So, it’s not the Money, huh?

Have you ever participated in or overheard a discussion when one of the parties is making an excuse for doing something wrong and they say, blah, blah, blah “but it’s not about the money”? When you hear a statement like that, what else could you possibly say to yourself but, “yeah, it’s about the money”.

When we took our Code of Conduct training, I distinctly remember some lofty verbiage that seemingly flies in the face of the day-to-day experiences reported to me. For example, take the Principle of Integrity as described in the Code of Conduct. Integrity is described in flowery prose and ends with these sage words…our fellow employees must be able to trust what we say and to believe that we will always keep our word  We ALL took the Code of Conduct Training, so everyone operates under THE Caterpillar principle of integrity, right? Sit back and let me tell you a little story.

Down in the Bottoms, there is a part of the tractor factory that is becoming notorious for firing or disciplining injured workers. During the May/June time frame, one of our members was assigned to work on a piece of equipment that had been malfunctioning for over a year. This balky piece of equipment had been the subject of numerous CI cards and work orders, but the machine never worked correctly and placed our members operating it at risk. The workers were told to contact one of the alphabet maintenance companies (the lowest bidders) whenever there was a problem, which was almost every day. When the lowest bidders would respond, they would “fix” the machine with bubble gum or baling wire so that production could continue.

Lo and behold, our member was injured when the machine malfunctioned, as it had so many times before. The worker dutifully reported the injury. The injury was eventually treated with measures beyond first aid, which made it an OSHA recordable injury, besmirching the safety record of this stellar business unit…uh-oh! Considering the history of post-injury discipline and worker reputation-trashing that goes on in this facility, our member was pleasantly surprised when he was not shown the door immediately after reporting his injury. In fact, it took more than two months to conclude the “investigation” before the No Injured Worker Goes Un-disciplined Policy kicked in, and the worker was walked out.

Incredibly, this worker was specifically told that the disciplinary action was not being taken because of the injury or because he reported the injury. Our injured worker was told that the discipline was the result of some other infractions that happened several weeks ago. Mind you that nothing was said or done at the time of the alleged “violations”; the discipline was said to be for our member’s own good. For management to discipline an injured worker for reporting a hazard or injury would be a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Additionally, and more importantly, to tell the worker anything other than the truth would be a violation of our Caterpillar Code of Conduct.

Further evidence that there is something amiss in our blame-the-victim workplaces is this example. Imagine a work environment at a Fortune Top 100 company where you could (gasp) step on a nail. I know it’s hard to believe that there could be such a place in this day and age, but humor me for a moment. So, this worker steps on a nail, which, the story was told, is not an uncommon occurrence. The individual feels the nail go through his company-provided PPE, but it is to such a slight degree, the worker doesn’t feel it’s necessary to even bother to look at his foot.

Our fellow worker, at this thoroughly modern workplace, complete with nails “commonly” sticking up from things on the floor, completed the shift with no further incidents and went home. Upon arriving at home, he removes his safety shoe and discovers that the skin on the bottom of his foot was indeed broken by the nail. Armed with the knowledge that injuries are supposed to be reported immediately, and in fear of losing his job for not following the reporting policy, the worker immediately drove back to his facility and reported the injury to First Aid. Apparently, the report was not immediately enough, because the worker was suspended.    

You’ve got to wonder what deranged mind dreamed up the “disciplining your way to a good safety record” model of safety programs that is so prevalent in our workplaces. Also in question is why obviously intelligent managers go along with this insanity. This craziness is so uniformly spread throughout our workplaces that you would almost think there is some way the supporters of this mindset personally profit when workers become afraid to report injuries. Is it possible that  facility or SMART goals based on certain levels of downstream safety metrics performance result in increased pay for those pushing the anti-worker safety/discipline programs—surely not.

I’d like to think that the justification for the “discipline-for-safety model” is purely altruistic and that the incentivizing of underreporting is not the case, but I’m not optimistic. It seems as if management is trying to condition workers not report injuries if they know what is good for them. Surely not, as this type of encouragement would be against the law and would not exemplify integrity.

I’ve had 40-year, strong, union activists tell me they are not going to report injuries and risk getting disciplined. It’s “rumored” that a number of senior, full-time employees have been disciplined into retirement for non-hazardous minor violations of arbitrary safety rules. One can only imagine the number of bloody hands being stuffed into pockets, ultimately “improving” the safety performance metrics. Where is the integrity here? Does this behavior sound like depiction of the Code of Conduct you read? Is there a different definition of integrity in the Code of Conduct these managers subscribe to at Caterpillar? I must have missed that page.

Another one of the Code tenets states, We put Teamwork in action when…We Treat Others with Respect and Do Not Tolerate Intimidation or HarassmentThe full value of each individual's contribution can be realized only when we treat one another with the respect, trust and dignity we ourselves expect. Caterpillar insists on a work environment free of intimidation and harassment. As individual employees, we have the right to expect a positive working environment, along with the responsibility to speak out and ask for change if we observe conduct that runs contrary to this principle

I really wonder who was kidding who when these words were written. Remember…our fellow employees must be able to trust what we say and to believe that we will always keep our word, and Caterpillar insists on a work environment free of intimidation and harassment? So much for Integrity and goodbye to Teamwork. Remember, when they tell you the discipline was not because you were hurt or that you reported an injury, it’s like telling you it’s not the money….it’s the money.

What would have happened thirty, forty or fifty years ago if this type of environment of fear were brought to the shop floor? I doubt it would have gone over very well to say the least. What would have been done to blunt this attack on the membership? How would this group of people, mostly from less modest means, fight back?

The answer is they would have stuck together. They would have taken the offensive by filing grievances, safety complaints, and taking up collections for those who were adversely affected by the blame-the-worker programs.

Every conceivable hazard would have been reported, not through a CI card, but with a union safety complaint. Machines that did not operate properly would not have been used. Trip hazards, such as uneven floor surfaces, grounding cables, oil, coolant, shot or boards with nails in them on the floor would not be tolerated. Machinery missing guarding or interlocks would not run. Every work rule would have been followed to the “T”.  First Aid would have been inundated with workers reporting, as directed, every little twinge, ache or symptom of an injury or illness. But that was then, what about now?

Solidarity works. Together, you, with your brothers and sisters, can turn back the tide. There was a time a number of years ago when workers were threatened that if they wore a particular T-shirt, they would be fired. What would have happened if only a few wore the shirts? Instead, one day, those particular shirts appeared in the shop by the thousands, and nobody was fired.

It’s amazing how collective action works. File union safety complaints. If you need to file grievances, file group grievances. If somebody is unjustly treated, stick up for them as if it were you who needing support. If that means asking every member of management you see, “Have you seen Bob”, do it. If it means taking up collections to prevent the “all time to stand as disciplinary action” type of grievance settlement, in order to keep food on a brother or sister’s table, do it. Don’t stand by idly. And by all means, keep your eye on the ball, and when management tells you it’s not the money, it’s the money!

In Solidarity,

Steve Mitchell