Justice for All Requires A Contract for All
By SPSE-UPTE Stewards
In addition to guaranteed wage increases and the provisions for enhanced safety and job security, the new Skilled Trades employment contract retains an important provision: all the due process rights and the “just cause” standard for discipline that all Lab employees once enjoyed as UC employees prior to the transition to private company management of the Lab in 2007.
The consequence of the loss of the “just cause” standard was recently highlighted for us in the decision in a grievance arbitration we handled for a non-skilled trades SPSE-UPTE member. In his written decision in this case the Arbitrator said the following:
The problem with those arguments (the union arguments) is that each of them is applicable only where the standard against which to measure the disputed disciplinary action is ‘just cause’ or a similar standard. While each of these Union-argued elements may well have had varying degrees of merit when measured against the ‘just cause’ standard, and particularly so concerning whether the Laboratory has met all of the requirements for a finding of ‘insubordination’, they are simply not applicable where, as here, the standard which the arbitrator must apply is ‘unlawful discrimination, harassment or retaliation.’ Put simply, there is nothing ‘unlawful’ in the Laboratory’s actions here.
Likewise, the concept of progressive discipline argued as not followed by the Union is a concept arising within the above-described ambit of ‘just cause’ or a similar standard. The arbitrator has reviewed pertinent sections of the Laboratory’s Personnel Policies Manual, and can find no mention of that concept in those materials. Were this a ‘just cause’ matter, that element of the Union’s argument might well have at least some merit, in that this Arbitrator has in his prior ‘just cause’ cases generally been an advocate of the positive elements of progressive discipline.
In short, for those of us without a union contract that embodies the “just cause” standard, the Laboratory is free to treat us unjustly, as long as the treatment is not demonstrably illegal.
Since managers can treat employees unjustly, many will continue to do so, taking full advantage of the extra latitude private sector law gives them in dealing with non-unionized workers. Employees without a union contract have no say in the policies and procedures that govern their working environment, and every change that LLNS management has made to the employee conduct and formal complaint policies has left non-union employees with fewer and fewer ways to challenge unjust treatment.
SPSE-UPTE believes that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. The ultimate fix to workplace injustice is for everyone to be covered by a union contract. In the meantime, just being a dues-paying member of SPSE-UPTE, even one who is not covered by a contract, gives you some protection, since all our members have access to trained stewards to help them navigate the Lab’s labyrinthine formal complaint resolution process to address workplace issues. Many members find that this benefit alone is worth the modest price of membership. They understand that it makes no sense to wait until the house is on fire before going out to shop for homeowner’s insurance, and that preserving one’s job is as important as saving one’s house.