6 minutes a day for bathroom breaks? Union cries foul

Company offered incentives for no bathroom breaks

CHICAGO - A Chicago-area union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against an employer who they claim is allowing them only 6 minutes a day to use the bathroom.

Members of the Teamsters Local 743 who build sink stations at WaterSaver Faucet Co. and its sister company Guardian Equipment Inc. said that workers have been disciplined for exceeding their allotted bathroom time of 30 minutes per week, or 6 minutes per workday.

"They offered $1 per day for anyone who doesn't go to the bathroom at all," said Nick Kreitman, senior business agent for Teamsters Local 743. So far, 19 people have been disciplined, with written or oral warnings, he said.

The union contract currently allows for a 7.5-hour workday, including a 10-minute break in the morning, a 30-minute lunch break, a 15-minute afternoon break and a 5-minute cleanup period before the shift ends, according to Steven Kersten, owner and president of WaterSaver Faucet Co.

The company installed a bathroom tracking system, in which employees swipe their ID cards to get into the bathroom, earlier this year.

Union members say that last month, managers began routinely disciplining workers who were using the bathroom more than 6 minutes per day.

Workers drink coffee, water and energy drinks during their shifts, which inevitably leads to nature taking its course, union representatives said. Company representatives say the discipline began only after workers ignored previous pleas to be use bathroom times wisely.

"(The company's) philosophy is that they feel like people are getting an extra break in the bathroom," said union representative Kreitman. "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."

But owner Kersten said there is no bathroom "allotment" beyond scheduled breaks and that workers were only disciplined when the tracking system showed they were taking excessive bathroom breaks. He cited one worker who was tracked using the bathroom six times in one shift, including two minutes before his scheduled morning break.

"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.

The company lost 120 hours of productivity in May due to unscheduled bathroom breaks, Kersten added.

Local 743 staged a demonstration on Wednesday in front of the company's River West headquarters to protest the working conditions. The union, which represents 140 employees of the companies, is currently negotiating a new contract.

"It creates a lot of job stress," said Kreitman. "The owner buys your time and [the owner] doesn't buy your time with bathroom breaks," he said.