Beautiful New England
I was sent to Massachusetts to work for three months which was the furthest North I've been on the East Coast. I found the area beautiful. Boston was idyllic and rich in history. Things I'd only ever seen in the movies I saw every day during my tenure there - boat teams rowing down a narrow river, people sitting in the grass around a whitewashed gazebo in the park, candy-striped musicians playing to a crowd from within. I'd worked in Philadelphia for a year and while that city too, was filled with the history of this nation, it seemed more foreboding with its huge gray-faced edifices. Boston appeared just as bustling, but with a brightness about it which seemed to permeate everything, and everyone. Everyone in Massachusetts had a funny, Northeastern accent, but their friendliness is what stood out most.
Driving to work for the first time, dampened my mood considerably. A man, dressed as a skeleton, doused with simulated blood, danced around with a sign protesting nuclear deterrence. But what disappointed me the most was the inclusion of his children in his charade - also dressed as bleeding skeletons. I've not seen a protester before, or since, which is probably why he stands out in my mind - and to subject children to his lunacy! Indeed!
Stealing milk from babies
I met the Project Manager I would be working for and he told me he had a laptop, monitor, and docking station in the trunk of his car for me - if I wanted to meet him on the front steps, he'd pull around. I carried in the monitor first, and set it on my desk. When I turned around there was a short man standing right on my heels. He mumbled, "Urdoin my rob."
"Excuse me?" I asked. He repeated just as ineffectively, "Urdoin my rob."
"One more time?" I prompted.
"You're doing my job." He finally said.
I simply blinked at him. I had no idea what he was talking about. None whatsoever. It crossed my mind that he might have been mentally challenged. I used to work at a government facility, and there were a lot of mildly-retarded people who were hired to do administrative tasks around the office - I was certainly familiar with how that worked. I repeated to him, perplexed, "I'm doing your...job?" He nodded and pointed at the monitor on my desk, explaining, "I bring the monitors in." Aha! A simple misunderstanding. I explained (speaking very slowly, and very clearly to him - just in case) that I appreciated his enthusiasm, but that was indeed my monitor, for my desk, and thank you very much, but I was quite capable of carrying my own monitor into the building. Without another word, he left. I brought in my docking station and laptop and began to set everything up.
Then a very large, very clean-shaven, well-spoken man walks in with a clipboard. He clears his throat. I turn around and beside him is the little man, pointing at me. "I understand there's a problem?" the large man asks. I'M DUMBFOUNDED! A problem? Are you shitting me? WTF is going on? I smile at the little guy as a knowing smirk crosses my lips and I explain aloud, "No sir, there's no problem. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"Did you bring that in yourself?" He points to the computer on my desk. I look at it, then back at him. Twice. Never before in my professional career have I had to explain to anyone, anything as obvious as setting up my workstation. I thought I was on candid camera! Speaking very clearly again, and very slowly, as to a person learning English for the very first time I admitted that yes, I did indeed bring in the workstation. I explained what it was, where I got it, why I was setting it up, who I was, what I did, and why I was here. I then thanked him for him time, and continued to attach the devices. "I'm going to have to report this." He says to me, menacingly.
"Ok! You go ahead and do that. Thank you! Have a nice day!" I say, emoting brightly - thinking the entire time, what a FREAKSHOW!
The following weeks were some of the most mind-boggling, educational times I've experienced. I've been to Saudi Arabia, Korea, England and Germany but NEVER have I felt such a clash of culture-shock before. I was experiencing something something I'd only ever heard of in my classes at school - Unions!
First of all, I had no idea they still existed today. The Teamsters to me were as real as the movies I'd seen them in. You might as well have told me the Illuminati had a club at the plant as well. Yet there they were. I've worked a lot of places at a lot of client sites, and the mission always comes first - whatever it takes to get the job done. Not here. Forms in triplicate, three-day advance notice for anything and everything I wanted to do. This concept is completely foreign to me, and brought everything I was there to do, to crawl. It was my understanding that unions existed to improve working conditions for employees. What I experienced, however, was that they instead crippled productivity. I was not allowed to excel at what I do, nor complete it in a timely manner. I was instead forced to wait. Forced to be non-productive.
I work in a highly-fluid environment - responding to issues immediately as they arise. Since I've been working very few people I've come across have been unprofessional. And in the Air Force, people like that were quickly corrected so that they could be an effective worker and an asset to the team. For the first time in my professional career, I saw groups of people standing around watching only one team-member work. There were reasons for this. Very explicit reasons - none of which made any sense to me. And the one worker always appeared to work very, very, slowly. Not what I'd call the peak of diligence anyway. At precise intervals entire shops would shut down for 'break.' Forced breaks. No work allowed to be done. Ok, I lied - I did see this once in Saudi. Four times a day you'd be kicked out of a shop so everyone could kneel on their prayer rugs facing east while a loud-speaker system belted out prayers in Arabic. But GOOD GOD MAN, THIS WAS AMERICA! I was befuddled by what I saw around me.
Then it got worse.
Having been educated in this country, I knew from a textbook standpoint what a strike was. Workers stand outside, picketing, to demand better wages and/or working conditions. I'd never driven through a picket-line before, and I was curious how the plant was going to operate with the majority of the workforce not...working. Please bear in mind, this is only what I experienced; I'm not here to argue the finer points of contract negotiation nor debate effective use of unions today, nor the breath of legality they're allowed:
All these people who had been friendly to me upon my arrival, were now cursing my face through the glass of the car. Throwing rocks and cans at my rental car. SCREAMING at me that I was a, 'Scab' a term I'd never heard before. Effectively that I was an individual who chose to work, and my punishment was crossing the picket line where they were legally allowed to verbally harass me, and curse at me. I took exception to this, as I was a contractor, and they were my client. I was here at the behest of my boss to help during a transition from another client - one in which I had also been previously employed. I chose to stay with the client and change employers rather than leave. There was a group of us who were uniquely suited to work this transitional phase, one of them being drax0r who was with me during this frustrating time.
Other than the rocks and cans thrown at my vehicle, I was also spat at, and my car kicked and hit with fists. People would put their face to my window screaming at the top of their lungs disparaging my character. People I didn't know. I wanted them all to die. Fuck them. They don't know me. Furthermore, they were wrong. You know how dumb people look when they inaccurately accuse you of something, right? Its hard to articulate the vehemence in which this was done, day in, and day out.
If something like this had happened in Texas, someone would've been shot. I would've called the police. Guess what? The police were there! The police are also union, so they were showing their solidarity by working extra-shifts to allow the union to block traffic into and out of the plant. You guessed it, it was legal, and it further impeded my progress. I heard a story of one employee who, after several weeks of driving through the picket-line, placed his paycheck stub against his window as he was driving through the picket line one Friday. He was arrested under the suspicion of inciting a riot. Are you kidding me? IT WAS A RIOT BEFORE HE DROVE THROUGH. We were not allowed to look at, talk to, or engage the picketers at any time, by law. It was the most one-sided, blind-eye "justice" I've ever been a part of. Where I come from, if someone calls you the types of names these guys were calling me, someone was going to get their ass kicked. Not here. I almost got arrested once because I "drove through the picket line too fast" a tactic I found out later was used indiscriminately on unsuspecting drivers.
Apparently, the fund they'd been paying into for thirty-some years ran dry before anyone got their strike paycheck, and the Teamsters were asked to leave because there had been too many complaints. The president of the company catered in trucks overflowing with the aroma of barbecue on Friday's to give free lunches out on the front lawn, and coffee was free throughout the plant. He'd had death threats made against him, and traveled with a detachment of body guards. Some six weeks later, they returned to work much worse for the wear, as they were given no additional concessions, and simply agreed to return to work for the privilege of working. I said that right - I think its a privilege, not a right - to work. And I've done very well for myself with that attitude.
I didn't have a dog in this fight, but the union was *actually* able to polarize me against them with their actions. Engineers stepped into manufacturing, drax0r and I worked from our hotel quite a bit, and productivity during the strike rose something like 90%. They reached their year-end goal before the last quarter as they were no longer restricted by union rules. The only thing the company would've liked to have seen was the strike last longer.
I have a friend who may have to go on strike. It won't be his decision, but he'll have to do it. All he wants to do is work. He's good at what he does - isn't that enough? Apparently not. I do my own negotiations when I change jobs, and I'm thankful I don't have to rely on a third-party to do so for me.
Good luck, sir. I hope it doesn't come down to a strike.