Michigan: Kinda Screwed up, but…

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.


  1. Kris said,

    March 11, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

    Why did Mom and Dad let you work there? I thought it was enough cruelty to make you attend school in the near-arctic. But lessons were learned I see. The union debate is not so black and white. There are abuses on both sides but, once again, the pain will be felt by people who are already badly hurting (and that wouldn’t be the governor of WI and his ilk).

  2. Amanda said,

    March 12, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

    Hey I found your blog because I remembered a cartoon I posted on my facebook last year after mid-term election results came out. “Dear Republicans…” it began, welcoming the republicans to office. Finishing with a PS You have two weeks.

    I had to reshare it today. I was appalled when I first heard word of this crazy bill. Then I realized the citations in many of the articles seemed to be from another media source, one I had never heard of and was obviously very liberal. So Friday, I sat down with a cup of coffee and read the whole bill. By the end I was convinced that it was a viable document that did not give the all the powers that the media is hooting about.

    Just wanted to thank you for the political cartoon and for your final statement here.

  3. John Auchter said,

    March 13, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    Why did I work there? Money. It was nice being able to pay for most of my senior year without additional loans (and to be able to purchase an extra pair of woolen socks for another Michigan Tech winter). Plus I was getting a little tired of working at Halo Burger.

  4. John Auchter said,

    March 13, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    Thanks, Amanda! That’s the crazy thing, isn’t it? Never has there been a time when information is so readily available. And yet, never has there been a time when we seem less inclined to use it. It’s easier (apparently) just to pick a side.

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