Thursday, April 28, 2011

Union Steward (part three)

They threw out their nets—that is, they enforced every rule and wrote new ones. We were ordered to clock in ten minutes early for every shift. Difficult, because the trams didn’t run that often. I’d either clock in a couple of minutes late or come in half an hour early and hang around. Doesn’t seem like much but if you work five days a week you don’t want to waste that much time. People would try taking the later tram and running to clock in. They’d miss by a couple of minutes and find themselves on suspension, or fired. We were still negotiating a contract and it was tough to defend people while we were in that gray area. A couple of our best people just gave up, quit, and of course that played into management strategy.

I was fired, repeatedly, and I’d have to call Ernie Mogg and take the tram out to the office. Next day I’d be back on the job, but the intimidation was eating at me, at all of us. Pay checks were “lost” or “delayed” and managers from the offices staged surprise “inspections”. Pro-management workers were taken out for pricey dinners and given extra vacation days for “work well done”.

I was outside of baggage service on my break, hot late summer LA night, beautiful, people rushing by to catch a midnight flight to Dallas. Just enjoying the urban-ness of it all, even the scent of gas and jet fuel held some romantic mystery. All that movement! A Sky Cap came by and gave me a signal that said Let’s walk and smoke and we went out to the restaurant that looks like a Disney vision of some future that will never come. He lit up a joint and after he passed it he looked me in the eye and said “now you really have to watch your ass because Harlen is coming in from Chicago. He has one job in the system. He breaks unions. Listen, man: That’s ALL he does. He flies around and crushes people like you. We’ll back you up where we can but we’re facing layoffs. We can barely keep our people. Same with the mechanics.” I was young and naïve and therefore shocked, but also pissed off and as I write this years later I’m still pissed off, and I can feel the tension that I felt and that my rank and file felt that summer and fall.

If you work for a living you’ve felt that tension.

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