Vending machine tampering: How serious?

Some of the world's best inventions are apt to trigger rash outbursts of temper. The computer that acts up, the telephone when it plays the numbers game, and the vending machine that fails to vend, to cite a small sampling.
By Raymond Dreyfack June 1, 1999

Some of the world’s best inventions are apt to trigger rash outbursts of temper. The computer that acts up, the telephone when it plays the numbers game, and the vending machine that fails to vend, to cite a small sampling.

You can swear at the computer and hang up the telephone, but what recourse have you when the vending machine doesn’t produce after inserting your nickel — uh, quarter, that is? Your natural inclination is to kick the machine or hammer it with your fist. Which prompts more than one company to classify vending machine abuse as a punishable offense.

Specifically, the company in question published in its manual that: “Tampering with vending machines on the premises will not be tolerated; employees guilty of this violation will be subject to suspension or discharge.”

Night shift Utility Worker Jeff Gordon had his 85 cents investment and not this admonition in mind when the cafeteria’s vending machine failed to eject the sandwich he had paid for. Pounding the machine didn’t work; neither did kicking it. Nor did attempting to overcome its stubbornness with the aid of a pair of pliers and screw driver at which point night shift supervisor Bill Stolheim happened to pass by. When Gordon vented his frustration, Stolheim instructed him to put in for a refund.

“What you’re doing is in violation of the contract and subject to discipline.”

“Joe Feeny put in for a refund 2-mo ago and still hasn’t got it.”

“He’ll get it and so will you. The 85 cents isn’t gonna break you.”

The supervisor moved on and Gordon went back to work — until Stolheim was out of sight. He then returned to the vending machine with screwdriver and pliers. When Stolheim caught him the second time he informed him curtly, “That’s it, Gordon, you’re through!”

Gordon appealed the discharge as “too severe for the offense.”

Question: Do you think Gordon deserves to be fired?

Malcam’s verdict: “Reduce the penalty to a 1-wk suspension,” Plant Engineer Ed Malcalm instructed Stolheim. “There’s no question he was in violation, but the purpose of that contract clause is more to prevent stealing than discourage the venting of frustration. Include on the suspension notice that any repetition of tampering will result in dismissal.”