Workplace Leader Vol. 3, No. 2

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Vol. 3 | No. 2





ifficult bosses. Unreasonable supervisors. They’re all too common in the American workplace — and why wouldn’t they be? American law and culture give an inordinate amount of power to management, and if you and your colleagues don’t have a union — well, it’s time to start organizing. The good news is that navigating tricky relationships with managers and bosses is a skill that can be learned — even if it does take a little patience. Here are some important tips for getting what you need out of your working relationships with the higher ups, while retaining your integrity ... and your cool.

DON’T fight the power. This can

be one of the most difficult pieces of advice to take, but it is one worth heeding. Confronting a bad boss is the dream of countless people, but overstep any one of several invisible lines and your dream of sticking it to the man can quickly become a nightmare. Even when your workplace is unionized, a company’s owners, directors, and managers have a wide range of power and discretion when it comes to nearly every aspect of the organization, including how, when, and where work is performed. State and federal laws govern minimums for wages and maximums for hours worked before mandatory overtime

kicks in, but the captains of the ship otherwise have a very wide berth. Disagreeing with a supervisor is not reason enough to confront them, especially when it comes to something over which the law gives them near-total authority. Disagreements happen all the time, and if we stopped work every time we felt like butting heads, well, we might not get much else done! When you’re a card-carrying union member, your collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, is a great place to look to see if the issue you have with your supervisor is a simple personal disagreement, or a violation of the terms of the contract between you (and your colleagues) and your employer. Your contract almost certainly affords you and your colleagues more sway over working conditions than the minimums set by federal and state laws. But generalities aren’t enough. If you think your supervisor is violating your contract, you will need to show where in the contract you are afforded a certain right, and how your supervisor violated it. Rather than consulting the CBA

on your own, consider speaking with your steward or union representative.

DO be proactive. Before conditions

deteriorate to the point that you can’t bury the hatchet with your boss, try engaging in constructive dialogue (with other people around, not in private). More often than not, the tension between you and your supervisor can be attributed to a battle of personalities or differences in perception rather than a specific contract violation. Here again, there’s no need to begin with confrontation. Instead, ask questions. By asking rather than telling or demanding, your approach with your supervisor has a much better chance of being interpreted as an employee who is trying to check in or course correct rather than an insubordinate worker looking for conflict. In your approach, focus on your work, yourself, and self-improvement — not on your boss and certainly not on your relationship. Asking your boss about what they think of you or drawing attention to the fact that you don’t get along won’t get you the response you’re looking for. On the other hand, asking how you can improve, what you can do to be more helpful, and how you can better collaborate together will not just diffuse the tension by focusing on the


work, it can also shift your supervisor’s perception of you from someone who complains or seeks conflict to someone who is dedicated to improving the quality of their working relationships.

DON’T ignore inappropriate

behavior. This is an important distinction that should never be overlooked. There is a world of difference between a supervisor being a little too giddy about “asking” you to work late or telling you they “need” something done by the end of the day, and a supervisor who takes their bad day out on you or who singles out women, people of color, or other colleagues for poor treatment.

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and several other factors, as well as harassment, are not contract violations; they’re illegal. No one needs to tolerate them in a place of work, and no manager or employer has the right to discriminate against or harass any employee. Just because they employ you does not mean they own you. If you believe you have been a victim of abuse, discrimination, or harassment, contact your human resources department and your union representative immediately. They are responsible for handling accusations of harassment and discrimination. You will need to tell your

The High Stakes of NOT Having a Union


e can talk about what protections unions offer workers in theory, but we should emphasize just how life-saving unionization can be for workers.

At the end of last year, a terrible tragedy occurred at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois. On December 10th, 2021, a tornado hit the warehouse, causing the roof and walls of the facility to collapse and ultimately killing six people inside and injuring another 45. In a letter to Amazon, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wrote that a prior inspection of the facility “raised concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies.” OSHA officials found that a number of employees couldn’t remember ever participating in severe weather or shelter-in-place drills, and some didn’t even know where the designated warehouse shelter was. Another tragedy occurred at a warehouse in Bessemer, AL, less than a month earlier. A worker told HR and management that he didn’t feel well and asked if he could be allowed to go home. He was told that if he went home he would be fired. He stayed on the job and in the course of performing his duties he had a stroke and died. Within a few hours of this incident, another person at the same warehouse died shortly after being rushed out of the facility to a nearby hospital. Allegedly, workers were told not to discuss the incidents. Workers at the Bessemer warehouse attempted to unionize in April, but the effort was defeated. In an ironic twist, The National Labor Relations Board found that the company illegally interfered with the union vote by intimidating workers and ordered a revote on Nov. 29 — the same day one of the Bessemer warehouse workers died while working. What we can say with certainty is that if these workplaces were unionized, the safeguards a union offers — and the power to speak up collectively that comes with it — would go a long way in ensuring such tragedies do not occur again. z – Adapted from an article by Danielle Twiss for |




story, but they handle the process. If you fear retaliation (which is illegal, but still practiced), speak with your union rep only and request confidentiality until you feel comfortable with the process. If you have witnessed abuse, discrimination, or harassment, discretely let your coworker know that you witnessed what happened and let them know that they have rights. Tell them that they need to contact their union representative immediately. You may also speak to your union rep and let them know that you are willing to offer your testimony and assistance as a witness while the process unfolds.

DO document everything you can.

There’s nothing worse than a he-said-shesaid predicament. In the 21st century, there’s also almost no reason for it. While it’s impossible to record every human interaction at work — and indeed, in many states it is illegal to record someone without their knowledge — countless work interactions don’t actually happen in person, even when we work in person. Texts, emails, and other electronic messages are all forms of workplace interaction and communication, and there’s no need to delete them, especially when they contain information about mistreatment of employees. If you feel as though your supervisor is being abusive, disrespectful, or otherwise mistreating you, make sure you always save the messages that show their conduct. You may even consider saving copies of screenshots of those messages to a personal device so that they can’t be deleted by your employer in case the situation escalates. While sharing your records of the abusive or harassing interactions will almost certainly work against you, keeping documentation for yourself is always a wise choice. Whether you think you may end up speaking to your union representative, speaking with friends and colleagues who may have been similarly impacted, or 3


even if you suspect disciplinary action or a termination is on the way, having copies for yourself is always a good idea.

NEVER go it alone. It begs

repetition: workers are stronger when we come together. The same is true whether it’s at the bargaining table or we’re fighting for our individual rights at work. Even when it concerns just one or a few of us, it’s never the right move to go solo. If there is something happening at work that may not be illegal and does not directly violate your collective bargaining agreement, but that you feel is wrong and

needs to be addressed, you should take your concern to your union rep. Bring your friends and coworkers with you. Indeed, you may have coworkers who have been similarly mistreated but were too afraid to come forward — until you inspire them. If you decide to take action, perhaps speaking with your bosses or by other means, by working together with your coworkers it may be construed as collective action, protected by federal law. While a solo whistleblower may have certain legal protection in certain circumstances in certain states, a lone employee almost never has the same

power or protection as does a group of individuals coming together in solidarity. The same principle is even more important to underscore when referring to disciplinary action. If you are ever called into a meeting with management, your first course of action is to contact your union rep. No matter how friendly or downright bland the message from management, it’s not okay to show up by yourself. Management will always make it seem as though their reason for calling you in is not disciplinary. Don’t wait to find out. Contact your union rep and have them attend any meeting with management at your side — always. z

The Many Faces of Bad Bosses Friendly but Unresponsive

In-Your-Face Anti-Union

This boss almost always says they’ll follow through on a request (information or other) but somehow there is always a hold up that, of course, is never their fault.

This management rep doesn’t hide the fact that they don’t like unions and lets you know that they aren’t going to do anything to aid the union’s cause.

If your request is not honored within a reasonable time, move on to the next step whether that be a grievance, unfair labor practice or a meeting with higher-ups in management.

Go by the book, be careful to put everything in writing, don’t miss deadlines and keep your membership informed and involved.

The Liar

The Intimidator This person likes to shout and talk down to you in an effort to make you feel as if you don’t know what you are doing. Stay calm and deal with them professionally. If this doesn’t work, particularly in a bargaining situation, the union team may want to walk out, letting the management side know that you will return when they can restore a sense of decorum.

Labor Relations Jock This management type is very competitive, has a big ego and frequently tries to try to impress you with their knowledge of precedents and the union contract, when half the time the “facts” they cite do not actually support management’s position. Do not let them intimidate you with supposed knowledge. Involve your team by keeping your local leadership up to date and your members informed and active. Union power comes from a united and involved membership.

This person makes promises to the union that they break. It is important to expose such lies to the membership and also to others in management. If the lie is a violation of your contract or the law, consider filing a grievance or discuss with your local leadership the possibility of filing an unfair labor practice.

The Fair Player You may occasionally run across a supervisor who is fair and reasonable, who actually wants to do the right thing. You may want to help them develop arguments that can be used with upper management or let them periodically have small, symbolic victories to strengthen their position with management, as long as these victories don’t hurt the membership. Remember that this person is working for your employer, and do not let your relationship make you forget for whom you are working. Whatever type of boss you are dealing with, remember the basics: Always be prepared, adhere to deadlines, know your contract and most of all, keep your membership informed and involved. z – Adapted from an article by Carl Goldman, executive director (retired), AFSCME Council 26 |






Representing a Member Who



key part of being a successful union steward is guiding your members through difficult interactions with a boss or management. Some representation skills are common sense while some require practice before you can be sure that you’re doing them correctly. Here are some tips that can help you and your members better handle the nuance of a union workplace. Assessing Evidence Before Approaching Management As the union steward, you should expect that members will approach you complaining that a manager is applying rules unfairly or in a way that is not in accordance with your union contract. Your first instinct may be to approach the manager or supervisor to get to the bottom of these accusations. However, the best first step is to set up a formal meeting with the member and ask them to bring any evidence they have of their claims. This sets the stage for a levelheaded discussion between you and the member where you both can review evidence that supports these claims. Ask the member to tell you everything you need to know about the evidence and their interactions with the manager. Full disclosure will protect you from being surprised later when you meet with management. If upon reviewing the member’s documentation you determine there is sufficient evidence to support their claims, you should request to set up a meeting that includes management, you as the union representative, and the member. Your role in this meeting is to represent the member and address concerns on their behalf. Make a plan to approach management professionally. Be mindful and aware that you’re dealing with dynamics between the member and management and express your interest in solving these issues in a practical manner. |

What if There isn’t Enough Evidence to Approach Management? You should stress that a member must collect as much evidence as possible in case you have to engage in the grievance process or mediation at some point. The grievance process is not only about what’s right, but also about what you can prove. If the member does not currently have compelling evidence that demonstrates an unequal application of the rules or that management is in violation of the contract, you should ask your member to begin a careful collection of evidence to support their claims.

Collecting Evidence Quietly and Carefully Asking your member to collect evidence is a way to empower them in the process and get them to think about how legitimate their issues are. During that process members should be careful not to be obvious with their intentions. Management can easily misunderstand the collection of evidence for claims as a personal attack on their supervisorial powers and start to retaliate. The best way to avoid retaliation by an employer is to collect evidence for claims discretely. Advise your member to keep a careful record of each instance where they are being treated unfairly or what rule in the contract is being broken. For example, if management is claiming that the member is late every day when they




clearly are not, they should note when they arrive at their workstation and begin working each day. They shouldn’t tell anyone they are doing this, and the record should be a complete accounting of dates and times. This could serve as valuable evidence if management ever attempts to discipline them for tardiness. This is just one example, but this strategy applies for almost any claim by management that employees are misbehaving.

How to Act in a Meeting with the Supervisor In order to give your member the best chance for success in a meeting with a supervisor or manager, the best thing you can do is prepare. Go over the evidence and ask the member to tell you once again everything you need to know so that you aren’t caught off guard in the meeting. Even if what they have to say is embarrassing, you need to know so you can be fully prepared. Your members should understand that you are their representative and that they shouldn’t say anything that could hurt their case during the meeting. You should prepare your member to ask for a sidebar if they need to add something to the conversation but don’t want to say it in front of management. Perhaps most important, you should get a clear understanding from your member what outcome they want from this meeting. Do they want the management to agree to change their behavior? Do they want an apology? Make a clear plan and take the emotion out of the situation so that you can be laser focused on achieving the desired outcome. Once you have agreed on a strategy, run through a practice conversation with the member so that you can perfect your approach. View the meeting as an exploratory discussion to find out if management agrees with your perspective and expect to have a follow up meeting to settle these claims. If you are unable to reach agreement, you should be well positioned to file a grievance if needed and your member should be confident that you’re fairly representing them. z




employees. In this case, an arbitrator ruled that the company must award all workers the snow pay, not merely those chosen by the supervisor.1 Bad bosses, also, are those who apply the rules differently for each worker. One worker was fired for taking a day off, thus violating the company’s “no-fault” absence rule. The worker, however, had phoned the supervisor and left a voice mail saying he wanted to take a vacation day to account for the absence. The supervisor did not call back, and the worker was fired when he returned to work. An arbitrator found, however, that the company had not consistently enforced the “no-fault” absence policy, treating each worker differently, and overturned the discharge returning the worker to the job with full back pay.2



ost workers have had experiences with bad bosses, the type who repeatedly scream out rude and demeaning criticisms, issue inconsistent and confusing orders, or play favorites.

When a supervisor yells at you, perhaps even in a way that belittles you, the worker should feel free to file a grievance to protest such actions. Labor contracts rarely contain language that specifically restricts such actions, but inherent in the recognition of a contract is the principle that a worker is entitled to being treated with basic dignity. Filing a grievance also brings the supervisor’s bad behavior to the attention of top management, perhaps even prompting action to persuade him/her to change. Federal

and state laws also provide protections in incidents where there has been discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, pregnancy or other factors. Inconsistent decisions or orders often give a good basis to use to go to arbitration. Here are some examples: There’s the case where a supervisor decided to pay certain workers three days of “snow pay,” while denying such pay to other workers. Often, supervisors take such actions to reward favored

In some cases, workers have become so stressed on the job, often because of criticisms from a boss who enjoys harassing them, that they respond angrily. That’s what one worker did when he was called into the supervisor’s office and his request for union representation was refused. He stormed out of the room, turning to the boss and forming his fingers into a gun. He was fired for threatening the supervisor. Recognizing the volatile nature of the situation, an arbitrator returned the man to the job with a 30-day suspension, noting the threat was ambiguous.3 Each of the cases signify that erratic bosses are bad bosses and often make mistakes that may be remedied through arbitration. z – Ken Germanson. The author is a veteran labor journalist.

Teamsters Local 115 and the University of Pennsylvania. Mariann E. Shick, arbitrator, June 23, 2011 2 United Food and Commercial Workers Local 527 and Red Wing Shoe Co. Joseph L. Daly, arbitrator. Nov. 26, 2013 3 IBEW Local 1701 and Big Rivers Electric Corp. Donald M. Kininmonth, arbitrator. Oct. 23, 2015 1

Workplace Leader is published six times a year by UnionBase. Contents ©2022 UnionBase. Reproduction in whole or in part electronically, by photocopy, or any other means without the written consent of UnionBase is prohibited. | Cover art produced by Billy Buntin of BBDigital Media. Layout & Design by Chadick+Kimball. |