If a worker really is a problem, unions aren't an obstacle

  • Article by: Bobby Kasper
  • August 1, 2014 - 7:04 PM


D.J. Tice’s July 27 column “Jeepers, creepers — why’d they keep that peeper?” puts the shoe on the wrong foot by blaming unions for management’s failures.

Tice cites the case of a serious situation where a St. Paul school custodian was charged with sexual misconduct to distort the responsibilities of unions — that is, the column uses one very troubling example to take a swipe at all union job protections.

It’s a myth that administrators’ hands are tied. They are the workplace managers, and it is their responsibility, not the union’s, to discipline or fire employees. The law is clear on this.

It’s convenient to join the chorus of union-bashing when bad things like this happen in our schools. But it is dishonest at best to use the case of the former Linwood Monroe Arts Plus school custodian to accuse unions of making it extremely difficult to fire workers.

Tice notes correctly the school district had not acted on complaints against the custodian and was not forthcoming when Tice asked the district what happened. He blames the disciplinary appeal system without evidence that it was a roadblock.

Let’s be honest. Union job protections are there to help bad things from happening to good people. But it’s not the role of unions to block management’s responsibility to properly investigate employee misconduct. Public employers can discipline workers, using a process that is agreed to and fair.

A core function of any union is to make sure members get their due-process rights. But it isn’t about protecting bad workers. It’s about protecting bad things from happening to good workers. It’s about making sure employees don’t lose their jobs for speaking up for safer working conditions or because the boss is vindictive.

Unions believe in step-by-step discipline. If someone isn’t doing his or her job right, the goal usually is to help the worker improve his or her skills or behavior. If a custodian’s work isn’t meeting expectations, there should be clear advice on how to improve. Bosses need to have a fair and consistent method for measuring their workers’ performance.

Some situations are so serious that they go beyond the regular process. That’s certainly true for child mistreatment and abuse. If a manager investigates and substantiates employee misconduct, everyone would agree that discipline is warranted.

Tice also fails to mention Minnesota’s mandatory reporting law for school employees. Anyone working in a school setting is required to report suspected maltreatment of a child. And if there’s a potential criminal component, the report is forwarded to police to investigate.

It’s wrong to exaggerate and blame unions when bosses aren’t doing their jobs. Sure, managers can’t throw around discipline or fire employees on a whim. But they still need to do their jobs.


Bobby Kasper is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation.

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