I think I’ve mentioned before that my day job is HR – Human Resources. A lot of people have heard of this, but have no idea what it really is.
Essentially, it’s managing the people asset of the business. There’s a decent overview here, but the short version that I give (so they quit with the blank staring) is something along the lines of “I manage stuff like benefits, employee relations, talent development, recruiting, safety and risk….” To which either their eyes glaze over and they stumble off, or they ask me if I have to fire people.
Fire people? Yes, yes, I do; typically it’s the person’s manager that has to do deliver the specific “your employment is terminating effective immediately,” but I’m the happy little elf who gets to try to explain COBRA and hands you a box for your things.
Does it bother me? Well, sure, sometimes. I’ve worked for some very, very big companies; some of which restructure / downsize / whatever the kids are calling it this week every six months or so. Layoffs suck. They’re absolutely no fault of the employee; they’re just caught up in a cost-savings measure. It also sucks when the employee is really, really trying and just cannot do the job. Unfortunately, effort =/= results, and sometimes that results in having to make a really difficult decision.
But some terminations don’t bother me in the least. Especially when you’ve received consistent, progressive notice that you aren’t doing your job, or need to quit calling in with spring fever to go golfing, or, for the love of chocolate and cheese, don’t watch porn at work, do NOT make photocopies of your most prized body parts, and freaking KEEP YOUR HANDS (and aforementioned copies) TO YOURSELF. In most cases? You’ve earned this termination, so here’s your diploma, go out and make your way somewhere else now.
In other words, if there is inappropriate behavior, you’re outta here.
Which is why I was – what’s the emotion here? Shocked, disappointed, floored – by this ruling by the NLRB this week.
Let me back up a bit. Most employees in the US are not unionized. There was a time, though, maybe 100 years ago, where there weren’t any laws in place to protect workers. So people started banding together collaboratively to negotiate better working conditions, wages, hours, etc. Since that time, a lot of laws have been passed that define these things – OSHA for safety/health, FMLA for medical leave, FLSA for wages, etc. (There are about 5,234,755,989,212 more. Ping me if you have insomnia and need further reading.) As a result, there are fewer folks currently unionized – the laws have made unions somewhat redundant – but unfortunately, some employers are VERY badly behaved, so there’s still a place for unions.
When there’s a union in place, the union and the company negotiate a contract that spells out the wages, benefits, working hours, etc. These contracts do expire eventually, though, and have to be re-negotiated. At that point, if the workers/union and employer can’t agree on the next contract, one of the things that can happen is that the workers will “strike.” The unionized workers all agree to slow down, or not show up at all, until the company can agree to their demands.
This means that no one’s at work, making the product the company sells. This can also mean that there’s a picket line, where the union (usually the local employees, but they often bring other union members in for support) protests right outside the employer.
So, if you’re an employer, you have sort of a situation here – you have customers who need their plastic forks, or tires, or whatever you make, and no one to actually MAKE the stuff. You can’t let your orders go unfilled – that will mean loss of business, which could lead to layoffs – once you tick off a customer, it’s super hard to win them back. So you often have to make the decision to bring in temporary workers to get the job done.
And this is where it can get ugly.
When you cross a picket line (which is what these temps had to do to get to work, obviously) you’ll get yelled at. Called names. (“Scab” is the common one. But it can get downright ugly. Go to the ruling for this case and look at page four to see some more specific examples of what you might hear on a picket line.)
In the case of Cooper Tire, several of the employees took things a step further – and made racist remarks. One of the employees was caught on video saying, “Hey, did you bring enough KFC for everyone?” and “I smell fried chicken and watermelon!”
So Cooper Tire fired him. I mean, no company should tolerate blatant racist comments, right?
Not so fast.
See, when you have a union, they will represent you in “employment actions” and for your participation in “protected concerted activity.” So if you get written up, or fired, you can file a grievance, where the union will defend you to the company.
The union actually agreed to defend this guy.
AND THIS GUY WON.
From the ruling: “(The employee’s) conduct and statements did not tend to coerce or intimidate employees in the exercise of their rights…nor did they raise a reasonable likelihood of an imminent physical confrontation.”
Wait…what? Racist remarks don’t “coerce or intimidate”? Marijuana isn’t legal in Ohio yet so I have NO IDEA what this judge is smoking.
Apparently, when you’re “engaged in protected activity,” i.e. a strike, as long as you’re not violent, ANYTHING GOES. Anything.
Including a complete disregard for basic human rights.
Are you disgusted? You should be. Cooper Tire had to REHIRE this clown – AND reinstate the wages he lost while this was going on.
So – I’m calling you out. You, all employees who are represented – who PAY a portion of your NEGOTIATED wages – to have the United Steelworkers represent you? THIS is what they’re representing. To yell out to a bus of temporary workers, “Go back to Africa.”
United Steelworkers DEFENDS these actions.
You’re PAYING for this representation. You voted them in. If you don’t agree with how they’re representing you – if you don’t agree with this – hold them accountable.
Contact your union steward and make yourself heard. Contact USW directly here.
Or take it a step further and decertify the union. Make no mistake – unions are strong. It won’t be easy. That stuff you heard about on the picket lines? Snuggles and hugs compared to what you might see if you take this on.
But if you don’t take action – you’re supporting the action. You’re funding this abominable, repulsive behavior. You’re not holding the shovel, but there’s a hole in front of you and your hands are just as dirty.
Cooper Tire is appealing the decision.
We ALL should.