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All of the Brighton employees originally hired by Enerfab in December of 2002 joined the Boilermaker Union at the completion of our probation in March of 2003.  We all attended the meeting of Local 106 to be sworn in.  This was held in a large empty lodge near the Spring Grove plant.  We were practically the only ones there, except for the officers, and our joining the union was the leading business of the day.  I have only been back to that lodge 2 times, to vote on contracts.  The last 2 contracts were voted on in the break room at our Sharonville plant.  The officer elections were held there, also.

That seem strange to me, to hold union business on company property.  I was an officer in our Steelworker local for 7 years, and we would never consider doing this.  There could easily be a bug, or even a camera, hidden in our break room.  But I don’t believe the company cared enough to do this.  They got along with the union too well.  I have not heard of a grievance being filed by the union against the company during the 13 years I worked there.  And there was never mention of a strike.  The union will negotiate a new contract with the company long after the old one has expired.  We would work for months under the old contract.  But when the new one was voted in, the company always backpaid the employees what is owed them under the new contract.  The union officers stressed that no one wins with a strike.  I’m just not used to the company and union getting along so well together.

Having said that, I need to stress that the Boilermakers Union has treated me very well.  The union pension, which the company has contributed to and has been maintained by the union, is very generous.  This in a time when nearly all pensions have been discontinued.  Now that I am retired I am enjoying the fruits of this.  Thank you Boilermakers.

The union committeeman at our shop in Sharonville was Joe L.  Later on Clint M. took over the position.  Just before I retired at the end of 2016 Joe took job over.  They all were capable, but perhaps Joe L. had the worst of it.  There were a lot of tensions between the Brighton employees and the Enerfab employees that first year.  They had seniority over us, but weren’t nearly as skilled as we were.  One of Joe L.’s favorite sayings was, “I know!  I know!”, when one of our press operators tried to show him something about one of our presses he was trying to run.  Obviously he didn’t know, but he didn’t want to admit it.  On the other hand, many of us felt uncomfortable sharing our knowledge with people with more seniority than us, because if it came to a layoff we would go out the door before they would.  In the usual order of things, when you train a new employee, he will be laid off before you, if that becomes necessary.  This situation upended the usual order of things.

But by the end of 2003 work was picking up.  Although the sales force remained in the offices on Spring Grove, the rest of the office people returned to Sharonville.  Mark L. moved back here, Bruce K. was back to being foreman here, Rick S. was back as quality control.  Brighton was calling more people back to work.  Including Ron H.  The old flanger operator who had declined to be hired by Enerfab back in December of 2002 came back as a new hire a year later.  He lost his vacation time, and had to go onto second shift.  But he didn’t work that much longer, anyway.  I can’t remember exactly when, but he retired sometime before 2010.

Everybody seemed to settle down by 2004.  The Enerfab employees most upset by the situation had either quit or retired or transferred back to Spring Grove.  The others we eventually helped when they needed help.  We had not taken their jobs, as they had feared we would.  And Enerfab, and the Bolermakers,  had treated us well.  As Mark L. kept stressing, we were one company now, and needed to get along.  And we have.

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When I reported to work at the Sharonville plant early in January of 2003 right after the holidays, I was surprised at how empty it was.  Nearly everybody was still at Enerfab on Spring Grove in Cincinnati.  Larry F. was foreman.  He was the only person in the office.  The only other flanger operator was Ron N.  Bob O. was the sole maintenance man (Bob A., the other maintenance Bob, was at Spring Grove teaching people there how to do maintenance work).  There were two Enerfab employees, Dan H. and Joe L., who had transferred to the Sharonville plant to run flanging machines.  Which, Larry informed me, they had quickly given up on.  I doubt if Ron N. had offered them much help.  By the time I got there they had moved onto presses, which they were much more comfortable operating.  There was one welder who had transferred from Spring Grove.  And that was it.

Boy, did I feel good.  It was such a relief to go back to work in familiar surroundings.  Only there wasn’t a lot of work to do.  The sales force, which was now located in the office at Spring Grove that I, Curt W., and Al H. had moved furniture into, was explaining the new situation to our old customers, and it took months to get orders for work coming back in.  So I spent a lot of time operating the polishing machine.  It seems like we always had repair work to do on scratched up heads, and I was the only one there who could run the polisher.  It was now located in the very back of the large airy pickle room, which meant I was very cold that January and February.  But no matter what, I was happy to be away from all the craziness at Spring Grove.

I split my time between running a small flanging machine and the polisher.  It was weird with the place being so empty, after the crush of bodies working at Spring Grove.  But slowly that spring people began returning to the Sharonville plant.  The plan was that since all the Enerfab employees had seniority on us, any of them who wanted to transfer to Sharonville was allowed to.  Joe L. and Dan H. and one welder were the only ones to have done so by the time I returned.  Then Mark L. was going to bring the employees back according to their Brighton seniority.  I was supposed to be the first flanger operator back.  Only Ron N. had jumped the gun (after working only 3 days at Spring Grove).  The first press operator to return was Jerry W.  The first person in the office to come back was the maintenance supervisor, Matt H.  Then slowly but surely others trickled back.

Also, other Enerfab employees transferred from Spring Grove to Sharonville.  One I was delighted to see was Clint M., since he was a polisher and could take over operating the polishing machine.  Once he was back I stayed on a flanging machine.  By that time work was starting to pick up again and I had plenty of heads to flange.  People continued to trickle back in until, sometime that fall, the head shop was officially moved from Spring Grove to Sharonville.  So after about 9 months, everything was nearly back to normal.  The original Enerfab employees moved out here, also.  There were 3 flanger operators who came, Calvin and Jeff and some young guy I can’t remember the name of, and 1 other press operator.  Plus their shipping department, Mike and Lonnie F.  And several welders.  And several flanging machines and presses of theirs were brought from Spring Grove.  And my favorite flanging machine was returned.

Few of the old Spring Grove employees stayed very long.  The one young flanger operator I didn’t know the name of didn’t last any time at all.  After he complained to Larry F. for months that we weren’t producing heads the “Enerfab” way, he finally realized no one was paying any attention to him and transferred back to Spring Grove.  The press operator who had transferred, Bob, soon got a disability for his back and retired.  The flanger operator Calvin took an early retirement after working less than a year at Sharonville.  The welder transferred back to Spring Grove.  The only Spring Grove employees who stuck with the Sharonville plant were the flanger operator Jeff (who also ran a press), the press operators Joe L. and Dan H., the polisher Clint M., and the shipping clerks Mike and Lonnie F.  And as the others transferred back or retired or quit, and as work continued to increase, Mark L. called back former employees who hadn’t initially been offered a job back in December of 2002.  They were re-hired as new employees, but they got their old jobs back.

The seniority situation was complicated.  All Enerfab employees had seniority over us.  But the seniority of the original Brighton employees was maintained if there was no interruption of their employment, if they went from working for Brighton on December 10 in 2002 to working for Enerfab on December 11.  People who were called back to work later were treated as new employees.  Enefab also agreed to recognize our seniority as it pertained to our vacations.  Which meant I still got 3 weeks vacation, I didn’t have to start over with only one.  Enerfab really did treat us well.  I’m sure there were a lot of headaches working all this out with the Boilermakers Union.  Which I joined in March of 2003.  But more about that, and all the frictions that remained between the old Brighton and the Enerfab employees, in another post.

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I was assigned to operate the smallest flanging machine in Enerfab’s head shop.  It was newer and in better condition than the flanging machine I was used to.  But it had hydraulic controls.  I was used to electric controls, so it took a while to relearn them.  Also, it had an old-fashioned machining arm that had to be manually turned on a screw.  And I had to use a long wooden four-by-four to force the arm to cut smoothly.  I hadn’t done that for over 20 years.  But I got used to it, and didn’t destroy any heads.

The flanging machine next to me was the next biggest, and was run by Calvin H., a long-time Enerfab employee.  He was very skilled on that machine.  There was a larger flanging machine.  Ron N. was originally trained to operate that one, but he only lasted 3 days.  I forget who ran it after he disappeared.  Curt W. was trained on the largest flanging machine.  The problem was that it was incredibly slow.  The metal didn’t spin, it crept as it was being formed oh so slowly.  There was no way to speed it up.  Also, it was supposed to be computer assisted, but they could never get the program to work correctly, so it was still manipulated by manual hydraulic controls.  There were also four or five presses in the bay, and a drill, and a burning table, a small polisher, and a shipping department.  All jammed together.

The small flanging machine I operated was directly in front of the shipping garage door.  And it was December.  So it was cold.  There was no heat, like there was no heat at Brighton.  So I was used to working in the cold.  You just dress for it.  But I wasn’t used to working in front of a garage door that spent more time open than closed.  It got really cold.  I’m sure it was much worse on second shift at night.

Most of us were disgusted trying to learn equipment we weren’t used to while working in a shop we were totally lost in.  But I tried to make the best of it.  I mean, I was still employed, doing the same work I had always done and receiving the same pay and benefits I had always received.  It took a while to get the hang of the hydraulic controls.  And the machining arm was worn out.  But other than that, the machine I was on was in good shape.  The biggest challenge came when I ran a flange only.  Flange-onlys are tricky.  It is so easy to warp them up.  And it had been a long time since I had formed one using hydraulic controls.  But it came out alright.  I had a crowd watching me flange the head.  I learned later that Enerfab’s head shop didn’t do flange-only’s, so this was the first time they had ever seen one formed.

They also didn’t do no-holes like we did.  Their flanging machines were not designed to run heads without a center holes.  To run a no-hole the head was flipped over, then laid out to find the center, then a nut was welded onto the head, then the head was bolted to the center post in the flanging machine.  After the head was done, it was flipped back over and the nut was cut off.  A very tedious time consuming process.  Since I didn’t weld, whenever I had a no-hole to run I got Gary B., a Brighton welder, to weld the nut on for me.  I could cut it off myself.

A quick note about welding.  They welded everything at the Spring Grove plant.  I don’t believe there was a bolt in the shop.  Whenever anything got relocated the welds that held the machine to the floor were cut, the machine was moved, then it was welded to the floor again.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  If anything was attached to a machine it was welded on.  If anything sat still for too long, it got welded in place.  Welding classes were offered for free after work.  I briefly considered.  But then I remembered Randy V.

Randy V. was a press operator when I first knew him.  But he had hired onto Brighton as a welder.  He said it was very hard work, and transferred out of it as soon as he could.  Sitting down and operating a press was much more to his liking.  Before coming to Brighton he had been in a jazz group playing mostly in Las Vegas, but he said they also went on the road throughout the west.  He told of going on this one gig way out in the country where he didn’t see another black face for days.  I failed to mention that Randy was black.  But he said they always were treated nicely, never had any trouble, and the people seemed glad to have them perform.  For a lot of these people it might have been the first time they’d heard any music without a steel guitar and a twang in the singer’s voice.  After he quit playing music for a living he settled in Cincinnati and went to work for GE.  But I don’t think that lasted very long, he got laid off and came to work at Brighton.  But he stayed involved in music.  He had his own recording studio and video company.  He performed in churches, and made video recordings of church services which were aired on the local community-access cable channel.  He also did wedding videos, commercial videos, all kinds of odd jobs.  So he stayed very busy.

A quick side note to what has become a side note.  Being a musician, Randy was out late at night frequently.  He said if a policeman pulled him over, he always stuck his hands out the window so the officer could see he was not holding a weapon.  And this was long before Ferguson, or any of the police killings.  But that was how Randy was, very practical.  He didn’t protest bad treatment by the police, he just dealt with it in a practical way.

Another side note, while I’m on race relations.  Chip M., a press operator, told me a funny story.  He had a Harley.  When he was younger he said he rode his bike to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for Black Biker Week.  He said the police set up checkpoint after checkpoint, that they couldn’t go anywhere in Myrtle Beach without going through a police checkpoint.  It was a hassle, he said, but he assumed that was just the way it was, because of the way people felt about bikers, especially large numbers of bikers, even if they weren’t really biker gangs.  He said he went to Black Biker Week for many years.  Then one year he was invited by a white friend to go with them to some other big biker gathering in Myrtle Beach.  He said he couldn’t believe it.  There wasn’t a police officer in sight.  No checkpoints.  They could go anywhere in Myrtle Beach without being hassled.  So it wasn’t bikers the locals were worried about.  It was black bikers.  Chip said he never went back to Myrtle Beach.

Now where was I?  Yeah, I declined to take any welding classes.  I was 51 at the time, and not really interested in learning a new trade that was so physically demanding.  So I never learned to weld.  I just learned to operate that hydraulic flanging machine and kept my head down.  And then I became much happier when the small flanging machine I used to operate at Brighton was brought to the Enerfab head shop and set up there.  Welded in place, of course. Needless to say, I began running my old machine.  So by the holidays I was settled in and fairly content.  But over the New Year’s holiday I got a phone call at home from Bruce K., my old foreman from Brighton who was working as foreman at the Spring Grove plant along with that old guy I mentioned.  He told me to report to work at the Sharonville plant the first of the new year.  That made for a very joyous holiday.  I drove down to Enerfab on the chance someone would be working during the holiday, found the door to the head shop unlocked, went in and cleaned my locker out, and have never set foot in the place since.  Except to eat, but that’s a later post

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As I mentioned in the last post, Enerfab was merging two workforces.  But they only had work for one.  Several of their employees transferred to our plant in Sharonville, which was still open but not producing very much work.  All of our customers knew Brighton was going through a big shake-up, and sales orders had slowed drastically.  So now there was work at Enerfab’s plant on Spring Grove that required only half the employees who were there.

That meant a lot of odd jobs.  There was always sweeping to do.  And cleaning up debris.  The place was a mess, with everything scattered everywhere.  I washed heads in shipping.  I did grinding, of course.  One of the more interesting jobs was running a polishing machine Joe K. had built.  It was a menace.  You operated the polisher on top of a rickety scaffolding twenty feet up in the air.  With no harness, of course.  But being high up in the air was no big deal there.  One day I saw a press operator from Brighton who had gone to work for Enerfab months before they purchased us, Chip M., riding about twenty feet up in the air on a plate of carbon steel.  The plate had three clamps on it, connected to a three-way cable which was lifted up by an overhead crane.  He had the control box in his hand, and came riding down the aisle toward the press he was working on.  I’d never seen that done at Brighton.

The oddest of odd jobs I had then was to move furniture.  I, Curt W., and Al H. were assigned that job.  Mark L. and the sales force had been relocated to the general offices at Enerfab.  They were situated high above the head shop, which gave them a clear view of most of the entire shop.  But their new digs needed office furniture.  There had been a fire, I don’t know how long ago, in one of the offices, and the salvageable furniture had been stored in an old shed.  So it was our job to move the furniture from the shed into Mark L.’s new offices.  We spent days on that job.  There was a rickety old open wooden lift they used as an elevator.  So we’d drag the furniture onto the lift, take it down, move it by forklift to the offices, then lift it up to an outside entrance door and shove it inside, then move it to where it belonged.  I went home tired on those days.

I also did a polishing job on a much smaller polisher than before.  I polished light poles.  Some city in Texas, it might have been Austin, wanted polished stainless steel light poles for an upscale area downtown.  That was different.  This job took me to a distant corner of the shop, what they called the bowling alley.  But this was only one small area of the Spring Grove plant,  a cavernous structure I never fully explored.

Enerfab had a stockroom attendant.  We were used to just getting stuff we needed ourselves.  Now we had to sign equipment out and return it.  And we had to sign out for any supplies we needed.

Their water tasted terrible.  I was advised not to drink out of the fountains.  Later I heard they took all the fountains out and went to dispensing bottled water.

I liked the foreman.  He was a friendly old guy a year or two away from retirement.  He helped me out there a lot more than anybody else did.  He’d often stop me when he saw I was just doing busywork and talk.  He also would stop me when I was busy working to talk.  He just liked to talk.

But I did get to run a flanger much of the time.  More about that in the next post.

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December 11, 2002, was culture shock for the former employees of Trinity who were hired by Enerfab.  To start with, Enerfab was located in Cincinnati on Spring Grove Avenue, off the Mitchell Ave. exit on I-75.  Most of us were from the north of Cincinnati, so it was a long drive in heavy traffic we weren’t used to.  We parked in an open gravel lot across the street from the plant.  Although I had no problems parking there, several people said their cars were broken into or vandalized.  The plant we reported to work at that morning was huge.  Yet the head shop itself was small, the presses and flanging machines were squeezed into a single aisle.  Everything was jammed together, without much space to maneuver around.  And the floor was cluttered with so much junk you could hardly walk.

Everybody was disgruntled.  Including the Enerfab employees already working there.  They were afraid we would take their jobs.  So there was much friction, and not only with the original employees of the head shop.  To the rest of the people working there we were new hires, and got treated as such.  We were totally lost, and they had no desire to help us out.  We weren’t even in the Boilermakers Union yet, we were still probationary.  So by helping us out they felt they would be hurting their union brothers.

And boy, did we need help.  We didn’t know where anything was at.  We were totally reliant on them to show us how their machines worked.  Their forklifts were different from what we were used to.  They used a forklift with forks on an arm that telescoped forward from the side.

lull-forklift

None of us had ever used such a forklift before, and it took some time to learn how to operate them.  One press operator, Randy V., never did get used to it.  All the dies for the presses were kept on racks just outside the garage door.  Whenever Randy had to change dies with this forklift, he always dropped them.  I think he finally got other people to change dies for him, I don’t believe he ever got the hang of running their forklifts.

I had a few mishaps, too.  That led to my first encounter with Lonnie F.  He worked in shipping and was out in the yard when I took a full scrap hopper out to empty it into a dumpster.  I let the hopper slide off my forks down into the dumpster.  Lonnie saw it happen, so he came over and said to me, “What are you, some kind of a dumbass?”  Then he rigged a chain to the forks and the hopper and dragged it up out of the dumpster.

But actually I didn’t have much reason to use a forklift.  With everything being in one aisle, we moved the heads in and out of the machines with an overhead crane.  The only time I needed a forklift, other than to empty a scrap dumpster, was to take a finished head outside or to bring in a pressed head to work on.  This system had its advantages.  It really cut down on the handling marks.  It is easy to scratch up heads with a forklift.  So if you hardly ever touch a head with a forklift, then there are a lot less scratches and you have a much-better looking product.  This system wouldn’t work at the plant in Sharonville, since it was a much bigger operation.  But for the head shop at Enerfab, which was crammed into a single bay, it worked.

Everything was crowded.  We were a lot of people for their head shop to absorb all at once.  The break room was filled.  The locker room was overflowing.  The parking lot was crammed.  They were forcing two work forces into an area where there had only been one.  So that first day, and many after, were a shock to the system.  And not just for me.  Everybody was depressed.  But we hung on.

Except for Ron N.  He disappeared after 3 days.  That’s all he lasted.  Mark L. had told us the transition was going to be difficult.  He said eventually we would end up back at the plant in Sharonville.  Enerfab wasn’t closing our plant, or selling it.  But in the meantime we had to work at their plant on Spring Grove.  Supposedly, Enerfab got a tax break from Hamilton County for bringing jobs in.  That’s why we had to work there instead at the plant in Sharonville.  For a while, anyway.  But Ron was having none of it.  After 3 days at Spring Grove, he told Mark L. he was going back to work at the plant in Sharonville, and if he didn’t like it he could fire him.  So Ron was the first to return to Sharonville.  But the rest of us had a longer wait.

 

 

 

 

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In December of 2002 Enerfab Corporation bought Brighton from Trinity.  Here is their logo:

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And here is a google maps screen shot of their plant in Cincinnati on Spring Grove Avenue:

enerfab-google-maps-screen-shot

 

Here is a close-up of the yard just outside, and the entrance to, the part of the complex where the head shop was located:

 

enerfab-google-maps-screen-shot-closeup

This turned out to be a very good thing, Enerfab buying Brighton from Trinity.  But at the time it didn’t seem like it.  I had just turned 51, I had worked at Brighton for nearly 30 years, and I was starting over again.  Sort of.  It was complicated.  When Trinity bought Brighton, they bought us with our contract intact, only with the provision we accept a dollar an hour pay cut.  But Enerfab wasn’t requiring a pay cut, we would continue making our same wages.  But we had to accept their contract.  Which was with the Boilermakers Union.  Here is their logo:

boilermakers-logo

 

Since Enerfab already had a contract with the Boilermakers Union, they could not, or would not, I don’t know which, sign a separate contract with our Steelworkers Union.  And since Enerfab wasn’t recognizing our Steelworkers contract, they didn’t have to hire our entire work force.  They could pick and choose who they wanted.  They initially hired about half of us.  They later hired more of the employees who weren’t initially hired, but at first they were interested mostly in flanger operators and press operators and welders.

Enerfab did this in an honorable fashion.  We were new hires.  Nothing could help that. Every person already working for Enerfab had more seniority than any of us.  But our plant supervisor Mark L. called us into the office one by one according to the seniority we held at Brighton.  He explained what was going on, that there would be a rough time of transition, but we would be doing the same jobs we’d always done, for the same pay.  And our seniority among the Brighton employees would be maintained.  So that if I agreed to the arrangement, I would have the same seniority rights among the Brighton employees I’d always had.  That meant I’d have more seniority than all the Brighton flanger operators who signed after me.  We weren’t all being rehired by Enerfab as one massive group.  It sounds more complicated than it actually was.  Of course, if I decided not to sign on with Enerfab, I would be laid off.  So it was a no-brainer for me.  I signed on with Enerfab.  As I said before, it turned out to be the best situation I could have fallen into.  Trinity could have shut us down, or moved the machines to Mexico.  Either way I would have been out of a job.  This way I could continue doing the work I’d always done, at the pay I was accustomed to.

Of course, for the people not immediately offered a job with Enerfab, this wasn’t such a good thing.  And there were people who didn’t accept the jobs they were offered.  Harold P., a press operator, declined and took an early retirement.  While Ron H., a flanger operator, refused and quit working.  But he was back 6 months later.  He couldn’t find anything better.  But nearly everybody who was offered a job with Enerfab accepted.

So, as of December of 2002, I was employed by Enerfab.  At the time it was unsettling, but eventually I came to realize how good it had all worked out.