FLANGING 100

When I started this blog I never thought I’d do 100 posts. This is number 100.  A good round number to quit on.  So for my last post I’ll relate my last day of work.  I say ‘work’, although I did absolutely no work on that day.

My last day was December 22, 2016.  This was the last working day of the year, the beginning or our Christmas and New Years holiday.  On this last day before the holidays first and second shifts only worked 8 hours.  First shift began at 5 am and quit at 1 pm, while second shift began at noon and quit at 8 pm.  That way the two shifts overlapped  for an hour so we could have our Christmas dinner together.  First shift quit work after 7 hours at noon, and second shift didn’t start to work until 1 pm, so they, too, only worked 7 hours.  Which meant I got to sleep in until 4 am.  People told me I should come in late whenever I felt like it, that I would get paid for a complete shift no matter how many hours I worked, but I wanted to be there on time.  This would be my only last day of work ever, and I didn’t want to miss any of it.

I did absolutely nothing.  I walked around talking to everybody, telling everybody goodbye.  The hardest work I did was cleaning out my locker and throwing away all the stuff I wouldn’t be using anymore, and turning in tools I also didn’t need anymore.  And me and Gary B. loaded my fire pit into the trunk of my car.  I have flanged dozens of these things.  They are really sharp looking.  A plate of stainless is dished on a press, then the edge is turned up horizontally on a flanger.  Then it is polished, and legs are welded onto the bottom of it.  This was part of my retirement gift from the company.  It will look good in my back yard.

611a_retirement fire pit

 

At 11:00 I went out to the weld building to help them set up for the Christmas dinner.  About 11:30 second shift began arriving.  Shortly before noon first shift began coming in.  Randy V., who had been retired for years, showed up to play Christmas carols on his guitar.  Several other retirees showed up, too.  Mike W. and Heginio C. and Ron H. Barbecue dinners were catered, and there was plenty of sweets, both purchased and home-made by some of the women on the sales force and in the office.  I had a retirement cake, too.

After everyone finished eating I got all the good stuff.  Mark made a nice speech (no mention of  rubber boots or grease sticks), and gave me more presents – around $500 in gift cards.  The men in the shop had taken up a collection, nearly $300 in cash, to give to me.  And the Boilermaker Union gave me a very nice watch, with the Boilermaker Seal on it.  It is the only watch I wear now.  Then I picked up my Christmas ham the company passes out to everyone, and drove home.

I am thoroughly enjoying my retirement.  I am writing this final post to the blog in Silver City, New Mexico, in the Gila Wilderness Area.  I’ve driven my 23 foot motor home to see many new things and gone places I’ve never had the opportunity to go before on this trip through Texas and the southwest.  I even saw Trinity’s shop.  I and my wife were visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards, and their plant is right next to that.  I didn’t stop in.  I’ll continue this trip on into Arizona, Utah and Colorado before heading back home.  Retirement is fantastic.  Everybody should try it.

Trending
Winnebago Trend motor home
Advertisements

flanging 99

In the early 10’s the oil industry in America boomed.  Fracking, a new method of extracting oil from the ground, came into wide use.  New pipelines were planned to carry all this new oil to market.  But environmentalists objected to this, claiming the new oil was even dirtier and more polluting than the oil already in use.  Also, the pipelines themselves harmed the environment, with the inevitability of leaks and the potential for disastrous spills.  Obama sided with the environmentalists, and the pipelines were tied up in court.

As Mark L. says, environmentalists are our friends.  That oil is needed and valuable.  It will get to market, one way or another.  If not through pipelines, then it will be transported by rail and truck.  And that means tanks.  Lots of tanks.  Tanker cars on trains and tankers hauled by trucks.  And for each tank there are two tank ends.  With no pipeline, business was set to boom for us.

I often see my work when I’m driving.  Many of the tankers hauled over the road are emblazoned with the logos of our customers.

air products tanker

Also, when I’m sitting at a railroad crossing and watching an ugodly number of cars creep by, many of those cars are tankers.  Some of which have ends I have fashioned.

rail car tanker

After 43 years of forming tank ends, my work is all over the world.  I recently took a tour of the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado.  We’ve had several big contracts with Coors.  So most likely some of the large copper vats they brew their beer in I saw that day had their ends formed by me.

031_Colorado

Anyway, we were flooded with work.  We worked 12-hour shifts.  I could have worked every Sunday, too, but I didn’t.  By then I was in my 60’s, and needed some rest.  Also, a lot of people were hired.  At once.  Which can be disastrous.  Flanger operators and press operators cannot be hired off the street.  There is no technical school that trains people how to operate our machines.  They have to be trained on the job.  And the learning curve for flanging machines is much steeper than for presses.  A new press operator can be up and running long before a new flanger operator.  Mark L. got in trouble once for mentioning that.  He said that monkeys could be trained to operate presses, that it was much more difficult to train flanger operators.  As you can imagine, the press operators took offense to that comment.  Bananas began showing up all over the shop.  Every press had a banana or two hanging from its control panel.  Even years later, if you wanted to insult a press operator all you had to do was quickly scratch both sides under your arms at once and hoot.

With so many new operators, the lead men had their hands full.  Poor Curtis W. hardly worked at his own machine, he just went from one disaster to the next.  The new workers were given the easiest jobs.  Still, there was a tremendous amount of rework and a lot of scrapped heads.  But the work kept pouring in, and Mark kept hiring more people.  This was the most people I had ever seen working at Brighton.  I trained one young man on a flanging machine.  He did okay.  It just takes time, it is not something you can start doing overnight.  I know a lot of shoddy work went out the door.  Our customers were so desperate for tank ends the company had no choice.  We had so many employees now Matt H. had the parking lot enlarged.

Then the bottom fell out.  OPEC undercut us.  Fracking is a more expensive way to get at oil that is deeper underground.  The oil OPEC was pumping was less expensive to get out of the ground.  As long as gasoline was up to $3 to $4 a gallon, this didn’t matter.  Fracking was worth the extra expense.  But OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, slashed the price of their oil.  The price of gasoline plummeted to below $2 a gallon.  And all of these new fracking oilfields closed down.  That’s the official story.  But some people believe the big international oil companies control the price of oil as much as OPEC and Saudi Arabia does.  These new fracking operations were mostly wildcatters, independent operators.  So maybe the big oil companies got together with OPEC and Saudi Arabia to price them out of business.

As a result, this glut of work we had been struggling with quickly dried up.  Eventually, every one of the new employees were laid off.  We were back to our original work force.  After having all these young guys around, the place now looked like a retirement home.  And that big new parking lot looked awfully empty.

flanging 98

Enerfab finally gave Brighton an office.  A real office building.

download

When I first started there were three offices in our plant.  One for the plant supervisor, the maintenance supervisor, and the quality control supervisor.  There was a scheduler’s desk at a window looking out over the shop.  And that was it.  But at that time Brighton also owned the fabrication plant next door, and all of their offices, our sales offices, and the Hock’s offices were over there.  I never worked in the fabrication plant, so was rarely over there.  We did have a series of meetings there for a while.  But these meeting never lasted, not until the new and improved safety program (another post).  Every other time we ever started regular meetings, for whatever reason, they were discontinued, for whatever reason.

When Trinity bought Brighton, they closed the fabrication plant and sold the building and land.  Cincinnati Sub-Zero moved in.  I have no idea what they do, but they have been doing it very well, since they just built a huge 3-story building on the site.  Anyway, several storage closets adjoining the office were gutted to make more office space in our building.  Geoff L. threatened to kick us out of our break room and turn it into offices, but he never did.  Several crappy looking trailers were brought in and took over a good portion of our parking lot, to make offices for our sales force.  They were pretty shoddy looking.  It wasn’t an impressive sight to present to prospective customers, I’m sure.

When Enerfab bought us, the sales force and most of the management personnel were moved into offices at the Spring Grove plant.  Several were let go.  Matt H., our maintenance supervisor, and Rick S., our quality control supervisor, were fired, since Enerfab had their own supervisors in those positions.  But Mark L. and Bruce K. relocated to the Spring Grove plant.  The only office person to remain at Sharonville was the second shift foreman, Larry F., who became the first shift foreman since there was only one shift, and a skeleton crew at that.  9 months or so later, when the head shop closed at Spring Grove and moved into the Sharonville plant, all of the office personnel moved back with it.  Matt H. and Rick S. had been called back to work by then, also.  But the sales force and the material requisition personnel remained at the Spring Grove plant.  There was just no room for them at the Sharonville plant.  Those crappy trailers had been moved out after Enerfab bought us.

So Mark L. began agitating for a new office building.  Sometime in the late 00’s, I forget exactly what year, Enerfab relented, and built a stand-alone office building.  The sales force came back to Sharonville, and Mark L. moved his office into it.  It’s a good-looking building.  And Mark was determined to keep it looking good.  He insisted we either change out of our work boots to come over there, or put on plastic slippers over our work boots.  This didn’t bother me, I was used to wearing these slippers.  If I had to climb into a head with a finished polish on the inside, I put down felt to protect the finish, and also slipped these plastic things on over my work boots, just in case I stepped off the felt.  No way was I taking a chance to mar the surface and have to put the head back onto the polisher.  Anyway, the material requisition people remained at the Spring Grove.  They must have liked it there and wanted to stay, or I’m sure Mark would have made room for them in his new office building.  Their office had been out in the weld building Trinity had erected when they first bought us, before they started sucking all the money out of our operation.  So Rick S. moved the quality control office out there, which opened up an office in our building for Bruce K.  Before him, there was never an office for the foreman, he was expected to remain out on the floor.  Our personnel manager, Cheryl K., was also let go when Enerfab bought us.  She never came back.  Mark agitated for our own personnel manager, too, but Enerfab never relented on that.  We have the same personnel manager as Enerfab.  It’s worked out fairly well.  Melinda G. handled the partial disability payments I drew for the 2 times I was off from work for an extended time, 2 months in 2010 and nearly 3 months in 2016, and she helped me set up all the paperwork for my retirement.  So I’ve had no complaints.

The only complaint I have about the new office building is it took over prime parking spaces.  More about that in the next post.

flanging 97

In the late 00’s Trinity began a new safety program.  When I began working for them  they had the same kind of safety program  as Brighton and Trinity.  They showed videos and put up posters showing how to work safely.  And we were provided personal protection equipment, such as safety glasses and hearing protection, and sometimes a hard hat.  We were also provided a stipend to purchase steel-toed safety shoes and work gloves.  But if there was a serious injury, OSHA would investigate, give out fines for any safety violations it discovered, and demand the unsafe conditions be fixed.  Of course, any action by OSHA would cause the company’s insurance, which all companies pay into the disability fund that pays for the treatment and care of employees injured in the workplace, to go up.

This new policy was intended to take OSHA out of the equation.  If there were no injuries, then this insurance rate would go down, saving the company money.  The company would have to make an initial investment to get the ball rolling, but after that the reduced insurance rates would more than pay for the safety program.  So a safety director was hired.  Our first, Hal, wasn’t very good.  But the next, Jeff W., was effective.  And there were many other changes.  The company began giving out work gloves, instead of giving out money for people to buy them.  People were likely to buy the cheapest they could find, or, like me, keep the money and not buy them at all.  The company also insisted people wear them.  I never wore work gloves during most of my life.  As a result, I constantly got burns and cuts and steel splinters.  Once I got in the habit of wearing gloves my hands became so soft my wife couldn’t believe it.  The company also got better safety glasses, with a foam seal.  And it was mandated that we affix plastic face shields onto our hard hats whenever we were machining or grinding.  Anyone working around the acid tanks not only had to wear a face shield, but also an apron.  Anyone performing hot work, which meant welding or burning or cutting, had to wear leather guards over their clothing to prevent it from catching fire.  Also, half-face respirators that covered your nose and mouth had to be worn whenever grinding or doing hot work with certain metals.

Of course, you can lead a horse, yada,yada.  But Jeff W. made us drink the water.  If he caught you without any of your safety equipment he suggested you put it on.  If that didn’t work, he would report you and the foreman would demand you put it on, reminding you that safety violations could be cause for dismissal.  But it seldom, if ever, got that far.  Jeff was a friendly guy, and a suggestion from him was enough.  With Hal, as soon as his back was turned you went back to doing what you wanted to do.  But Jeff was gently insistent.  Also, you got the impression he really cared about doing a good job, which for him was insuring our well-being.

There were other changes.  We began having daily safety meetings.  These would happen after our morning break, and would generally last 5 to 10 minutes.  Jeff usually had a topic to discuss, and we could bring up any safety-related issue that was going on out in the shop.  Also, at the beginning of every shift the lead man would hold a brief safety meeting with his department at which any ongoing hazards in the shop were discussed.  We began having monthly safety lunches, at which the company catered a meal, if there had been no injuries that month.  We were also issued gift cards, usually for $50, monthly if there had been no injuries.  More and better safety videos were shown.  Anyone interested was given CPR training.  The company sent people to be trained as first responders.  A defibrillator station was set up.  A first aid station was also set up.  The eye wash and shower stations were greatly improved.  Also, near misses were reported.  A near miss was an incident in which no one was injured, but easily could have been.  Any pain-killing medication you were on had to be reported in writing to the office.  And your physician had to certify that any medication he has prescribed for you would not imperil you at work.

The results were amazing.  Injuries dropped dramatically.  It was truly astounding.  We went an entire year once without a single lost time accident.  Some people gripe and complain that nothing ever changes, that all these changes are accomplishing nothing.  They just don’t remember, or are willfully forgetting, what this place used to be like.  I sure wouldn’t recognize it from the dangerous place I walked into 44 years ago.

flanging 96

By 2005 Brighton had recovered.  The two shops were fully integrated.  The Enerfab employees who had been forced to relocate to the Sharonville plant once the head shop at Spring Grove was shut down were either happy with their situation or had quit.  Calvin, a flanger operator, didn’t like our machines at all, and took an early retirement.  Bob, a press operator, didn’t like working at our shop and got a disability for his back.  Of course, the welders could come and go as they pleased.  All the Enerfab welders who transferred to Sharonville eventually transferred back.  So the Enerfab employees who were still here at the beginning of 2005 were satisfied with their situation.  Also by 2005, nearly all of the Brighton employees who hadn’t been hired by Enerfab in December of 2002 had been called back.  They lost their seniority, of course, but they had their old jobs back.  The ones who didn’t come back had either found better jobs, or Brighton didn’t want them back.

So by 2005 Brighton was up to full strength, with enough work for the shop.  More than enough work.  Enerfab’s policy is to schedule as much overtime as the workers can bear.  It was more profitable for them to pay time and a half and double time for overtime than to hire more workers, who had to be trained and paid full benefits.  I had never worked so much overtime in my life.  Brighton had always had some overtime.  There were times when the shop would get flooded with work, and we were expected to get the work done no matter how many hours it took.  But with Enerfab it was a steady deluge.  Five 10-hour days, with 5 to 8 hours on Saturday, and another 5 hours on Sunday.  Week after week.  I drew the line on Sunday.  I was in my 50’s by then, and I needed some rest.  According to the contract, Enerfab could schedule as much overtime as was necessary.  But as a policy they never scheduled more than 50 hours a week.  Everything over that was voluntary.  I almost always volunteered for Saturday.  I only turned it down if there was something important going on.  So if I came in Saturday, I was almost always asked to work 5 hours Sunday.  Which I always turned down.  But a lot of guys worked Sundays.  Some men would go months at a time without taking a day off.

Enerfab never had 3 shifts.  It was always 2, with overtime to keep the shop open around the clock if need be.  I worked some 12 shifts, but not many.  Mostly 10 hours a day.  The usual start time for first shift was 6:30 AM.  But working 10 hours, we would start at 4:30 AM.  Which meant I’d need to get up for work at 3:30 AM.  So to get 6 hours sleep, which I rarely did, I had to get to bed by 9:30 PM.  I did this for 10 years or so.  You can get used to anything.

I could have turned down more overtime.  But you were expected to work when asked  If not enough people volunteered, it no longer was voluntary.  They would schedule the overtime.  But I rarely turned it down.  I was glad to get it.  My last 10 to 12 years working for Enerfab not only was I able to save up a lot of money for retirement, but it really added a lot to my pension, which was based on how many hours I worked.  So all this work came at a good time in my life.  It just wore me out.

There was a slowdown.  From sometime in 2008 to sometime in 2010 the Great Recession hit us.  Work dried up.  For a while we only worked 40 hours a week.  So we talked Mark L. into scheduling 4 10-hour days.  It was great.  We had a 3-day weekend every week.  I really enjoyed having Fridays off.  My wife was babysitting two grandchildren at the time, so on Fridays we’d go places with them.  But it didn’t last.  As things got slower, people were laid off.  Then when things picked up a little we needed to  work 10 hours on Friday to make up for the laid-off people.  Soon having Fridays off was a thing of the past, and we started working Saturdays, too.  By by the time everyone was called back to work, it was the same grueling schedule as before.

The final year I worked, 2016, I turned down every Saturday.  Mark didn’t mind, since he knew I was retiring at the end of the year.  That seemed so relaxing, having every Saturday off.  Now I have every day off.  Even more relaxing.

flanging 95

The Enerfab employees who transferred to our Sharonville plant had to learn how to operate our machines.  But we had to adapt to their way of doing things.  One of the biggest changes we had to adapt to were lead men.  The Steelworkers Union had sharply separated the office employees from the shop employees.  Our old contracts forbade lead men.  You were either in management or were working on the floor.  But the Boilermakers Union allowed lead men.  So we now had lead men.  The original lead men from Spring Grove were Joe L. and Tom K., while the original lead men from the our plant were Gary B. and Curtis W. and Dennis B.  There was only one lead man on second shift, Doug R., a former Brighton employee.  The reason for this being not only was second shift smaller, but there were no former Spring Grove employees on second, they were all on first.  As the years went by, this distinction between the Spring Grove employees and the old Brighton employees faded away as we eventually merged into a single work force.  Just like Mark L. had said we would.

I did not want to be a lead man.  It was a lot of responsibility for only a little more pay.  Not only were you responsible for your own work, but also the work of everybody in your department.  Curtis W. was in charge of the first shift flanging department.  So anytime a flanger operator ran into difficulties, Curtis had to fix his screw-up.  If the piece was so messed up he couldn’t fix it himself, he determined where it needed to go, either back to the press or to a welder or to the polisher or into the scrap dumpster.  Of course, he couldn’t make all these decisions by himself, say if a piece needed to be scrapped he would have to get the foreman, Bruce K., to agree with him.  But if a problem could be resolved among the departments without involving the office, it was.  This was a much better way of running the shop than how we had done it before, without lead men.

As long as you had good lead men.  Tom resigned after his wife died, leaving him with 12 children to raise on his own.  Everyone understood, that was enough pressure for any man, he didn’t need the added headache of being a lead man.  In fact, the company allowed him to take off from work whenever he needed to tend to family business.  At first that was quite often, but lately as his older children could help out more and more, he has missed less and less work.  Then Doug quit simply because he didn’t like being a lead man.  I don’t blame him.  As I said, I wouldn’t want to be one.  But others took their places.  Jerry W. took over Tom K.’s position.  And Don M. took over Doug’s position.  And there have been other lead men.

The lead men come in a half-hour early to prepare the work for the day.  So they get 2 and a half hours more overtime every week than the rest of the shop.  On first shift they hold a daily meeting with the shop foreman, Bruce K., and also the maintenance supervisor, Matt H., and the quality control supervisor, Rick S., to discuss problems.  On second shift the lead man comes in a half-hour early to meet with Bruce and find out what kind of problems are going on.

You are never too old to learn new tricks.  Having lead men has worked out well.  Brighton should have been doing it years ago.  Under the old system, a shop employee had to leave the union to take a management position.  With lead men, a shop worker could do this and remain in the union.  It has worked out well for everybody.

flanging 92

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.