BEFORE THE ARBITRATOR
In the Matter of the Arbitration of a Dispute Between
UNITED ELECTRICAL, RADIO AND MACHINE
WORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 1127,
STEELTECH MANUFACTURING, INC.
(Grievance of Renee Wells)
Mr. Tom Ellett, Field Organizer, on
behalf of the Union.
Palmer Law Offices, by Mr. Charles B. Palmer, on behalf of
The above-captioned parties, herein "Union" and "Company", are signatories to a
collective bargaining agreement providing for final and binding arbitration. Pursuant thereto,
hearing was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 20, 1998. The hearing was not
transcribed and both parties filed briefs that were received by June 2, 1998. Based upon the
entire record and the arguments of the parties, I issue the following Award.
1.Whether the grievance is arbitrable.
2.If so, did the Company have just cause to terminate grievant Renee Walls and,
if not, what is the appropriate remedy?
The Company manufactures steel products at its Milwaukee, Wisconsin, facility.
the products it produces is a "rack" - a steel, freight-like container for the United States
which is used to carry various materials. Racks are painted and then numerically stenciled at
end of the manufacturing process.
Grievant Walls, a Painter "B" on the second shift, worked for the Company since April,
1996. Part of her job duties included painting the stencils on the racks. She received an oral
warning in October, 1996, for failing to properly stencil flat racks (Employer Exhibit #3).
warning was never grieved.
Second shift Production Manager Linda Conners - formerly the Union's president and a
supervisor since October 20, 1997 (unless otherwise noted all dates hereinafter refer to 1997)
testified that employe Frank Lee told her on November 4 at about 6:45 p.m. or 6:50 p.m.
Walls was refusing to put stencils on a rack; that she, Conners, went out to the production
where Walls was spray painting a flat rack; that Walls at that time was over-spraying the
that she repeatedly asked Walls to come down from a ladder so that they could talk, but that
refused to do so and said that she did not want to stencil; that she, Conners, began to get
the spray fumes; that Walls finally came down from the ladder without speaking to her and
she then immediately went to the bathroom; and that after Walls exited from the bathroom,
stood by a wall for about 15-20 minutes without doing any work. Conners added that she
told Lee to do the necessary stenciling because the production line was being held up. Even
said she, the daily quota of finished racks was not met.
Conners returned to her office, at which point she got Union Steward Lyrnice Nowles
bring Walls to her office. There, Conners told Walls that she was being suspended for
insubordination and issued to her a "Progressive Disciplinary Action Notice" stating that she
being suspended. Walls then accused Conners of lying about what had previously taken
between the two of them. Connors met with Walls at the latter's November 10 exit
which time Walls said: "I know why you fired me. I filed a sexual harassment lawsuit
(Plant Superintendent Odies Wess). You don't have the balls to fire me. That's why you
On cross-examination, Conners acknowledged that she had "no floor knowledge" of
production floor; that Walls was the first person she had ever disciplined; that she did not
when Walls and her crew took lunch on November 4; that Lee approached her on November
at about 6:45 - 6:50 p.m. to complain about Walls; and that Walls asked her on November 4
Lee could not do the necessary stenciling. Conners also said that the ultimate decision to fire
Walls for insubordination was a "joint decision" between her and Plant Superintendent Wess.
Wess testified he told Conners on November 4 to indefinitely suspend Walls pending
further investigation and that he told Conners he personally would fire Walls, but that he left
decision up to Conners. He added that Walls was asked for Company keys at her exit
to which she replied, "I'm not giving you a fucking thing"; that Walls then claimed that she
being fired because she had filed a sexual harassment claim; and that that was the first time
learned about it.
On cross-examination, Wess explained that the decision to fire Walls was made only
he had interviewed several witnesses to the November 4 incident, but he added that he did
interview all of the witnesses present.
Human Resources Director James Otey testified that he did not interview employes
the Company terminated Walls and that the Union never filed a second step grievance
cross-examination, he said he refused to meet with Walls because she was no longer
that the Union offered to meet with the Company representatives regarding her grievance at
another location, but that he refused to do so.
For her part, Walls testified that Lee at about 4:30 p.m. on November 4 asked her to
stencils on a rack; that she told him to do it himself because he was not doing anything; that
Conners subsequently spoke to her about that incident; that she immediately came down from
ladder when Conners asked her to do so; that Conners never told her to put on the stencils;
that after going to a restroom, she stood by a wall for about 10-15 minutes because she and
employes were waiting for an inspector. She added that Conners and Union Steward Nowles
her on November 4 to leave the premises and that she did so. Walls added that she
was never given the chance to confront Conners and that she was fired at a November 10
On cross-examination, Walls said that Conners on November 4 told her, "You are
terminated"; that Nowels then "tried to defend me" by telling Walls that insubordination only
warranted an oral warning; that all of the stenciling work on the rack in question on
4 was performed by the time she went to the ladies' room; that after she went to the ladies'
"Ms. Conners wasn't even on the floor"; that she called Walls a liar on November 4 after
said that she had refused to do the stenciling; and that she never cursed during the November
meeting and that she at that time handed in her badge.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
The Union claims that the Company lacked just cause to fire Walls because it denied
procedural due process by failing to properly investigate the November 4 incident; because it
give her an opportunity to confront her accuser; and because it refused to hold a
required second-step grievance meeting. The Union also asserts that Walls was not
because she "was unshakable in her credible denial that Conners had directed her to
other than which she was already doing" and because there thus "was no work left to do".
remedy, the Union seeks Walls' reinstatement and a make-whole order.
The Company, in turn, maintains that "the grievance was waived" and thus is not
because the Union failed to file a second-step grievance and because its request for
untimely filed. The Company also contends that it had just cause to fire Walls because she
in insubordination" on November 4 when she refused to follow Conners' repeated
finish the stenciling work and because it complied with all of the procedural requirements
encompassed by the just cause standard.
As I ruled at the hearing, the grievance is arbitrable because the Union informed the
in a timely manner that it was grieving Walls' termination and because the Company itself
contribute to the problem by refusing to meet with Walls on the Company's premises.
while the Company asserts that the Union's request for arbitration was untimely, Human
Director Otey himself acknowledged at the hearing that the Union requested arbitration
Thanksgiving Day, which was well within the thirty (30) day period provided for in Article
Section 2, of the contract.
In the future, however, if the Union wishes to avoid the kind of procedural
question posed here, it must comply with all of the procedural requirements set forth in
of the contract, entitled "Grievance and Arbitration". The Union has dodged a bullet here
because the Company has not been prejudiced by what it has or has not done and only
contract does not mandate dismissal of a grievance that does not follow these requirements .
Turning now to the substantive merits of the grievance, both parties recognize that
turns on the head-to-head credibility clash between Walls and Conners over what transpired
them on November 4. If Walls' testimony is credited, the grievance will be sustained; if
testimony is credited, the grievance will be denied.
I credit Conners' testimony in its entirety because Walls' testimony is simply
Walls testified that Conners told her on November 4 that she was being terminated.
testimony is flatly contradicted by Conners' contrary testimony and by the November 4
Disciplinary Action Notice" prepared by Conners and given to Walls which clearly stated
was being suspended.
Moreover, Walls did not tell the truth when she claimed that Conners immediately
production floor after their November 4 encounter. For if that were true, how could
known that Walls went to the restroom and that she thereafter stood by a wall for about 15-
20 minutes doing nothing, which is something that Walls herself acknowledged? The
way for Conners to have learned that fact was for her to remain on the production floor. I
credit her testimony that she did so.
I further credit Conners' testimony that she expressly told Walls to stencil on
that Walls flatly refused to do so. Conners' testimony must be credited because she, unlike
had no reason to lie and because she testified in such a credible manner. The same cannot
be said for
By refusing to perform said stenciling work, Walls engaged in insubordination
that she was responsible for the delay in processing that day's quota of finished racks. Since
paragraph 14 of the Company's Rules of Conduct (Employer Exhibit 2) states "It will be
insubordination if an employe refuses to perform properly-assigned work or fails to comply
duties or responsibilities", the Company had just cause to immediately terminate her for
serious act of insurbordination.
The only possible basis for finding otherwise is the fact that the Company's
not as complete as it should have been, as Human Resources Director Otey testified he did
interview any employes before the Company terminated Walls. The absence of any such
could be violative of the procedural requirements of the just cause standard because the need
and fairly investigate possible disciplinary infractions is one of the most important
that standard.Indeed, the Company itself recognizes this point at page 13 of its brief.
Wess testified that he interviewed witnesses, thereby showing that the Company did to some
investigate the November 4 incident.
If Walls had told the truth here and if the Company's investigation prejudiced her in
material way, I might overturn her termination on this basis alone. However, since Walls
did not tell
the truth and since any additional interviews would only have hurt her efforts to hide the
truth, I find
that the Company's actions did not prejudice her and that its discharge decision hence must
In light of the above, it is my
1.That the grievance is arbitrable.
2.That the Company had just cause to terminate grievant Renee Walls; her grievance
is therefore denied.
Dated at Madison, Wisconsin, this 17th day of June, 1998.
Amedeo Greco /s/
Amedeo Greco, Arbitrator