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The plant supervisor Geoff L. used some of the employee relations money from Trinity to put up a basketball hoop in the parking lot just outside the break room.  And the union bought several balls.  The concept was sound.  Basketball is exercise, and exercise is good, right?  We’d wolf down our lunches, then go out and play until the whistle blew.  Most of us were playing in heavy steel-toe shoes, although some of the younger guys would change into sneakers.  But us in the clodhoppers could only hop around instead of jump, and bump into each other.  A lot.  When we played there were no fouls.  Ron H. wouldn’t even hardly dribble.  He’d just knock everyone aside as he bulled his way to the basket.  Some of the younger guys were good, but they couldn’t make a basket if they were laid out flat on their backs.  As you can tell, the games got pretty rough.

But it was fun, and no one got seriously injured.  Until the assistant plant manager Dale B. twisted his ankle.  I didn’t see it, it happened during second shift.  He and several others from the office had gone out after work for happy hour.  Then they came back to the shop to play some basketball.  The sprain must have been serious, because Dale was on crutches for weeks.  But he couldn’t make any kind of medical claim for it because he was intoxicated at the time, and drunkenness is not allowed on company property.  So I don’t know how he resolved the insurance issue.  But that was the first strike against the basketball hoop.

The second came from Cheryl K., our new personnel manager who had replaced Bob E.  She watched us play basketball one day.  Now females can be squeamish at the sight of blood, but she claimed she had never seen anything like it in her life.  Grown men bludgeoning each other fighting over a basketball.  She said it was much too dangerous.  So she had the hoop taken down, without even a third strike.

But we engaged in other sports at work.  Snowball fights were fun.  Heads and steel plates would be brought inside covered in snow, and soon the air would be filled with snowballs.  Remember the newbie I tricked by turning off the breaker for the overhead crane?  He got me back.  I was operating the polisher at that point.  More about that later.

But at one point during the process I would stop the machine and get down inside the head (we polish the insides of some huge heads) and use a patent wheel to grind out the deeper pits, then run the machine some more to blend these places in.  Anyway, when I do this I first locate all the pits and mark them with a yellow circle, because once I begin grinding them out the head fills up with dust and they are hard to see.  So one day I am down on my knees in a big head marking pits when I happen to look up and find him leaning over the edge of the head making little yellow circles everywhere.  I yell at him and run him off, then get back to work, only to look up and find him at it again.  I spent a long time on that head since I couldn’t tell the difference between my yellow circles marking pits and his yellow circles which didn’t mark anything.  But I got him back.  It was winter, and there was several inches of snow on the ground.  After work I caught him walking out to his car with his arms full of dirty work clothes he was taking home to launder.  So I scooped up two big handfuls of snow and ran up behind him.  He heard me coming, but there was nothing he could do with his arms full.  I plastered him in the face with the snow, then kept running.

Another fun game was tape ball football.  This took place on second shift, after the office people had left.  Since I was on first at the time, I never engaged in it, I only heard the tales.  A huge ball of duct tape was fashioned, that the players threw to each other.  The receivers ran elaborate routes, around heads and between machines and across stacks of steel circles.  Until someone nearly knocked himself out.  He was running a streak pattern down an aisle and was looking back at the quarterback and ran smack into a forklift.  He was hurt pretty bad.  So that took some of the fun out of it.  Although when snow wasn’t available people continued to throw tape balls at each other.  The supervisor who took over after Geoff L. retired, Mark L., got so upset over finding these huge tape balls all over the shop he called a meeting about it.  He showed us one he had found, and it did look wicked.  He told us they were too dangerous to be throwing at each other, and to emphasize his point he hurled it at a break room window.  It barely missed Felan R.’s head and shattered the window behind me, covering me in glass.  Then Mark stormed out.  He made his point, and the tape ball throwing stopped.  Shortly after, all the windows in the break room and locker room were replaced with glass block, impervious to tape balls thrown during meetings by enraged supervisors.

One pastime I never took part in was nail gun tag.  Shipping has a nail gun they use to build skids and crates.  I don’t know if anyone was ever stupid enough to shoot nails at someone else with this gun.  But one day after Geoff L. saw the floor covered in nails, some far from shipping, he called a meeting and announced anyone caught misusing the nail gun would be fired.  We’ve had meetings about some weird stuff.

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Trinity made many improvements when they first took over.  One of those was earmarking money for improving employee relations.  Such as a Christmas dinner.  This was something Brighton had quit doing.  Not that they ever had a Christmas dinner for the shop.  They did have an annual company picnic in the summer.  But this was discontinued before I ever started working there.  There was an open beer tap, people got drunk and rowdy, somebody’s wife was insulted, and there were fights.  So Brighton quit having the picnics.  They did give out a ham at Christmas.  Something else they did was give a gift to each employee as he reached a five-year mark in his employment.  Both Trinity and Enerfab have continued doing this.  You get a catalog of gifts to choose from.  At first the gifts were pretty lame.  My first gift was a cheap plastic clock to hang on the wall.  But at each five-year mark the quality of the gifts to choose from improved.  The last gift I’ll ever receive, for my 40-year anniversary, was a Jeep hybrid bicycle, an excellent ride.

Since the Christmas dinner Trinity initiated was held at the shop, no alcohol was served. The shop was cleaned spotless, tables and chairs were set up in the aisles, a caterer brought in a feast, and the shop and office employees ate together.  There were drawings for gifts.  And we still got our hams.  It became an annual event.  The first Christmas dinner in 1987 was the dinner the personnel manager Bob E. was snubbed at.  He had just retired, to be replaced by his secretary Cheryl K.  She was a vast improvement.  Cheryl actually helped people, instead of doing all she could to hinder us, like Bob.  Anyway, when Bob E. showed up at the Christmas dinner he was given food, but nobody, from the shop or the office, would talk to him.  I’ve never seen the rotten sob since.

Trinity also had a picnic, once.  Since it was held at a private park, alcohol was served. Unlike the Christmas party, families were invited.  Food was catered, we played horseshoes and softball.   I got in a good shot at Dale B.  He was the office person I usually dealt with while I was a committeeman.  One time he came to get me and, without saying why, told me to follow him.  He led me to the furnace room, where the controls for operating two heat-treating furnaces are.  Dale opened the door and presented me the sight of the furnace operator, Mark K., sound asleep in a chair.  Dale rudely awakened him and told him to go to the office to await discipline.  Mark was mentally handicapped, so he meekly did as Dale bid.  Geoff L. seriously hated Mark, and was anxious to be rid of him.  But Mark was Joe K.’s, the maintenance supervisor, younger brother.  So on the way to the office with Dale to deal with Mark K., I told someone to get word to Joe that his brother was in trouble.  In the office Geoff L. joined Dale and me and Mark, who was in tears by now.  Dale told Mark I had witnessed him sleeping on the job, which I had.  I was told later I should have woke Mark up myself and told Dale I’d seen nothing amiss.  But that just didn’t seem the right thing to do.  Anyway, Geoff was on the verge of firing Mark when Joe burst in.  He got Geoff to let him talk to Mark himself.  He chewed Mark out, then Geoff sent him home for the day.  But that was the extent of his discipline.  Joe K. and the union argued that Mark was on strong medication that made him drowsy, and the furnace room was warm, an easy place to nod off, and stressed that Mark was handicapped.  So Mark kept his job.  But Geoff L. had really wanted to be rid of Mark K., so I probably got the blame for Mark still being employed, and this escapade was probably what got me sent to third shift not long after.  Anyway, that’s one of the reasons there was bad blood between me and Dale.  So at the picnic I was at bat in the softball game and Dale was playing short stop.  I lined a bullet directly at him.  He got his glove up just in time to save his face, the ball was hurtling right at it.  It made a pop in his glove you could hear all over the park.  I was out, but boy the look on Dale’s face was worth it.  Everybody knew we had trouble between us, so they naturally thought I had been trying to hurt Dale.  But I’m not that good at softball.  I could not have aimed a shot like that to save my life.  It just happened.  But if people wanted to think I was that good and I was that mean, I was happy to go along with it.  Especially if Dale thought I had done it on purpose.  That was the last company picnic Trinity had.  Although the Christmas parties continued.

When Enerfab took us over in December of 2002 they continued the Christmas party, and for several years a company picnic.  Enerfab held theirs at Coney Island.  Besides the catered meal we had the run of the park, including huge Sunlight Pool.

sunlight-pool

I and my wife took her granddaughter one year when she was 3.  But they also had an open beer tap.  Which inevitably meant drunken fights.  So the picnic was discontinued.  But Enerfab has done so much more for their employees.  Which I’ll get to later.

 

 

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Retirement is another important objective of our contracts.  Brighton’s contribution to a pension plan was negotiated in every contract.  With each contract their contribution rate went up a little.  Trinity did not do pensions.  But they maintained ours for us, without contributing anything toward it.  What Trinity did offer was a 401K plan.  Which I maxed out every year.  I’m a big believer in saving for retirement any way you can.  When the dot com crash of 2000 happened, a lot of people cashed in their mutual funds.  They couldn’t stand losing so much money.  What they didn’t understand was that it isn’t real money until you spend it.  As long as it’s in the bank it’s only numbers.  But a lot of guys couldn’t leave it alone, anyway.  The saw the money accumulate, then eventually got into it for medical expenses, home mortgages, educational expenses, anything they were allowed to spend it on.  They believed better to spend it now than to let it disappear.  I held onto mine.  In fact, I had mine in high risk investments, I wanted the biggest return I could get.  Then the real estate crash of 2008 winnowed out a lot more people.  Not me.  I kept mine in high risk.  And it’s paid off.  The market always comes back.  The day it doesn’t is the day the country goes belly-up.  If that happens, your money is going to disappear anyway.  So bet on the market.  It’s like betting on your country.  Now that I am near retiring, I’ve moved my funds into less risky investments.  So that’s another nice little bundle waiting for me to retire.

A quick side note.  My mother had an uncanny knack with the market.  My parents moved up to Mason to be close to me and my sister so we could help them.  My mother was sickly and my dad needed help taking care of her.  They moved into an apartment, and hated it.  After their year’s lease ended, they cashed out a lot of stock to pay cash for a condo.  They loved the condo.  But my dad kept harping on how high the stock they had sold was going.  For a little while.  Then the crash of 2000 happened, and he shut up about it.  They cashed in their stock at near the highest price they could get for it.  Then my father died in 2007.  My mother cashed in everything.  She wanted everything liquid, where she could easily keep track of it and get to it whenever she wanted.  This was several months before the crash of 2008, so once again she cashed out at the top of the game.  She had a good track record with their stocks.

When Enerfab bought us from Trinity, we joined the Boilermakers union.  And the Boilermakers have their own pension, run by the union, that Enerfab contributes to.  After 2008 this pension got into trouble.  It lost a lot of value and, due to the pension reforms enacted after the crash, the amount of money we needed to contribute to it to keep the fund solvent skyrocketed.  But before that happened, we had to vote whether to accept the new rates, or close the fund and pay out what was in there.  There was a lot of screaming and hollering and blood-curdling threats, and the vote was close.  But we voted to maintain the pension, whatever it took.  The way the market has come back, that’s proven to have been a wise choice.  Besides, if we had accepted a pay-out, it wouldn’t have been that much, and we probably would have spent the money on other things.   Now that pension has grown nicely, too, and is awaiting my coming of age.

And, of course, there’s Social Security.  But then Social Security is going bust, right?  I have heard that ever since I started working, in 1970.  For five decades I’ve heard that you can’t count on Social Security, it’s going bankrupt, there won’t be any money in it by the time I retire.  Guess what?  I’m retiring, and it’s still here and it’s going to pay out just fine.  Of course it’s in trouble.  What financial institution hasn’t been in trouble at some time?  It needs to be tweaked.  Either taxes raised, or benefits cut, or most likely some combination of the two.  But it isn’t going under.  Social Security is backed by the Federal government.  And the day Social Security crashes will be the day the entire government crashes.  And if that ever happens, then nobody’s money will be any good.  You think they are having inflation in Venezuela right now?  If the day comes when the American government can’t pay its bills, then Western civilization will crash.

I’ve always been a big believer in saving for a rainy day.  Only now it doesn’t look so rainy.

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Attendance policy is not covered by the contract.  Everyone is expected to come to work every day.  So this is set by company rules.  Which changes all the time.  At present, we are allowed to miss 8 days a year.  We still have to have a good reason.  We can’t just call in and say we’re staying home.  It has to be a sickness, a doctor’s appointment, yada yada.  Some reason.  As long as you keep it under 8 days, nothing much is said.  Then comes the discipline.  If you miss a 9th day in one year, you will be given a written warning.  After that comes 3 days off.  This has never made any sense to me.  It seems more of a reward if the guy doesn’t want to come into work anyway.  Then comes 6 months probation.  Which means if you miss a day during your probation you can be fired.  ‘Can’ needs to be stressed.  These are company rules, so they can be arbitrary.  If you are a good worker other than you miss work a lot, and the company may not be ready to give up on you, they can give you another chance.  It’s totally up to the company.

You can apply for a leave of absence.  Some of the reasons for a leave is spelled out in the contract.  Such as bereavement leave.  A death in the immediate family is usually 3 paid days off, with 1 paid day off to attend the funeral of a more distant relative.  Yet I have never heard of the company denying a request for more time off (unpaid) for the death of a spouse or child or parent.  These aren’t heartless people, and if more time off is required for mourning, no problem.

Military leaves are always awarded.  If you are in the National Guard or the Reserves and are called up, the company won’t contest it.  You will still have a job whenever you return.

Jury duty also is covered.  The company even makes up the difference between jury duty pay, which is paltry, and whatever you would have earned for working an 8-hour day.  And if you are called in for jury duty only to find they have settled out of court, you don’t go in to work.  You have earned a paid day off by doing your patriotic duty and not trying to shirk it, so enjoy.

You can also apply for a medical leave.  Say you need surgery.  Not only will they allow you to take off for this, because they want healthy employees, but the company carries an insurance policy that will pay you nearly half your wages while you are off.  But now you are dealing with an insurance agency and not the company, so they have strict schedules of how much time it takes for a person to recover from certain surgeries.  Still, you can’t return to work until your doctor clears you.  But I’ve been off twice for surgeries, and there have been no problems.  I was paid promptly while I was off, and I returned to work as soon as the doctor allowed.  The insurance company and Brighton just doesn’t want you turning a medical leave that should take 3 months to recover from turning into a 6-month semi-paid vacation.

Family leaves are a recent development.  They are supposed to be for the purpose of taking care of an ailing family member.  They are one of those things that sounds splendid on paper, but are horrible in practice.  I’ve seen family leaves terribly abused. And now there is talk of forcing companies to pay for family leave.  That doesn’t seem fair at all.  I and my wife moved in with my ailing parents to help take care of them.  After my father died, my wife quit her job to stay home and take care of my mother.  It was our decision.  Neither of us would have expected her company, which was Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, an insurance company of all things, to pay her for doing this.  Paid family leave seems excessive to me.  And the requirements for taking family leave needs to be more restrictive, to prevent the law from being abused.  Family leave could be a good thing, if not abused and overused and too much of financial liability for companies.  But that is just my opinion and, like other parts of my body, everyone has one.

This seems to be going on and on.  Maybe I’ll finish up with contracts in the next post.