A friend of mine from work was terminated on Sunday. In many ways one could have seen it coming, but the way it happened was particularly jarring, and its been bothering me since then. Of course, I was somewhat embroiled in the action, since I had to stand in for the union steward who just happened to have the day off.
*Jack (not his real name) has been working at the store since before I started back in 2012. He was part-time, a good worker, but he’s always had a drinking problem. It’s not inaccurate to refer to him as an alcoholic. His typical day involved getting up in the morning, going to work, going back home and drinking himself into a stupor, or using the alcohol to assist him in getting to sleep, then starting the whole routine over again the next day he had to work. To say this is self-destructive would be putting it mildly. However, it’s hard to be able to count the multitude of times his co-workers have gone to bat for him, trying to get him help, only to be turned down (always politely) and things continued down the road.
About 18 months ago he confided in myself and a couple other co-workers that he was considering committing suicide. When someone says something like that to you, you take it seriously. On my lunch break I called my wife and informed her of what I’d heard and asked for her advice. She worked for the local county social services for 30 plus years, so to me that was about the best place one could go for how to proceed. She gave me several options, one being getting the store manager involved. Unfortunately, the store manager isn’t exactly the most approachable person, and he tends to be a bit of a hands off sort of person when it comes to issues like this. Even so, I forged ahead, informed him of what I had heard, involved another co-worker that had acted in the past trying to help Jack and all three of us assembled in the manager’s office, informing him that we were there to help if we could, and did he in fact need help. He very politely insisted that he wasn’t interested in assistance and that he was in fact fine. Of course after this happened he knew enough never to mention it again.
Last week I was on vacation, and I’d heard through the grapevine that Jack was pretty out of it on Saturday. There was supposition that he had come to work inebriated and wasn’t exactly even close to being on his game as far as getting work done. When I saw Jack Sunday morning, he didn’t seem his chipper self, in fact it did seem like something was off. Over the course of the morning when I talked to him, he seemed ok but not completely ok. As if there was something wrong, but when I asked him about it, he brushed it off, and I didn’t pursue it. I was in the midst of getting my own work done, so by the time it was getting towards the end of my shift, I had forgotten about it.
I was about 10 minutes away from being done for the day when the grocery manager came into my department and told me the assistant store manager needed me in his office for a union issue. Well, not me particularly, but he needed someone who was A. Full time, and B. been in the union for a while, rather than one of the part timers that don’t have much (any) experience in disciplinary actions and how to go about the union side of being an advocate.
Heading up to the office I figured it was going to be a quick affair, probably it was a cashier that either had too much money in their till, or too little. It would be something along the lines of a verbal or written disciplinary action, I’d have to do my part and be done for the day. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When I got to the office, not only was the ASM (Assistant Store Manager) there, the night ops manager was too…and….Jack.
Apparently, someone had observed him and determined he was acting strangely. At this point I’m still not sure if it was a customer or co-worker, but at this juncture it really doesn’t matter. It was brought to the attention of the ASM and once that happened he was duty bound to investigate. Whatever he either observed himself or through someone else was brought to the attention of Human Resources (which is never a good thing, HR in my company is pretty much a forgone conclusion, never positive) and at that point the ASM was given 2 choices. Either Jack had to submit to a breathalyzer test from the local Police, or he had to be taken to a medical facility to be blood tested and determined what sort of substance he might be on. It was put to Jack and he was the one that had to agree to one or the other. Of course I’m sitting there as his union advocate, and I know he’s in a pickle. He has to agree to one or the other, OR he can be terminated for refusing either. After 20 minutes of back and forth, it’s agreed he’ll go with the breathalyzer. And at this point, even for just his sake I’m dying inside.
Long story short, it was determined he was drunk on the job. Not just a little drunk, if the breathalyzer was accurate, it’s a miracle he was even upright. That bad. The ASM went back to the manager’s office, called HR and they lowered the boom then and there. All the while, Jack was insisting that he hadn’t been drinking, that he was fine, but clearly there was something amiss. After the ASM did his thing, I made sure Jack got a ride home, and promised him that I’d make contact with both the union steward and our union rep so he could hopefully get into the process of getting his job back. But even as I was telling him that, I couldn’t see that happening. Having a union is a good thing in my experience, but there are some things that can’t be fixed.
Perhaps 20-30 years ago it might have, but unions are way different than they were back then. There’s only so much advocacy, only so much that union reps can do when it comes to members that are terminated for serious allegations like being drunk on the job. This much was related to me on Tuesday through the steward, who said that the union wasn’t going to be able to help Jack, because there aren’t any programs that the union has to combat alcoholism. Even if Jack could prove that he was in the process of turning his life around, going to AA, or rehab or something of that nature, he himself would have to contact the company HR department and plead for his job back. Just him. So in that respect the union really failed him. He paid his dues, and didn’t get the support in return. Just a cold shoulder.
I hope Jack finds the help that he needs. And gets back on his feet. I wish him the best, but I’m not exactly confident that all is going to work on for the best for him.