So, I’m on call here in the hospital, and I overheard the most amazing conversation this afternoon. One of the ward clerks — the people who answer the phones, pick up new orders in the charts, etc. — was complaining to one of the nurses that another ward clerk was (angry, shocked emotion inserted here) doing work that wasn’t specifically part of the ward clerk job. He occasionally helps find equipment that the nurses need, takes specimens to the pneumatic tube system, and even sat with a patient the other day while the mother ran a quick errand — and, in the eyes of the clerk today, this is all bad. She even threatened to report him to the union, lest his work ethic become a model for others.

A little while later, I asked the nurse to whom she was complaining about the conversation, and was pretty stunned to learn that it is, in fact, against the union rules to do work that isn’t part of your explicit job description. In fact, the employee’s union here encourages members to report instances when it occurs for disciplinary action.

It’s stunning to me how lazy people can be, and how much more work many of them will put into fighting off threats to their lazy lifestyle than they will into their jobs.

(It probably wouldn’t shock anyone to learn that the woman who was complaining hasn’t done any part of her job, much less something extra, in over a decade. When we come into work and she’s at the desk, we know that our jobs have just grown by 50% for that shift; she’s completely worthless.)


This brings to mind a discussion I’ve been having with friends of late… unions seem to have accomplished many of their original goals for the people they claim to represent. While there still exists a need for federation of employees, it seems most unions do more to advance their own interests than the people they’re allegedly representing.

I’ve seen friends lately who are torn between the lack of generosity of their employer and the determinedly low standards of the union they’re obliged to join, and I can’t help but wish for a third way for them.

• Posted by: Anil Dash on Feb 9, 2002, 4:38 PM

Unions are not a universal good, but the work rules Jason describes exist for a reason: To prevent management from expanding the job definition without expanding the pay. You may not think this could happen in your particular environment, but it has happened and does happen in lots of other places.

It’s really not about laziness, although it may look that way. It’s protection against exploitation.

• Posted by: Won Ton on Feb 11, 2002, 8:50 AM

I’d love to believe you, Paulina, but alas, it really IS about laziness, at least in context of the conversation I overheard. The person is, bar none, the worst employee I’ve ever seen; she doesn’t do those things that are in her job description.

And I’m sorry, but I find it hard to swallow that an appropriate response to fear of an expanding job description is to report people for doing something more than they are required. I have no problem backing your fight of expansion of a job description without commensurate pay, but to extend that fight to encouraging people to never do anything more or extra as they see fit is idiocy.

(It’s funny — in professional jobs, like banking, lawyering, doctoring, and the like, when someone goes an extra mile to do something that they didn’t have to do but that helped get a job done, a client satisfied, or a goal achieved, they’re lauded as a go-getter, and generally find themselves on a promotion track. In union jobs, it’s seen as not being a team player, undermining others, and worthy of disciplinary sanction. Pretty disparate views of the same thing, and at least to me, choosing which is better isn’t all that hard to do.)

• Posted by: Jason Levine on Feb 11, 2002, 10:22 AM
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