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As you read this, the triennial elections will have be= en over for several weeks. I wish to congratulate all who ran for office, not = just those who won. This process, although sometimes less than pretty, is about = more than caucuses, handbills and slate cards. It is about representing you, the workers of Local 974 and it is a truly humbling responsibility.
Responsibility is an often-used word in today’s =
but what does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as: 1: the
quality or state of being responsible: as <=
legal, or mental accountability b:&nb=
trustworthiness 2: something for which one is responsible
I’ve written a number of times about your employer’s legal responsibility to provide you a workplace free of recognized hazards. This responsibility is called the General Duty Clause, section 5(a) (1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and is the basis= of all OSHA law. As much as your employer has tried to shift their responsibil= ity to you, legally that responsibility is theirs.
We as employees also have a responsibilities under 5(b= ) of the OSH Act. This section states: Each employee shall comply with occupatio= nal safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct. A= lthough we can not be cited and fined by OSHA, we do have the additional responsibility of making sure the employer fulfills their legal obligation = to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
Does management like to be reminded of that responsibility? I’m sure you k= now, fear or have experienced the answer to that question. There is another sect= ion of the OSH Act I’d like you to know about, it’s called 11(c). U= nder 11(c), the employer is forbidden from discriminating against you for filing= a complaint with OSHA, for reporting workplace hazards, for participating in = an OSHA investigation (speaking with an OSHA official) or for exercising any o= ther right afforded by the OSH Act. If someone feels that he/she has been discriminated against for reporting workplace hazards or injuries to management, they have only 30 days to file a complaint with OSHA. I = hope you will bring these concerns to the attention of your Grievance Committee = or your UAW Safety Representative. If they have any questions regarding 11(c), please have them contact me, I’d be glad to help.
How does management usually react when there is an employee injured or if there= is a near miss? Is there an objective fact-finding investigation done with the help for the UAW Safety Representative, or does it seem more often that a fault-finding witch hunt that’s sole objective is to assign blame to = the worker? Oftentimes, perfect 20/20 hindsight is used when blaming workers af= ter these types of incidents, but there is precious little prevention practiced prior to when things go wrong. Additionally, workers are blamed for not following procedures that are often found only after someone is hurt.
Do you ever wonder how management can be so observant about every aspect of yo= ur daily work life except safety? They know when you come to work. They know w= hen you go on break. They know how long you were there, where you went and who = you were talking to. They know wh= at time you went to lunch and when you got back. They know how many parts you = make and if you did a quality job. They know when you punch out and if you have = any Y-time or vacation time left. Management sees all of those things, but often don’t seem to notice when a safety procedure is ignored (especially if the job gets done faster). Missing guards on grinders, illegal air nozzles = and wands or stinky rancid coolant are frequently overlooked. Inadequate barrier fences, meant to keep people away from unsafe equipment, go undetected by t= he people in charge of the very areas in which they exist—until someone = gets hurt. Fork truck accidents or near misses don’t seem to register. Peo= ple working at heights exposed to fall hazards are seemingly invisible to manag= ers who can otherwise tell you how many minutes you’ve been in the restro= om.
Unfortunately, we’ve had plenty of experience in blame the worker “accident investigations”. I remember several years ago, hours after a worker h= ad cut four fingers off of his hand in a band saw incident, a member of manage= ment told me that this particular worker had been trained on Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO)—twenty one years before the incident!
In one business unit, we’ve had two members crushed in machinery during = the past fifteen months. Both were un-jamming poorly guarded, frequently malfun= ctioning equipment only to be blamed later for their injuries. No member of manageme= nt will claim to know how these workers were performing these tasks or knowledge th= at the guarding was inadequate. One was worker was given time off; the status = of the other is still unknown.
In the past couple of years, we’ve had three members injured due to exploding grinding wheels on unguarded grinders. Two have been given disciplinary time off, not for the unguarded grinders, but because the comp= any didn’t feel they were wearing the proper PPE—never mind the com= pany didn’t provide or require the use of guarded grinders. Again, no memb= er of management claims to have any knowledge whatsoever of the workers working with unguarded grinders or an OSHA Standard requiring guarding. Given this history, I find it amazing that OSHA recently went into a facility in the L= ocal and found more unguarded grinders!
The best way to prevent these types of situations is to use the safety complaint procedure as outlined in 8.3 of the Central Agreement. Caterpillar is suppo= sed to “place renewed attention, emphasis, and effort into the use of the safety complaint procedure.” Has anyone reading this article ever been encouraged by management to file a safety complaint? I didn’t think s= o. Hell, in some places, we’re still trying to get the company to provid= e a union rep when one is requested.
No, instead of following the procedure management agreed to, you’re being encouraged or given a directive to fill out a CPS T-card or C/I card. In theory, these cards are supposed to generate dialog between the person submitting the card and management. The card is supposed to be able to be tracked across the C/I board as they are completed. I’m sure it is a = fine system, a number of foreign automakers use a similar process, but the union= was not consulted when this system was developed. Therefore, I recommend that UAW-represented workers use the process outlined in 8.3 of the contract. = p>
I understand some workers may be required by their supervisors to use the CPS system and if so, please fill out a card and then ask to see your steward a= nd UAW safety representative so you can file a UAW Safety Complaint. Obey first, a= nd then file a grievance. We do not want workers getting disciplinary action w= hile trying to file a safety complaint.
I’ve been told in several business units the cards are just a show and that̵= 7;s really too bad. Safety is not a game. In some cases the cards disappear, in others, people are forced to fill out a card instead of being able to tell their supervisor of a problem. At Morton, one of our members who chose to t= ell another manager of a problem their supervisor would not address, was given a three day suspension for “poor work performance”. That to me is= a violation of 11(c), the anti-discrimination clause in the OSH Act. Again, if you have any questions regarding discrimination because of safety issues, please call the union hall and ask them to contact me.
In closing, I need your help. I’m proud to have been elected to be your safety representative and I take the responsibility of that job very seriou= sly. The employer has the responsibility to provide you with a safe workplace. T= he best way to get health and safety problems addressed is to first report the= m to your supervisor. If you are not satisfied with any part of the outcome, ask= for your UAW Safety Representative, and then give the safety complaint procedur= e a chance to work. Caterpillar and the UAW agreed upon this process and it is a good one because it requires the involvement of both your union and the com= pany to resolve your health or safety issue. Make sure those with the responsibi= lity are held accountable.