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Good Riddance to We/They-ism<= /p>
Happy New Year! As 2= 008 begins, events of late 2007 which made the news are the subject of this article. First, as you may well know, there was a fire in East Peoria Build= ing KK on December 22nd. Two contract security personnel were severe= ly burned as they responded to a fire call and two other workers were less seriously injured. Our hearts go out to those workers and their families for what they had to endure during what should have been a joyous holiday season shared with their loved ones.
The second news item that both caught = my eye and raised my blood pressure was in a column by Peoria Journal Star columni= st Terry Bibo. In a column about famous quotes fro= m 2007 it was reported, “when Caterpillar Inc. Chairman and CEO Jim= Owens told The Wall Street Journal about managing a global giant.<= /span>
of our large Midwestern facilities have kind of a challenge of mixed allegi=
to the company or the union, a we/they-ism that =
haven't successfully purged. We're trying to have people understand that if=
pay you, you're on our team and we want your heart and soul, we want you to
help us be cost-effective, we want you to help us improve quality."
I agree with our est= eemed CEO, there certainly is a “we/they-ism” that needs to be purged. While I have worked for Caterpillar for 32 years, I’ve been a loyal member of our union for the same period of time and I’ve seen how thi= ngs work. At Caterpillar, when “we” workers bleed, “they” are unimpressed by the f= act that we give blood and body parts instead of our hearts and souls. Mundane things such as involving the union to help address the true root cause(s) of worker injuries or illnesses get in the way of important things like corporate-level CYA and blamestorming. If you’re not familiar with blamestorming, it’s like brainstorming, except that in this case it’s used as a way to assign blame and dodge responsibility.
The latest example w=
KK fire/explosion. The UAW Safety Committeeman for KK drove to the plant fr=
his home in
When the union representatives were finally allowed to participate, it was only as part of= the OSHA investigation that kicked off on December 26th. Not having = been in KK for quite a while, I was amazed at how clean the scene of the fire was and I certainly hope it is that clean all of the time.
As we awaited news t= he night of the fire, the East Peoria Fire Department, deferred to CAT’s PR Department to issue a news release instead of telling what they knew. It took a couple of days before a reporter from the Journal Star contacted som= eone from the E.P.F.D. who would give an account of the events of the fire/explosion. I’d like to comment more, but the investigation is proceeding at this time and I’ll write more on the subject at a later date. I have put links to all of the stories written about the fire and the comments to the stories on our website in the copy of this article on the Safety Chairman’s web page on the local union website http://www.uawlocal974.org/s= afety.asp .
Another example of t= he we/they-ism needing purged occurred on February 22nd 2007, when = as a result of inadequate maintenance, a bridge hoist fell from the ceiling in E= ast Peoria Building BB and hit on= e of our brothers. The UAW 2nd shift Alternate Safety Committeeman was not even notified of the incident or asked to participate in the incident i= nvestigation. Neither was the 3rd shift nor the 1st shift Safety Committeeman informed or allowed to investigate the fallen crane.
Furthermore, as I sa= t in the parking lot at Building CV the morning of February 23rd, waiting to join the OSHA investigation of the bridge hoist failure, OSHA had to threaten Caterpillar with a warrant to allow me to participate in the investigation.= By the time we went to the scene, everything was gone, piled in a heap in anot= her building. What was there to hide? Was the union responsible for the we/they= -ism by wanting their elected Health and Safety Representative to be part of the investigation to an extremely serious injury to one of our members?
The company has
“appointed” a number of bargaining unit-represented individuals=
THEIR full-time hourly safety coordinators and yet refuses to provide
UAW-appointed Health and Safety representatives to people who want to file a
Safety Complaint (8.3 in the contract for those keeping score at home). The=
workers want to file a complaint on behalf of co-workers at risk, but are n=
allowed a representative because Labor Relations says you can only file if =
are directly affected. <=
At the same time CAT= is denying UAW Safety Representation, workers are endlessly being told they ha= ve to look out for the well-being of their co-workers. A number of plants have attempted to implement programs where workers have been asked (or forced) to “observe” our fellow workers and make suggestions as to how they could work more safely. Most plants are in the process of adopting the Caterpillar Production System (CPS) complete with the Continuous Improvement Board where one can fill out a card if someone is “observed” do= ing something unsafe or an unsafe condition that affects another worker.
Let’s see if t=
makes sense. You can’t file a UAW Health and
Safety Complaint on someone else’s behalf, even if they’re in serious danger, but you’re encouraged to do an “observationR= 21; or fill out a “T-Card” to report conditions or acts you observe. Who is responsible for continuing the we/they-ism?
Management does not = want the union involved in Safety and has the record to prove it. When WE are involv= ed THEY have to take action on complaints filed. We do not file frivolous Safe= ty Complaints. We bring serious problems to the attention of management and ex= pect them to be addressed. If Caterpillar will not address the complaints, we will get them addressed by = any means necessary to ensure the health and safety of our members. =
For example, last Sp= ring in Building LL, one of our members fell from an unguarded work platform. Our Safety Committeeman filed a complaint with the Factory Manager about the unguarded platform and others like it still being used without guards. Anot= her complaint was filed a week later which specifically identified the hazard a= nd still nothing was done. Finally, after a month of getting no action from management, the union filed a complaint with OSHA. As a result, Caterpillar= was cited for a $55,000 “Willful” violation of a safety standard (t= he most serious classification of citation issued by OSHA), a standard for whi= ch they had been cited 3 times in the past.
WE tried to work with Caterpillar to address the hazards we identified to them, but THEY didn’t want to do anyt= hing even though one of our members spilled his blood as a result of the conditi= ons identified to them.
Caterpillar has amas= sed quite a record of health and safety violations. CAT has had the dubious distinction of having made the OSHA Days Away from wo= rk, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) list. On this list are workplaces = with the highest occupational injury and illness rates in states covered by Fede= ral OSHA. To make this list, the employer has to have had 5.3 DART injuries per every 100 workers. The national average is 2.4. a= nd CAT has had between 4 and 14 plants on this list for = the last nine years.
But don’t desp= air, there is hope. Recently the same Building LL Safety Committeeman went back = to the same Factory Manager and filed two more Safety Complaints, complete with the specific OSHA Standard violated. Lo and behold, the Factory Manager cal= led in the appropriate Managers who immediately took care of the problems. This= is the way the process is supposed to work. Maybe the “we/they-ism” purge Mr. Owens mentioned is underway—at least we can hope.
For those interested in confirming = the facts in this article, I will post a ten-year history of all CAT OSHA inspections and DART list information on the Safety Chairman’s web pa= ge at uawlocal974.org. I have nothing to hide and welcome questions regarding = this information.<= o:p>
In Solidarity, <=
Steve Mitchell <=