The employee, a union shop steward, was on her regularly scheduled day off at home. She was called by her supervisor and told to talk to three union members and instruct them to attend a work function called a “Quest for Quality Interaction Committee” meeting. The Quest for Quality program was a high priority with the employer for improving patient care at the facility and was part of a corporate program. The union had objected to the implementation of the Quest for Quality program and had taken a position that employees could attend the program if their jobs were threatened, but they should do so under protest and then file a grievance afterward.
On the day in question, the union shop steward, in a three-way conversation with the three employees, told them that she would not order them to attend the Quest for Quality meeting, although she had been asked by her supervisor to instruct them to go to the meeting. The supervisor who had called the union shop steward had herself refused to order the employees to attend the meeting but relied on the union shop steward to issue the order to the employees. When the union shop steward failed to order the employees to attend the meeting, the employer suspended the union shop steward for two weeks. The steward grieved the two-week suspension.
The union position was that the company had no authority to discipline the union shop steward on her day off for failure to give what it termed a management direction to perform the specific job function of attending a mandatory corporate meeting. The union pointed out that it was unfair that the employer refused to order the employees directly to attend the meeting but then expected the union shop steward to do so. The union argued that, although it is not unusual to call upon a union shop steward for assistance in problem solving, the company has no right to demand that he or she replace supervisors or management in giving orders and then discipline the union official for refusing to do so.
The company position was that the opposition of the union to the Quest for Quality meetings put the employees in a position of being unable to attend the meetings without direction from the union shop steward, that the union shop steward was given a job assignment of directing the employees to attend the meeting, and that failure to follow that job assignment was insubordination and just cause for her suspension.
Nonetheless, the union contended that the arbitrator must examine the nature of the order when deciding whether the insubordination was grounds for discipline. As to the nature of the order in this case, the employer had to demonstrate that the order was directly related to the job classification and work assignment of the employee disciplined. The refusal to obey such an order must be shown to pose a real challenge to supervisory authority. The employee did not dispute the fact that she failed to follow the orders given to her by her supervisor but pointed out that she was not on duty at the time and that the task being given to her was not because of her job with the company but because of her status as a union shop steward.
The arbitrator pointed out that the contract between the employer and employee in this case had the standard “just cause” provision requiring the employer to demonstrate reasonable grounds for its disciplinary action. The employer alleged in this case that the employee disobeyed the direct orders of her supervisor and, therefore, the employee should be disciplined for insubordination. The arbitrator found that the employee, in refusing to issue the order that the supervisor asked her to issue, was not challenging the supervisor’s authority to direct the workforce in the accomplishment of its corporate mission. In fact, it was the supervisor’s duty to instruct the employees or order the employees to attend the meeting, not the union shop steward’s. The employee was not held responsible for refusing to exercise a supervisory function that was not within her job classification. The arbitrator recognized the long-standing dispute between the union and the company on the implementation of the “Quest for Quality” program. The arbitrator, in noting that, pointed out that it was his opinion that the employee was discriminated against due solely to her status as a union shop steward and that, even if the direct order had been work related, the evidence of antiunion animus would have been enough to have defeated the employer’s just cause allegation. The company tried to place the individual shop steward in the middle of a larger dispute between the company and the union.
1. As the arbitrator, do you think the employer had just cause to discipline the employee?
2. If the union’s opposition to the “Quest for Quality” program encouraged the employees not to participate, why shouldn’t the union be held responsible for directing the employees to attend?
3. Did the employee’s action really justify the penalty imposed by the company? company position
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