flanging 46

I’ll start this post with a brief recap of the history of labor relations at Brighton.  In 1968 the United Steelworkers of America attempted to organize at Brighton.  The company staged a successful campaign to dissuade the employees from voting to unionize, convincing a majority that it would be bad for the company and that many would lose their jobs.  Another vote was taken a year later, and this time the Steelworkers union was voted in.  The company refused to recognize it, and a strike ensued for three months.  Finally, in February of 1970, the union was recognized by Brighton and a three-year contract was signed.  The world did not end for Brighton, as the company had predicted.  In February of 1973 negotiations for a new contract failed, and there was another strike.  This one lasted two months.  In April of 1973 another three-year contract was signed.  I was hired in July of 1973.  So despite Brighton’s claim of the harmful effects of unionization, business was good.

That brings us to the next contract, in April of 1976, the first contract I was involved with.  The months leading up to this was a very tense time.  Everyone anticipated a strike, since that is what happened with the previous two contracts, the only contracts ever negotiated.  Brighton was averse to negotiating with the union.  So bad things happened, the worst on second shift.  Flanging machines used to have locking keys.  Without the key the machine couldn’t be turned on.  After lunch break one night the key in the largest flanging machine at that time, number 2, disappeared.  The machine had been running until then.  After break the machine was locked off and the key was gone.  The second shift foreman Jim D. was frantic.  Everyone was called into the break room and he demanded the key back.  Of course, no one knew anything about it.  So Jim called the supervisors to let them know what was going on.  Elmer D. and Charlie F. came in to demand the key.  Charlie even went so far to turn out the lights in the break room and say whoever had the key to toss it onto the floor in the dark and no blame would be affixed to anyone, he only wanted the key back.  When he turned the lights back on there was no key on the floor.  He was so angry he sent the whole second shift home for rest of the night.

I never learned who took the key.  I was a relatively new employee, so maybe the older employees were afraid I’d rat the perpetrator out and didn’t trust me with that information.  Later it was suggested that whoever took the key was smart enough not to keep it, that he had tossed it into the garbage or a trash dumpster or down into the pit of a machine.  But the investigation was far from over.  Since it was a key to a flanging machine, flanger operators were the prime suspects, although anyone who saw a key dangling out of number 2 could have figured out its purpose and locked the machine out and taken it.  But Charlie F. was pissed.  He claimed that since a government job was being run on number 2 at the time, tank ends for tanks going into a nuclear reactor, that a felony had been committed and he would call in the FBI.  Apparently he couldn’t get the FBI interested.  But he did call in the Sharonville police.  A detective came to the shop and interviewed everyone, with special interest in the flanger operators.  Paul S. ran number 2 flanging machine at that time on second shift, but nobody suspected him.  He was a high-strung nervous guy who got shook over every little thing.  He was also the guy who in the middle of a flanging operator meeting said we should not run the machines so much because they were getting tired.  The machines, not the operators. So he was pretty much off the hook.  I could honestly say to the detective that I knew nothing about it, that I had never operated number 2, that I had never even turned number 2 on or off.  No one squealed, and the key was never recovered.  Charlie F. had the key locks in all he flanging machines removed so such a thing could never happen again.

Despite this, the company was determined there not be a strike this time.  In late 1972 and early 1973 business had dropped off as customers, anticipating a strike and not wanting jobs they desperately needed delayed because of a work stoppage, stopped putting in orders.  After the strike was settled that April it had taken months for business to pick back up.  The company was determined this didn’t happen again.  They were eager to come to terms with the union to show their customers a strike wouldn’t ensue every time a union contract came up for renewal.  Negotiations went on late into the night of the final day.  The Steelworkers have a law that no work can take place without a contract, even if negotiations are still going on.  We had a third shift at the time, so they were poised to quit work and walk out at midnight.  But Charlie F. and the head of sales, Joe H., came in just before 11 pm, when second shift was preparing to go home and third shift was arriving, to tell everybody the contract had been finalized and was being signed and printed for us to read and vote on.  So third shift quit working at midnight like it was supposed to, but no one set up a picket line outside the property on Mosteller Road.  The ‘on strike’ signs that had already been made remained in the trunks of the cars of third shift workers.  All employees were contacted and told to come to the union hall the next morning, where the negotiating committee read the agreement and a vote was taken.  There was no strike in 1976.

The next contract, in April of 1979, was also settled without a strike.  This was the best contract we ever got.  The economy was booming.  Brighton couldn’t find any qualified employees, General Electric of Evendale, right down the road from us, was soaking up all the available talent.  And they could pay more and offer better benefits than Brighton ever could.  Still, we got pay raises of 10 per cent, then 9 per cent, then 8 per cent, for the next three years.  We’ve never come close to such riches since.  By the time the next contract came up in April of 1982, I was on first shift.

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