Commentary: Weist Crosses the Line

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weist-dec-2012

Imagine that this is a private company setting and that, after a series of long negotiations, you have formed a partnership to conduct regional training.  It’s a big deal and you get to show off your company’s stuff.

However, your shift supervisor has other ideas and complains loudly and in front of the employees he supervises about this “bullshit training,” and whines that the company better buy him and his employees dinner because the training is in the evening.

When he doesn’t get his way, he decides to apply for last-minute vacation time, starting at the moment when the training is supposed to start.  His supervisor discusses the matter with the company CEO and they decide that this is inappropriate and it would be difficult to re-schedule the training.  So, after consulting the employee contracts, they deny the vacation request.

The supervisor then becomes angry and tells his boss that he’s going home sick.  The company has to call in another supervisor on his day off, pay him overtime, and conduct the training.

How long would this employee at a private business still have his job if he had acted comparatively to how Davis Fire Captain and union President Bobby Weist acted?

That the city simply accepted his sick leave, paid additional money to cover his time, and only wrote him up in a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) suggests the opposite of what Mr. Weist claimed in his unfair labor practice charge against the city.

Mr. Weist’s complaint argues, “The actions of the City, in issuing Captain Weist a PIP threatening discipline and arbitrarily denying his vacation leave contrary to past practice, is a blatant retaliatory measure against Captain Weist for his union activity.  The City’s actions create an environment hostile to the union and its rights.”

If anything, the city has gone out of its way not to take the proper steps here.  What is now clear is that, for years, Mr. Weist and others in the fire department have been able to avoid things like training and other protocol.

Despite the department’s reputation for high marks in terms of service to the public, training seems to be an area of neglect.

The Davis Fire Audit notes, “The Department has a Training Advisory Group (TAG) as well as a Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) in place since the mid nineties. Neither the JAC or TAG committee has met since 2006. The Department has a policy in place that establishes the minimum training hours per month commensurate with the ISO recommended twenty hours.”

It is that policy that Mr. Weist has not been in compliance with, according to the PIP.

The report adds, “Currently the Department is working with UC Davis, West Sacramento, and Woodland Fire Departments to form a Regional Training Consortium.”

The fire audit found that there was “a wide disparity of training hours from each shift and/or company.”

The audit showed that Mr. Weist’s shift, particularly in 2010-11 and 2011-12, had by far the least number of training hours per year.

The audit noted, “There is no evidence of any counseling of individual captains for the lack of adherence to Department policy. This deficiency in performance is validated in the most recent ISO grading, acknowledging an average of 12 hours of training per member/per company/per month.”

Clearly this was an area of concern, and that concern was noted within Mr. Weist’s PIP, but when the city presented that plan, Mr. Weist filed an action claiming that this was simply a matter of retaliation.

In his complaint, Mr. Weist claims that on March 13, 2013, he attempted to take vacation leave in a amount less than 24 hours.  He argues that no other captains were on leave at this time, but that Division Chief Shawn Kinney “denied Captain Weist’s leave, claiming that Captain Weist had not fulfilled a required number of training hours and, thus, needed to attend a training session.”

The complaint argues, “There is no set requirement for the number of training hours in the Department.  The training for which Captain Weist was scheduled on the day at issue could have been completed at another time.”

In fact, there is a set number of training hours and Mr. Weist had not met them.

The complaint notes that he has been with the department for nearly 30 years and has been union president for the last 25 years.  They write, “Throughout Captain Weist’s tenure, the Department’s policy, practice and procedure has been to always grant leave to a Fire Captain when there are no other Fire Captains on leave, irrespective of scheduled training.”

And that’s the problem – for 25 years there has been a culture in the fire department that would apparently allow Mr. Weist’s behavior to be acceptable.

The city, while not conceding that point, responds that, even assuming that the chief is correct regarding past practices of prior vacation requests being granted so long as no other captain was on leave, “which the city does not concede,” the contract “gives the Fire Chief latitude to deny the request at issue in light of the needs of the service unique to the particular, multi-agency training that was scheduled long in advance of that day.”

For all of the accolades of this department, the laxness in the training hours is a cause for alarm and it is difficult to believe that the lack of training might not result in harm to the service provided to the public.

What is clear is that the city was expecting this kind of blowback from Mr. Weist, and for the first time they were ready to battle with him on his own terms.  He has never been challenged before by a unified response from the division chiefs to the interim chief to the HR director to the city manager.

What this is, in fact, is a huge mistake on Mr. Weist’s part.  The Vanguard pounced on it.  When the item was noticed in the agenda as a closed session item, the city officials rightly stated that they could not comment.  The Vanguard sent an email to Bobby Weist which was ignored and then filed a public records request.

Amazingly, the turn-around time on that PRA request was two days.  The city was just waiting to be able to release this information.  And Mr. Weist rashly has now allowed the Vanguard effective access to his performance history.

Allowing an individual in the position of authority to believe that they are above the rules is a dangerous precedent.  Mr. Weist has gotten away with this for most of his 25 years of tenure as union president.

The Davis Fire Report that was finally released to the public showed how Mr. Weist and former Captain Rose Conroy acted in concert to retaliate against those members who spoke out, and belittled their concerns.

In the past several months, the Vanguard has learned of numerous incidents where those who have spoken against the union’s hardline position have been subjected to harassment, ridicule and scorn.

That is apparently the way Mr. Weist operates.  One member of the public has described the Vanguard‘s criticism as a personal vendetta against the union president, but the Vanguard largely objects to the manner of conduct exhibited by Mr. Weist in this community.

We believe that Mr. Weist has done this community a great amount of harm, not only in terms of the fiscal implications of his policies, but also in the human costs as well.  Increasingly, we believe that officials in City Hall agree with this assessment and are taking reasonable steps to ensure that Mr. Weist conducts himself properly.

To that we say: amen, it’s about time.  At some point we hope that the good firefighters in Davis recognize that the path that Mr. Weist is leading them down is headed toward further humiliation and embarrassment, and that they need to find a better path and regain much of the trust that has been lost in the last few years.

There is a reason why only a handful of people came to show up on their behalf last spring.  And episodes like this show that things will only get worse from here on.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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25 thoughts on “Commentary: Weist Crosses the Line”

  1. Davis Progressive

    obviously he’s trying to make the point that the city acted reasonably under the condition, exercised caution and discretion, and the unfair labor practice and accusation of retaliation is bogus – you disagree?

  2. Growth Izzue

    No the point is that a private business would’ve probably fired the employee on the spot where in this case there’s a public employee UNION protecting the employee.

  3. Davis Progressive

    correct, again, the relevance of the lead is to illustrate that the city acted reasonably by comparison to what they could have and perhaps should have done.

  4. Matt Williams

    I agree with Growth Izzue and Davis Progressive. His behavior is way way over the line. The word Weist used to describe the training is an apt description of both his own behavior and the lawsuit.

  5. Ryan Kelly

    I’ve seen employees disciplined for much less at the University, even with Union representation. Please do not lump the behavior of the President of the Fire Fighters union with all unions. Unions serve a vital purpose in protecting the rights of workers in the workplace and are responsible for the achievements and protections that most people think are normal working conditions (8 hour day, 40 hour workweek, holidays….)

    Take the union presidency out of the equation, and only look at Bobby’s behavior as a supervisor. He non-complied with an assigned training project, told his employees that it was bullshit, and then abandoned his job so he would not have to participate, requiring another captain to come in and supervise his crew in complying with the assignment. He should and deserves to be disciplined. Now that it is clear that this is not a one time occurrence, but a pattern of behavior, maybe he should be replaced as captain (promote the other guy who should have had the job anyway).

  6. Mr.Toad

    Dogpile away and you may be correct. Without a union he might only make minimum wage, get his health care through medi-cal and food stamps through the help of his employer like at Walmart. He might get no sick leave to use like at Olive Garden. He might be assumed to have a second job to make ends meet like at McDonalds. He might be out at his age because the Supreme Court made age discrimination cases impossible to win and without seniority replacing him would save lots of money. Obviously there are problems in the Davis Fire Department but David’s lead suggests that the problem is unions in general when in reality the problems are worse when employees are not organized. The truth is that both extremes are problematic but there are happy middle ground situations where both business and organized labor work together to treat workers fairly. A good regional example would be Chevron and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union.

    If David wanted an honest debate that addressed the situation in a fair and respectful manner he might have started with: Suppose that this is a big unionized private sector company with a strong union… That would have been a reasonable analogy but instead his lead implies that unions are bad and we should get rid of them. No doubt, a notion that appeals to many of the right wing zealots who post here, but, the consequences of the demise of private sector unions over the last 40 years is a key factor in the increase in the trickle up distribution of wealth in this country where, managers and stock holder have received a disproportionate share of the wealth created by increased productivity and workers have been left behind.

  7. Mark West

    Mr. Toad: There is a difference between public sector and private sector unions. If we are going to have an honest discussion, the two should be addressed separately. Many of your claims about the benefits of private sector unions stand up to scrutiny, buy to apply those same benefits to the public sector unions is not accurate or appropriate. They are not one in the same.

  8. Ryan Kelly

    I would say that the non-union management employees at UC Davis, fair far better than the unionized employees in terms of wages and benefits and perks. If the staff at UC Davis was not unionized, they would fair far worse, such as the food service workers a few years ago. Non-unionized employees benefit from the unions, in that the unions have established practices that are respected University-wide. When there is a supervisor that is horrible, it is nice to have union representation to help the employee and to keep that supervisor in check. Unfortunately, the Fire Fighters Union is not keeping the supervisor in check when it comes to Bobby Weist. If he treats his superiors poorly, just imagine how he treats the people he supervises.

  9. Spider web

    Bobby you were a boy makin’ big noise
    Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day
    Now you’ve got mud on yo’ face
    You’re a big disgrace
    But, still kickin’ your can all over the place
    Singin’
    We will we will rock you
    We will we will rock you
    Bobby you were a young man hard man
    Shoutin’ in the street gonna take on the world some day
    Now you’ve got blood on yo’ face
    You’re a big disgrace
    still you wave your banner (3494) all over the place
    Singin’ we will we will rock you
    We will we will rock you
    Bobby now you’re an old man poor man
    Pleadin’ with your eyes gonna make you some peace some day
    You got mud on your face
    You big disgrace
    Somebody better put you back into your place
    We will we will rock you
    (Vanguard sings it!)
    We will we will rock you
    (Everybody)
    We will we will rock you
    We will we will rock you

  10. Birdman

    How many other Firefighters or Captains have received PIPs? And it sounds like the whole department is lacking in minimum training hours based off your article. If they are that sounds like whoever is in charge of training should be under a PIP. And why would Mr. Weist be the only one was refused vacation and given a PIP? If that is the case this sounds like retaliation to me. I guess we will have to see how this plays out.

  11. Phil Coleman

    David placing Bobby Weist in the private sector, and then asking how he would have survived compared to his current standing in the Fire Department, is an interesting vision, but the likelihood is that the result could well have been the same.

    There is a popularly shared notion that there are distinct differences between the management of the private sector and the public sector. The prevailing sentiment for most observers from the public or private sector is the private sector, motivated by the necessity to show a profit, is more vigilant in regulating its employees than what is found in public sector.

    I admit to sharing that feeling from the perspective of being in public service my whole career. I envied my private sector counterparts for having far fewer legal, union, and political constraints to perform effective as managers.

    Then, I began a post-career as a management consultant for both sectors. And what an eye-opener it was. Both sectors has approximate equal shares of good and poor organizations, competent and inept managers, and are equally represented by poor,outdated, and even non-existent policies.

    If there was just one area where the public sector excelled it was with the presence of written policy compared to the private sector. I was amazed at the number of private organizations that had NO written policies on anything.

    By the way, union relations are the same, too. Some specialized occupations, such as California law enforcement, have peculiar legislated protections (i.e, Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights) but for the most part union/management relations in both the private and public sector are governed by the same body of federal and state law. It should be noted, however, that in the past several decades non-government unions have experienced a serious decline in membership and political influence.

  12. JustSaying

    “And why would Mr. Weist be the only one was refused vacation and given a PIP?”

    Because he was refusing orders.

    He attempted to take vacation leave, apparently thinking he should be allowed to walk off the job any time he feels like in order to avoid following instructions. When that wasn’t going to work, he somehow figured that he could refuse orders if he used sick leave instead of vacation leave.

    It’s patently obvious what this episode was all about, insubordination. And, in front of others in the workplace.

    It may turn out that the union leader has some kind of psychological issue that compels him to publically prove his manhood on a recurring basis, but it’s up to him to document this as an illness worthy of sick leave approval whenever the compulsion strikes. Sometimes anger issues also are sometimes treatable.

    It’s difficult to imagine this behavior being tolerated in any workplace whether public or private, whether non-union or union shop. Why he was allowed to use his sick leave is questionable if there were other actions available.

    Maybe they figured he was out the door, abandoning his post, anyway–and why escalate it further than Weist already had taken the episode. Little did they realize that he would see this as an opportunity to accelerate union pressure the city in the midst of pay negotiations.

  13. Birdman

    Based off the recent blog articles Weist was denied vacation that was during a scheduled training because he was lacking training hours. If the whole department was lacking training hours why has nobody else been denied vacation during scheduled training or given PIPs (David, are you able to confirm this is the case?)? Based off David’s reporting and the fact that Weist is the only one named in the complaint it sounds like Weist was singled out.

  14. Mr.Toad

    “Mr. Toad: There is a difference between public sector and private sector unions. If we are going to have an honest discussion, the two should be addressed separately.”

    i agree. It was David who made the comparison i simply pointed out that its not a fair comparison.

  15. SouthofDavis

    Mr. Toad wrote:

    > the consequences of the demise of private sector
    > unions over the last 40 years is a key factor in
    > the increase in the trickle up distribution of wealth
    > in this country where, managers and stock holder have
    > received a disproportionate share of the wealth created
    > by increased productivity and workers have been
    > left behind.

    In almoat every culture in world the rich tend to get richer and more powerful over time (until a revolution) this is not a union thing.

    Most workers in America are not in unions and most are doing fine, it is just in expensive areas like Davis and the Bay Area where “working class wages” make it hard to live.

    If a guy does not make a lot of money it might be a better idea to move to one of the many places in America where you can buy a home as nice as a $750K Davis home for $100K.

    P.S. Almost every Union Firefighter in California urban areas lives in a “top 1%” household…

  16. David M. Greenwald

    “How many other Firefighters or Captains have received PIPs?”

    We have no idea because ordinarily these would be personnel matters and the only reason this wasn’t is that Mr. Weist filed a complaint.

    “And it sounds like the whole department is lacking in minimum training hours based off your article.”

    Much of the department is/ was as of the audit, but Mr. Weist’s shift was far worse than most.

    “If they are that sounds like whoever is in charge of training should be under a PIP.”

    The answer to that is that the department has brought in division chiefs who are cracking down on training as the result of the audit.

    “And why would Mr. Weist be the only one was refused vacation and given a PIP?”

    How do we know that he is? He’s just the only one who filed a complaint.

  17. David M. Greenwald

    ” Weist was denied vacation that was during a scheduled training because he was lacking training hours. “

    My understanding of his refusal was not that he was refused because he lacked training hours, but that he was avoiding participating in a joint training exercise.

  18. Ryan Kelly

    [quote]Birdman: “If the whole department was lacking training hours why has nobody else been denied vacation during scheduled training or given PIPs?[/quote]

    Possibly because Wiest is the supervisor in charge of his crew, did not submit his request at least 14 days prior per the Union MOU, became angry and yelled that the training was “bullshit” in front of his crew, and then stated that he was taking sick leave and abandoned his job – requiring another captain to be called in on overtime to supervise. That’s why he’s getting a PIP.

    As the supervisor, Wiest would have been in charge of approving vacation time for his employees. If employees requested time off in a similar manner (same day request) and Weist approved it, if employees refused to participate in training and Weist approved it, then Weist is still responsible. It sounds like the crew is willing to attend training, when directed, and Weist is not directing them.

  19. JustSaying

    It would seem that firefighters would have lots of unencumbered time available to do training, even if it might get interrupted from time to rime for alarms.

    It would seem that a union leader would be pounding Chief Rose’s desk back in 2006 when the department started getting behind on its required training, given how important training is for people in such dangerous occupations.

    On the other hand, was Weist refusing to participate in training for himself and his crew once he got promoted to captain–and management at the time just let his team get further and further behind until the audit revealed his team’s failures?

    As I read this, the union (supposedly) is protesting the fact that Weist took sick leave instead of vacation leave and the fact that Weist gets an improvement plan because the shift under his supervision has the biggest failure following department training policy. Of all things that rank and file firefighters might label “unfair labor practices,” it’s hard to imagine these being very high on the list.

    The more that gets revealed about management of the Davis Fire Department, the more embarrassing it must be for the firefighters themselves

  20. medwoman

    I don’t think that this is a very controversial issue. Since I work within a very large private company in which there are both union and non union groups, I can tell you that this would be, in either group, a manner for individual discipline. Within a unionized group, this would be a matter for the immediate supervisor to coach and counsel on a first occurrence, with graduated actions according to an established escalation protocol for repeated such acts. The sole exception would be for a case of documented true illness. For example, if the employee were in such distress that a legitimate illness ( such as migraine or a seizure were triggered) then a doctor’s note could be presented documenting such and the incident would be removed from their file.

    In the non unionized group, such a public display of disregard for established mandatory training would definitely be a cause for a private warning with a notation in the individual’s file, again with escalation for repetitive occurrences and the notation being removed if there were no further occurrences within the evaluation interval ( usually one to two years).

    In no circumstance, except that accompanied by a medical provider note adequately explaining the circumstances, would this kind of behavior be allowed to pass by without some form of discipline. It is unthinkable to me that such behavior would pass without any kind of censure in a person in a leadership position regardless of union status.

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