Teamsters protest 6-minute bathroom rule

A Chicago faucet company penalizes workers who spend more than the allotted minutes in the washroom outside their normal breaks.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 18, 2014 4:20PM
Credit: © Christopher Stevenson/Getty Images

Caption: Restroom signBy Amy Langfield, CNBC

If you work at WaterSaver Faucet Co.,  when you gotta go, you might not want to go.

The Chicago company installed a new system that monitors bathroom breaks and penalizes employees who spend more than six minutes a day in the washroom outside their normal breaks.

"The HR woman literally goes through every person's bathroom use and either hands out a reward or discipline," said Nick Kreitman, an attorney for Teamsters Local 743, which represents 80 workers at the plant, which coincidentally manufactures taps and other sink fixtures.

Employees who don't use extra breaks get a dollar a day while others who exceed more than one hour in a 10-day period will get a warning, which can lead to termination, he said.

In December, the union-represented employees had to start swiping their badges to gain access to the washrooms. By March, 19 were disciplined for excessive use, Kreitman said. A 12-page rule list given to employees is also pretty strict about how to take care of your personal business at the company.

"Place all toilet paper in the toilet and make sure that the toilet is completely flushed," it states. Employees are also told to place paper towels in the trash, refrain from "malicious gossip" and not to "make derogatory or inflammatory comments about the company."

The bathroom-monitoring part of the policy was put in place only four days after the union requested paid sick days for its members, Kreitman said. Currently the workers are employed under a month-to-month extension of their current contract, making $11 to $16 an hour, he said. While they do get vacation days and some medical coverage, no sick days are allowed. The 7.5 hour work day includes 30 minutes for lunch, a 10-minute morning break, a 15-minute afternoon break and five minutes of cleanup time.

In an email to CNBC, a company spokesperson disputed several of the Teamsters' numbers. The average hourly rate for the union employees is $14, ranging from $12 to over $17. Also, "the comment from the union regarding the monitoring starting after the requested sick days is totally and completely false," the spokesperson said.

In a statement sent to CNBC on Wednesday, company president and owner Steven Kersten called the union version of events "a media issue in an apparent effort to influence current negotiations on a new contract."

His statement did not address whether bathroom monitoring is taking place, and he declined to answer specific questions about the policy.

"We understand that employees need to use the washroom outside of scheduled break times. Any person may go to the washroom at any time they need," he said in the statement, which touted its "generally stable union relations" with the Teamsters over the past 40 years.

"It should be noted that union leadership previously had agreed to a policy regarding washroom use, and even suggested language for it," he said.

Kersten told The Chicago Tribune last week that excessive bathroom breaks amounted to 120 hours of lost productivity in May.

"Regardless of the legality, should a company be regulating this kind of thing?" asked Wendy Patrick, an attorney who also teaches business ethics at San Diego State University in California. The case in Chicago, she said, is an example of the type of rule that might be legally permissible but not ethically desirable. And beyond that, the company may be opening itself up for a disability claim if a worker has a medical condition that requires multiple restroom breaks.

"When nature calls, you have less control over that," she said.

The Teamsters have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the bathroom discipline process and they continue to negotiate a new contract with WaterSaver Faucet and its sister company across the street, Guardian Equipment.

So far, the bathroom rules only apply to the 80 union employees at WaterSaver who work on the production line, but not the 60 at Guardian, Kreitman said. (A company spokesperson said there are 90 union workers at WaterSaver and 30 at Guardian.)The swipe card rule only applies to the union members.

"Ha, I'd like to see them try to require an engineer swipe his badge to use the bathroom," Kreitman said.

More from CNBC

Jul 18, 2014 5:22PM
all the toilet seats were stolen from police headquarters.the police have nothing to go on.
Jul 18, 2014 10:57PM
WTF?  Not everyone can take a full blown crap in 3 minutes like I can.  It is common knowledge that men have a harder time emptying their bowels than women. And what about women who have to take extra time during the cycles?  Not to mention a lot of people have to empty their bladders more frequently. This is absurd.
Jul 18, 2014 5:00PM

"While they do get vacation days and some medical coverage, no sick days are allowed"

And the employees are paying all those "Union Dues".....................FOR WHAT EXACTLY?????

Jul 18, 2014 4:57PM
Seems a little disciminatory against older workers and women who need more time for personal needs.  I see nothing wrong with rewarding employees who don't take extra time because it increases productivity, but to hand out warnings for employees who do, that's crossing the line.  Dispensation for the handicapped?  What if you are in a wheelchair or recovering from some sort of painful surgery and you've made a tremendous effort to get to work at all, and then you're given warnings for spending too much time in the rest room?  These rules are infringing on intimate moments.  How about firing the slackers and leaving people who do a good job alone to go to the bathroom as they need to and see fit.  If the union is protecting people that are asking to go to the bathroom and then fooling around in there and not returning to work for a half hour, then ferret out those people and do something about it; don't penalize pregnant women and men with prostate problems. 
Jul 21, 2014 11:18AM

Potty breaks don't have nothing on smoke breaks when it comes to abuse


Jul 18, 2014 6:35PM
Jul 19, 2014 1:50PM
Just make your bathrooms a black hole with no internet reception (wi-fi or 3G/4G). That wouldn't stop people from playing games but it would stop the internet and Facebook surfing.

Better yet, require all phones be left outside the bathroom. Claim it is for health and sanity reasons (completely valid) so you stop the gamers too.

Lack of a cell phone in one hand would speed up the bathroom breaks for 99% of the people that linger.

The lack of bathroom fans in my office's facilities is good enough to get me in and out ASAP.
Jul 18, 2014 10:48PM
They will have to bid a new job.   Call it the real utility relief man.  It's like anything else, it was being abused by a few and then it hurts the masses.
Jul 21, 2014 1:58PM
As a former employer, I can tell you that you will generally get better work out of employees who are treated with respect.  Making employees angry is counter-productive, as is this type of scattergun approach to a problem.  If this is an issue, then deal with it individually.  And try to remember that, in the eyes of God, you are no better than they are--you just have a different function.  This is not cost-effective management.  It is foolish incompetence.
Jul 18, 2014 5:02PM

For a dollar a day I could hold my bathroom breaks til lunch, I've done it before. Most places I worked only allowed you a bathroom break on break or lunch. It blows my mind how many people take advantage of bathroom breaks. I worked with a guy once, as soon as lunch was over he went to the bathroom for at least 15 minutes to milk out some more time off the clock.


Jul 18, 2014 8:02PM
When I worked for one of the baby bells as an operator, only one person at a time could be out of the room on a potty run. We would have to go up to the supervisor's desk and sign out and back in.  Once a month if you had excessive potty breaks your supervisor would talk with you about it.    This was back in the 70's. 
What's really baffling about all this, why they also just opened a Taco Bell in the company's cafeteria...
Jul 18, 2014 5:02PM
Apparently...........The "Employees" will earn $1.00 more a day.........if they simply DON"T WIPE!!!!
Jul 18, 2014 5:43PM
Jul 19, 2014 6:51PM
This all seems too childish but what happens if a union worker is asked to cut his break short by say----1 minute? I can tell you, all hell breaks out. Ask the worker to carry a trash can out on his way out after the work day. If it is not in his specific job description and before he punches out he just might tell you to "pound sand". I can not find a place for sympathy in my heart for union workers. The unions have created this divisiveness and now they have to live with this kind of childish strife. Neither side will ever give an inch to change this. Union/management disputes will only get worse.
Jul 18, 2014 4:29PM
Jul 18, 2014 5:00PM
When I first heard about it I went "aw ****, this really pisses me off". 
Jul 18, 2014 10:12PM
In theory that should prevent the 20-30% of those that actually work from having to wade through piles of newspaper to take a leak.
Jul 18, 2014 11:05PM
 7.5 hour work day includes 30 minutes for lunch, a 10-minute morning break, a 15-minute afternoon break and five minutes of cleanup time.  Do they even work at all?  
Jul 21, 2014 11:11AM
I'm certain there are a few "bad apples" who were abusing bathroom breaks by sitting in there for extended periods of time on their cell phones or reading a magazine.  I've seen it plenty of times before.  Shame everyone else has to be treated like a baby because a few have spoiled it for everyone.
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