Friday, September 4, 2009

Rules Schmules

My husband, Tom, goes back to work today.

He was fired from his job as an electronics technician at the U.S. Post Office for following safety protocols and instructions from the person who was his supervisor at the time. I kid you not. He was fired for powering down four machines that needed maintenance. The rules are that if there's no mail processing being done at the time, the machines need to be powered down before any maintenance is done.

Ten days earlier Tom had been instructed by a supervisor-at-the-time not to follow those safety protocols. He followed her instructions and then filed a grievance, because he was instructed not to follow safety protocols. Tom was off work the entire following week.

After he came back to work, he was given contrary instructions from another supervisor, so he followed the safety protocol and powered down the machines before beginning work on them.

He was fired, then, for not following instructions that were contrary to safety protocol and had been given to him ten days earlier by someone who was not his supervisor and was not in the building at the time.

All this happened back in April. (I wrote about it here.)

Moreover, management didn't follow its own rules for issuing discipline. Before an employee is fired, there are a number of intermediary disciplinary steps that have to take place. They just skipped those bits.

Tom is a union steward for the American Postal Workers Union, and he's a really good one. The week Tom was fired, another union steward was fired as well, for equally ridiculous reasons, and he was reinstated less than a month later.

We heard word this week that management's step three designee unilaterally reduced Tom's firing to a fourteen-day suspension. So now the union will grieve that.

Since his firing, Tom and the APWU filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA has since slapped a fine on the mail-processing plant for not following clearly stated safety protocols. Touché! So the plant has to pay a fine. Ah, sweet vindication. But what, you might ask, are the consequences for the people involved? Disciplinary action? A dock in pay? A stern warning? No sirree. Not even a slap on the wrist.

In all this time that Tom has been off work, there has been a lot of union work not getting done. Other union workers have picked up some of the slack, but not all of it. The union insists that management follow the rules, and management believes that they don't have to. When they don't follow a rule, the union files a grievance. There are lots of rules. And lots of grievances.

The amazing thing is that there are absolutely no consequences whatsoever for these people not following the rules. So you fired this guy for no good reason, and now he's being reinstated. And the P.O. has to pay him for the work he missed but didn't do. And the P.O. has to pay an OSHA fine. So what? It has no effect whatsoever on the people (or person) who didn't follow the rules.

So if all the union can do is file grievances, grievances that have almost no teeth to them, why oh why would management even care whether those grievances are filed? What they gained from Tom's firing was a few months of respite from the mountain of grievances filed because they don't follow the rules. That's all. This whole thing was just about petty power plays.

To give themselves a break from the overwhelming number of grievances, they fired Tom, for what they knew at the time would be a very limited amount of time. They may have hoped that Tom would lose his house or have his car repossessed or experience some such financial or emotional calamity. I'm happy to report that we're no worse for the wear, no worse whatsoever. We cut back on our spending, dipped a little into our savings, and stopped making any but minimum payments on the credit card. We have weathered the storm. So far anyway.

But alas, today Tom goes back to work today to what can only be described as a hostile work environment. I have no doubt that there are more exciting installments to come.

In a way, the folks in management are right. They don't have to follow the rules. Rules are things with consequences, teeth, ramifications. And there are absolutely no consequences when management doesn't follow the rules. Other than the minor annoyance of a huge pile of grievances.

Don't anybody wonder why the U.S. Post Office is hemorrhaging money. And happy Labor Day!

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