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Safety Articles

District 7


  CWA District 7/Century Link/Minnesota OSHA Lead Abatement Settlement Agreement - Q-412 2013   
  CWA Occupational Safety and Health Fact Sheet 
  If you have an unsafe or a hazard working condition,  you can fill out our CWA Safety and Health Complaint Form (With Instructions.) 
  Guidance Documents on the Swine and Pandemic Flu

Telco Office Battery Explosion

(Presented by Mike Nord)

The following article is a good example of what happens when Telco battery strings are not properly maintained and go into thermal runaway. Deferring maintenance is like karma, it will come back to you.



Thought some of you might be interested in this picture. It is a hydrogen explosion in a UPS/battery room we had here in Sacramento this week. It is a very good example of what happens if you lose ventilation in a battery charging room. The explosion blew a 400+ sq.ft. hole in the roof (notice the sky above in the picture), collapsed numerous walls and ceilings throughout the building, and significantly damaged a large portion of the 50,000+ sq.ft. building. Fortunately the computer/data center was vacant at the time, so there were no injuries. I have more pictures/info, if interested just let me know.


I received a lot of requests for more pictures & info - so I'll try to get it all in one email. I believe it is important to share information in the industry to prevent future incidents.... but I'm also guessing this incident could result in some litigation, which I prefer to avoid, so I apologize if I'm a little vague on some of the specifics.

The facility was formerly a large computer/data center w/battery room & emergency generators. The company vacated the building, moved out computer equipment, however the battery back-up system was left behind. (Please read the entire 8 -page article with pictures.)   

What Everyone Should Know Concerning Blood Clots and Strokes

(Forwarded Mail)

STROKE: Remember the 1st Three Letters.... S. T. R.  

During a BBQ, a friend stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics).
She said she had just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes.

They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of  food. While she appeared a bit shaken up, Ingrid went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening.

Ingrid's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00 pm, Ingrid passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ. Had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke, perhaps Ingrid would be with us today. Some don't die. They end up in a helpless, hopeless condition instead.
It only takes a minute to read this...

A  neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough.

Thank God for the sense to remember the '3' steps, STR.
Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately,  the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke.

Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

S *Ask  the individual to SMILE.

T *Ask  the person to TALK and SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE  (Coherently - i.e. It is sunny out today.)

R *Ask  him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
If  he or she has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call emergency number immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.
New  Sign of a Stroke -------- Stick out Your
NOTE:  Another 'sign' of a stroke is this: Ask the person to 'stick' out his tongue.  If the tongue  is 'crooked', if it goes to one side or the other, that is also an indication of a stroke.

Please pass this on.  You never know who's life you may save.

 Heat Stress

(Submitted from the CWA National Site)

Heat Stress is an occupational safety and health problem for thousands of CWA members who perform their work outdoors as well as in residential attics and industrial settings. In order to increase leader and member awareness and action as well as ensure represented employers are providing affected workers with safe and healthful working conditions, the Union has developed the "CWA Heat Stress campaign" supported by the Telecommunications Strategic Industry Fund. This effort seeks to create safer working conditions through the education of our members as we have had several deaths related to heat stress.

As part of this program we will distribute a background education piece and a survey on industry practices and member issues. Our new fact sheet and the on-line survey which we will utilize can be accessed on the CWA web page. The backgrounder is found at
http://files.cwa-union.org/national/issues/osh/2010_heatstress.pdf  and the survey can be accessed at

David LeGrande will oversee the analysis of the completed surveys and translate them into a report. We hope that the report will be a useful tool to work with employers in improving safe and healthful working conditions as well as be the foundation for union education, training, and mobilization activities.

We plan to distribute electronic copies of the Heat Stress fact sheet and survey materials first to staff, then local officers, and then to members whose jobs involve working in hot temperatures.

Attachment:  What workers must know about Heat Stress 

 Code of Conduct for Union Members Involved in Joint Labor­ Management Health and Safety Committees

Many local unions have had years of experience with joint labor‑management health and safety committees. Gains in workplace health and safety have resulted from having such a committee where the union can raise and discuss its concerns. In some cases, however, management has used these committees to stall, redirect attention away from union concerns, and limit progress in addressing union issues. Every union member participating on a joint labor‑management health and safety committee should be aware of the pitfalls of these committees, and what he or she can do to best represent and pursue the interest of the union and its members. 

This is a code of conduct for union members who are involved in joint labor management health and safety committees and activities. Note that this code is not much different from what we would expect of a union member in other settings especially when union members are engaged in any type of discussion with management.  Please read the entire document...... 

 Dramatic Video About How to Deal With a Common Kitchen Fire

This is a dramatic video (30-second, very short) about how to deal with a  common kitchen fire ... oil in a frying pan.

Read the following  introduction, then watch the show ... It's a real eye-opener!!

At the Fire Fighting Training school, they would demonstrate this with a deep fat fryer set on the fire field. An instructor would don a fire suit and using an 8 oz cup at the end of a 10 foot pole toss water onto the  grease fire. The results got the attention of the students. The water, being heavier than oil, sinks to the bottom where it instantly becomes superheated. The explosive force of the steam blows the burning oil up and out.

On the open field, it became a thirty foot high fireball that resembled a nuclear blast. Inside the confines of a kitchen, the fire ball hits the ceiling and fills the entire room. Also, do not throw sugar or flour on a grease fire. One cup creates the explosive force of two sticks of dynamite. This is a powerful message----watch the video and don't forget what you see.

Please click on the picture below to load the video:

Know Your Limits When Driving

Have you ever caught yourself starting to doze off as you drive home at night? How about when you are on a long trip? You suddenly hear noise from a rumble strip at the edge of the pavement. You get the car back on the road and assess your condition. You rub you eyes, shaking your head, perhaps take a drink of a caffeine product or adjust the position of your seat or the steering wheel. You believe that you can make it home because it is only a few more miles. 

Consider this work situation: You have been assigned to work on a serious service outage near the end of your normal shift and continued working all through the night. Your supervisor talks to you about your condition. Several thought come into your mind. Overtime money is building up. You feel a responsibility to finish the work. You’re a team player. After considering everything you reply that you are fine and will continue to work.  Finally, after lunch the trouble is fixed everything is back in service and you walk to your truck to drive home. Are you in a safe condition to drive? 

Considering the above, please take a moment to watch the attached video to experience what happened to a cab driver that thought he could make it “just a little longer.” Don’t let this happen to you.

Click on the picture below to load the video.

Thanks to Tom Costello, President of 7717, for this video



Did your mom ever tell you to wash your hands?  Do you see signs reminding you to wash your hands before returning to work? Can’t wash up; use a hand sanitizer to do the job.

No problem? Be careful. Products such as Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer come with a warning:  “For external use only. FLAMMABLE, keep away from fire or flame." Most brands contain alcohol.  

Please review this Safety Moment to understand what can happen if you use the product and then come in contact with a cigarette or flame.

(Thanks to Eileen Kohler in the Denver District 7 office for this valuable information).

Safety Discussion Topics


Safety Discussion Topics

CWA District 7 Safety Conference

Park City, Utah

Joe Petersen, CWA Safety & Health Coordinator

Driving Safely in a “Cone Zone”

Driving across Nebraska recently I approached a freeway work zone. It was identified with warning signs, flags and the reduced posted speed limit. There was also a radar device informing motorists of their speed. This was not the first construction zone and I knew it would not be the last before I arrived at my destination. I have been involved with safety for many years and respect the values of safety.  The radar devise prompted me to slow down and to comply with the posted speed limit. I also thought it would be nice to avoid a speeding ticket. This reaction was justified a few moments later as the flashing red and blue lights of a state patrol car came into view.  Clearly there was a situation at the side of the road; an officer was having an “autograph party” with a citizen. I am sure the citizen receiving the citation was now in a bad mood contemplating a large doubled fine and the potential increased cost of automobile insurance. 

As drivers we frequently zip through the orange flags, signs and cones with little regard to the danger we face. Some, adjust the radio or CD player, “request” our children to behave, disregard the speed limit, or find the situation as just an inconvenience. Others gab on their cell phones and sometimes they crash and take a life. 

Every state in the nation is forced to deal with this safety issue. A recent article in the Arizona Tribune provides some interesting information about problems in work zones. In Arizona work-zone crashes have claimed more than 100 lives in the past five years! Construction officials call these deaths avoidable. To call attention to the problem Industry and Transportation officials have created a traveling memorial. It contains the names of 900 drivers, passengers, law enforcement officers and construction workers who have died in work zones. Each of the 900 names listed on a panel, was a father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter or friend of someone. Some were workers and some were police officers just doing their jobs.  

Who are the people most at risk in a construction zone? The workers would be my first guess. After all, they spend the most time in the work zone. They become accustom to traffic flying by and they are concentrating on the task at hand. Would you be surprised to know that 85% of the fatalities are drivers and their passengers? (765 of 900) 

Do we recognize the dangers we are driving through? Police say it is a struggle to slow traffic in work zones and some driver’s behavior is shocking at times. During a recent project to widen I 10 the Arizona Highway Patrol cited drivers who sped through the work zone area at 100 miles per hour. Harassment on the cop’s part? No. Their job is to make sure we get home safely.

(The Arizona information is from an article by Garin Groff AZ. Tribune, used by permission) 

Who is really responsible for safety?


1.      Drivers: Slow down in work zones - your life depends on it
2.      Drivers: Resist distractions such as cell phones.
3.      Workers: Do not become “comfortable” look for danger
4.      Workers: Use and wear approved safety products
5.      Both: Expect the unexpected.
6.      Both: Do not be impatient
7.      Both: Police – protect, enforce

Woman recovering from a fall into an open utility hole. 

On January 18, 2006 in Draper, Utah a 71-year-old woman walked into an open manhole falling 17 feet and landing in 6 to 8 inches of water and sewage. One hour later she was rescued suffering from a compound leg fracture and cuts and bruises.  

 A septic tank worker was using the manhole to access a grease sump from a nearby deli. The woman parked her car near the open hole. When she got out of her car, she asked the worker if she was in his way. The worker replied that she was not. Later he stated that he believed she was aware of the activity because of the conversation and the equipment he was using. He used a hose to vacuum out the grease and sewage and it was protruding from the hole at the time. 

When the woman returned to her car the worker was about 10 feet away from the hole with his back turned to her. He was putting equipment back into the truck. The worker said he never imagined that the woman would not have noticed that the hole was uncovered. As the worker returned to put the cover back on the hole, he saw her car keys lying on the ground next to the uncovered hole and heard the woman calling for help.  

(Information from Pat Realvy, Deseret Morning News, Jan 18,2006) 

Who is really responsible for safety? 



1.      Worker: Use proper work area protection -self and public
2.      Worker: Plan for safety - Put the lid on first
3.      Never imagine that people know where the danger is
4.      Others:  Be alert - pay attention – look for danger.
5.      Others:  Think safety

 Walking alone at night. 

Joe travels to Washington D.C. for a meeting. He checks into a hotel and has a nice dinner. Later, he decides to take a walk around the area to get some exercise and fresh air. He feels confident, as he has visited the Capitol area often. Joe knows the police patrol the area and a few other people are also walking around.  

As he walks his mind wanders to events of the next day. Soon he is in deep thought and not paying attention to his surroundings. It is a wonderful evening. Suddenly a very tall and large man is walking next to him. The large man speaks. He tells Joe that he has just been released from prison. He produces an official looking government travel voucher payable for $10 dollars and he suggests that Joe provide an additional $10 dollars to get him home to his “mother!” Startled, Joe assesses his situation and looks around for help or assurance. No one is in sight and the police often seen passing by are momentarily in other place. The man has not threatened Joe. He has only requested some help.  

Who is really responsible for safety?


1.      Do not go out alone
2.      Be alert of your surroundings
3.      Do not reach for your wallet or purse
4.      Agree to help but suggest “we” walk to a store or restaurant to cash a travelers check     
5.      Be observant of people near you or standing in a parking lot or street
6.      Make sure they know that you have seen them (Ability to ID)
7.      Speak to them “good evening”

 Equipment on the job.

Every morning you report for work. You are ready for another wonderful day complete with job pressures, assignments, quotas to be meet and customers to please. You gather necessary equipment and supplies, get in your truck and off you go. The day progresses well and just when you start to get ahead of the game that old warn out bald tire on the left front blows out on the freeway. Using all your skill and training you control the truck and bring it to a safe stop at the side of the freeway. As you call for a new tire and some help to change it, you think about how many times you have turned it in to be replaced. You know you have filled out several repair tickets and have been given the same old dribble about budget issues with the company.  

Who is really responsible for safety?  


1.      You have the right to refuse unsafe work.
2.      You have a responsibility not drive or use unsafe equipment.
3.      Limited budgets do not excuse employers from providing safety items

 Who is really responsible for safety? 


1.      Employers
2.      Government
3.      OSHA – MSHA – DOT - FAA
4.      The Union
5.      ME!

When Does a Worker Have the Right to Refuse Dangerous Work?

Thousands of workers die or are injured because of thousand of on-the-job accidents each year. Many more are exposed to unhealthy conditions that cause serious illnesses years later. When does a worker have the right to refuse dangerous work?

On February 26, 1980, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling which more clearly defined a worker's right to refuse work where an employee(s) has (have) reasonable apprehension that death or serious injury or illness might occur as a result of performing the work. The unanimous decision came in a 1974 case against Whirlpool Corporation in which two workers refused to crawl out on a screen from which a coworker had fallen to his death only nine days earlier. A Cincinnati, Ohio, appeals court ruled in favor of the worker's rights in "Whirlpool," and the Supreme Court affirmed that decision. (At the time the Supreme Court took the Whirlpool case, there were two other appealed court decisions which had gone the other way. These cases were by courts in New Orleans in 1977 and Denver in 1978.)

Workers in the "Whirlpool" case were told to go out on a screen 20 feet above the floor to retrieve small appliance parts which had fallen from a conveyor belt system above. The screen was in place to protect workers in the plant from falling parts. The retrieval assignment had resulted in other workers falling partially or completely through the screen. Claiming that the screen was unsafe, two employees refused to carry out the assignment. Whirlpool supervisors sent the workers home for the day and withheld about six hours pay.

The Court, in its decision, emphasized that the OSHA Act provides the worker with the right to choose not to perform an assigned task due to reasonable apprehension of death or serious injury coupled with a reasonable belief that no less drastic alternative is available. Further, the Court held that a worker who utilizes this OSHA protection may not be discriminated against for such action. However; the Court also indicated that an employee who refused work based on the regulation runs the risk of discharge or reprimand in the event a court subsequently finds that he/she acted unreasonably or in bad faith.

As noted, the employer docked the two workers about six hours pay in the Whirlpool case. The Supreme Court ruled that the OSHA Act does not require an employer to pay a worker who refuses to perform an assigned task in the face of imminent danger. Rather, the Act simply provides that in such cases the employer may not discriminate against the involved worker(s). Thus, the Court ruling left this issue to be decided by labor and management through collective bargaining. Members of unions that do not negotiate the necessary protective language in their contracts should not expect to be paid for the refusal to work, period. This will be true even where an employer is found guilty of violating the OSHA Act.

In light of the Supreme Court's decision, what should CWA members who are faced with an imminent danger situation do? The Supreme Court has said that a worker may refuse unsafe work where he/she has refused the job in good faith. Good faith may be interpreted as an honest belief that the job was unsafe and where the job was unusually and objectively dangerous. Good faith can be demonstrated by the manner by which you refuse unsafe work: Explain the hazard to the supervisor and your steward; Offer to do other, safe work until the hazard is corrected; Give management a chance to respond before doing anything else.

If the condition isn't corrected, call and request an "imminent danger" inspection; do not walk off the job. If management won't fix the hazard, force them to take the next step. Make sure you have expressed your reasons for refusing the job and your willingness to do other work, clearly and in the presence of your steward or other workers.

If you're fired or disciplined: file a grievance immediately; file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB immediately but within 180 days; file a section 11(c) discrimination complaint with OSHA/WISHA immediately but within 30 days. The bottom line is to stay cool. Don't let management provoke you into rash actions which could hurt your case later. Proving that your job was" abnormally and objectively dangerous" is a matter of documentation: Was the job one you'd never done before? Or; had the conditions of the job changed recently? Did you protest the job before? Did other workers protest the job before? Did others refuse to do the job? Was the company in violation of OSHA, state or local health and safety regulations? Many chemicals and conditions are clearly dangerous but aren't covered by any standards. Have workers been injured or made sick doing your job? Just what chemicals were you working with? If any CWA member refuses unsafe work, he should notify the Local Union President or Safety Officer. In turn this information should be made available to the CWA Representative, and the CWA occupational Safety and Health Department.

What Can You Do? All CWA members should make sure that their employer is maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. The key to making the workplace safe for all CWA members is strong, active Local Safety and Health Committees.

The committee can identify dangerous conditions at the workplace and discuss them with management. If the company refuses to cooperate the committee can request a WISHA inspection. The committee should always coordinate its activities

Through the Local officers, the CWA Representative and negotiated Safety and Health Committees.

Dennis Garrett
Local 7804 Vice President and Safety Officer
Regional MOSHC Representative.

Know Your Rights 

A recent incident experienced by a technician prompts this reminder to all members. This incident involved a work area set up and a disagreement between the technicians and their supervisor concerning same. Cutting to the quick on this incident, the two parties involved could not reach an agreement as to what was right. The techs called in a Local Safety Rep who responded and the situation was supposedly rectified to everyone’s satisfaction and to all WAP code requirements. I said “supposedly rectified”. The next day the techs were told that they were not to call any Union safety person as they were “worker bees” (my term) not safety experts. That was, I am sure, a statement only uttered after years of research and deep insight by the supervisor.

Since we all have problems accepting that statement, I am sure we can all agree that this voiced tirade by this supervisor was hot air, smoke and mirrors, and an attempt to intimidate. Needless to say, after a couple of phone calls this supervisor will be enlightened. We have all had an experience like this if we have been around very long, some worse but most workable.

I want all members to be aware of a couple of “your rights.”

1. You may call a Union rep at any time, but especially if you feel that a situation is developing with a Qwest management individual, i.e. disciplinary, intimidation, safety, etc. If you are denied this right, clam up, don’t become insubordinate and report the situation and refusal to a Union officer immediately.
2. Under OSHA, the employee has the ultimate right to challenge the health and/or safety of an assigned work operation. You as an employee, have the right of declaring “imminent danger” in questionable safety situations and requesting another opinion. You need to contact a Union officer and/or safety person immediately to represent you.

Again, if your request is denied, politely inform the company ,management person that you are more than ready and willing to complete your assigned task just as soon as your concerns are resolved.

Be sure to initially contact your supervisor and report your concerns. Let them attempt to resolve the concerns. No one has to do something because so and so’s crew do it that way all the time. So and so’s crew may have been bucking the safety odds for years or may just not know what is right.

Use your training and experience, and the old sixth sense of preservation. After all it’s your life and limbs, so protect them.

Your CWA safety representatives, have absolutely no patience with any supervisor who attempts to short cut safety, or creates an intimidating situation towards any employee who questions or requests second opinions on any safety or contract situation.

A supervisor who yells “show me in writing” or a local member who says “no one can tell me how to safely do my job!” are of equal ignorance as to their people’s or their own responsibilities.

So don’t be side tracked by rhetoric. Question any and all potentially unsafe or questionable safety situations. I can assure you that not to do so would result in disciplinary actions or worse.

In all my 40 years as a Net Tech and Union rep, the number of managers who foolishly disregarded safety policies and forced an issue can only be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Most management reps are generally committed to the safety and welfare of the employee and those managers who “drift” will be dealt with. You have the ultimate responsibility for yourself and your survival. If you cut corners only you and yours will suffer.

Be safe and don’t be afraid to question any situation.

Dennis Garrett
Local 7804 Vice President and Safety Officer
Regional MOSHC Representative.

Workplace Threats

Threats of Violence

This is one area of labor-management relations which is often-discussed, but few rules or guidelines have emerged.  Some of this is due to the fine distinction between uncivil language or even crude language and threats of violence.  Moreover, there are mitigating factors which seem to drive the arbitrators’ decisions, (and of course, the rule of progressive discipline) and thus, arbitrators do not cite other cases as precedent or for general principles.

Employers have a statutory and common law tort duty to provide a safe working place.  Employees have a right to not be subjected to threats in the workplace and employers must exercise a reasonable duty of care to ensure that safety.  This duty of care is in addition to any required by law or regulation.

All threat cases are viewed initially through a prism of common sense.  No arbitrator is going to ignore what are generally accepted understandings of words and actions,  in order to uphold or reverse the discipline. Consider how difficult it is to apply common sense to the words alone.  Without knowing the workplace culture and the context of the words, would the following be considered a threat of violence? 

Grievant to supervisor: “Don’t F--- with me.”
Grievant to co-worker: “They take people out back for that.”
Grievant to customer: “This place would blow.”
Grievant to steward: “I’m going to go postal.”

What becomes apparent is that threats are not always clear, not always immediate (in the sense of time), and never said without a context (including provocation).  Of course, it does not matter whether the threat was carried out, but the factual record surrounding the threat is critical to the case.

The problem of workplace violence cannot be viewed as just an employee versus employee matter.  In fact, only 20% of the perpetrators of workplace violence are current employees of the workplace.  According to a Northwestern National Life survey, the proportion of violence in all workplaces is committed by these types of people: 

Customer   44%
Stranger   24%
Co-worker 20%
Boss    7%
Former Employees 3%
Other 3%

Two frequent scenarios:  the grievant utters the “threat” as part of a joke or as part of his co-workers’ banter.  Or the grievant makes a threat, but has no intention of carrying it out.  By definition, threat means intending to take action.  If the workplace rule covers threats, the arbitrator is still left to determine whether the grievant intended for the threat to be taken seriously.  Take the extreme case, where the grievant meekly states or in anger, states, “we’ll end up in a black hole.”  The employer will not be able to convince the arbitrator that on those words alone, the grievant intended the result because it is beyond the realm of possibility.

Professor Carlton Snow, a nationally respected arbitrator, defines threat as a declaration of intent to do harm.  Arbitrators and courts define threat broadly.  It can be verbal or non-verbal (including gestures or other physical appearances).  The question is whether the employee created the apprehension of violence.  Did the grievant use the threat to effect a certain result?  And do the facts support a conclusion that the grievant intended to arouse apprehension?  In short, does the verbal or non-verbal conduct, to a reasonable person, create an atmosphere of apprehension.

Obscenity and Shop Talk

Raised often as a union defense, shop talk is not always protected.  Arbitrators consider,

1. Was the shop talk phrase personalized or was it general?
2.  Was the statement uttered in anger?
3. Was the statement intended to demean or challenge the authority of the supervisor?
4. Who else heard it (customers, co-workers, etc.)?

The arbitral presumption is that the ordinary obscenity is not subject to discipline because it is not intended to be violent or undermine management’s authority.  In fact, in a private discussion, an employee may be able to go further with a supervisor than if it were done in front of other workers.

The issue may not even be the “quality” of the foul language, but whether the language directed to fellow employees or supervisor signifies a lack of respect, according to Arbitrator Snow.  Otherwise, chaos would result and productivity would go down.  Hence, management has a right to discipline that which affects productivity.

Most arbitrators don’t require evidence about the impact on productivity, because it is assumed.  Nevertheless, the real issue is productivity, rather than an analysis of supervisory authority. 


Context is everything in these cases.  If the workplace is stressful, arbitrators assume that workplace communication will also be stressful.  Arbitrators want to know the exact words and all of the circumstances surrounding the utterance.  A shop steward at a grievance meeting says threatening words to management.  Does this mean that the steward can be disciplined?  Management needs to be cautious about disciplining for what a steward says in defense of a grievant, fulfilling his or her duty of fair representation.  The relationship is one of equality.  According to the National labor Relations Board, “the relationship at a grievance meeting is not a master-servant relationship, but a relationship between company advocates on one side and union advocates on the other side, engaged as equal opposing parties.”

It has limits, however.  The shop steward cannot say, “I know where you live” when the intent is to threaten.  If they are of such serious character as to render the shop steward unfit for further service, the utterances are a basis for discipline.

Another context, which may be considered as mitigation, but may also explain whether the language is truly threatening is the employee’s condition.  If the employee is inebriated, mentally ill, or suffering from post-traumatic stress, the threat may be explained away.  The emotional outburst from a troubled employee is typically handled differently ( and not as severely) because the illness is primary and the threat is viewed as a symptom.  This is another example of where the arbitrator will consider context as important as the words themselves.

A zero-tolerance policy does not take away the arbitrator’s authority to determine whether the discipline was for just cause.  The context of the words used will determine whether the language can be the basis for discipline.  Further, the seniority or good work record of an employee can be the basis for reducing the discipline.

Finally, an example of the problem is when the employees, after the fight, claim they were wrestling.  Neither was injured, they withhold the reason for the altercation or minimize it, and there are no management witnesses.  How likely would the arbitrator uphold discharge, even under a zero-tolerance policy? The case would be decided narrowly on the facts.  The equal-penalty rule (that both combatants be treated the same) has fallen into disfavor, because arbitrators consider it unfair, since nearly all fights have a provocateur and a victim.  Instead, arbitrators look as closely at the context in which the fight occurred and the applicability of the work rule. 


In many cases, management has the opportunity to warn an individual about their behavior. This is the requirement of progressive discipline, and a stronger case for discipline is made when the grievant has been warned.  Arbitrator Barbara Doering concluded, in a 1998 lecture. 

"In a sense it is easier to deal with actual violence – the push, the shove, the blows, whatever- than the less specific fears flowing from something said or done.  Where you have a pretty good idea of extent (from what actually occurred), a penalty can be more clearly seen as fitting the offense, or at least the arguments are more clearly drawn.  On the other hand, people who are often loud, or use foul language treading the line of keeping it object-directed rather than person-directed, may never be spoken to about conduct that makes others uncomfortable to be around them until they get themselves in trouble by directing the language at a person or being loudly insubordinate to a supervisor in front of an audience, or simply flying into a rage.  At that point it may come out that what to them is a matter of degree, has made others fearful – or ready to be fearful if there be an incident.

My prescription for the latter is that we need to emphasize “orderly” conduct and that managers need to deal with on-going “disorderly” conduct, because co-workers won’t take the chance of ridicule or of increased name-calling if it is left to them to object.  Supervisors have to disciplinary authority to put a stop to it."


            Based on the foregoing, some general guidelines emerge: 

Likely not  to be the basis for discipline

  • Name-calling (used as emphasis in speech)
  • Nasual mutterings
  • Mere asides

Likely to be the basis for discipline

  • “Fight words” that intend to incite a violent response
  • Personalized words and/or words directed toward a person
  • Threats which are conditional, but nevertheless real (If I had a gun, you'd apologize.”)  (”I won' t ever forget what you did-there’ll be a time when you pay for it.”)

Dennis Garrett
Local 7804 Vice President and Safety Officer
Regional MOSHC Representative.

For more information on safety, please visit the National Heath and Safety Website.


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