Slogan-shirts fit union to a 'T,' NLRB saysCan you wear at...


April 09, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

Slogan-shirts fit union to a 'T,' NLRB says

Can you wear at work a T-shirt that makes fun of your boss? Yes, in some cases, the National Labor Relations Board staff says.

The NLRB staff has upheld union complaints that Caterpillar Inc. improperly disciplined workers at its headquarters and at a York, Pa., factory, after the workers wore T-shirts that read "Permanently Replace Fites."

Donald V. Fites, Caterpillar's chairman, sparked the employees' ire when he broke a United Auto Workers strike a year ago by hiring permanent replacement workers.

Glenn Zipp, a regional director of the labor board, issued complaints against Caterpillar, charging that the company's ban the use of Mr. Fites' name on T-shirts, buttons, caps and other attire is an unlawful restriction of the rights of unionized workers "to demonstrate their support for the UAW in its ongoing contract dispute with Caterpillar."

"The board and the courts have long recognized that employees have the right to wear union insignia even while at work unless they are so obscene, offensive or obnoxious as to be unprotected," Mr. Zipp said.

No date has been set for a court hearing on the complaints.

The company has said it will fight the charges, contending that the T-shirts are obnoxious and that they divide employees.

At Charlestown, it pays not to get injured

Are carrots safer than sticks?

A steady rise in workplace injuries inspired Charlestown Retirement Community managers to try to reduce the costly claims by accentuating the positive -- celebrating all the workers who hadn't had accidents.

Betty Hopkins, Charlestown's manager of human resources, says the company realized no one wants to get injured. So the best way to keep employees focused on safety was to make it more rewarding, she said.

Injury-free workers are eligible for monthly drawings for prizes such as portable compact disc players. Workers who have been injury-free for three months have a chance at bigger prizes, such as VCRs. And those who have had a safe year are eligible for drawings for prizes such as shoppings sprees.

In addition, the company has bought $30 back braces for everyone who does any lifting at work.

It seems to be working. Charlestown employees reported 157 work-related injuries in 1991. That dropped to 137 last year -- at the same time the number of workers jumped from 702 to 850.

Trade group opens apprenticeship to public

The state's budget cuts may create a small silver lining for the unemployed.

For the first time, the Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors has opened to the public its trades apprenticeship program.

Michele Butt, education director for the trade association, says that the apprenticeship program lost its state funding late last year. To make up for the loss, the program will accept students who aren't already employed in the trades.

In addition, the group will probably have to raise its tuition, which is $500 a year for people employed by an association member, she says.

The association is accepting applicants for apprentice electricians, plumbers, carpenters and sheet metal workers.

Applicants must apply in person at 5716 York Road in Baltimore weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Ms. Butt recommends that people interested in the program drop by soon because the application process, which includes math and aptitude tests as well as interviews, can take a couple of months. Classes start in September.

People without jobs who make the cut will take the two three-hour classes a week and will get job placement help, she says.

Although much as been written about the poor job market in construction, Ms. Butt says she is placing people in members' crews, which, she notes, are nonunion.

Back-injury claims escalate in cost

Back injuries, which make up a third of all workers compensation claims, are among the most expensive and common types of claims.

In a study of back injury cases, the National Council on Compensation Insurance reports that the average cost of a back injury was $24,080 in 1990, about a third more than the $17,294 cost of the average worker compensation claim.

One reason for the greater expense: Back sufferers are much more likely to hire attorneys. The rate of attorney involvement nearly doubled in the past decade, to 23 percent in 1990, the NCCI found.

In addition, people with back problems lost about 50 percent more time from work as people with other kinds of work-related injuries or illnesses.

Professions with the highest share of back injury claims were physicians (and other health care workers) and taxi drivers.

Teamsters lose vote at Easco warehouse

The Teamsters lost an election at the Easco Hand Tools warehouse in Baltimore last month.

By a vote of 99-39, the workers rejected Local 311's bid for representation.

Easco, which makes wrenches sold at Sears and auto parts stores, is owned by Washington-based Danaher Corp.

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