Human Side

By Raymond Dreyfack Contributing Editor June 12, 2003

Shift cancellation: What is management’s obligation?

The weather looked threatening on the one hand. On the other, business was slower than usual.

Plant Engineer Murray Kreissman paid Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hanley a visit.

“What do you think, Tim? Can we get by without a second shift?”

“I was asking myself the same question,” Hanley replied.

After a short discussion Kreissman instructed Hanley to call off the second shift.

Six employees were slated to clock in at 5 p.m. Hanley told Joe Fry, his assistant, to contact the men and tell them not to report.

Fry telephoned five of the six without difficulty and gave them the message. The sixth, Utility Worker Claude Boggs, was another matter. Fry tried calling three times, the last attempt at 4:45 p.m., with no luck. The next day when Boggs showed up for work, his first move after clocking in was a trip to Hanley’s desk.

“Did you put me in for call-in pay?”

Boggs asked.

“I’m afraid not Claude; you’re not entitled to it. Joe tried calling you a number of times right up to the deadline. There was no answer.”

“You could have sent me a telegram or something.”

“What good would that have done? It would have arrived too late.”

Boggs refused to settle for that answer. He insisted on receiving the call-in pay.”

Question: Does Boggs have a valid claim for the compensation?

Kreissman’s verdict: “No call-in pay for Claude. The company did everything that could be reasonably expected to contact the employee. With the weather in doubt and the workload light, Claude should have had the good sense to check in for himself.”

Exit interview: Can it be a valuable tool?

It takes only one rotten cucumber to contaminate a whole barrel. That is doubly true if the bad cuke happens to be a supervisor.

Plant Engineer Fred Foster was becoming increasingly concerned over the number of voluntary quits in the maintenance department.

The latest one, Nick Mancuso, a well-rated mechanic, impelled him to look into the situation. Foster summoned Maintenance Manager Frank Miller to his office and lost no time getting to the point.

“Nick’s the third man to quit in the past four or five months.”

Miller frowned. “I know. He’s a good man. Losing him is going to hurt.”

“Frank, what’s going on in your operation? We can’t afford to lose good people. I don’t have to tell you how much it costs to train and break in a guy like Nick.”

Miller had no answer to that.

“Do me a favor. Let’s have a look at Nick’s exit interview.”

They reviewed the record together. At the interview Miller had asked Mancuso all the right questions in an effort to learn why he was leaving, what might have prevented that decision, what role if any compensation had played, and what he liked and disliked about the company.

One part of the dialogue was of particular interest to Foster.

Miller: Nick, do you feel your supervisor treated you fairly?

Mancuso: I don’t have any complaints about Bill.

Miller: What about Jerry Shea?

Mancuso: (hesitates) No comment.

Shea was a group leader who worked under Fallon. Foster asked Miller, “Frank, does Nick’s answer tell you anything”

The manager frowned. “Yeah, maybe.”

Question: In the plant engineer’s place, what action would you take?

Foster’s strategy: “What I’d like you to do is pull out two or three exit interviews with guys who resigned voluntarily. Give them a call in the evening at home. Often employees who quit don’t express their true feelings about people they worked for or with. But once they’re gone for a while, if questioned tactfully, their tongues tend to loosen up.” Miller followed his boss’s suggestion. After two calls it became clear who the bad cucumber was. Shea didn’t last long after that.

Is your email policy clearcut?

Ben Kinsey, in pitching his boss for a wage increase, griped that Bob Dunlap, no more deserving than him, earned almost 10% more.

“How does Ben know Bob Dunlap’s salary?” Maintenance Manager Pete Kramer demanded of Foreman Joe Haber.

“You got me,” Haber replied. “I’ll find out if I can.”

Following through, Haber learned that the culprit was email. That was how Kinsey got the information. Not surprising. A recent International Data Corporation report stated that by 2006 email use was expected to reach 60 billion messages a day, a substantial number of them in plants and offices. Most messages would be employee friendly, but many will be employer unfriendly as well.

“There’s nothing we can do about spilled milk,” Kramer said. “But we do have to do something about controlling this company’s email traffic.”

Haber agreed. “Why don’t we discuss it with Drew.”

“Good idea.” Kramer gave Plant Engineer Drew Givens a call.

Question: In Givens’s shoes, what would you suggest?

Givens’s response: “A strong, clearly spelled out email policy is long overdue,” Givens told Kramer and Haber. He recruited Human Relations Manager Alice Reiner to help frame a viable statement. Her first step was to check federal legislation on the monitoring of electronic communication, and state laws that vary from state to state. Aside from the consequences of disclosing confidential information, the resulting document covered company policy regarding email messages containing racial slurs, off-color comments, and gender-related remarks that might be construed as discriminatory. Finally, it placed well-defined limits on employee expectations of privacy.

Too busy on union business for promotion?

Ah, the trials and tribulations of a hard-working union official, groused Grade Two Mechanic Mel Klinger. Klinger was a union vice president. Hard-working, sure, his boss, Charley Adamac conceded. But hard-working at what? Klinger busted a gut on union affairs. But that was no help in whittling down the departmental workload that seemed to grow heavier by the day.

Klinger’s union responsibilities placed heavy demands on his time. Adamac couldn’t begin to estimate the number of times he had yelled, “Where’s Klinger?” when the mechanic was needed to check a breakdown or make a repair, only to learn that he was off on union business. At a grievance hearing, meeting, planning session, whatever.

But Mel was Johnnie on the spot, Adamac noted, when a notice was posted inviting bids for a Mechanic Grade One job that had just opened up.

The bidding competition drew a lively response. Although the union official was the senior man, Adamac decided to bypass him in favor of a junior mechanic. When the word reached Klinger he stormed up to Adamac’s desk in a furor.

“No way you’re screwing me out of that promotion,” he fumed.

“Sorry, Mel,” the foreman replied. “I need a man for that job who will be there when he’s needed.”

Klinger, stalking off, threatened, “I’m not sitting still for this.”

Question: Can Adamac tap a junior for promotion when a senior is eligible?

Murdock’s decision: “Give Klinger the job,” Plant Engineer Bruce Murdock instructed Charley. “His absence isn’t due to negligence. The work he does for the union is authorized in the labor agreement. The company screwed up on this one when it failed to set a limit on the amount of time Klinger is authorized to spend on union business.”

Promotion up for grabs

It was the break Maintenance Mechanic Harry Rich had been awaiting for. When Instrument Repairman Phil Felder opted for early retirement, Rich felt that as senior man he was next in line for the job. He lost no time in bidding for it, along with three others.

When Rich’s turn came to be interviewed, General Foreman Mike Skolnik was waiting for him in the small conference room. Rich glanced warily at the sheath of papers Skolnik had on the table before him. With good reason. The mechanic spent the roughest 90 minutes he could recall being questioned about various aspects of the instrument repairman’s job he had bid for. Skolnik thanked him for coming and said he would be notified before the week was out.

Rich was hopeful. Instrument repairman in this operation was a far cry from maintenance mechanic. Admittedly, he had a lot to learn, but he was a quick study. All he needed was a crack at the job, and he’d make out. As senior man he was entitled to the chance.

Rich got the bad news Friday afternoon. Neither he nor the three other bidders qualified. It was a key job with the requirements critical. Skolnik decided to go outside to fill it. An ad already had been placed.

“That’s not fair,” Rich protested. “As senior man-“

” As senior man,” Skolnik interrupted, “you were entitled to be interviewed and tested, that’s all.”

Rich decided to grieve.

Question: Is Harry entitled to a crack at the job?

Glassman’s decision: “Promotion entitlement hinges on one factor only: Competence to do the job,” Plant Engineer George Glassman ruled. “The company has no obligation to train anyone who falls short. Had Rich been qualified, as senior man he would have received preference over less senior qualified candidates, and that’s it.

Can you delegate supervisory work to line employees?

When Assistant Maintenance Foreman Lionel Luftwig informed his boss that he had decided to accept a better job offer, Foreman Peter Gilman’s first thought was to talk him out of it if he could. He couldn’t. His second thought was to replace Luftwig. He could promote a line worker or go outside to fill the spot.

Before taking either of these initiatives a third thought occurred to him. Maybe he could eliminate the assistant’s job altogether and split Lionel’s duties between a couple or three rank-and-filers. A significant saving would result. That would make his boss happy.

The longer Gilman pondered the idea, the more he liked it. He compiled a list of Luftwig’s duties. He then selected three rank-and-filers with relatively light workloads, and divided the duties among them.

It did not take long after for Shop Steward Fred Randolph to show up at his desk looking angry.

“What’s the beef, Fred?”

“You know darned well what it is. You can’t assign supervisory work to bargaining unit employees.”

“Says who?”

“Says me.”

Question: Who’s in the right, Gilman or Randolph?

Carlson’s verdict: “Good try, Peter,” Plant Engineer Jeff Carlson told Gilman, “but you can’t get away with it. You can’t assign rank-and-filers supervisory work and keep them on as members of the bargaining unit.”

Makeup time for missed time

When the weather turned bad, Maintenance Foreman Glen Rosen found himself hurting for manpower. Some employees took pride in showing up whatever conditions prevailed. But when roads were icy or a snowstorm threatened, many stayed home.

How to get the work out despite this dilemma was a problem that nagged Rosen to no end. He had tried bringing in temps. But good temps were in short supply. Most of the ones who responded were inexperienced or otherwise unqualified. They usually compounded, instead of easing, the problem.

In crisis situations where important rush jobs were delayed, selected employees were offered extra vacation time for showing up when the weather was bad. This helped a little but not enough.

Rosen’s assistant, Sarah Rice, had a suggestion. “No one likes getting docked,” she said. “Why not give employees who lose time due to inclement weather an opportunity to make it up later on?”

“It’s worth a shot,” Rosen replied.

The following week Bill Flannery, an electrician grade II, was approached by his boss.

“You lost two days last week. How would you like to make up that time so that it won’t cut into your income?”

Flannery liked the idea.

“Fine,” Rosen said, “you can put in some extra time this week.”

“Will do.”

The following Tuesday was payday. Minutes after the checks were handed out, Flannery appeared at Rosen’s desk with a frown on his face

“My check is short six hours of overtime; I put in 46 hours last week.”

“That was make-up time; it doesn’t pay time-and-a-half.”

Flannery felt he was being ripped off.

Question: Is the electrician entitled to overtime pay?

Doyle’s decision: “He most certainly is,” Plant Engineer Ralph Doyle told Rosen. “Makeup or not, when an employee exceeds 40 hours in any given week, he’s entitled to time-and-a-half.”

Alleged sexual harassment

Maintenance Department Office Assistant Amy Cardwell, 22, was a single, shy, pretty redhead. A religious woman, she was pegged as something of a prude by some of her coworkers, men and women alike. This didn’t prevent Mechanic First Class Frank Manson from flirting with her regardless of how angrily she repelled his advances.

Cardwell had complained more than once to Maintenance Supervisor Mike Brogan that she was being sexually harassed by Manson. Brogan viewed her as an oversensitive kid and didn’t take her complaints seriously.

“How is he harassing you?” he asked, scarcely concealing his impatience.

“Well, like yesterday he sneaked up behind me and took me around,” Cardwell replied. “The other day he came over and tried to hug me. I tried to slap him but he ducked.”

Brogan made light of it. “Relax, Amy. Frank doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just kidding around.”

“Kidding around like that I don’t need,” Cardwell shot back. She was about to gripe further.

Similar incidents were repeated from time to time over a period of two or three months. One of Cardwell’s complaints was that Manson kept asking her to go out with him in spite of her strong rejections.

“If the harassment doesn’t stop,” she threatened. “I’m going to file a grievance.”

“Simmer down,” Brogan replied. “I’ll talk to him.”

The next day when Manson was back again teasing, it was Cardwell’s last straw. Bypassing her boss, she headed for Plant Engineer Joe Friedman’s office and expressed her concerns to him.

Question: In Friedman’s place how would you handle this situation?

Friedman’s response: The plant engineer’s first move after doing his best to appease and calm Amy was to summon Brogan to his office. “Are you out to bankrupt this company?” he accused the stunned supervisor.

Brogan stammered, “What?”

“I’ll tell you what. Amy Cardwell barged into my office almost in tears. She claims she came to you several times charging Frank Manson with sexual harassment and that you disregarded her plea for help.

“There was no harassment involved,” Brogran replied. “Frank was just teasing her.”

“You determined this for a fact after investigating?”

“There was nothing to investigate.”

“Whether there is or not isn’t the issue, and whether Manson is guilty or not isn’t the point I’m trying to get across. The issue is that even the slightest hint of sexual harassment must be investigated. Management’s responsibility is not only to prevent harassment, but also to check it out thoroughly. Failing to do so makes management no less liable than the culprit where harassment is involved.”

Must senior employee be offered overtime?

When Maintenance Foreman Jeb Bogle came around Friday afternoon in search of recruits to work overtime the next day, Senior Mechanic Mark Fristrom turned him down, as did two junior mechanics. An hour later Bogle decided to try again.

This time Fristrom wasn’t around.

“He’s gone to the bathroom,” one of the juniors informed Bogle.

“Listen, guys,” he appealed, “I really need a man to come in tomorrow. How about one of you filling the bill?”

Sam Gerston reluctantly agreed to help out.

When Fristrom clocked in Monday morning he learned that Gerston had put in a full day on Saturday at time-and-a-half.

Stomping to the foreman’s desk, he griped, “You never told me there would be a full day’s overtime. I should have gotten that work instead of a junior.”

“I offered it to you. You turned it down.”

“So did those other guys. When you came around the second time, you should have made me the offer again.”

“You were nowhere in sight.”

“So what. I went to the john. You should have waited until I came back or fished me out of the john. As a senior employee I’m entitled to the preference.”

“Not after your turndown.”

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

Question: Was Bogle obligated to wait for Fristrom to return?

Durkin’s ruling: “No way,” Plant Engineer Ralph Durkin ruled. “One shot at the overtime was all he was entitled to. For one thing, the number of hours he would be working wasn’t clear at the time. For another, having declined once he had no further entitlement to be solicited again.”

Can employee turn down a job he feels endangers his health?

When Maintenance Foreman George Rosof assigned Utility Worker Joel Drimmer the department’s odious task of cleaning the sludge tanks, Drimmer’s immediate response was, “No way! That job is a killer. I got sick as a dog last time I did it.”

“That’s bull and you know it,” Rosof said. “You’re elected.”

Drimmer persisted in his refusal. “I can’t do it. How about picking someone who isn’t allergic to the fumes?”

“The only thing you’re allergic to is the work,” Rosof retorted. “Follow instructions or clock out and get suspended.”

Drimmer stomped off in a huff and returned minutes later with Martin Kelly, his bargaining unit representative in tow.

“This guy’s got a legitimate beef,” Kelly told Rosof. “You can’t inflict an assignment on an employee that’s going to make him sick.”

“The fumes in that tank may smell bad. But they’ve been check out by the health department as safe.”

“Then how come I got sick?” Drimmer said. According to my doctor, my illness probably came from the fumes.”

Question: Should Drimmer be excused from the tank-cleaning job?

Murdock’s decision: When Plant Engineer Frank Murdock was filled in on the dispute, his first question was, “What kind of record does Drimmer have?” Rosof replied, “Not bad. A little better than average.”

Murdock nodded. “In that case, take the man at his word and excuse him from the assignment.”

Automatic machine: Do you need a skilled operator?

When a late model high-pressure boiler was installed in the plant, Maintenance Supervisor Chris Daly selected Matt Michelson to be in charge of its operation. Minutes later, Utility Man Bill Lehman showed up at his desk.

“What’s the problem, Bill?”

“Why was I screwed out of that custodian job? I’m the senior man.”

“Seniority may be a valid consideration,” Daly conceded, “but it doesn’t rank as a job qualifier.”

“Qualification isn’t relevant here,” Lehman replied. “The boiler is an automatic unit.”

“There’s more to it than that. The automatic devices may be helpful, but you can’t dismiss the human element.”

Question: Is Lehman within his rights because the operation is automatic?

Dermott’s decision: “Lehman’s out of luck,” Plant Engineer Gerald Dermott said. “The important consideration here is safety. It’s not due to whim that the need for training is specified to qualify as custodian. The human factor is critical. We can’t risk hazardous consequences as a result of inexperience.”