flanging 62

I had a brief career as a committeeman.  Harry S. asked me to take over his position.  He resigned in order to prepare for becoming president.  And he wanted me to be a committeeman once he became president.  But I didn’t last long.  You hear a lot of griping as a committeeman.  Everybody brings every little problem to you.  On top of that, I was hearing complaints from people about their union dues not being deducted correctly.  When Trinity first took over a lot of mistakes were made on paychecks.  Nothing malicious on Trinity’s part, just simple bookkeeping errors.  If people were paid too much, you never heard about that.  But if people were paid too little, they howled.  It took about half a year to work all the problems out.  In the meantime, when there was a problem with their wages, they came to me since I was a committeeman.  If there was a problem with their union dues being deducted, they came to me since I was financial secretary.  I burned out quickly.

Every problem had to be written up as a grievance.  This was a legal document that had to be correctly processed, or it could be discarded on a technicality.  Imagine the fury if a person had a legitimate grievance which was thrown out because I didn’t cross a ‘t’.  I had no training at this, I learned on the job.  Once a month a grievance meeting was held with management.  The president and committeemen (there were usually two) were present on the union side, occasionally joined by our regional rep (more about him later).  On the company side were the plant manager, the assistant plant manager, the personnel manager, and whatever foreman was involved.  We presented the written grievances to the management.  They could either agree to take action, reject it and do nothing, or take it under consideration.  There was a time frame for resolving the ones they took under consideration, but I forget what it was.  The point is, they couldn’t postpone a decision on a grievance forever.  If we couldn’t resolve the problem ourselves, it went to arbitration.  This hardly ever happened.  It was expensive and time-consuming and unpredictable.  The company and the union shared the cost of the proceedings fifty-fifty.  The union nominated several arbitrators who had a history of ruling in favor of labor, the company nominated several who they preferred, and the list was whittled down until the two sides could agree on one.  Then whatever the arbitrator decided about the grievance was law, it couldn’t be appealed, it was settled.  This was a long drawn-out expensive process, so it didn’t happen very often.  On some simple grievances the company gave in right away.  These usually involved little money, or would set no bothersome precedent, or was merely an admission they had made a simple mistake and wanted to rectify it.  Most of the time the company rejected the grievance, and if we didn’t think it had a chance to win in arbitration, which was most of the time, we accepted their decision and dropped the grievance.  That really pissed people off, telling them they didn’t have a valid grievance and we had decided to drop it.

But this was the fourth step of the grievance process, so I’ll back up.  I mentioned the first one, the worker presenting his grievance to a committeeman, the committeeman writing it up, and both he and the grievant signing it once the grievant had read it and agreed it correctly stated the problem.  The committeeman then submitted a copy of the grievance to the office.  The second step was a face to face meeting between the grievant, accompanied by a committeeman, and someone from management, usually the plant supervisor.  The third step took place at the monthly union meeting where the committeeman and the union officers would discuss the grievances between ourselves and decide which ones were valid and should be continued.  The grievant, if he wished, could attend these meetings, as any union member could attend any union meeting, and plead his case.  That happened occasionally.  Much more common was someone coming to a union meeting after his grievance had been dropped and yelling at us.  Sometimes they threatened to file unfair labor practices against us.

This never happened.  Because we had a rep from the Southwest Ohio Region of the International Steelworkers who advised us.  There was one regional rep who advised all the locals in Southwest Ohio.  Sometimes he would sit in on our grievance meetings with the company, and sometimes he would sit in at our monthly union meetings.  He helped us decide what to do with the grievances, which ones we should proceed with and which ones we should drop.  Also, these reps would help us negotiate our contract.  We had several different reps while I was financial secretary.  Some of them were good, some of them were lousy.  This one was an alcoholic the company laughed at.  Most of the time the rep wanted to drop all the grievances.  We had to fight with them to proceed on any.

I can’t remember winning any arbitration decisions.  Very few went that far.  The ones that looked like we had a chance to win, the company would fight all the way to arbitration, then settle just before we went to court.  Even so, this cumbersome system worked well.  The threat of losing at arbitration forced the company to take our complaints seriously.  And having a system to air our complaints kept the employees, if not happy and satisfied, at least placid.  I remember my father talking about the union he was in.  If there was some unsettled grievance in the plant the committeeman would call a wildcat strike and shut down production and make everyone go home.  I could not do that.  We had a more rational way to handle grievances.

The last straw came in February of 1988, when I was forced off first shift.  There were too many flanger operators on first and too few on second and third, and I was the least senior operator.  To balance the number out I had to go onto one of the other shifts.  I must have been better at being a committeeman than I thought, if I irritated Geoff L. so badly he wanted to be rid of me.  I chose third shift, since that way I could be at home with my boys in the evening from after they got home from school until they went to bed.  But I lost track of what was going on in the plant.  Also, I still had to attend the grievance meetings with the company, which took place during my usual sleep time.  I held on until August of 1988, when I resigned as committeeman and was replaced by Joe D.  But I continued on as financial secretary until February of 1994.

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