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Ollie B. was the president of our Steelworker local from the time I was hired in 1973 until Trinity Industries bought Brighton in 1987.  The local was established in 1970, so there could have been a union president before him.  But I don’t think so.  I believe he was the only president we had during those first 17 years.  But people were upset over having to take the dollar an hour cut in wages, and Ollie was the easy target.  He was accused of all kinds of fraud in his dealings with Trinity.  I sincerely doubt any of the charges, simply because Trinity was so big they didn’t need to resort to such things.  So he retired right after we signed a new contract with Trinity in April.

This led to a string of different presidents.  Ollie’s vice-president, Tom B., took over.  Tom was Ira B.’s younger brother.  He was a welder.  He had been involved with the union for years as a committeeman.  But he was a part of the old regime, and nobody seemed to like him as president any better than they did Ollie.  Which was too bad, because Tom B. was as honest a person as you’ll ever meet.  He retired around 2010.  But he only lasted a year as president. Tom resigned.

The man he had appointed as his vice-president, Richard D., became president.  Richard worked in shipping.  He was a smart-aleck, and had a reputation for being a backstabber and a closed door wheeler-dealer.  In fact his nickname was Monty Hall – as in Let’s Make A Deal.  So he only lasted a year, also.  Richard was later promoted to foreman.  But he didn’t last very long.  He was fired during one of our slowdowns.  I don’t know what happened to him since.

By then it was time for elections.  Harry S. was elected president.  He had begun working in shipping, then had transferred to inspection.  He served as a committeeman during Ira B.’s and Richard D.’s brief terms.  Harry had a sterling reputation for honesty.  Everybody trusted him.  But he only served one term.  I think he was too nervous for such a stressful position.  Once he was no longer a union officer he, like Richard, was promoted to foreman.  Although he lasted longer, also like Richard he was fired when our work load slacked.  The last I heard Harry was working at Home Depot.

Brent C. was our next president.  He started out at Brighton as a spinning lathe operator. When the company got rid of that outdated piece of equipment, he transferred to the flanging department.  From there he went to inspection.  Brent had replaced Harry S. as committeeman, once Harry became president.  He was much more confrontational than Harry.  He loved a good fight.  After his term ended he was promoted to foreman.  This was the third time for this to happen, so it became a running joke.  Being union president was a stepping stone into the office.  But like the two before him, Brent was a foremen for only several years before being fired.  Foremen drop like flies at our plant.  He went to work at a small machine shop somewhere around Cincinnati.

Joe D. was our next president.  He hired in as a flanger operator, and that was all he ever did.  He had taken over as committeeman when Brent became president.  Like Brent, Joe was confrontational and loved to argue.  That is a prerequisite for being a committeeman. After his term was up he remained on a flanging machine, no foreman position for him. So he broke the mold.  He quit not long after.  He went to work as a prison guard.  He claimed that was a lot less stressful than operating a flanging machine.  Around 2010 he died of a heart attack while playing a round of golf.

Our last union president was Dave C.  He was machinist in our fabrication shop.  He was the longest-serving officer in our local since Ollie B., serving as both committeeman and treasurer before becoming president.  I worked closely with him when I was financial secretary of our local.  More about that in another post.  But Dave was easy-going and highly-skilled as a machinist.  He was president when Enerfab bought us in December of 2002.  They had their own union, Boilermakers.  So our Steelworkers local was shut down and we all became Boilermakers.  Dave transferred to Enerfab’s plant in Cincinnati.  He likes it there, and is still working.

 

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In August of 1985, four months after the strike was settled, I and Jack S, were bumped off first onto third shift.  We had a Sadie Hawkins Day in our contract.  For those not familiar with Li’l Abner, this meant that once a year employees with more seniority (they had worked at Brighton longer) could displace from a preferred shift less senior employees in their department.  Earlier that year second shift foreman Jim D. had retired.  Badeye and Ron H. had both liked working for him, but now that he was gone they both wanted on first shift.  Both Jack and I chose to go onto third shift rather than second.  Working second shift would have been extremely difficult for me, with two children I was raising on my own.  Third shift was difficult enough, but it was doable.  I remained on third shift until October of 1986.  Third shift was discontinued two months before Brighton was sold to Trinity Industries of Dallas, Texas.  So I missed out on all the drama leading up to it. You miss out on a lot when you are on third shift.  But as of January 1, 1987 we were owned by Trinity.  This is their logo.

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This is what they needed us for, to make ends for the tanker rail cars they built.

Trinity railcar

Here is what little I know about how the sale came about.  Alvin Hock Sr. had founded the company in 1915.  When he retired he handed it off to his two sons, Alvin Jr. and Paul.  These two brothers were pretty old when I started in 1973.  Alvin Jr.’s sons were both lawyers and had no interest in running the business.  Paul’s son Jeff was being groomed to take over.  Alvin Sr. had a daughter, also.  Although she had no hand in running the business, she was still an owner.  Alvin Jr. wanted to sell the company, but Paul and his sister wanted to keep it in the family.  But the strike in 1985 must have changed her mind.  She switched to Alvin Jr.’s side, and Brighton was sold to Trinity.

Trinity did not like unions.  Of the nearly 60 companies they owned at the time, three were unionized.  But they were willing to accept our union, current contract and all, under one condition.  We had to take a dollar on the hour pay cut.  Everybody fumed about this.  The pay cut took effect immediately.  We continued working while our local negotiated with their lawyers.  This was another illegality our local engaged in.  Steelworkers union bylaws stated no work without a contract.  We had a contract, the one we had signed in 1985, but it had been changed unilaterally by Trinity by cutting our wages by a dollar an hour.  So we shouldn’t have continued working until we signed a new contract.  But we did.  There was no heart for another strike, especially since we were now dealing with a very large national company instead of a local family business.  So finally in April of 1987 we voted to accept the pay cut.

At first things went well.  Trinity invested a lot in Brighton.  The entire place was cleaned up and painted, every wall and every machine.  Professional painters were brought in on third shift to do this, and the place never looked better.  A new building was erected to house the metal cutting and x-ray equipment.  Trinity had their own construction crew that went around from business to business that they owned doing this.  The building they put up was one they took down from another site.  Many pieces of used equipment were brought in – several flanging machines and several presses and a large overhead crane.  Even a new polishing machine from Switzerland.  More about that in another post.  The entire back yard was paved in concrete.  And they brought in a lot of new business, such as making the ends for their tank cars. So things went well at first.

Part of the deal was that Jeff Hock. would run the business.  By 1990 there was some kind of falling out between Jeff Hock and Trinity.  I have no idea what happened.  But Jeff quit and bought into Enerfab and opened a new head shop at their plant in Cincinnati.  So Enerfab became enemy number one.  There was a big move to drive them out of business.  There was even a slogan – Slay the Dragon.  Luckily, it never happened.

Throughout most of the 90’s things went well.  Trinity didn’t negotiate on the contracts much.  Their lawyers told us what they were willing to give us, it was up to us to accept or reject it. We knew they owned a head plant in Mexico, and believed it was only a matter of time before they shut us down.  We didn’t want to give them an excuse to do it any earlier than they planned.  They told us we were the highest wages they paid.  And it was probably true. They acknowledged we were highly skilled at what we did.  But they kept emphasizing how cheap their labor costs were in Mexico.  So we never turned their contract offers down.

By the late 90’s our situation deteriorated.  Trinity had an adversarial relationship with OSHA.  The union reported some safety violations, but Trinity instructed management not to allow any OSHA inspectors on the property.  When the inspectors arrived, they were turned away at the gate.  OSHA got a court order and eventually gained entry.  They carried out a thorough inspection and levied massive fines, for what and how much I don’t know, I just know the fines were substantial.  Geoff L. said that was the hardest day of his life, having to go around all over the shop with the OSHA inspectors.  He retired not long after. Also, Trinity quit investing in Brighton.  I’m sure they realized it was the union that caused this trouble.  They sucked all the profit out without putting anything back into the company.  The most glaring example of this was the roof.  It was in dire need of repair. Rain poured into the building through gaping holes.  But Trinity wouldn’t fix it.  They quit fixing anything.  Then in December of 2002 Enerfab bought Brighton from Trinity.  And Jeff Hock once again was running the company.  There could not have been a better outcome for us.

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In April of 1985 Local 106 of the United Steelworkers went on strike.  This is the only strike I have ever been involved in.  And it was probably illegal.  Steelworkers by-laws state a strike vote has to be by secret ballot.  But a very vocal minority demanded an open vote be taken.  Why Ollie B., who had been union president ever since I was hired in 1973, went along with it, I don’t know.  But he allowed it.  So the vote was taken by a show of hands. The union hall was so chaotic, the way people were bobbing and weaving during the vote, I’m sure some of the ones wanting a strike were counted two or three times.  I think if the vote had been by secret ballot like it was supposed to be, there never would have been a strike.  But a large loud number were determined to vote the contract down.  And they got their way.

I can’t remember the details of the contract offer.  I’m sure it was reasonable.  Brighton never tried to cut us back, never asked for concessions.  And I can’t recall what was going on at the time to make so many so determined to go on strike.  Most of the ones who had voted to accept the contract went home after the meeting.  While all the ones voting to strike re-adjourned the meeting across the street at Al’s Bar.  I’m sure they stayed and celebrated for hours.  But I had voted for the contract, so I went home.

That first week I drove to Brighton every day to see what was going on.  There was always a dozen or so people manning the picket line.  We had our “ON STRIKE” signs, and walked back and forth in front of the entrance.  We had a good laugh at the office personnel.  They came in dressed in work clothes, like they were going to do our jobs.  There were only two foremen who knew how to operate machines.  Ira B. flanged some heads and Tom H. pressed some heads.  But they were only two people.  The others made a big show of driving forklifts and moving material around the yard, but that was about all they could do.  They couldn’t do our jobs.  To this day management has no idea how we do what we do, they just count on us to do it.

The union hall was open several hours every day.  People with financial hardships could bring their bills in and the union officers would write checks.  It’s been over thirty years and it’s hard to remember, but I believe the local had about twenty thousand dollars in the bank at that time, so that became our strike fund.  Also, once we declared strike the International Steelworkers matched out strike fund, so that meant we had forty thousand dollars available.  But if we went through all that money, then the International would take over our local and run things.  We didn’t want to lose control of our local, so the strike fund was administered wisely.  Money wasn’t doled out to everybody.  People had to prove dire need in order to get aid.  Medicine that needed to be bought, groceries, a mortgage payment, a car loan payment.

I was married at the time and my second wife had a job, so my financial situation was bearable for a while.  And being April, the weather was nice and getting nicer.  I borrowed my neighbor’s tiller and plowed my vegetable garden, then, since he had loaned me his tiller, I plowed his vegetable garden.  But you get the picture.  Right away I was looking for ways to occupy my time.

I walked picket line once.  Naturally, it was a time when no one else wanted to do it.  The night of Easter Sunday, from 11 pm to 7 am.  Mallard J. walked it with me.  Although neither of us did much walking.  We mostly sat in Mallard’s car talking and drinking coffee.  But I didn’t say much.  If you knew Mallard, you’d understand.  He was a talker.  He worked in the pickle room, and did a lot of odd jobs around the shop.  He was as wide as he was tall, but his short little legs could move him around like you wouldn’t believe.  Several times that long night people we worked with came by to check on us.  One guy was pretty drunk, and he pulled a gun out and said he’d back us up if there was any trouble.  But there was no trouble.  The plant was dark.  No one came in.  It was Easter.  Every so often we got out and picked up a picket sign and walked back and forth in front of the entrance just to stretch our legs.  It was a chilly night, but not cold, and it didn’t rain.  Several truck drivers stopped by on Mosteller Road to ask what the strike was about.  I couldn’t tell them.  But  Mallard fed them a line.  I think they regretted stopping once Mallard got started talking. About six-thirty a.m. our replacements arrived.  Mallard stayed to talk with them, but I was ready for bed.

After three weeks I was starting to worry.  So I signed on with a temp agency, and they lined me up to work on building a water park.  The Beach in Mason was under construction, and they needed people to put the water slides together.  That would have been interesting work.  But I never found out.  The day I was supposed to start I was called in to the union hall to vote on a new contract proposal.  This time the mood was different.  The ones who had voted for the contract last time were angry.  They had lost three weeks wages.  While the ones who had voted to strike were satisfied.  We had gone on strike. They were ready to go back to work now.  I don’t think the new contract offer was more than a comma here, a comma there, maybe a nickle more than the original offer.  But it was voted in by a large margin.

When we went back to work there wasn’t a lot of friction with management.  Everyone made a big effort to get along.  But the owners, the Hocks, were upset.  They had offered us a serious contract with a good wage increase, and we had voted it down.  I don’t think they got over that.  A year and a half later they sold Brighton to Trinity Industries of Dallas, Texas.

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Another press operator at the time was Harold P.  He was younger than Roy C. or Jim W.  He wasn’t as concerned with quality as either of them.  He adhered to Badeye’s philosophy: don’t try to make the heads perfect, just make them good enough and set them out.  Another difference was Harold didn’t care much about helping out new employees.  In fact he had a devilish streak.  One time we had a new employee on a forklift loading machines.  Harold was stack-pressing three plates.  In order to do three plates at once, they had to be lined up evenly.  The way forklift operators do this is by nudging the plates against a support column.  But Harold told this new guy that the plates were so big and heavy he needed to get a running start and slam them into the post.  Which is what the new employee did.  So when the guy slammed the circles of steel into the post he flew up over the steering wheel and nearly came off the forklift.  Newbies have always been treated terribly, but that was one of the worst instances.

Away from work, Harold was a horse race enthusiast.  He claimed to have won small fortunes betting on the horses.  But then he made a lot of claims.  I wasn’t there, but I heard he was in Tommy’s one night and struck up a conversation with a vet who had fought in Viet Nam.  Harold told the guy so many war stories the vet bought him drinks all night.  The only problem was that Harold not only had never served in Viet Nam, but was never even in the military.  He had to stay out of that bar for a while because he heard the vet had learned he had been lied to and was looking for him

Harold lived in Mason, as I did, and we rode to work together for years.  He went along when I drove my sleepy five-year old son to the babysitter at 6 in the morning.  She was a lifesaver.  She was the wife of the best man at my wedding.  She had three sons and watched several other young children, so my son had plenty of children to play with and was watched by someone I trusted.  My son would be sitting up in the back seat in a daze when Harold got in the car.  He tried to talk to him, but my son wasn’t much of a conversationalist at 6 a.m.  But Harold didn’t seem to mind the detour to my babysitter’s house on the way to work.

Harold P. was a Mason (as in Masonic Lodge, not the city we both lived in).  The Hocks had all been Masons, so most people working in the office, such as Elmer D. and Charlie F. and Joe H. also joined.  And some workers in the shop, such as Harold and Charlie D. and Badeye, joined, too.  I don’t know why.  Maybe the workers in the shop were trying to impress their betters.  If that was the case, it didn’t work.  Charlie D. quit, Badeye was fired, and Harold retired while still running a press.  Maybe they genuinely enjoyed being Masons.  For Harold it might have been a status issue.  He used to tell me he went to the same restaurants and nightclubs Jeff Hock frequented.  But then Harold also went to the same bar I frequented while I was single, the Hoot Owl Saloon, which definitely was low-class.  But the bar he frequented the most was Tommy’s.

A quick side note about Tommy’s.  This bar is close to Brighton and so has been frequented by many employees over the years.  The man who established the business passed it on to his son, also named Tommy.  The younger Tommy was a hot head, but everyone seemed to like him, including Harold.  He told me he and Tommy went to the horse tracks and bet on the races together a lot.  Until one evening when his ex-wife came into the bar with her boyfriend.  She knew this would upset Tommy.  Apparently the guy was all over her, right in front of Tommy.  He flew into a rage and threw the two of them out of his bar.  Then he grabbed the gun he kept under the bar and ran out after them.  They were already in their car when Tommy came up to the driver side and leaned in through the open window and shot the guy’s genitals off.  Blew them completely away.  Tommy went to jail for two years, and since he had committed a felony he could no longer own a bar.  He sold the place and moved away.  Whoever bought it renamed it ‘Show Place and Win’.  Lately I noticed the name has been shortened to ‘The Show’.  But that poor guy Tommy shot suffered a lot worse.  You really shouldn’t needlessly antagonize any ex-spouses.

Harold always talked about retiring young.  So when Enerfab bought Brighton from Trinity in 2002, Harold declined to be re-hired.  At the time he was 55, so he did get out early.  He moved to Kentucky to some property he owned on Cumberland Lake.  I haven’t seen him since he left Brighton.  I hope he is doing well.