Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, March 5, 2011
Back in my college days, I spent a summer as a supervisor in a General Motors foundry in Saginaw. I was a 20 year-old kid supervising adults at least 12 years older than me. (Because of seniority rules, anybody younger than that was laid off.) I didn’t know what I was doing, which was okay because I didn’t actually have anything to do. Well, not anything beyond filling out time cards and searching for bins of parts hidden by the previous shift somewhere in the massive plant. And then there were the cat and mouse games like the one with the raging alcoholic who also happened to be a forklift driver. I felt obligated to find him after the first break to make sure he wasn’t drunk. Generally he was, and I would have to talk him into going to visit the medical office because he was “sick.” (I couldn’t actually demand that he go — even though he was a really nice guy and an amiable drunk; ordering him to go would reflexively trigger the union vs. management dance, and that would keep him on the forklift for the whole night.) So you might assume from that experience that I am anti-union….
One day after getting the besotted forklift driver to sleep it off in the med office, I was sharing my situation with a fellow supervisor — a real one, not an intern. We were up in the supervisor offices high off the plant floor. I hadn’t met many alcoholics and I was not quite sure what to do to help, but I was aware of programs and inquired how I might be able to make this happen. The unhappy with his life supervisor glanced up from his porno magazine (not the girly kind, the horrific gynecological kind), surveyed the room to make sure only the right color ears would hear what he as going to say (re: White), and offered, “F him. Good thing they have a union. If they didn’t, I’d fire all them fing n*****s.” So you might assume from that experience that I am pro-union….
Like most things where humans are involved, management/labor situations are more nuanced than sound bites would lead you to believe. Throw government and taxpayers into that mix, and it gets even more involved. I think it’s better to try to understand the full story and, you know, not assume.