flanging 55

In April of 1982 we signed another contract.  I don’t recall the details, but I know it wasn’t as lucrative as the contract three years earlier.  And there was no strike.  Shortly after, the bottom fell out.  The recession of the early 80’s was the worst the country had experienced since the Great Depression.  Gilbert F. called it the Reagan Recession.  Not as bad as the Great Recession of 2008, but second only to that.  The economic slowdown hit Brighton late that summer.  There were the usual layoffs.  I had worked there for nine years by then, but I was still on the cusp.  This was the closest I ever came to being laid off.  Third shift was eliminated, once again.  Second shift was reduced to a skeleton crew.  But that still wasn’t enough.

Geoff L. did what no plant supervisor had ever done before or since.  He cut the work week down to 32 hours.  The just-signed contract had to be re-opened, since it stated we were to work a minimum of 40 hours a week.  But the union went along with the company on this, since the intent was to save employees’ jobs.  Some of the older employees didn’t like this.  Most of them had been laid-off years earlier, so why should they suffer now to keep younger men from being laid-off?  A valid argument.  Only this time the recession was worse.  Geoff was trying to keep the doors open.  At some point it becomes more profitable for a company to close than to pay a handful of employees to do much of nothing.

In August the company went to a 32 and a half hour week.  Which meant we worked 6 and a half hours a day for 5 days a week.  The union had requested four 8-hour days, which would have been better for the employees.  But Geoff wanted to keep shipping open 5 days a week, so that when we got work it could be handled on our normal basis.  The union had countered that he could put shipping on this schedule, and the rest of the shop on a 4-day week.  But Geoff wanted everyone on the same schedule, and the union wasn’t in a position to demand anything.  If Geoff didn’t get what he wanted, it definitely meant more lay-offs and possibly meant closing the shop until business picked up.  So, despite the inevitable griping, the union agreed.

I was the least senior flanger operator still employed.  Which meant if one more flanger operator needed to be let go, it would be me.  Which also meant I was the one who was assigned all the odd jobs, to keep me busy.  I did a lot of cleaning and painting and grinding at this time.  The people still operating machines really slowed down.  They tried to stretch jobs out in order to stay busy.  Those 6 and a half hour days seemed longer than 8 hours.

My workday during this time was 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., which included an unpaid half-hour lunch break.  Which gave me a lot of free time.  You’d think I could find a part-time job to compensate.  But this was during a bad recession, and even low-wage part-time jobs were hard to come by.  Besides, I had gotten divorced a month earlier, and I had a 9-year old son living with me.  His 4-year old brother started out with his mother, but joined us not long after turning 5.  So I couldn’t leave him home alone any more than I had to, and I certainly couldn’t afford to pay any more in child care.  I did find a job I could do from home.  This was the 80’s, remember, and working from home was unheard of.  But I did cold-calling for an insurance agent, finding people receptive to having the agent call them to discuss insurance.  Yes, I was one of those annoying people who called at dinnertime to try to sell you something.  But I did okay at it.  It was a relatively new practice then, and I had a human voice, not a robo-caller, and I didn’t have a foreign accent.  I picked up lists of phone numbers from his office and returned them as soon as I could.  I was paid for the number of people willing to be contacted.  It wasn’t much money, but it helped, it kept me busy, and it was something I could do while staying at home with my son.

Work picked up a little bit in October, and we went back to a 40-hour week.  I happily quit my job for the insurance agent.  But we still weren’t out of the woods.  We got 3 unpaid days off at Thanksgiving and Christmas which, combined with the two paid holidays, gave us a week off for each holiday.  In February of 1983 our work-load finally picked up, and I was no longer doing so many odd jobs.  But it wasn’t until the following summer that Brighton had enough work to start calling people back from lay-off.

That was the worst slow-down I ever went through at Brighton.  Geoff L. swore he would never do that again.  Apparently Brighton lost so much money it would have been better for the company to have closed.  But by keeping the doors open and keeping their work force intact, the moment things did pick up Brighton was able to get the jump on competitors.  So going to a 32-hour week probably helped both the company and the employees.

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