Accountability – Part II
I never intended to write a second installment on Accountability, but the events of the last two months pretty well demand it. As a quick recap, we as workers understand the concept of accountability—that is being responsible for one’s actions, that means all of them.
Previously I’d shared the story about how Caterpillar got bamboozled in a transaction last summer, paying $700 million for a company that ended up only being worth $120 million. I’m told that this swindle was no small feat considering all of the due diligence the company went through to be sure they were being good stewards of stockholder dollars. In the end, a CAT vice-president was held accountable for what were termed “discrepancies” and was allowed to “pursue other career opportunities” (fired). So the unemployment rate went up by one, a guy who probably made a couple of million or so a year, and the stockholders were left holding the bag to the tune of $580 million dollars.
I’m sure the recently-unemployed vice-president is mourning the loss of such a lucrative position, but the loss of a job for allowing this monumental swindle to take place doesn’t seem out of line—he was held accountable. Contrast his job loss with to that of the worker I spoke of last issue. To review her situation, she fell over a trip hazard, identified with a CI card, but not fixed. She suffered a broken arm, an injured knee and the indignity of being told by the HR manager that her services were no longer needed.
She was kicked to the curb, just like the vice-president in the $580 million dollar mining fiasco. Her only offense was getting hurt on the job (no matter what excuse the company gives). Considering her broken body, she will have a difficult time finding someone to hire her. The VP on the other hand, will probably not miss any meals. She may end up sleeping in her car. He might have to cut down on his number of homes. It would appear that there is a little difference between the levels of accountability between the two.
In a conference call with analysts regarding the lost $580 million, The Wall Street Journal reports CAT CEO Doug Oberhelman admitted he was accountable for the loss because "it happened on my watch." http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323829504578269550198965528.html One analyst had the audacity to mention that the CEO of J.P. Morgan had a more than 50% reduction in his compensation after a dismal performance, but Mr. Oberhelman did not respond. I for one appreciate Mr. Oberhelman’s acceptance of responsibility, it showed class.
In late April it was announced that CAT had downgraded its forecast for the rest of 2013 http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130422/NEWS05/130429991/caterpillar-cuts-forecast-as-profit-shrinks . As you know, layoffs have hit our local hard. Most of the Supplementals were let go before the holidays and the rolling layoffs have affected most of the business units in the area. In addition, CAT announced in early April that 460 people would be laid off at Decatur and on May 3, it was announced that an additional 300 people would join the other unemployed members of Local 751. Half the workforce at the Bucyrus Plant in Milwaukee was laid off (prior to their contract expiring and while contingency workers are learning their jobs) and the Steelworkers overwhelmingly voted down the company’s contract proposal. Outwardly, it would not appear that things are going really well for the biggest employer in river city.
But to my surprise, on April 23, the day after CAT announced the downgrade of the business forecast, it was reported that Mr. Oberhelman was awarded a 32% increase in pay http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/2013/04/23/caterpillar-ceo-pay-increased-in-2012.html . He got a bump to $22.4 million dollars. I don’t for a minute begrudge Mr. Oberhelman a nice paycheck, God knows I could never nor would I ever want to have his job, but this doesn’t seem to be fair.
So on the accountability scorecard, one guy fired for his failure to prevent what was basically a $580 million dollar theft, a worker ends up sleeping in her car because she got hurt at work by a hazard that was not fixed and the CEO gets a 32% raise when the company appears not to be doing as well as it could. Of the three, which of these accountable people do you think got what they had coming to them and who did not?
Here is another example of someone being held accountable. A worker at the southernmost outpost in Local 974 was injured on the job. The injured worker was sent to hospital in ambulance, which is a big improvement over the taxi cabs and pick-up trucks that have been used for medical transport in the past. A fracture was diagnosed, multiple stitches were needed to close the wound and prescription pain meds were administered. The worker was left at the hospital without transportation and had to get their spouse to drive them back to the plant.
What followed is hard to believe—the injured, doped-up worker was told to go back to work. After being made aware that the worker was under the influence of prescription narcotics, it was decided that the injured worker could do computer safety training.
Do you think the geniuses making the decisions down there ever considered that there might be something worth learning in the safety training? Surely there could be information in computer-based safety training that might possibly help save one’s life. If so, why in the hell would someone in a position of authority decide to let someone take SAFETY TRAINING under the influence of prescription pain medication! What made this incredibly stupid decision even more baffling was that during 2011 negotiations related to health and safety, drug testing and keeping people who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol off the shop floor was the only thing CAT wanted to discuss. Was anyone held accountable for the brilliant idea of having a narcotic-impaired worker do safety training?
The following day there was an “investigation”. This investigation I’m told consisted of a room full of management people looking to blame someone and the injured worker. The “investigation” led to the suspension of the worker for supposedly failing to follow a procedure. The injury occurred while performing the job as it was always done, just like they were trained. If it truly was a failure to follow a procedure, why was the area where injury occurred totally redesigned? Who do you think was held accountable for the lousy workplace layout?
Here is a word of advice, do not go into any “investigation” without a union representative. You have what are known as Weingarten Rights—BUT YOU HAVE TO ASK FOR YOUR UNION REP! We have some really nice Weingarten cards at the union hall that attach to your badge. Ask your steward or committeeman about your rights and for one of these cards because you never know when you might need to use it. For further information about Weingarten Rights, go to http://clear.uhwo.hawaii.edu/wein.html .
In closing, I don’t have a problem with members of UAW Local 974 being held accountable for their actions, but often it seems like we are the only ones. Our employer is required to provide us with a workplace free of recognized hazards. That is the absolute minimum. CAT is accountable if those conditions are not met. It is our health and our safety which is at risk. You have UAW Safety representatives ready to help you address any deficiencies you discover, but it is up to you to call for your rep. We need to protect the people who depend on us by making sure we have the safe and healthy workplace that we deserve, so don’t settle for anything less.