Shooting at Arbitration

Arbitrators often become involved in disputes about violence in the workplace, but sometimes violence erupts in their own workplace: the hearing room. A dramatic instance occurred in the offices of a New Jersey State Board of Mediation on June 6, 1983, while Arbitrator Ernest E. Weiss was taking testimony in a discharge case.

The grievant, a clothing presser in a family-owned department store in West New York, New Jersey, had been terminated on charge of petty theft. The general manager of the store had just finished testifying for the employer. As the participants were filing out of the room for a break, one of the other witnesses, a union shop steward, stepped in front of the general manager and emptied a handgun into him.

"I thought the ceiling was caving in," recalls Arbitrator Weiss. "It sounded like tin falling." The terrified office staff dropped under their desks.

The victim staggered back into the hearing and collapsed, mortally wounded. The shop steward, it turned out, had also been discharged by the employer, a few days earlier. "He was fired on a Monday, bought a gun on Tuesday and used it on Wednesday," according to the arbitrator. The shop steward surrendered to police and later served a prison sentence. As for the grievant, he was reinstated with full back pay.

Since that day, says Weiss, "if I have a major confrontation at the hearing that could turn ugly, I am anxious to mediate the thing." Also, he never sits with his back to the door