You are the warehouse foreman in a large public warehouse. You have thirty-five people working for you. One frosty October morning you arrive at your desk to find a handwritten note from your boss instructing you to make sure that the workers do not wear company gloves except when they are needed for protecting the hands in unloading items with sharp edges, like olive barrels, and in handling cases of frozen eggs and fruit. They are to provide their own gloves for keeping their hands warm in cold weather.
You think to yourself that this rule is going to cause trouble, but since you believe in being loyal to your boss and the company, you decide to enforce the rule.
A few minutes later you walk out onto the dock where you see Ray Willis (forklift operator) wearing a new pair of company gloves. You explain the glove rule and ask him to turn over the gloves to you. Ray jokingly complies.
About fifteen minutes later you walk back into the warehouse by the number 4 elevator, where you spot another forklift driver, Otto Johnson, wearing company gloves. As you walk up to him, two things occur to you. One, Otto is chief steward and head of the negotiating team. The company and the union are now engaged in negotiations on a new contract. Two, Otto and you are going to have a showdown sooner or later, because he has been challenging your authority ever since you were assigned to this shift. You know that Otto was a chief in the Navy, and you feel that he thinks he is still chief.
You decide that the showdown should be later, after the new union contract is signed. Just then, however, Ray Willis rides by on his fork truck and calls out, “Otto, what are you doing with
those company gloves on?”
You have no choice now but to ask that Otto turn over the gloves to you, but Otto refuses to
comply with your order. You ask Otto again to give you the gloves or you will have to suspend him. He says, “No- you didn’t give them to me, and I am not going to give them back to you.”
“OK, it is now 9:00 a.m. Consider yourself punched out. Go home now and report to the personnel office at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. I’ll let you know then if you have a future with the company.”
While you are gone to another part of the warehouse to locate a replacement for Otto, Otto goes to the warehouse manager (your boss) and convinces him that you treated him unfairly. Your boss reinstates Otto without consulting you.
When you find out that Otto is back at work, you go to the warehouse manager’s office to complain. He tells you that you should not have suspended the man. You suggest that you both consult Mr. Flood, the labor-relations manager, but a phone call discloses that Mr. Flood will not be in his office until the afternoon. Your boss tells you that the man will continue to work until Mr. Flood returns.
At 1:00 p.m. your boss reaches Mr. Flood by phone and tells him the story. Mr. Flood says, “Get that man off the job as soon as possible.” You relieve Otto again and tell him to report to the personnel office for a hearing at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.
But Otto does not leave the warehouse. Instead he stays around to try to organize a strike. He circulates a petition to get you fired, and several of the workers sign it, but not a majority. Your boss tells you that if the workers walk out, you will be fired.
By the end of the day, cooler heads have prevailed, and the workers have not walked off their
jobs. At 10:00 a.m. the next morning you meet in the personnel department conference room with the warehouse manager, the labor relations manager, and the personnel manager. Bill Dixon, the union business agent, is with Otto Johnson. The meeting is opened by Johnson telling his side of the story, which is essentially that you cursed him and talked abusively to him, and that Bill Poor, the elevator operator, could back up his story.
At this point the labor relations manager calls a recess, and the four of you go into another room. He and the personnel manager urge that Johnson be reinstated with full back pay and that you apologize to him. You refuse, saying that Johnson and Poor were both lying because
you chose your words very carefully because of the contract negotiations, and
the elevator operator was too far away to hear what was being said.
You return to the conference room, and the labor-relations manager starts talking tough as if management were planning to fire Johnson. This scares Johnson, for he says, “Listen, I’ll do anything you say as long as you don’t fire me. I need the job; I just bought a new house.”
You suggest that Johnson return to work tomorrow with loss of one and one-half days’ pay and be placed on probation for six months. He and the union agree to these terms.
Was the company glove policy a good policy? Answer this from the perspective of whether it is legal (remember what you learned about union contracts), the way it was communicated, and if the business had a “need” or “requirement” to fulfill.
Did you handle the supervision of Johnson properly? Explain your answer and address it from the perspective of handling these matters in a union environment.
Was the warehouse manager right in reinstating Otto? Explain your answer and, again, address it from the perspective of handling the matter in a union environment.
Do you think the warehouse manager was justified in telling you that if the men walked off the job, you would be fired? Explain your answer. Remember what you learned about ULPs. Give detail and cite a source to back up your opinion.
Was the personnel manager justified in asking you to return Otto Johnson to the job with full back pay? Explain. What role does HR play in a union environment? Go beyond stating what you think/feel/believe is the “right thing to do”. You can include your perspective but also address the legal and political ramifications. (HINT: the parties are in the process of negotiating the contract).
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