Thursday, March 25, 2010


One doesn't have many moral dilemmas in life but I had one during the six-month strike at International Harvester. During the strike our Plant Manager was Bill Duvall, a former Marine officer. The day before the strike, Duvall notified the management/salary team members that they would be expected to cross the picket line and work during the strike, building parts for export, and if they did not work they would be sent home without pay and be ineligible for unemployment. EVERYBODY worked and that even included the Company doctor, nurses, accounting and staff members. Mr. Duvall also told us that we should all be able to reach production levels within three days as that was what was expected from the Union members. I was lucky because my section produced parts for export and I knew the work.

Of course the Teamsters would honor the UAW strikers and not cross the picket line so we were limited on our shipping methods. We could load the finished product on trains and have it shipped and we could receive raw materials by rail. Vandalism was rampant and was done mostly to our personal vehicles and to the train tracks but my boss had the picture window shot out at his house and there was an assault on a supervisor at a local bar. Each day we would watch the films which had been taken by Plant Security to identify the vandals to report them to the Sheriff's Department. One day, as the film was being shown, I recognized my brother Neil as he and others were upturning a burning dumpster onto the railroad track to keep the materials from being loaded and unloaded.

My MORAL DILEMMA: Should I speak up? Where was my loyalty--to the Company--or to my family? Fortunately, for me, within a few seconds, Jim Manor, Neil's boss, said, "Hey, there's that damned Shirkey!" What a relief for me--I didn't have to identify my own brother--but I decided that I did need to notify my boss Leon about the relationship. Leon asked me why I hadn't put that on my application and I told him I DID put it on my application but that nobody had ever asked about it and that Neil had warned me NEVER to tell anybody we were related. By the next day EVERYBODY in the plant knew that I was Neil Shirkey's sister. Neil was widely regarded by Management as a trouble-maker and one of the most radical Unionists!

During the strike, we worked in stations and I was building rear sills and Neil's boss Jim Manor was in the next station. Every day I would have Manor piled up with product because he was a lazy worker. Before the shift was over, I would help him get caught up to be able to make his daily quota. The day after he identified Neil, he returned late from break and said, "Well, you're nothing like your brother!" Immediately angry, I responded, "You'll find out I'm a whole helluva lot like my brother--and you know, he's like me--he comes to work every day and does his job--UNLIKE YOU!" He shrugged and said, "I thought you'd be complimented." I answered, "YOU should be more like my brother!" I never spoke to Manor again during the strike although we worked side by side for months. That day I didn't stop producing rear sills to assist Manor on his job and at 2:45 p.m., Duvall made his daily trip through the plant, gathering production sheets. Duvall, who always delegated one-on-one confrontations, looked at Manor's production figure, immediately went to Leon and Leon went to Manor and as the guys would say, "reamed him a new A-hole". Duvall never hesitated to humiliate management people in public, but it was always at a distance, never in one's face. At the meeting that day, Duvall, standing at a lectern, asked, "What's wrong with you, Manor, you can't even keep up with a woman!" Of course it didn't matter to Duvall that he had also just insulted ME! The following day Leon told me to help Manor get caught up and I answered, "I don't think I can; I'm ONLY a woman!" Leon scowled and told me to go ahead and do it and I asked Leon if he thought that was fair. Leon told me that nothing was fair in life so just do it. I then said, "You know, if Manor didn't spend all that time in the office playing cards, he could probably make production." I also told Leon that Manor had never once made production. Leon asked why I had not told him that before and I told him I thought it was his job to know what the people were doing and that I shouldn't have to be a tattle-tale. Leon stayed beside Manor every minute the rest of the day and amazingly, Manor made his quota by the end of the shift but I still had a great number of sills ahead of him as I overproduced that day.

When Leon left the area, Manor asked, "Well, you're Duvall's darling, aren't you?" I ignored the taunt and continued to overwhelm him with parts. Each day Duvall would march by and notice the mountain of rear sills and one day he said, "Since you're so far ahead, I'm going to send you a new man to train." When the guy came, I asked his name and he said, "Danny Duvall." I asked, "Are you.....?" I didn't get finished before he said, "Yeah, the SOB is my dad and he wants YOU to teach me a lesson." I asked, "What did you do wrong?" He laughed and said, "I was BORN and I didn't make production!" Manor said, "Well, I guess your bank will go down now!" I laughed and I made sure that we didn't lose our lead.

Each day at 3:00 p.m., Duvall would gather the team together to look at those damned films, discuss the productivity and "reconnoiter" to decide the "strategy" from which gate we would exit. It was like a military campaign to him and each day he was in his Scout leading his troops out the gate. There would be picketers at all the gates and when they would see us start to leave they would rush to that gate to try to tear off our antennas, spit on the cars, throw eggs on our cars, curse at us, etc. Although it wasn't funny, one day the strikers surrounded Duvall's vehicle and let out the air in all of his tires. All the rest of us were lined up behind him and had to wait for his tires to be inflated before we could leave the plant. After several days of those tactics, Duvall had us meet at a parking lot at a shopping center and he had rented vans to transport us to the plant because he didn't want to pay for damage to our vehicles. That was what caused the false rumor that the Company was bringing in "scabs". Each week his "military maneuver" would choose a new location for us to park our cars but the Union would always find them. After two weeks he told us we were going to work 4 ten-hour days!

One day, I came home from work, bedraggled and wearing my 3-sizes too big coveralls with primer smeared across the front and the legs rolled up three or four times, wearing gloves with the thumb and forefinger cut out for grasping nuts. Sitting around the kitchen table were my husband Gerald and my brother Neil (both on strike), my brother Norman (laid off from Chrysler) and Neil's son Andy. Mother was at the kitchen stove, frying pork chops. As I walked in, my brother Norman exclaimed, "Ask her, Mom, she'll tell you she's a SCAB!" [Norman recently told me that he thinks that's the only time Mother was upset with him] It seems as if the assembled Union members had been decrying the scabs crossing the picket lines. I answered, "Hell yes, I'm a scab and I made production on your job, Neil, and when you get back to work I'm going to get a new time study on it because I finished two hours early!" There was no greater threat than to have a job retimed when it had been "bought" by the Union. Hearing that threat, Neil continued his rant against the Company and started to say, "Those Mother-F", but he caught himself just in time, looked worriedly at my mother, and there was a pregnant pause. Mother either chose to ignore the remark or didn't hear it, and the only sound that could be heard was the pork chops sizzling in the skillet, as Andy said, quietly, "Close call, Dad!" Everyone erupted in laughter.

Television Channels 2 and 7 carried news of the strike nearly every night. My mother would see the angry picketers screaming and cursing at us and even though the sound was blocked she could read their lips and she asked, "Are they allowed to talk like that?" I said, "It's O.K.; I rolled down my window and told them that I had never done THAT with my own mother!"

After the strike, Duvall was marching through Neil's department and Neil started singing cadence. Duvall went to the first supervisor he saw, Dick Sprinkles, and told him to fire Neil. Poor Dick. Dick went to get the Steward and they both went to Neil and Dick said that Duvall told him he had to fire him. Neil told him that was good because he had National Guard training that weekend and he'd get an early start and he'd still get paid for it. Neil disabled his welder and jumped off the line and headed for the gate. Sprinkles had not expected that and his lack of action caused two trucks to go down the line without the header being welded, which meant that the roof couldn't be installed, which resulted in the trucks going off line for a major repair. Of course, no Union member would jump in to help! Sprinkles should have gotten somebody to replace Neil on the line, but instead, he and the Steward were following Neil and the Steward told him he couldn't leave because that was against the process. Ten trucks were lost to repair that day. The Committeeman was able to stop Neil at the gate and they headed to Human Resources for the hearing. In the hearing, the Superintendant asked Neil what he had done and Neil said that he was just a happy worker and was singing cadence because he was looking forward to his National Guard weekend! Neil and the Union were experts ("Philadelphia lawyers") at prolonging the meeting which they knew would also wreak havoc in the department because both Sprinkles and the General Foreman had to be at the hearing, leaving the department to the devices of the Union members! Neil returned to the department in time to clock out for the day.

Dick Sprinkles was fired because of his poor handling of the situation and losing the trucks to major repair. Neil had no regrets and justified it by saying that Sprinkles was stupid for abandoning the line and that he should have gotten on the line and started welding. I told him that the Union members wouldn't have allowed that and Neil shrugged and said that having a grievance for working was better than getting fired. Poor hapless Dick was rehired later.

True story: an ATT technician was in the plant working on some phones. He was sitting down taking a break and Duvall saw a supervisor and told him to fire the guy. The supervisor, my friend John Steinhauer, walked over to the ATT guy and told him, "You see that guy back there with the cigar? He told me to come over and fire you so I want you to get up with me and yell that you want your Steward and I'll start walking you out." The ATT guy laughed and said, "I wondered why he was looking at me." John walked to the door with the ATT guy, circled back around the plant so that the ATT guy could finish his job. Now that's the way to handle Bill Duvall!

1 comment:

Mona Lisa said...

So, did you get a new time study on your brother's job? Now that's a moral dilemma!