Wrongful Insubordination

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Joined: 12-08-13
Aug 12 2013 22:09
Wrongful Insubordination

Long story short, I have been in a very heated contract negotiation with the company I work for. Since I'm the shop steward I had to participate in the negotiations thus I was unable to turn in one day of my time sheet. I received a reprimand for this the very first day back to work after a tentative agreement was reached. I grieved the issue and today another employee was written up for the same thing and he actually drove an hour out of his way on his off day to turn it in. Recently they changed how we turn our payroll and instead of once a week-- it's twice a week, so the pattern we've been used to for years just suddenly changed so this will happen a few times until the routine sinks in. I texted the Mgr and told her that I disagreed with the write up and that there was plenty of other things she could be doing to help the company run smoother instead of nit-picking... like getting everything transported on time, and I would grieve that discipline as well. A few minutes later her boss, and her boss's boss called me on a conference call saying that I was being charged with insubordination. Correct me if I'm wrong but like I told them it's my duty to grieve contract and disciplinary issues and if I can't represent my membership then I'm useless, and I have a right to openly disagree with management and tell them as much. It's very possible I might not win the grievances but I have the right, and even more-so... the "obligation" to represent the local on these issues or any others that might arise.

Any thoughts?

Steven.'s picture
Joined: 27-06-06
Aug 12 2013 22:46

Hi, sorry I'm not sure what country you're in. I'm assuming from your language is the US?

I'm afraid I'm not that aware of employment law in the US - although I do know that essentially workers' organising activity ("concerted activity" I believe it's referred to) is protected by law, and employers are technically not allowed to punish employees for this activity. (Of course, it still happens, but it is against law.)

In the UK, the situation is the same. Firstly you can't discipline a union rep for raising a union issue, as it would be unfavourable treatment on the basis of your union role. Secondly if it's a recognised union in a workplace then management will often be obliged to consult with you on things like this anyway.

That said, in all countries people do get penalised for union activity. On one side, it would seem sensible to contest the disciplinary via the official procedures, with your union rep (maybe a full-time official?). But most importantly if they decide to go for you the only thing which can save you would be the solidarity of your co-workers. So I would do something like tell them all that you are being disciplined for passing on their views. It could be people would be prepared to take some form of action to support you. You could also always step down from your union role, and also that from now on anything management want to negotiate they have to do with everybody together. Which is the main thing they don't want!

Best of luck, and let us know how it goes. One thing, if that is your real name then I would recommend changing it, as you employers could find this on Google, and could potentially penalise you for it - something like this they could possibly get you on for bringing the company into disrepute or something. If you want to change your name just let me know what you would like it changed to and I will do it.

syndicalistcat's picture
Joined: 2-11-06
Aug 12 2013 23:04

My guess would be that by labeling your action "insubordination" they're trying to build a case to fire you without it being blatantly in violation of the contract. Irrespective of what your nominal responsibility may be to the members to "represent" them, it's always best to try to collectivize the fight by getting the members involved. This also puts you in a more protected position, because after all this all about power, and that can be an informal sort of thing. Your legal protections are nominally whatever is provided in the union contract, since without a contract workers at employed "at will" in the USA & employers don't even need a reason to fire someone. But I say "nominally" because companies violate labor contracts all the time. This is why I say it's best to look to your coworkers.

boozemonarchy's picture
Joined: 28-12-06
Aug 13 2013 01:22

Hey there,

Echoing syndicalistcat and Steven here but yea. . .

I think in this case one of your main priorities should be spreading the word to your fellow union members about everything from the original grievance stuff all the way up to "greasing the skids" with talk on how to fight back against what seems like a bosses offensive. They probably want YOU out and some company tool in your steward spot. Wild guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is the MO. Steven outlined some good thoughts on how to confront that nasty business. The worst possible outcome for your boss would be having to deal with a crowd of pissed off workers without the benefit of closed door meetings with one of their representatives.

All the best,

Nate's picture
Joined: 16-12-05
Aug 13 2013 16:52

I assume you're a private sector worker in the U.S., is that right? The specifics matter for the legal stuff. If this time sheet policy systematically discriminates against union members/volunteers/officers you may be able to challenge that legally. Legal challenges and defenses are really weak though, and you'll be better off with collective activity as others have suggested. No disrespect intended but in the future I'd also suggest avoiding individualized contact with managers like texting and so on. Making communication collective, either in person or in letters signed by multiple co-workers, will be more powerful against management, better in building organization at work, and depending on how you carry it out it will make it harder for management to know who the workplace leaders are in order to target them.