Problem Solving

When dealing with safety issues/problems/opportunities at work, are you encouraged to submit a CPS Continuous Improvement (CI) card? How is that working for you? In most cases I hear of, unless itís easy and cheap, many workers feel like they are getting the run around. Itís funny that these cards can be considered closed if a work order is generated or a purchase order is written. Does that mean that your concerns have been addressed? Of course not, but thatís all that has to be done to kick the problem down the aisle. Other times, CI cards seem to disappear, I wonder where they go? On many occasions, serious problems are brought forward and are brushed off if they are not deemed as necessary as a nice paint job on the factory floor.

Recently, at the Eastern-most facility in our local, cantilevered storage racks have begun to be repaired or replaced. Over the past couple of years, a number of workers have complained to management about the deteriorating condition of outside storage racks. Anchor and structural bolts had rusted through, and the generally poor condition of the racks led to parts being precariously perched in locations where they were said to have routinely fallen. Finally, one of the workers at that facility filed a safety complaint and got all the rest of the workers in the area to sign it. Within weeks, the damaged racks were being repaired or replaced. Thatís how the Safety Complaint procedure in our contract is supposed to work and it will, if you use it. Thatís the power of being in a union, doing things together, like filing a safety complaint, to benefit all.

Iíve been told that some management personnel do not like our safety complaint form. If you have not seen one, it is a pretty simple form with an original and three carbonless copies (one copy for you, one for the union Safety Rep, one for the union hall and one copy for management). Your safety rep will fill out the complaint and present it to management. The safety rep will record managementís comments related to the complaint on the form and determine if the complaint is settled or not. At that point, the management representative will be asked to sign the form acknowledging the problem and their response. However, they have been instructed by Labor Relations not to sign. Why? The answer to that question is that management is accountable for their response after a safety complaint is filed and some would rather not have that responsibility.

Based on what youíve read so far, which method of handling safety issues do you think would work best for you? Which process gives you proof that you made your wishes known? Which process do you think management would like you to follow? Why? Which process has your well-being at heart? If youíre having questions regarding safety at work, ask for your union safety representative. That is the person who is committed to your protecting your safety and health without compromise.

Another hot topic that has been rearing its ugly head is the subject of discipline for ďsafety violationsĒ. Frequently, workers who report injuries or near misses are asked to attend safety investigation meetings. There are usually anywhere from two to six management personnel at these events. If you walk into one of these and see all those management people there, this is not going to be a friendly meeting. The first time one of these managers asks you a question, you need to exercise your Weingarten Rights. The question you have to ask is this, "If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working conditions, I respectfully request that my union representative be present at this meeting. Without representation present, then I choose not to participate in this discussion."

Once that request has been made, management must choose from among three options. They must: grant the request and delay questioning until the union representative arrives and has a chance to consult privately with the employee; deny the request and end the interview immediately; or give the employee a choice of having the interview without representation or ending the interview. If management denies the request for union representation, and continues to ask questions, it commits an unfair labor practice and the employee has a right to refuse to answer. The employer may not discipline the employee for such a refusal as that would be against the law. Remember, no matter how smart you are or how well you handle yourself, you need an advocate in the room with you to counsel you and act as a witness.

We received some great news this week about laid-off workers being recalled. I understand that it has been tough on you and that you are eager to get back to doing your jobs to earn a living for your families, but you need to remember that the only good job is a safe one. You have many rights as they relate to your health and safety which include:

         Training on chemicals you are exposed to during work and information on how to protect yourself from harm.

         Material Safety Data Sheets in your work area without having to ask anyone.

         Training on a variety of other health and safety hazards and standards that your employer must follow. These include lockout-tagout, bloodborne pathogens, confined spaces, construction hazards and a variety of other subjects.

         Request information about tests done to measure chemical, noise and radiation levels, precautions you should take and procedures to be followed if you or other employees are involved in an incident or are exposed to hazardous chemicals or other toxic substances.

         Review the Log and Summary of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA 300) at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner or have an authorized representative do so for you. (29 CFR 1904.7)

         Access to relevant exposure and medical records. (29 CFR 1910.1020)

And finally, if you feel as if you have been punished or discriminated against for exercising your safety and health rights, you have 30 days to file a complaint with OSHA under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. If you have any questions, ask your UAW Health and Safety representative, theyíre there to help!

Be well and be safe,

Steve Mitchell