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Chicago company penalized employees for excessive bathroom use, says union

Published time: July 15, 2014 03:56
Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach

Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach

A Chicago company is under fire from a local union after employees complained they are being monitored and disciplined for using the bathroom more than just a few minutes a day.

According to theChicago Tribune, the Teamsters Local 743 union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board regarding the situation, claiming that workers are being penalized if their time in the bathroom exceeds 30 minutes a week, or six minutes a day.

The company under the microscope is Chicago-based WaterSaver Faucet Co. and its sister company Guardian Equipment Inc., both of which have placed limits on employees looking ti relieve themselves at work. In fact, Teamsters agent Nick Kreitman said the businesses have even “offered $1 per day for anyone who doesn’t go to the bathroom at all.”

Currently, union employees receive a daily 10-minute break, a 30-minute lunch period, a 15-minute break in the afternoon, and a 5-minute clean-up period at the end of the day. Speaking with the Tribune, WaterSaver Faucet owner Steven Kersten claims that despite allegations the company is being unreasonable, what he really objects to is employees using trips to the bathroom as if they were additional breaks – he also said frequent and lengthy trips cost the company 120 hours of productivity in May.

“Our point of view is that anyone can go to the washroom when they need to but what bothers us is extended periods of time and multiple trips that cause lost productivity,” he said.

The union and its members disagree, however, and have pointed to the fact that a tracking system has been installed in order to keep close watch on their movements. To enter the bathroom, workers need to swipe their ID cards, allowing the company to know just how long they spend inside the restroom. Workers are also complaining that 19 people have been given warnings for using up more than the allotted six minutes, which they say is simply not enough time for an entire day.

"[The company’s] philosophy is that they feel like people are getting an extra break in the bathroom,” Kreitman told the Tribune. “It’s a company that doesn’t grant paid sick leave, so it’s more than a coincidence that [the owner] started to discipline workers after we asked for paid sick leave.”

The two sides are in the midst of negotiating a new contract, but this issue has expanded into something much larger over the past few years. About one year ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that companies are increasingly monitoring all of their employees’ activities as they try to boost productivity while hiring fewer staff.

In addition to tracking time spent in the bathroom, some employers are following who spends the most time talking to other colleagues and using social media or the phone. In some cases, businesses are even tracking keystrokes.

"In the kind of economic environment we're in now, companies become very risk-averse. Managers at every level are saying, 'I need to know what everyone is doing,'" Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a global association of human resource professionals, told the Times. "But there is concern that this technology is being used in some Big Brother way to check in on employees."

Although these methods have been shown to boost productivity, they’re also making work environments more hostile, stressful, and less enjoyable. Some experts believe they run the risk of disconnecting employees from their work.

"We're just like human machines," said Phil Richards, 52, who worked at a Unified Grocer’s Warehouse. "But with machines, they don't care whether you feel good, or if you're having a bad day."

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