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Bayoneting = the Wounded
Since my last article entitled “Responsibility= 8221; appeared in the Local 974 News (see the Safety Chairman’s Page on uawlocal974.org), I’ve spoken to numerous workers who have been disciplined after reporting injuries. The extent of Caterpillar’s blame-the-worker safety program is frightening. This unacceptable practice = is carried out for one reason only—to intimidate workers and “impr= ove” safety statistics.
There is much made of the “Safety Metrics”= in meetings and on all of the CI boards. The problem is that those numbers mean nothing if they do not truly reflect what is happening on the shop floor. S= o, in many cases after a worker is hurt, it seems someone has to be blamed. You don’t really think management is going to point the finger at themsel= ves do you?
Think about it, if you’re management, you don= 217;t have to fix something that is not reported. You can deny your legal responsibility for providing a safe healthy workplace by blaming injured workers for working with unsafe equipment, processes, or productivity-impro= ving-but-dangerous shortcuts. When something does go wrong, management throws their hands in t= he air exclaiming, “we didn’t have any idea that he or she…(= you fill in the blank)”.
Since the UAW is a representative organization, I plea= d with you to report your injuries, both to the company and to your union steward = or UAW safety representative, so we can help you. I understand that for some workers, this is a difficult request. Consider the plight of supplemental workers. These workers have limited protection from discharge under the contract terms Caterpillar insisted upon and rightly fear the loss of their jobs or the loss of a chance to be converted to full-time. The worker’= ;s story in President Rick Doty’s article is not an uncommon one and it = has to stop.
Another benefit Caterpillar receives when threatened w= orkers do not report injuries is some or all of cost of the treatment for a work-related injury is paid by the worker. If an injured worker goes to the Emergency Room or a Prompt Care instead of First Aid in the plant, that wor= ker pays. Increased use of medical benefits rather than Workers Compensation co= uld have a negative effect during contract negotiations. If the work related in= jury gets worse, to the point someone can’t work, do you think CAT will al= low you to claim you did it at Cat if it wasn’t reported in the first pla= ce? Who loses then—you and /or your family lose.
Full-time traditional workers need to step up and defe= nd those who can’t or are scared to raise their hand. We all have to understand the provisions of the contract as they relate to our health and safety. We also need to explain Weingarten Rights to new or supplemental workers. Under Weingarten, workers have the right to have a union represent= ative present when being questioned regarding anything that could lead to disciplinary action or discharge. If a worker is refused union representati= on after requesting representation under Weingarten, that worker no longer has= to answer any questions—this is union activity.
Unsafe equipment or practices do not make any job easi= er. Nobody at Caterpillar is on piecework, so there is no incentive for shortcuts or letting unsafe conditions or poorly maintained equipment slide—they n= eed to be fixed as soon as they are reported.
Here’s a question for you. What really causes in= juries and illnesses at CAT? The answer is really pretty simple. Management would = say that shortcuts, inattention, carelessness, distraction, failure to follow procedures, fatigue, lack of focus and any number of other things the worke= rs do or don’t do cause injuries or illnesses. The true answer is that t= hese things do not cause injuries. L= et me be clear-The one single thing that causes every work-related injury or illn= ess is exposure to a hazard—without exposure to a hazard, there can be no= injury or illness, period.
CAT was cited by OSHA three times in the past year for= not guarding grinding wheels over 2 inches in diameter. I find it hard to belie= ve after that experience there would be a single unguarded grinder anywhere at CAT, but at the end of August, these unguarded grinders were still in use i= n LL and OSHA found them. The word got to KK where they were still using unguard= ed grinders, even after being cited for the same violation a several weeks ago= , so management got rid of them before they got caught again.
Why should we care about unguarded grinders, illegal a= ir wands, and equipment that is not locked out? Are the UAW and OSHA just out = to cause headaches for CAT and its workers? Are we just being picky? No not at all. We are just trying to secure a safe work environment so we can go home each day alive and whole.
We’ve had four workers in Local 974 seriously in= jured by exploding grinding wheels on unguarded grinders in the recent past. Thre= e of the four injured workers were given disciplinary action. Did these workers = bring the grinders in from home? Did the workers buy the grinding or cut-off whee= ls? Did the workers hide their use of these unguarded tools from their supervis= ors? The answer to all three questions is no. CAT provided unsafe, unguarded equipment and management knew it was being used and did nothing but discipl= ine the workers when they were hurt. Even after the injuries, CAT did not (or s= ays they did not) communicate among the facilities about the hazards of unguard= ed grinders. Do you think they communicated amongst themselves about the smoki= ng policy?
We have had one of our members in the Intensive Care U= nit as the result of an injury from an illegal air wand. CAT was cited by OSHA for that violation, but when OSHA was in LL a couple of weeks ago investigating unguarded grinders, lo and behold, a worker started using one of the illegal air wands right in front of the OSHA officer. The safety coordinator (a “safety professional” who should have made sure these dangerous pieces of equipment was not allowed in the shop) was scurrying around gathe= ring all of the illegal air wands he could find. What was the result? Workers we= re threatened with discipline if they were found in possession of unguarded grinders or air nozzles. Discipline it seems is the cornerstone of CAT̵= 7;s safety program, at least for the workers.
Who has time to bother with troublesome, time-consumin= g lock out tag out procedures when we’re trying to become a $50 billion doll= ar company? We’ve had workers crushed in equipment doing tasks, that were regularly performed on unguarded equipment or equipment that was not locked= out and management knew about it. To my knowledge, not one management person wa= s disciplined for allowing these conditions or practices to exist.
In one case where four workers were disciplined for not following a LOTO procedure that did not exist, CAT took the proper action a= fter the fact and installed a lockable disconnect and rewired the equipment so o= ne disconnect would shut down the equipment completely. This is how Caterpillar should have insisted the outside contractor, who installed equipment, do the job properly in the first place, but the disciplinary action against the UAW workers still stands.
When you identify a hazard, report it to management. T= his is the First Stage in the safety complaint procedure. If you’re a supple= mental worker and fear retaliation by CAT, one of the only ways the union can prot= ect you from discharge is to engage in union activity. There is no better examp= le of union activity than reporting workplace hazards. When you report a hazar= d, that’s union activity (be sure to write down the dates, time and any witnesses you have). If you’re still unsure, ask a full-time worker f= or assistance. If you can’t get help, call the union hall and I will talk with you. If CAT won’t address the hazards you report, use the Safety Complaint Procedure in Article 8.3 of your contract and ask for your UAW Sa= fety representative. We will process the complaint and get back with you regardi= ng the results. If we do not get the desired result, the UAW will use any means necessary to protect our members including involving OSHA
Disciplining workers who report injuries serves only o= ne purpose—to intimidate others from reporting their injuries. If a work= er in violation of a written policy were offered retraining and then committed= the same violation that might be a different story. A policy where discipline is issued to workers reporting injuries ensures that unabated hazards will continue to injure workers and may be illegal. The anti-discrimination protection provided by 11(c) of the OSHA Act may provide some protection, b= ut the discrimination needs to be reported to OSHA within 30 days and even then is= not as effective as it needs to be to prevent employer abuses.
The only opportunity we have to protect workers from f=
discrimination for reporting injuries is to elect candidates on November 4<=
that have our best interests at heart. I don’t care who you vote for,
just as long as they protect workers rights. Read, research, and listen to =
only what the candidates say, but more importantly look what they have done,
what they have voted for or against. I understand there are a number of sin=
that are held out as a means to divide us, but keep your eye on the prize. =
truly have an opportunity to positively influence the rights and working
conditions of every worker in