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