It’s a holiday weekend (Labor Day) here in the US. I wrote this post in 2013. Since so few people visited this blog at that point, I revised it for today. You’ll be please to know that I trimmed about 100 words off the original.
The first time I came face to face with organized labor was in the parking lot of a machine shop that made gun barrels. The night before, I had worked my first solo shift running the drills. The daytime driller met me in the parking lot with a scrapped gun barrel in one hand and my tally sheet in the other. I wasn’t sure how he got the tally sheet; I had dropped it into a locked box. He informed me that I had drilled too many barrels, pointing to an edited count with the end of the gun barrel – “this is how many you will drill tonight!”
I agreed, but later, I asked my father what I should do. Here’s how he answered:
“If you were battling him for this job, I’d say go for it, but you’re going to work here for 4 more months and then leave for college. Why make trouble for him? Besides, I don’t think the gun barrel was just for effect.”
Two years later, I was working as an “89-day wonder” for the Post Office. If you worked 90 days, you had to be treated like the union employees. If you worked fewer days, even by one, they could bust your butt. I didn’t care, the money was very good. The thing the Postmaster liked most about my situation was that he could schedule me for any hours during a day. A union employee could be made to work a split shift, but the endpoints had to fall within a 12-hour period. I was frequently scheduled to start at 3:00 am, work until 6:30 am and then return at 3:30 pm and work until 9:00. The 89 days passed easily. That was good since there was no complaining to dad on this one, he was one of the union guys.
My mail route was referred to as “Auxiliary” which meant that I delivered mail to all the major businesses in town that didn’t have boxes in the lobby. One of the places on my route was the state mental hospital where my mother worked. She was the switchboard supervisor, and when the union employees went on strike, she lived at her job for about a week. I stuffed a bunch of clothes and a few snacks into a mail bag and threw it into my truck. I drove through the picket line to a chorus of jeers and expletives, but nobody tried to stop the U.S. Mail.
Later that summer, the workers at a steel mill on my route went on strike. I drove up to the entrance to the mill complex, where a large man with a bar of steel in one hand stepped in front of my truck. Another man came to my window and asked me what I was planning to do. The large man quietly slapped the steel bar into his other hand while I decided. When I told him that I was supposed to deliver the mail, he suggested that I call the office from the guard shack. The man in the office complained: “they have no right to stop the mail” but he wasn’t looking at the human stop sign.
After college, I worked for Airborne Freight as a Methods Analyst. My first assignment was to perform a review on our Driver Manifest system. Since we implemented the system, our computing capacity had grown to the point where the manifest could be sorted in the order of the driver’s route. I thought that printing the manifest in that order would help the drivers load their trucks. Before implementing an idea that would affect station operations, we had to run it past three station managers – Seattle (where we were located), Phoenix and one of the big-3 (NY, Chicago or LA). I called the station managers and explained my idea. Seattle and Phoenix were impressed, less so the guy in NY.
“So, tell me college boy, are you going to come to New York and explain to my drivers that you know how to load their truck better than they do? ’Cause I’d like to see that!”
The steel mill expanded into other industries and was purchased by a foreign company. Its core operations were “spun off” and the mill was closed. The network of mental hospitals in the state was closed to save money. Airborne became very successful, expanded, entered the Fortune 500 and was purchased by DHL. Several segments were sold, and the freight/express operations were abandoned. The Post Office struggles in the face of budget cuts, lower mail volume and competition.
We celebrate labor today, but most of these businesses failed or were abandoned in the name of higher profits. However, the company that makes gun barrels is still going strong.
Happy Labor Day.
Since I’ve already shared most of the construction images, I decide to revert to some “regular” photos from a weekend, and a few from the Goshen, CT Fair.