Monday, September 6, 2021
From The Vault: Labor Day Memories
Not that it's my intention to bash unions today! Over the years, they've accomplished many positive things and put an end to some horrific working conditions. If you doubt us, try looking up some vintage photos of 8-year old coal miners and then try to get their eyes and faces out of your nightmares.
That being said, my personal experience of working in a union shop left me with a highly negative attitude. It was in the early 1970's, and I had to join the United Auto Workers to work at a Ford factory in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was a summer job to earn college money, and I was moved around from position to position in the factory to cover for vacationing employees.
My first position was a night shift driving a forklift. The work was simple enough - transporting pallets of materials from one place to another. The problem was that there wasn't nearly enough work to fill the hours. When I asked the foreman what I should be doing to put in 8 hours of productivity, I was A) glared at for being a college-boy asshole and B) told that I should find a place to hide and sleep through the shift like everyone else did.
It seems the other forklift drivers did all of their work in the first hour, then retreated to hideaways inside stacks of boxes where there were makeshift beds, Playboy pinups, and the all-important alarm clocks which told my fellow workers that it was time to wake up and go home. My Protestant work ethic wouldn't allow me to do this (not to mention my fear of being crushed by falling stacks of crates "accidentally" tipped by my coworkers) so I was soon moved to daytime work on the assembly line.
This particular assembly line was for building steering columns. Every nine seconds, a unit would roll slowly by and I'd perform one quick operation on it...then move on to the next and the next and the next. There was nothing challenging about getting my contribution done in nine seconds (the union had established that this was exactly the maximum amount of work a laborer could do)...but I soon learned there was a complication.
Every man on the line not only knew how to do his own job, but also his neighbor's job within that nine second window (and without breaking a sweat). And so one man would come in every morning, punch in for himself and the second worker (who was still at home in bed) and do both jobs until lunchtime. Then the second man came in and the first man left for the day - with both time cards punched out at the end of the shift. Management knew this, but didn't dare challenge the union.
The "half day, full pay" scam eventually reached its logical conclusion when two geniuses sharing job duties figured out that neither of them would have to come in if they simply had a third guy punching their time cards in and out. And that's what they did for a long time.
And it worked out great until people driving Fords started dying because their cars suddenly veered out of control owing to the missing part in the steering column.
A massive recall followed, millions of dollars were paid in liability settlements and, of course, the two workers who were to blame were fired.
Yes, the UAW got them their jobs back. So fire up your grills, have a great Labor Day and for the love of all that's holy drive carefully.
AND ONE MORE THING...
Posted by Stilton Jarlsberg at 12:00 AM