A Chicago union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against a local company they claim is only allowing employees 6 minutes a day to use the bathroom.
Members of Teamsters Local 743 build sink stations at WaterSaver Faucet Co. Recently some members have been disciplined for spending more than the allotted 30 minutes per week in the bathroom.
Nick Kreitman, senior business agent for the Teamsters, told the Chicago Tribune that 19 workers have been disciplined with either written or oral warnings. The union represents about 140 workers at the plant.
“[The company’s] philosophy is that they feel like people are getting an extra break in the bathroom,” Kretiman said. “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 company reportedly installed a tracking system that requires employees to swipe identification cards to get in and out of the bathroom. That system was installed earlier this year but members of the union said managers began issuing the warnings just last month.
Steven Kersten, who owns the company, said the current contract allows for a 10-minute break in the morning, a 30-minute lunch and 15-minute afternoon break. Beyond that, he said, he fears employees are using time in the bathroom as additional breaks.
“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.
He cited one worker who was tracked taking six bathroom breaks during one shift, including one just minutes prior to his scheduled morning break. Kersten said he estimates the company lost 120 hours of productivity in May to unscheduled breaks.
Employees aren’t buying it. Some union members believe the new bathroom policy has more to do with current contract negotiations between the union and the company.
Progress Illinois reports the company only began enforcing the policy with the tracking system after the union presented its list of contract demands. Among other things, the union is asking for the new contract to reflect a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days. Workers currently make between $11 and $16 an hour.
Union members picketed in front of WaterSaver’s headquarters last week before reporting to work. They were demanding better contract terms but at least one member was complaining about the bathroom policy.
“Right now, you've got to write in and write out to go the the bathroom,” said Rudy Dixon, who has worked at the plant for 33 years. “Then when you go to the bathroom, you've got to punch in and you've got to punch out. That's not right. You can only use the bathroom twice a day.”
“I'm 61 years old,” he added. “How are you going to tell me how to use the bathroom?”