Accountability is a word that is used pretty freely these days. According to Merriam Webster, accountability is defined as the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions. I have , as I’m sure you have, been held accountable in the workplace for actions as they related to  job duties. For most infractions, management uses the time-tested process of progressive discipline, but for an increasing number of infractions, Caterpillar is scrapping this process and going right to suspension or discharge.

In June 2012 CAT paid $700 million to buy ERA Mining Machinery Ltd., a Chinese maker of roof supports for coal mines. In January, Caterpillar announced it was taking a $580 million dollar write down for what Forbes Magazine termed “discrepancies”.  It was estimated that these “discrepancies” cost CAT 55% of the profit the entire company worked to earn in the fourth quarter of 2012. The Wall Street Journal wrote, Mr. Oberhelman said during a conference call with analysts that he was "accountable" for the botched acquisition because "it happened on my watch." One analyst mentioned the 50% plus reduction in pay of the CEO of J.P. Morgan’s CEO after a huge loss, but Mr. Oberhelman did not respond.

According to Forbes, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman told analysts, “We are considering all options to recover our losses and hold those responsible accountable for their wrongdoing.” . Furthermore, in another article in Forbes, Mr. Oberhelman said, “This conduct does not represent, in any way, shape or form, the way Caterpillar does business or how we expect our employees to work, which is spelled out in Caterpillar’s Worldwide Code of Conduct,” .

I’m sorry, but buying a company that has fudged its inventory to the tune of over 80% of its worth is way the hell more than a discrepancy! Don’t you think someone would have noticed inventory worth more than 580 D-10’s was missing?

There was some shuffling of people in the Chinese Mining Products Division and a CAT vice-president was allowed to “pursue other career opportunities”, but I’m not sure how that version of accountability compares with what we, who have to wash our hands after work every day, experience. The version of accountability we in the shop face when there are “discrepancies”, seems to be several orders of magnitude higher as do the effects on our member’s lives.

I received a call from a woman who was fired from her job because she was hurt. She was a supplemental and everyone who hired in with her was converted to full-time, but she reported a serious injury, caused by an unabated trip hazard previously identified with a C/I card, and was subsequently told that her services would no longer be needed. She is, by all accounts, an extremely hard worker ,and all she wanted was a job with benefits for her and her family. She called to tell me that she was losing her house and asked if there was anything else we could do for her. She said that she would soon be sleeping in her car, until the car was taken away as well. She is being held “accountable” for doing nothing more than being injured at work.

If someone makes an honest mistake, that’s what it is, an unintentional mistake. Progressive discipline is designed to bring the issue to someone’s attention and allow the person to correct the issue and move forward. When someone shows a complete dereliction of their duties and it impacts the entire organization, I think the person should be held accountable-our version of accountable.

I’m sure Mr. Oberhelman is an honorable man and I do not believe he had anything to do with the ERA Mining Machinery fiasco. I commend him for accepting accountability for the acquisition and resultant losses to the company; it would have been much easier just to blame others. Furthermore, in invoking the Caterpillar Worldwide Code of Conduct, I’m sure Mr. Oberhelman believes that all who work for CAT believe in the code as he does, but that has not been the experience of many of our members.

There are many examples of people who were hurt at work and fired, suspended or told that their services were no longer needed shortly after they reported work-related injuries. Some of them had some previous work issues, most did not. Some of the justifications used by managers to for taking action on injured workers are the pettiest, most minor justifications you can imagine—one man was accused of taking a co-worker’s cookie! Please!

If you read the Code of Conduct, as employees, we are supposed to conduct our business in ways that do not reflect poorly towards the company or lead to an air of impropriety. To me, this includes not discriminating against people who report injuries. To defend the firing of injured workers, managers hold up a fig-leaf of justification for their actions instead of accepting their legal responsibility of providing a workplace free of recognized hazards. One could say these justifications have the appearance of an air of impropriety that reflect poorly on the company, but benefit the manager’s personal safety metrics performance.  I wish some managers in the Peoria-area would re-read the Code and follow Mr. Oberhelman’s example of accept responsibility, but instead of accepting the responsibility for the hazards that exist in the workplaces, the managers blame the worker for being injured. What we really don’t need is people sleeping in their cars because they were hurt at work.