I’ve always sort of thought it was because our plant didn’t have a union; worker solidarity was something that happened in other countries, or at least in other states – states which weren’t Right-to-Work states. Which may well have been have other countries, for all some could have imagined, or thought.
But even without a union, most of us thought that hourly workers stuck together, that we had each others’ backs in a crunch. This was a romantic notion, and rarely, if ever, put to the test.
But one hot night in the mid-1980s, that romantic myth crashed around our ears – or at least the ears of those who were paying attention.
Most of us have worked in places where, at the end of a long week, employees might get together at a local diner and celebrate surviving yet another week of drudge work. In the 1970s, some of us from Campbell Soup used to go to the International House of Pancakes, when it was located on North College, a place where burritos now fly through the air where pancake batter once sizzled on the grill.
Different jobs, different friends, different traditions. Still, it has always been something to look forward to.
This night, though, was different.
The plant I worked in was not very well insulated -it could be hot as hell (over 100 degrees!) in the summer, and cold as an Arctic tomb in the winter. In later years, after the roof began having serious problems, rain would pour in during thunderstorms, and many is the worker who might find themselves standing in water as they shuffled tortillas.
When the weekends came, you were ready, especially since we were working ten hours a day, four days a week. The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.
You just wanted to go out and relax.
On this night, though, the Perfect Storm hit.
Not a pancake house, but a smaller establishment, whose main claim to fame seemed to be waffles (though I honestly can’t recall anyone I know actually ordering waffles), it could barely handle the crowd from the plant that night.
That hot, miserable night.
And to make matters worse, they were short-staffed. The new American mantra for success being to get the most work of the fewer people, well, if just one or two are missing from the chain of command on a night like this, everything just gets slower, as people are doubling up on their responsibilities. You can’t, after all, just shut the doors and say, “Come back tomorrow night, please. Oh, and here’s a coupon for ten percent off your next meal!”
No, you muddle through, as best – and as quickly – as you can.
Even someone who has only worked in a factory for a short time knows what it is like when you are short-handed; the boss still expects the work to be done. Excuses are for people who don’t have a job any more.
And in the workplace, especially one where there is mutual respect, folks chip in and get the work done. The supervisor will climb off their horse and take a place on the line, shuffling tortillas, pulling chicken guts, flipping burgers, stacking boxes, unloading trucks.
The good ones, that is. The lousy ones will just tell you to work faster.
If the events of that night were taking place in a movie, and the diner workers were swamped with work, and food orders were taking 30 minutes or more to be filled, one or two customers, even though they had already put in 40+ grueling hours at work, would step behind the counter and volunteer their services.
What had once looked grim, would now look hopeful, jokes would be told, someone would put a quarter in the jukebox, and there would be dancing in the parking lot while order was being restored.
And then, a grateful waitress would look into the eyes of the handsome young man who had come forward and begun flipping burgers, and the audience would know that soon, love would be in the air.
Life not being a movie, though, none of that happened.
Derisive remarks, each one louder than the other, made their way through the air. Grown men and women, who had been in this very same situation themselves on more than one occasion, began acting with the impatience of children, and not very nice ones at that.
Customers – who I am sure were perfectly friendly and decent on any other trip they had made here – loudly made fun of the staff, hurling insulting questions though the night. When they left, some bragged that they had left no tip at all.
I wish I could say that I left a larger tip than usual, but I just don’t remember, and I’m too damned old to lie just to make myself sound enlightened, or cool.
I went back to there to eat on occasion, but never on a weekly trip with fellow employees, who I am sure behaved as nice as pie when things ran smoothly, and promptly forgot their churlish behavior soon after they left the diner.
I’ll bet the employees working that night didn’t forget it for a long time, though.
If you’re gonna buy something, shouldn’t you have a clear idea of what you are gonna do with it?
I’m just old fashioned enough to think that if an entity buys a piece of land, they should know what they plan to do with it before they sign the check to buy it.
Quote of the Day
Why do you throw away five-hundred dollars of our money on a test for that big ape? Didn’t you see those big ears when you talked to him? And those big feet and hands, not to mention that ugly face of his? – Jack Warner to Mervyn LeRoy, after he had given Clark Gable a screen test