August 2000
The Purpose Of This Site Is To Save One Child's Life

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Jimmy Ryce, 9
On the afternoon of September 11, 1995, shortly after departing his school bus in rural Redlands, just south of Miami and north of Homestead, Florida, 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped, taken away at gun point, raped, then murdered.

Click on picture to visit 2safeschools Memorial. Don't let these lives pass unnoticed.

Are unions really needed in the public workplace?

By James Kraemer

This commentary may help explain why it is that so many public school employees are reluctant to discuss the issues -- and -- why so much about our public education system's woes remains out of sight of those who have the greatest power to help change the public school environment -- the parents.

One difficulty in writing about the maltreatment of some public school employees is that public employees often insist on remaining anonymous. Even an employer wanted to discuss this issue but wanted his name and his company kept out of the article.

Although this commentary centers on maltreatment of school bus drivers, it can be helpful reading for other school staff and parents.

First published by 2safeschools, Copyright ©2000, All Rights Reserved. (Can be reprinted with permission.) The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and are not necessarily the views of the 2safeschools membership

Recently I engaged in a request for thoughts about unions in the public workplace. The requester was wanting to know if they (bus drivers) should have a union at their school district? He expressed disputes among the drivers concerning unions. Some of the responses attacked unions as money grabbers, having no interest in helping the employees. Here's what I believe concerning unions in the public workplace:

I've worked in the private sector much of my life in a variety of excellent high paying jobs, including electronics, photography, sales, marketing, the newspaper industry and management. There was no need for a union, because the employers I worked for did not maltreat their employees. On rare occasion, when an issue occurred, I could argue the event to a successful conclusion.

Driving school bus has been included in my occupational adventure for about a dozen years. I've worked under two unions over those years. My observations considered unions an unnecessary anomaly interfering with good relations between employees and their employers. Nothing seemed to validate the presence of unions in the public workplace, since, like my previous private employers, my public employer treated me well and appeared dedicated to helping me keep kids safe.

My reasoning was flawed. Some public school districts and related private employers (contractors) abuse their employees, abuse parents and abuse the safety of children. Such often abuse the term "servant" as well, by considering their employees slaves, rather than fellow servants (partners). The courts aggravate this employer perception by considering employers, including public school employers, the "masters" and employees the "servants." Dysfunctional employers may consider "truthfulness" and "good faith" subjective terms, not applicable to the treatment of their employees, employee evaluations or their agreements with their employees.

Top Priority!

What "should" be the school bus driver's top Priority?

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Because employers pay their employees money, some public employers may consider employees their private property. They believe they own their employees. And, like owned property, some public employers believe they can use (and sometimes abuse) their employees however they deem convenient to serve the employer's needs -- not the public's needs, not the parents and not the kids needs, but employer management's own self-protective needs.

Right to work (at will) states are not states offering employees the right to work, but support the right of the employer to hire and fire at will and without "Just Cause." The boss can be a constant jerk, a bully who can maltreat the so-called servants without fear of legal retribution.

Treated like a roll of toilet paper, when an abused employee is "used-up," simply replacing the roll is the dysfunctional employer's way. Dysfunctional public employers treat their employees in this humiliating, intimidating manner, as if they can never be held accountable in a public arena.

This may be a result, and despite perceptions to the contrary, of too little employee support in the law that effectively defends the maltreatment of employees by their employers.

Exceptions may include sexual harassment, age and minority discrimination under the carefully defined and often employer friendly legal terms of those issues. Few of these cases ever make it to court and when they do less than 10% of those cases are won, according to Dr. Gary Namie, Ph. D., one of this nation's leading experts on employers who bully and harass their employees simply to harm them and co-author of the book, "The Bully At Work", (Sourcebooks, 2000).

My years of first person experience and research suggests that there is little or nothing in the law that can protect employees from employer maltreatment. The public employer has the resources, including the overwhelming resources to destroy the grieving employee's credibility -- and the employee's resources and career. Most bus drivers know this and for that reason many avoid conflict with their employer, though the same know that what their dysfunctional employer is doing is maltreatment toward an employee, other adults or the safety of children.

Some employees believe that the truth and the more information provided the people at the top will cause change. And, when it doesn't, the same believe that more truth and more information provided the people at the top will cause change. The employee believes the employer is reasonable, responsible, and ethical -- all this and without considering that the employer may be acting dysfunctional and will most likely continue to do so.

I've experienced more than one situation, during my bus driving career, where the employer acted inappropriately toward the safety of children on my school bus, resulting in direct confrontation. The most recent event involved the safety of a very young child.

I was directed to drop a 6-year-old child at an isolated spot, knowing the parent was not home and knowing the child didn't have the experience to manage such an event. My efforts to work within that directive -- to drop and drive on -- included following that directive within the needs of the school, the parents' and the safety of the child, that is: Waiting at the bus stop a few minutes for a parent to arrive (rarely happened); written school authorized notes to keep the child on board to ride home with his older siblings on a later route; and the eventual school authorized agreement to keep the child on board if no parent was at the bus stop to receive the child.

Refusing, in effect, to drop the child exactly as directed resulted in charges of insubordination and a three-day suspension without pay. The employer also alleged that I violated the "Work now, grieve later rule."

When the union grieved on my behalf the employer went ballistic, attacked my credibility, blamed me for problems I had no association with, disrupted my work environment, massacred my employee evaluation, took away my calm, well-managed bus route and assigned me a route with out-of-control kids, violated my right to representation (NLRB v. Weingaten, Inc.).

Finally, it was alleged the employer threatened and made attempts to end my employment applying "Constructive Discharge" methodes. Constructive discharge is an "action by an employer to get rid of an employee by making conditions so unbearable that the employee is forced to "quit." (Ralph H. Baxter, Jr., and John M. Farrel, Constructive Discharges -- When quitting means getting fired," 7 Empl. Rel. L. J. 346, 348-52 (1981).)

All the employer accomplished in doing these things was to make me more determined to hold their behavior accountable before a tribunal.

The Arbitrator, David S. Paul, a member of the Oregon Employment Relations Board, wrote in his Arbitration decision, concerning the "Work now. Greive later" rule and other saftey issues, "In the Matter of the Arbitration Between the LEBANON ASSOCIATION OF CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES (OEA/OACE) AND THE LEBANON COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT," issued July 19, 2000:


    ... The rule (Work now. Greive later.) is grounded in the concept that the very purpose of the grievance procedure is to avoid inappropriate, unseemly and disruptive disputes at the time an order is given. The work place, as the rule implies is not a democracy. The employee has no right to vote as to whether a directive is appropriate. The work environment exists to get the job done. "An industrial plant is not a debating society," states one of the first reported cases on the issue. "When a controversy arises, production cannot wait." Ford Motor Co., 3 LA 779 (Shulman, 1 944). This rule applies even though the pressure of dealing with the public increases the potential for friction. National Lawyers Club, Inc. 52 LA 547 (Seidenberg, 1969).

    Despite the wide acceptance of this rule, it is recognized that in certain circumstances, an overriding right or interest of an employee may require an exception. The most frequently applied and universally recognized exception is applicable where obeying the order might endanger the employees health or safety or the health or safety of others. See, generally, Elkouri and Elkouri, How Arbitration Works (Fifth Ed.), pp. 977-987; A.M. Castle & Co., 41 LA 666 (Semblower, 1963).

    The health and safety exception is incorporated in the parties collective bargaining agreement at Article 16, which generally codifies, for the benefit of this bargaining unit, many of the principles commonly associated with the concept of "just cause." Specifically, Article 16, Section 16.3 (Part C) provides that the term "just cause" is not available to justify the discipline of an employee who fails to obey an order that is not "reasonably related to . . . the orderly, efficient, and safe operation of the District's business."

    By agreeing to this provision, the District obligated itself to make a genuine effort to determine whether the employee was motivated by invidious considerations or whether, in refusing to comply with an order, the employee was expressing a genuine concern (for) his own or someone else's safety. As to the application of the term "reasonable" or "reasonably related," the following quotation is instructive:

    [A]n employee may refuse to carry out a particular work assignment if, at the time he is given the work assignment, he reasonably believes that by carrying out such work assignment he will endanger his safety or health. In such an instance the employee has the duty, not only of stating that he believes there is a risk to his safety or health, and the reason for believing so, but he also has the burden, if called upon, of showing by appropriate evidence that he had a reasonable basis for his belief. In the case of dispute, as is the case here, the question to be decided is not whether he actually would have suffered injury but whether he had a reasonable basis to believe so. Laclede Gas Co., 39 LA 833 (Bothwell, 1982). Sees also, Elkouri supra at p.980, note 74 for additional and more recent cases.

    There is no question that Mr. Kraemer was, according to his own statements, technically insubordinate during several occasions during the period beginning September 12, 1999 and ending November 5, 1999. There is no evidence that he was at anytime disruptive or disrespectful to supervisory authority. Nor is there any evidence showing that Mr. Kraemer attempted to conceal his actions.

    Further, it is clear that Mr. Kraemer was not motivated by self interest, indolence or some other irrelevant consideration when he failed to strictly obey the route change. Rather, the evidence establishes that his conduct resulted from a true concern for the safety of a six-year-old student. His various interactions with (his supervisor), (the child's parents') and (the superintendent) establish this critical fact beyond any doubt. Whether or not the modification actually created an unsafe condition for the young student is of no moment. The elements of the rule were established - a genuine and reasonable belief based on objective factors.

The grievance was sustained:

1. IT IS THE AWARD of the Arbitrator that the Lebanon Community School District No. 9 violated its collective bargaining agreement with the Lebanon Association of Classified Employees when it disciplined James M. Kraemer on November 5, 1999. The grievance filed by the Lebanon Association of Classified Employees is therefore sustained.

2. IT IS THE ORDER of the Arbitrator that James M. Kraemer be made whole for any loss of wages and benefits incurred as a result of the discipline of November 5, 1999, and that the letter of reprimand be withdrawn and removed from his personnel file."

Without a union the employer would have likely out-resourced me and perhaps would have successfully destroyed my career. Angry employers have done this to other bus drivers, even with union representation, when the employee failed to properly document (to help maintain an effective defense), lost their cool, became exhausted, or when the union rep was employer friendly.

The battle I was involved in took months to resolve. Can you imagine working under those disadvantaged circumstances and without a union to help protect the employee's interests? Many maltreated bus drivers simply leave before the maltreatment harms their career, their health or both.

Without a union, a private attorney would not likely have been able to help in this matter, because there would be no union contract to support my position. Nor did state or federal law, the Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Department of Eductation's Pupil Transportation Services (PTS) or any other government agency report to have any jurisdiction in this matter.

One risky action, union and non-union public school employees have, is the option to take their issue to the press. But, here again, this action can result in an onslought of attacks from the employee's disappointed acting employer, loss of support from the employee's school board and abandonment from fellow employees. Ultimately, going to the press can result in the employer ending that employee's career.

Mark O., preferring his last name and company remain anonymous, a school bus driver for over 20 years in the state of Washington and now an employer, said this about unions in the public workplace in a recent E-mail to me:

    "I have found over the years that negotiated agreements between labor and management helps to keep both sides honest. From the labor position, our rights and responsibilities are spelled out. From the management position, our hours of work, pay, benefits, seniority, discipline, etc. are spelled out. And when violations occur, on either side, the procedure to be used is spelled out to redress the problem."
Mark concludes, "In a perfect world, a negotiated agreement probably wouldn't be necessary. But we don't live in a perfect world. Even God made an agreement with Moses."

My advice, consider the union a form of insurance. Few would dare drive their car or live in their home without insurance. Do most employees want and bargain for medical insurance? Why do they do that when they're healthy?

  • Shop around for the best union in your area. A bad union is worse than no union -- gives employees the false impression they are represented and protected when they're not.
  • Elect representatives who are not afraid to defend what's right. Too many elect the most popular persons and end up with bad, "employer friendly," representation.
  • Union or no union, when under attack and fellow employees are abandoning you, you can build support toward an effective response with help from national experts and employee advocacy groups. One resource are the Drs. Gary Namie Ph. D. and Ruth Namie Ph. D., the "Campaign Against Workplace Bullying," PO Box 1886, Benicia, California 94510, or visit their Website at:

Bad union representation is bad news. Employees, public or private, need effective insurance -- effective unions interested and active in the battle to protect employee rights and the safety of children at school and on the school buses.

"Unions are very much like seat belts. They are a total waste of time, and money. They are cussed at by those who do not like them. All this and more up till the second they are needed. Then you better hope you have them." -Dave Cobb, Austin, Texas, school bus driver

Union representation often does insure public employees are given fair treatment on the job. (jk)

Follow-up: The bus driver requesting information, concerning unions, recently reported that the drivers, working for a small company of 135 school bus drivers, voted on June 28, 2000. 95 percent voted against a union. One other bus company in the same community reportedly voted 'no' to a union as well. Employees of a third bus company will not be voting on this issue until September, 2000. (jk)

jk Pix James Kraemer & 2safeschools
2safeschools is an independent volunteer information source for parents, school staff and the press involved in the effort to help save one child's life. James Kraemer helps manage the five 2safeschools related Web sites. Kraemer is also a veteran school bus driver and advocate for childerns' safety at school and on the school buses. He believes, "Children depend on and trust the adults in their lives to keep them safe. When that trust is violated all the good things that adulthood represents to children is violated." Kraemer keeps this 'guiding belief' at the core of every, commentary, article and issue he presents to his readers.

Your Comments on this article - Subject: Unions (Aug 00 ATA)
Campaign Against Workplace Bullying
Employees and the public concerned about workplace bullying can obtain a generous amount of information and support services from this Website.
The Work Doctor
Information on employer bullying and how employers can put a stop to bullying in the workplace is available from Gary Namie Ph.D. & Ruth Namie Ph. D., Authors of "The Bully At Work" (Sourcebooks, 2000), The Work Doctor, P.O. Box 1886, Benicia, CA 94510. How employers can prevent bullying and future liability is described at the Website. Visitor's welcomed.
What Would Machiavelli Do?, By Stanley Bing
Sometimes the only way you can tell this book is satire is when Bing mixes the musings of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot in with those of modern business figures such as former Sunbeam CEO "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap. Firing people, killing people -- same rules, different game. -- Lou Schuler. 2safeschools Connections
Webrings, discussion boards, listserves, Polls & Surveys, free newsletters and school bus safety templates.
Michael's Death
Every school bus driver should read this story whenever apathy threatens helping to keep kids safe.
Jimmy's Story
Don't leave the choice of whether your children live or die in the hands of a sexual predator!
A Mother's Story - What this mom did when the school and therapy failed her out-of-control son. Excellent reading for Parents and School Staff dealing with an out-of-control teen and nothing else has worked.
A Librarianís Story - A 10-year veteran of the King County, (Washington State) Public Library resigned rather than carry out library policy of providing children with pornography.
Campaigns for Workplace Justice - Employees bullied by their employer and other employee maltreatment can read more bully busting stories and find bully busting resources.
2safeschools Webrings - Take the grand tour ... Hundreds of teachers, classrooms and school bus drivers nationwide ready to share their web pages. You'll find a nation's worth of ideas for all grade levels in these webrings."
How to help keep your child's school bus safe - A short article from "In Loving Memory."
The School Bus Seat Belt Issue - An in-depth look at seat belts on the big yellow buses. Plenty of helpful links at the end of this article."
Marcia's Lesson Links - This site was put together especially for teachers and parents who have a hard time navigating the web"
SNET's Internet Features Page - An excellent web site for parents and teachers, features articles relevant to the home, school and the community environment.
2safeschools Awards Center - Does your web page include a safety suggestion, flyer or article. If it does, apply for your personalized 2safeschools "Helping Hand Award." No safety pages or flyers? Provide a LINK to 2safeschools free templates page or to our directory or other 2safeschools page of your choice, then apply for your award; Directory Link: Graphic links available at our Links Center.

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