First-Hand:Re-Establishing IEEE Members' Right to Ethical Support in Employee-Employer Professional/Ethical Disputes

Walter L. Elden, P.E. (Ret)
IEEE and Society on Social Implications of Technology(SSIT) Life Senior Member

In 1975, when the IEEE filed an Amicus Curiae legal "friend of the court" brief in the matter of the 3 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) engineers case, (who had been fired for trying to correct design defects affecting the safety of the public), IEEE began its first "ethical support" of its Members, whose employment was placed in jeopardy for their ethical conduct as engineers. The legal brief told the Court that engineers have a Code of Ethics, and to be fired for attempting to uphold it in the course of their engineering work, was not legal. Since then, the IEEE supported two additional important cases, that of Virginia Edgerton and of Salvador Castro. However, beginning around 1997-99, the IEEE began systematically eliminating the then existing ethical support services and activities which both the Member Conduct Committee and a separate Ethics Committee had in place and operated successfully without incident.

This First Hand History addresses an important restriction, one which began around 1999, unofficially, then became official in 2005 when the IEEE Board of Directors approved the following one line sentence to be inserted in 1.4 of the Ethics and Member Conduct Committee's (EMCC) Operations Manual:

"The EMCC shall not be involved in employee-employer disputes".

As I had been quite active in IEEE's ethics support programs, beginning for me in the 1970's when I read about the BART case, I have first hand history to share about this restriction on the EMCC to not get involved in employee-employer professional/ethical disputes. I have documented my research of this in a Position Statement document, located at this link:

Re-establishing IEEE Members' Right to Ethical Support-A POSITION STATEMENT Document

I prepared this document to be my last IEEE career contribution, intending for it to serve in the “public interest”, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and my fellow/women Engineers, Scientists and Technologist Members Worldwide. I have prepared this Position Statement document to provide 1.historical, 2.educational and 3.organizational governance data to support my opinion that IEEE Members have a right to be afforded “ethical support” in their practice, and that IEEE’s Directors and leaders owe that right to them, as its governance documents clearly state. Each year upon renewing one’s IEEE Membership, all Members agree to practice in accordance with the IEEE Code of Ethics, expecting and deserving to be provided full “ethical support” by the IEEE as a result of agreeing to that. Its in IEEE’s ethics Code (Article 10) where each Member agrees to support other Members to uphold the Code. In this context, the term Members include everyone up to and including the President, Officers, Directors and all other Leaders and Members of the IEEE, worldwide

I decided to write this Position Statement once I discovered this “right of ethical support” had been taken away from the Members, beginning in the 2000-2005 period, through the insertion of a one sentence restriction in the Ethics and Member Conduct Committee Operations Manual in Paragraph 1.4 Limits of Activities. Prior to that period, I heard this restriction viewpoint stated verbally by Past IEEE President Wallace Read in 1998, who was then a member of the Member Conduct Committee, at which time I also was a member. Today it “prohibits the EMCC from involvement in employee-employer disputes”. Additionally, in a writing to me recently, IEEE Senior Staff Manager Cindy Poko wrote that ”this restriction covers not only Trade Union matters but Professional ones too”, and the latter is the main problem at hand.

This Position Statement presents my opinion and analysis showing and documenting that the subject restriction has no basis of legitimacy and needs to be declared NULL and VOID. However, I will leave it to those who follow me in their IEEE careers to take up my challenge to work to restore full “ethical support” to the Members as was the original intent when the Member Conduct Committee was created. The MCC was first approved and established in February 1978. I contributed to writing the MCC’s “ethical support” procedures then and therefore have first hand historical knowledge about what the authors and leaders at the time had intended. Now, I ask this one question, before presenting my detailed analysis and finding, in the form of a challenge to IEEE:

Who will now be the IEEE Members that will step up and accept my challenge to correct this injustice?

I hope in my remaining life time, as I am 84 now, as an IEEE Member to be able to see this fully rescinded and the original “ethical support” service restored, as it was intended to be provided.