My Last Labor Day

“Ugh, here he is again.”

Today is Labor Day in the US. The workingman’s holiday. According to some, “A tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” I’m not sure whom I should thank.

Labor Day is the first holiday I was ever paid for. A whole day’s pay while I was walking around Far Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York. I remember seeing the Concord take off from JFK. That was 42 years ago. I had been working as a Programmer Analyst at a manufacturing plant of Burroughs Corporation for precisely five days. 30 days earlier, I had finished my education. Schooled in the science of Operations Research. That was on top of a degree in Chemistry I had been convinced I would not be capable of putting to good use. With my education and computer experience, I was deemed capable of designing systems and organizing projects of all sizes and shapes.

Burroughs had me installing a new payroll system.

I’ve mentioned before that that payroll system had to be in operation by January 1978. The limit of Social Security withholding had been increased to the point that the well-heeled among us would exceed $1,000 in total withholdings for the first time in history. The plant manager of our plant would exceed that limit – in January. His year-end bonus would put him over the limit.

Installing and testing that payroll system brought this naïve college boy face-to-face with the disparity between the wages of labor and management. As a result, I resisted working on a payroll system for the next 41 years. I’d rather not know. In addition to the order-of-magnitude differential, was the fact that the plant manager was gaming the system. You can read the details in this old post.

In that previous post, I referred to a woman who was a problem for the systems I managed. I called her Rosie Rework, because she repaired memory boards that had failed in the field and were sent back for repair. This was at a time when it was still less expensive to repair something than to throw it away. The Work Management System (one of the systems I maintained) measured the cost and value of the work performed in the plant. That system would one day highlight an inflection point, the point where shipping a new memory board would be cheaper than repairing the old one. At that point there would be no rework. No system problem. No Job.

Suddenly, I was learning what they didn’t teach me in business school. The workplace wasn’t just about widgets and workflows. It was also about people, the value they added and the cost they represented. Business always does the math.

I left Burroughs after one year. Not because of some moral dilemma, but because of the toxic work environment for those of us between the assembly floor and “rug row.” As you might expect, Burroughs offered many opportunities for computer professionals. These were paraded in front of me during my interview.

Unfortunately, the plant manager limited the availability of these opportunities. They required training he would pay for, but he wouldn’t directly benefit from that training. The opportunities the training would prepare us for didn’t exist in manufacturing plants. I was hoping to be able to transfer to the marketing office in Manhattan. We were all hoping for a transfer to one of the corporate offices. But training was denied, trips to conferences were cancelled and we were kept out of meetings with visiting executives. That made me and my coworkers angry and that made my work environment strangely similar to Junior High School.

I have been fortunate in the past 42 years. I never again worked in a place as bad as Boroughs. I was given opportunities to put my education to good use and I have enjoyed the respect and benefits of a challenging career. I designed and built systems that created efficiencies, improved accuracy and brought to fruition the features people had hoped for. Those systems saved companies money – mainly by reducing the number of employees. Maybe that tribute wasn’t meant for me.

Then again, maybe it was. In many cases, the people whose jobs I helped eliminate moved on to better jobs. We “systems people” take comfort in that trend, even as artificial intelligence and robots threaten jobs on a monumental scale. In theory, there will always be work to do. It just won’t be the work that was done yesterday. I have some thoughts on that, but I’ll save them for another day.

Today will likely be the last time I am paid to take the first Monday of September off. That’s OK. It’s time for the next naïve kid to pick up the pail and carry it for a while.


The gallery includes a few photos from the activity around here.

87 thoughts on “My Last Labor Day

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  1. I can’t recall my first PAID Labor Day. I was usually one of those people working because everyone else was off, but I know I had to have one somewhere before my last position.
    I’ve been waiting for Maddie’s deck to be finished, but I didn’t want to be a nag about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks GP. Maddie’s deck will get finished. I should point out that she is happy with the plywood, but I will be ordering enough Trex to support her in style. Don’t look for it to be installed before October. Scheduling is an issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed learning about the start of your career, Dan. It is amazing how much work life has changed even over fairly short periods. When I started working in 1997, I didn’t have a cell phone and my work issued computer was the first I ever had. My sons are growing up with these things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Roberta. 20 years earlier than your start in 1997, I had to wait three days to get a phone installed at my desk. I had to borrow someone else’s phone, and because calls to my wife were long-distance calls, I had to keep the time to a minimum. Things have certainly changed.

      Like

    1. Thanks Pam. I’ve marked a lot of ‘lasts’ this year, but I’ve tried not to overuse that theme in my posts. The first I am most looking forward to is the first time it snows on a weekday and I don’t care.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My daughter and I took the subway to Far Rockaway on New Year’s Day in 2002. We had gone to NYC for New Years Eve, and stayed a couple of days. That was the first time I had been back since 1978.

      I was lucky to be able to avoid payroll work throughout my career after Burroughs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy last paid Labor DayDan!! Enjoy every minute of it. You’ve had a varied and interesting career path, and a priceless education along the way.

    Those last two photos of sweet Maddie and your captions have me laughing. Thank you for that, 🤗

    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. I had to include that sequence. I did something that made her think we were going in (she responds to a number of clues) but I told her she could go back to sleep. Plop! I started working when I was 12 (pinboy) and I have worked in a lot of different places. My dad used to always say “you can learn something from anyone and any experience.” He was right.

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  4. Great Labor Day post. One door closes and several others open including ones that are way more fun. I think about employees every time I self check, but then there is the other part of the equation that no ones wants that job anymore. I loved Rose Rework because I’m old enough to remember when we use to repair all appliances, big and small, and today we pitch them all. To answer your question or provide any assistance on those steps, I’d need more than that one Corona. :-) Steps are looking good, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. One time last summer, I was in Home Depot early. There was one human cashier, with no customers. When I approached her checkout, she said: “the self-checkout lanes are open.” Earlier in that trip, I had asked a young man where something was located – he helped me download the Home Depot App, so I could look it up.

      I just shook my head. I don’t know what jobs people do want these days.

      The steps are coming along. I have two small steps to build, and then I want to paint the parts that will be the backs of the stairs before installing them. We’ll be warehousing the structures for a while before screwing down decking.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your experience at Burroughs brought back memories. Few people working today remember how bad the work environment was before the baby boomers entered the job market. Back then, industrial and clerical work was dominated by the Theory X school of management.

    As Wikipedia explains

    The hard approach depends on close supervision, intimidation, and immediate punishment.[6] This approach can potentially yield a hostile, minimally cooperative workforce that may cause resentment towards management.[7] Managers are always looking for mistakes from employees, because they do not trust their work.[7] Theory X is a “we versus they” approach, meaning it is the management versus the employees.

    I witnessed this first hand many years ago, when my boss at The American Lutheran Church, to “help out” an affiliate organization. What I observed was a large phalanx of grey desks where a host of middle-aged women sat doing mind-numbing clerical work. They were forced to follow a strict (drab) dress code, were not allowed to have personal possessions on their desk or speak to each other and were required to ask permission to use the lavatory. I could go on describing how bad it was – but the worst was “Ethel”, the woman who commanded the scene.

    It didn’t take long to design a system to replace the entire function and when I presented it, Ethel was incensed.

    “You are going to put every one of my girls out of work,” she declared.

    “That would be a blessing,” my boss responded.

    The only loser was Ethel, who no longer had a room full of people to push around. The winners were the women who all went on to more meaningful jobs in the organization.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I started my career in information services early enough to free several inhabitants of the clerical pool. I think you’re right, the only losers were the people who “managed” the pool. Some people should never be in positions of authority.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. What a wonderful post, Dan. It is amazing to look back over the span of an entire career and consider those things that have changed and those that haven’t–technology has changed a lot, but people are pretty much the same (or are they?). As I think I might have mentioned, I retired earlier this year and sometimes will look back at the inflection points in my life and the choices I made. I could debate whether or not they were the best choices, but it is undeniable that they changed the course of my life. I suspect that it is the same with you, Dan. It is interesting to learn more about your background and that you were a “systems” guy. I spent most of my career working for the government as a military officer and then a government civilian, so my perspective is radically different–let’s just say that system efficiency was not as much of a priority for us. Congratulations on another “last” and I look forward to hearing of more “lasts” and an upcoming series of new “firsts.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mike. Looking back, and putting everything into perspective is fun and sometimes challenging. I’m sure you wonder about some things, just as I do. But, we did what we had to do or what we thought was best. Sometimes the two were not compatible choices. I have a few more last times to enjoy, a couple more business trips and a long list of first things I am looking forward to. Enjoy your retirement. I’ll be joining you soon

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  7. Once again, Dan, congrats on transitioning into retirement. We all have stories of night ares and drams come true when it comes to work careers. Well, maybe not dreams come true but at least escape from the nightmares. 😏It is wonderful that you ended your career on a good note and felt valued. Steps are looking good there.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My first paid Labor Day was working for an attorney. Similar to you, I only worked for the firm for a year because at the time, the State of WI was offering better wages and benefits, and I no longer had to worry about typing wills perfectly on a typewriter or witness the sometimes bad behavior of one of the partners. It was good experience to know what type of job and people I didn’t want to work for.

    I’m excited for your retirement, Dan. Next year, I’ll be going through a lot of “lasts,” which I am looking forward to at work. I bet this is a really great feeling, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. It is a good feeling. There are things I’ll miss, but not enough to make me want to stay.

      You’ve earned the right to start counting “lasts” – j look forward to reading about the ones you share.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Aw, such a great read – looking back at the beginning of working careers is fun. You no doubt moved on to bigger and better things. This post is a nice message to share with those who think they should land on the perfect job right out of school. I like how you tested us for the shape you were creating. Those trapezoid (I hope I guessed right) stairs are cool by the way!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. YAY!! I’m glad I remembered! I don’t know what they are teaching, but some days I sure wish it was Common Sense 101. You could use your retirement writing a curriculum book for the next generation to learn from?! ;-)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha! I used to be on a committee in our school district that weighed in on such matters. I made a bunch of common sense suggestions at a meeting, and then I was never invited back. Other parents were in agreement, but the administrators didn’t want to hear it.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Bonus geometry points for John. I think you’re right about those managers. He was focused on one thing, his bonus. I get it, but I wasn’t prepared for it. I did a little work cleaning in the garage. Now getting ready for a burger and a beer.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Happy Last Paid Labor Day to you! So glad you’ve forged this path and made a life.
    I think I mentioned my mother was going to retire for the second time when you finish this year? Well, she gave up her retirement job last month. That lasted all of a month, and she got recruited to start a new job soon. I’ll let you know when she’s retiring from her third round, haha!
    I love what you wrote about Boroughs. That’s how I feel about shucking corn. Not all jobs since that one have been good, but they’ve all been better than that. Climate-controlled, often a chair, many times, facilities conveniently located…
    I’ve also worked two jobs that had a middle-school environment, and they weren’t at the middle schools I worked at!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m not saying I won’t be working again, I’ll leave that door open, but I doubt it will be a full time gig. I think I’ve done enough of that.

      One thing I learned early on is that if you don’t like the place you’re working in, it doesn’t matter how good the job is. When a job is more middle school than a job in middle school, you got trouble.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Have you considered retiring but then working just a few days a week? Best of both worlds – paid time off, no time for boredom, steady income (both private and federal). So far, I’m enjoying my 4 days a week, but at some point I will drop down to 3. Probably I’ll never be able to retire completely because I never worked for an employer who offered any kind of retirement plan, and I never managed to save enough on my own. All I have is Social Security – but I do like that Social Security payment coming in every month. Hopefully your retirement will be all that you want it to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have considered staying involved, and I won’t rule it out, but to be useful to anyone, I’d have to stay current with technology that is changing faster and faster every year. I spend a lot of time learning new stuff, and I’d like to spend that time doing other things. I am also tired of traveling and commuting. So, while I won’t say ‘never’ it would have to be a strong need or a strong opportunity, or something really fun.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. If it was on-site at one of their locations, I think you made a good choice. I had a few friends who worked in Detroit, and they liked their job. One of my grad-school friends took a job in Detroit, and probably had five times as much training as I did in that first year. When we compared notes, it was like he was working in the future. It didn’t occur to me that Burroughs wouldn’t put equipment in their own plants that they could sell to paying customers. I was converting systems from antiquated versions to old versions.

      Like

    1. Thanks Teagan. I have so many things I want to do. Around the house, in my workshop, at my keyboard and walking around with a camera. This has been a great weekend. I’m ready to roll back into work tomorrow, but I’m counting down.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dan, A most interesting perspective. I would enjoy seeing the same or a similar algorithm applied to some of these gaming the system managers and supervisors. Sad to say I am sure some of them waste way more money and time with some of their outdated decisions. s

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nicely written. I remember my series of lasts before I retired… some welcomed, some not. I hope you do write about job loss in the wake of automation and AI. I bet you have some interesting perspectives on the unstoppable wave. Btw, I’ll miss your early morning photos… I hope you set an early alarm now and then so you can capture that beautiful light for the rest of us lazy bones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janis. I will likely remain an early bird. Automation and AI will see some mention here. My thoughts on the subject don’t follow the party line within our industry, but I guess we’ll all know soon enough.

      Like

  14. Dan – a very interesting post. I would like to see a similar algorithm applied to the results of certain gaming the system managers. More good work is not produced by dropping projects of tasks on employees in the middle of other tasks. Detailed work is not multitasking work. I will stop there. And yes it is time for younger workers to pick up the pail. The other side of that coin is to not not chase an experienced employee out the door and save a few bucks at the expense of getting some of their wisdom and experience… what is this button that says absolutely never touch ! In large red capital letters…. never mind it is a witless rent-a-supervisor reading this … Oh what is a rent-a-supervisor ? Cheryl could you please bring a couple of adult philosophy libations ? Please ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Multitasking is an illusion, John. Humans are no good at it but they excel at convincing themselves they are. Brings back the old expression “the faster I go, the behinder I get.” I’ve seen the replacement bartender, his name is Skippy 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Dan, I certainly would not loose any sleep knowing I was the guy who eliminated jobs because of advances in technology. Celebrate your accomplishments, along with your firsts and lasts for what sounds like a meaningful and rewarding career. I was in Human Resources for ten years and I remember the day a guy from our IT department brought me a computer and taught me some basics. Prior to that, I produced HR Manuals and job descriptions by hand and handed them off to a Secretary. Two years later, I no longer needed the Secretary. Happy Labor Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Suzanne. The first system I put in place at my current employer printed complex policies that used to take 13 clerical staff to produce. They all lost their jobs, but I know several moved onto better jobs. We all had secretaries, and over time, we all became typists. When we ran out of systems to automate, my programmers lost their jobs. They all went onto better jobs. I’m looking back on a good long career. No regrets.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I was enjoying all the responses while trying to decide whether I thought the post was a downer or not. :-) But then I got to the “Multitasking is an illusion” and knew that’s what really hit home. That’s been proven over and over, yet I hear people talking all the time about how it really works.

    Congrats on the last paid Labor Day. I quit my part time job last week so I can get ready for the move next year and for a LOT of traveling. I realized that even just a few days part time ties you down, so I plan to try to only work for myself/on my own schedule if I do work some more. I’m already ghost blogging for a few post/month and that’s both fun and brings in a little bit of money.

    Already had my beer, so cheers for Labor Day and the upcoming week.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janet. I didn’t want it to be a downer. I wrote systems that had to “multitask” snd they did one thing for a while, paused, did another thing, and went back to the first thing. They did it really fast, but one thing at a time, just like people.

      I’m glad to hear you are getting ready to move on. I hope you will continue to share photos, so we can enjoy vicariously through you.

      Like

  17. Just a few months to go until retirement! Yay!!! Your first job sounds like my first (real) job out of college (also in 1978). Not a great experience for me at the time, but a lesson in life I’ll never forget. I was a chemistry major in college too. I just opted to teach, rather than to work as a chemist. It was the right choice for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, another chemistry major – that’s cool. Those first jobs were eye-openers in so many ways. My second job was a very good fit for me, and I worked with some wonderful and talented people. I thought about teaching a couple of times during my career. I do think it would be better than working as a chemist.

      Like

    1. The game-playing continues, Joanne. I never cease to be amazed at the way unpublished reasons sneak into a decision making process. At least in IT, I wasn’t exposed to it much, except for process management systems where we had to consider it in the design, In any case, I’ll be glad to leave it behind.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Interesting how the workplace has changed over the years but the need to celebrate Labor Day remains steady. I’ll be fascinated to see what you write about next year once you’re a retiree, no longer laboring for The Man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ally. Hopefully it won’t be a post about how much I miss my job.

      It will be weird to not be planning projects around long weekends, but since we like to attend agricultural fairs, I think Labor Day will still see some celebration.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s quite a compliment, Paul. Anytime I am mentioned in the same sentence with Serling, I am thrilled. Looking back, it’s almost comical how I thought I knew so much coming out of school and then landing in the “real world” woefully unprepared.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Dan – enjoy this last week – short one too. Good luck with the wind down and the memories … I remember working for a tiny company in London – and learning about the phrase, if it is a phrase, ‘planned obsolescence’ – and it’s something I’ve never forgotten … this world is made up of chucking things out and not respecting workmanship when it’s there. I know your workmanship would suit my expectations … the decking looks to be coming along nicely … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hilary. ‘planned obsolescence’ is a phrase, and a real thing, especially in the world of technology I’ve spent my career in. Manufacturers don’t want to support years-old computers or software, they want you to have the latest version of everything, even though the old version is still viable. I know why they do it, but it doesn’t make it right.

      Like

  20. Dan, sounds as if you are thinking ahead what you won‘t get or do any more. Maybe you’ll take us on your last commute to work in photos. Interesting to learn about you job history. Quite a progression with challenges. Have a happy rest of the week. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This packs a very wise punch, Dan. It’s amazing what we see looking back on our lives, and I think most of us have a corporation in our past like the Burroughs. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Laura. I know people who chose to follow that route. Playing, and getting good at all the games. I just couldn’t. I wanted a place that valued what I enjoyed doing. There was more money available elsewhere, but I didn’t want to hate my job for 42 years.

      Like

  22. It was interesting to hear about your career throughout the years. Yes, a significant disparity between management and employee pay. My husband is a Systems Analyst Technical Lead for a pharmaceutical company. His expertise is in mainframe and the company is transferring all systems to current technology. He is basically putting himself out of a job. We’re hoping the job will last for the next couple of years as that is when he will retire.
    He also volunteers to rebuild PC’s and laptops to people in need with a team from our church. Many people have benefited from this from single mom’s to churches or missions in other countries. I don’t know what I’d do without him hear to help me with my computer issues.
    I started out in clerical back in the day when they called us secretaries and learned shorthand, which I never mastered very well. I am in the search for a job now after being out of the work force for quite awhile. I have a Masters in Social Work and am a Licensed Social Worker. Without the experience it is difficult to find a job that is entry level.
    Currently, I am a caregiver for my mom who lives with us and that is enough to keep me busy. I manage her finances, doctor’s appointments, and schedules with the caregiver agency we have hired.

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  23. What a rich post and gallery! “Pick up the pail” — Haven’t heard that expression for a good, long time. I like it. :) My husband is on a home project right now: He’s decided he wants a kind of bed closet made from one end of the living room, so he’s building a wall. I’m intrigued. I get to hold stuff and sit on stuff to keep it firmly in place and things like that. Chickie will probably help, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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