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Posted on 2008.08.06 at 11:00
Current Location: 75070
Current Music: Excelsior!

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.


catttitude at 2008-08-06 16:19 (UTC) (Link)
Wish I had time to read this. You should post this stuff a little at a time. I will read it later.
ehowton at 2008-08-06 17:17 (UTC) (Link)
The length did not escape me. Last night it got so long, I considered splitting them into two different posts, over two days. But I felt the flow would have been lost. I thought about using an lj-cut for each section, but thought that might make reading it more disjointed. Ultimately, I decided on bold heading, to at least in part, break-up the topics in hopes it would come across less like a dissertation and aid the flow of reading. I left a lot of little stories out, as it was not my intent to be overly biased - I simply wanted to express my own viewpoint as to what I went through and how it affected me.
Anima Engine
anima_engine at 2008-08-06 16:34 (UTC) (Link)
Jibes with my encounters of same. *shudder*

Unions are useful for putting industry in check when human resources are carelessly (or intentionally) abused, but in cases like this I feel unsympathetic when mob mentality supercedes sensible objection.

Sometimes I'm quite happy to be a Texan, yanno?
ehowton at 2008-08-06 17:11 (UTC) (Link)
Born and bred, ma'am. And I freely admit that just because I didn't understand the methods involved doesn't mean that they're wholly effective in parts of this nation - part of this nation which pioneered the very things I may take for granted.
hiro_antagonist at 2008-08-06 16:37 (UTC) (Link)
Unions are a good thing when they don't go bad. However, that's a rare thing. But management that doesn't screw over their workers is just as rare, thus leading to the eventual dilemma.
ehowton at 2008-08-06 17:09 (UTC) (Link)
Good point. Dilemma. As from what I understand about them they've given me a lot of the freedoms I enjoy at work today. Just so, perhaps I owe thanks to those who sacrifice themselves for the greater good, in which case my experience with them was a small price to pay.
hiro_antagonist at 2008-08-06 18:17 (UTC) (Link)
Labor laws wouldn't have come about if it hadn't been for unions. There's a lot to thank them for, even though they can be annoying as hell some times.
Melancthe the Woe, So-Called
melancthe at 2008-08-06 18:45 (UTC) (Link)
At least, in the US, you have the choice to strike or not. Here, you have a "choice", but it's a choice about whether or not you prefer to survive the day or not. I can tell you for free that I would NEVER want to oppose any strikers here.
ehowton at 2008-08-06 22:40 (UTC) (Link)
Wow! Makes my ordeal sound like a social club event.
Joshua Gizelt
swashbuckler332 at 2008-08-06 19:58 (UTC) (Link)
Egads! That sounds like a nightmarish situation!

We have very specific behavior guidelines to adhere to if we do walk. We can use the term "scab," but only in reference to somebody who is literally doing one of our jobs, and are not permitted to use otherwise abusive language or any form of physical attack, which would include spitting or throwing things. Nor are we to harangue bystanders, although we are supposed to be very familiar with the negotiation situation should anybody ask us (part of the purpose of picketing is to raise public awareness of company abuses).

The position of the C.W.A. is that our conduct whilst picketing is an important public relations tool, and that vituperative action hurts our cause, and there were some guys who got themselves into some serious hot water in the 2000 strike.

Of course, with all of its issues (and there are quite a few) the C.W.A. is not the teamsters union either. In addition to the telecommunications workers like me, they also represent broadcasters and news journalists, so their consciousness might be somewhat higher on certain issues.

With respect to whether we walk or not, at this point, to paraphrase Han Solo, "Bring 'em on. I prefer a straight strike to all this pussyfooting around." I am rather concerned about what it might mean that we aren't striking. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to still be on the job and collecting a paycheck, but this shouldn't be taking as long as it is. We're not asking for much, we just want to keep what we have.

Edited at 2008-08-06 08:02 pm (UTC)
ehowton at 2008-08-07 02:44 (UTC) (Link)
Much more highbrow than what I experienced. The PR thing is smart - picketers who are polite, and want to garner support for their issues likely makes a far better impression.

Joshua Gizelt
swashbuckler332 at 2008-08-07 03:11 (UTC) (Link)
That's the theory, anyway. In practice, it can be a less polite than the ideal, but never as ugly as what you're describing. There is something of a mob mentality that develops at a picket no matter how well-intentioned it is, but it is usually reigned in before it gets out of hand by the more responsible.

There are always going to be wild cards, but natural selection often takes care of those. There was a couple that tried to cut a major cable in the 2000 strike. They were not outside technicians, and mistook the phone cable for a power line. You know those cartoons where when a character gets electrocuted and you see their skeleton glowing...?

My sense of union solidarity is strong, but not so much that I couldn't spare a chuckle at that.
galinda822 at 2008-08-07 01:35 (UTC) (Link)
Egads! I'm picturing the movie Hoffa.

I know there are still a few very strong unions in STL but nothing like there used to be.

ehowton at 2008-08-07 02:45 (UTC) (Link)
Beer Brewing Unions?
catttitude at 2008-08-07 15:15 (UTC) (Link)
ehowton at 2008-08-07 15:25 (UTC) (Link)
Its what's for dinner.
galinda822 at 2008-08-07 15:42 (UTC) (Link)
Of course! :)
catttitude at 2008-08-07 15:15 (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I finely got to read it all. That sounds about right.
I remember in New Jersey that little cable guy. What a lazy fuck. I don't want to get started, I will just say that I kicked his ass out of my apartment and turned down cable. In my 1 year experience of New Jersey I don't think the men are real men. They were kind of womanly to me. I could be wrong. I'm just saying.
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