Sunday, February 27, 2011
WHY I BECAME A STEWARD
If I had not belonged to a Union, I would probably have been fired from a job which was my first one with a major corporation with a good wage and benefits. I was hired as a General Production (GP) worker and advanced to Machine Operator. After GP workers received training from each Machine Operator, they were placed in a Pool. Each night GP workers were assigned to jobs, but instead of the Supervisor assigning them, the Operators were allowed to choose which GP workers they wanted from the Pool. The Operators with greater seniority received first choice, thus, I, as the most junior Operator, received whomever was remaining. When the GP's were not needed on the machines, they were given rework and floor work tasks to perform. As a GP, I had set production records and when I won the bid to become an Operator, I set many more Production records.
Every night when I submitted my production report I realized that my excellent productivity enabled the Supervisor to be a "star" and quite honestly, he was very nice to me, putting thank-you notes and free dinner coupons in my check envelopes, sent flowers for my birthday, and the most appreciated, a cold Coke on my workbench because he knew that I wouldn't leave the machine to go to the vending area as others did between breaks! When I received those flowers my husband remarked that he had never heard of that. I said, "But you see they're from him AND his wife!" He was good to me and I was good to him, always accepting overtime.
It was obvious that our Supervisor was spending an inordinate amount of time with one particular new woman whom I will call "The Princess" (because she actually said that about herself!). So secure was she in her role as a "protected species", she bragged to the other women about the affair and that he was going to leave his wife and she even showed a Polaroid picture of him, reclining nude, with a red bow tied around his erect Mr. Wiggly.
When I needed an extra helper on my machine, I always received "The Princess" as the more senior Operators did not want her. She SHOULD NOT have made it through her probationary period, but she did because of the "special relationship" with the Supervisor. She was not a good worker and took advantage of every situation, knowing full well HOW she was "protected". At a Union meeting, a person who was a self-proclaimed "Christian" said that the Union should do "something about her immorality" I jumped up and said that it was against Union rules to get a fellow Union brother or sister in trouble! "The Princess" heard about the incident at the Union meeting and told me she was surprised that I defended her. I told her that she was merely naive and he was the one who should be held accountable because he represented the Company.
She would take extra long breaks and when she got back to the work area I would have her piled up and she would shut off the machine. I would promptly turn back on the machine and keep piling her up. She called for the Steward and I told him that he needed to tell her that she was interfering with production and needed to be back from breaks on time. Of course the Steward had to agree with me. Once, the Supervisor was talking to her and she was behind and I told him to get out of the area as he was "holding up" production.
One night, I had a guy named Charlie assigned to my machine, along with "The Princess". It was obvious to me that Charlie had been drinking. Yes, I am totally opposed to drinking, but I called the Steward and told him, "You need to get Charlie out of here." What happened next is STILL unbelievable to me: the Steward went to the Supervisor and told him that I was complaining about Charlie drinking (I know this from what later transpired!). At break, the Supervisor and General Supervisor witnessed Charlie going to his car and drinking. Charlie was fired.
I didn't know at the time that I was receiving the "blame" although I had noticed a coolness from some of the men. One night, walking out, one of the guys I considered a buddy, said he couldn't believe that I "Got ole Charlie fired." I asked, "What the Hell do you mean--I tried to save him!" The guy told me that he was there when the Steward told the Supervisor I was complaining about Charlie drinking. I told him, "Not only is that a lie but it is also a Goddamned lie!" The next day I demanded a meeting with the Union President, the Steward, the Supervisor and the witness." The Steward admitted that what I said that I said was true but everybody knew how I felt about drinking and that "The Princess" had complained! I said, "Yes, but I told YOU to get him out of here--if I'd wanted the Supervisor to know, I would have told him--you're the one who got Charlie fired!"
That same weekend my brother and his wife came to stay the weekend and they would spend one day with her family and one with mine. My sister-in-law's sister was best friends with the wife of the Tool and Die Maker at work. My sister-in-law said that her sister told her that they were trying to fire me at work. I was shocked. I said, "How could they fire me? I have the best production, I've never missed a day of work, I've worked all the overtime!" I was incensed! I called my sister-in-law's sister demanding to know exactly what was said and then I called the Tool and Die Maker and asked what was said. He told me that "The Princess" hated me and wanted her boyfriend to get rid of me and that I'd made the Steward and Supervisor look bad because of the Charlie incident and "The Princess" had bragged that she was going to get me fired for being so mean to her.
On Monday, I went to see our attorney who gave me this advice: "Slander is like mud--if you try to wipe it off while it's wet, you'll just smear it--but if you wait until it dries, you can just brush it off!" (Years later, I learned he stole that quote from Louis Nizer) He prepared a "cease and desist letter" with copies to the Company, the Union and to the parties I knew who were "spreading the story". You can imagine the tremors felt from that earthquake.
On Tuesday, after he had received his letter, the Supervisor came up to me, and his lip was quivering and his voice was quavering, as he said, "I can't believe you did this." I said, "I can't believe that you did this to me, especially after my productivity is what made you the star, but I'm not supposed to talk to you about this under advice from Counsel, but I am going to tell you that I will see that YOU are the one who is fired." He said, "Why would I fire you--you have the best production." I said, "Well, your girlfriend has told everybody you were going to fire me because I make her work hard."
That's the moment I decided to run for Steward. My campaign was simple: I asked each person: "Do you think I'm a better worker than him? Do you think I'm honest? Do you think I'm smarter than him?" I won by 3 votes.
As Steward, I was mean, vindictive and petty. I even filed a grievance for a 25-cent pay discrepancy and the Supervisor tossed a quarter at me and I moved aside and it hit someone and I filed another grievance about that. [After I became a Supervisor the Company attorney told me he couldn't believe they promoted me as I was the meanest Steward he'd ever encountered and I would not "settle" at any step and demand arbitration unless it was resolved my way.]
Within three months I had filed more grievances than the former Steward had in 3 years! I became a "Philadelphia Lawyer-type Steward", memorizing the Contract and quoting it endlessly. I made sure that I was "out on call" every night which caused the productivity from my machine to plummet. The Supervisor would have to assign other Operators and they would never achieve my Production levels! When I was working on the machine, I made certain my Production was always 100% but NEVER more. He asked me what had happened to my figures, to which I answered, "You really can't expect me to give more than 100%, can you?" He tried to get the other Operators to bring up their Production figures to no avail; This caused the Department's figures to suffer, which of course was brought to the attention of higher management. This caused meetings which of course none of the Union members would say what the actual "cause" was. I thought, "How stupid are they that they can't see the effect of a machine that was producing 120% on average was now the lowest producer?" Prior to this, I had never turned down a minute of overtime, but after that, I turned down all overtime and a number of other people also refused, which had a detrimental affect also.
In the meantime the affair between "The Princess" and the Supervisor had cooled and she learned she was pregnant! One night, she was assigned to my machine and she was crying and I told her to go to the restroom and I would get someone else to take her place. She said, "He lied to me." I said, "But, he lied ABOUT me and that's even worse!" She said, "But you're trying to destroy the father of my baby." I answered, "They should have told you about Planned Parenthood in orientation." (Yeah, I know I'm a smart-aleck.)
Finally, the Supervisor was given the ultimatum: resign or be fired. He chose to resign. I assumed it was because of the tremendous loss of productivity. Only later did I learn that someone had gotten into the locker of "The Princess" and that Polaroid picture had made its way to the Manufacturing Manager. A number of people thought I did the deed and how I wish I could take credit for that, but I learned later that her so-called "best friend" did it. With "friends" like that.....
The following day I resigned as Steward.