweight in terms of management theory and methodology. At age 30 Kramer with an MS degree was up on the latest technology and an activist when it came to initiating constructive change in the department.

On the negative side was Kramer’s lack of experience and expertise in dealing with people, particularly older professionals. Some of the strongest rifts in the department involved age differentials. When meetings were called to discuss projects and proposals it was sometimes difficult for younger and older pros to sit in the same room harmoniously.

Often, what kicked off controversy and resentment was the difference in education and background between the two groups. Seasoned engineers in their 50s and 60s, most without advanced degrees, complained that their younger counterparts lacked the practical on-the-job experience to make strong and reasoned decisions. Older professionals griped that advanced theory sometimes produced little more than unrealistic judgments and harebrained ideas.

The younger engineers had their own gripes to air when older professionals were assigned jobs they felt should be rightfully theirs. As a result, turnover in the group had become disturbingly high. Plant Engineer Dan Kaplan was concerned about it.

Question: In the plant engineer’s shoes what steps would you take?

Kaplan’s response: In Kaplan’s view a balancing act was in order. Diversity can be advantageous or detrimental depending on how it is perceived. Kaplan impressed on Kramer the need to hammer across to his people the value and importance to the enterprise of both the younger and older groups. “For this operation to run most efficiently,” he said, “on the one hand we have to cash in on the younger professionals’ up-to-date know-how and expertise as gleaned from their educational experience, along with the senior group’s savvy, sound judgment, and proven reliability derived from their long years of on-the-job exposure. Grant, if you as a leader show equal respect for both groups, they will set you up as a model and emulate your behavior.” Kramer got the message.

Vying for promotion: Does senior employee hold advantage?

When Maintenance Mechanic Grade I Al Rock unexpectedly opted for early retirement, a flurry of bids were received from Grade II mechanics desirous of increasing their status.

Maintenance Supervisor Charley Dobbs carefully reviewed the eight applications submitted. In the end it boiled down to a choice between Ed Riley and Tony Genaro. Dobbs reviewed the mechanics’ performance records in an effort to determine who was better qualified.

Point by point, Dobbs conceded, both men could handle the job. But Genaro had more experience than Riley, filling in for Grade I work when required. He finally decided that Genaro had an edge over Riley. Riley didn’t agree. Adding insult to injury, he fumed.

Not only did he feel as competent as Genaro, if not more so, but he was also the senior of the two by almost 3 yr.

Whatever happened to the rule about the senior man getting the job when both were equally qualified, Riley wanted to know.

“Both equally qualified?” Dobbs snapped when Riley protested Genaro’s promotion. “That’s management’s decision to make, not yours.”

Riley refused to settle for that answer. He recruited Unit Representative Gary Carlson to go to bat for him.

At Carlson’s request, Dobbs made the performance records of the two contenders available.

“The promotion should go to Riley,” Carlson told the supervisor. “They’re about equally qualified to do the job, but Riley is clearly the senior man.”

“Like I told Ed,” Dobbs replied, “that’s my decision to make, not anybody else’s.”

When Carlson didn’t agree, the controversy wound up in the office of Plant Engineer Carl Morrow.

Question: If this were your decision to make, who would get the job?

Morrow’s verdict: As Carlson had done, Morrow reviewed the performance records of the two mechanics, after which he slapped shut the folders and instructed Dobbs to give Riley the promotion.” Genaro may have a slight edge as you say. But in overriding seniority a slight edge isn’t enough. Where the junior man is able to do the job, the evidence must show him to be head and shoulders above the senior man in ability.”

OSHA man visits without warning: Revise your priorities list

Maintenance Supervisor Jack Jolson was up to his collarbone in work. The department was way behind schedule on work orders and projects. Most critical was a repair job in the lab that was holding up processing on a customer order.

Sometimes it takes more than a straw to break a camel’s back. On this occasion it was a call from Rosie on the switchboard.

“A Mr. Flynn is here to see you.”

“You’ve got be kidding. Whoever he is, tell him to come back tomorrow or better yet a month from now.”

“Uh, I don’t think I should tell him that, Jack,” Rosie replied. “Mr. Flynn is an inspector from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.”

Jolson, at age 32, recently promoted to the department’s number one job, was greener than a well-tended lawn in the spring.

He sighed. “Okay, send him in. I’ll have to find a way to get rid of him.”

The inspector appeared minutes later. Jolson shook his hand cordially. “Mr. Flynn, you couldn’t have picked a worse time to show up. We’re up to our necks…”

“Excuse me!”

“Sir, if you could come back in a day or two…”

The man from OSHA gave him a funny look. “Young man, let me talk to your boss.” Something in his tone persuaded Jolson to comply.

Plant Engineer Roy Walkowitz appeared moments later. He apologized for the delay and personally conducted the OSHA inspector around the plant after ordering Jolson to drop whatever he might be doing to respond to Flynn’s questions and accommodate whatever needs he might have.

After the OSHA man’s departure he summoned the supervisor to his office.

Question: In Walkowitz’s shoes, what would you tell Jolson?

PE’S response: Walkowitz laid down the law strongly and firmly. “Jack, I appreciate your hard focus on urgent priorities. But whatever the urgency and whatever needs to be done, when the man from OSHA shows up, unexpectedly or not, he must be your top priority. If you try to stall or deter him there’s only one conclusion he can draw. That you have something to hide. Thousands of violations are turned up each year, drawing millions of dollars in penalties. Compliance on the spot is management’s ultimate responsibility . Do I make myself clear?” “Your message is clear, sir.”