Unions - And Response

Sunday, February 23, 2014
About everyone I know has those times when we can just sense someone's watching. We can't necessarily see who, but can feel their eyes on us.

People who work around voltages that may be anywhere from several 10s of volts to several 10s of thousands of volts are particularly mindful not to do anything to startle someone who's working near what might be a live circuit, maybe on a panel where they can be cut or otherwise physically injured by a jerking motion if surprised. The convention is to wait for that person to pause before doing anything to distract or interrupt what they're doing.
Most people don't want to be the cause of someone else becoming a crispy critter.

So there I was, up on a plant's test mezzanine snaked into one of those cabinets we use as a good example of a really poor mechanical design, doing some wiring. From the original design there was no good, or easy, way to make modifications if they were necessary in the future. At first sight a blivet, that's 5 pounds of stuff in a 1 pound bag, came immediately to mind. I felt someone watching but could only see the immediate area around the access door of the cabinet. Being hip deep in that baby, a computer console not for those who might be a little claustrophobic, and working at arms length above my head I couldn't see much but there, close to my legs, was a familiar looking pair of 10 pound wingtips... attached to a set of legs covered by trousers from a really, really expensive suit. My first thought was "Man, am I showing too much plumbers' cleavage again?" so I squeezed out and lay there on the floor, looking up at the plant manager whose face was covered by one of those ear-to-ear SEGs. "What's happening, Mike?" said I. He responded "I don't know what the (oh my, I didn't think Big High MuckyMuck executives even knew such words, much less used them) you're doing, but keep doing it." He walked off shaking his head and grinning.

To put this in context, our company had built a prototype system that worked well in the lab so our customer wanted to test it on the production floor in one of their plants. We were told the plant it was going into, where they made electrical hickiebobs from the size of a car to about as big as a house, had a very strong union and we were to take drawings only, that who ever went out on the installation wouldn't even be allowed to pick up a screwdriver. Since we were looking at several systems per plant, in at least 4 different plants, and big bucks were on the line, we decided we needed to send our best out on that job.

We don't have any big dogs, so all we could send was the head Chihuahua.

Just as we'd been told, I couldn't touch a thing... not even the infamous O-N/O-F-F switch when everything was set up and in place. Someone from the union had to do everything. Unlike what my second favorite politician of all time used to call "those republican weenies," they followed their rules at all times, not just when it was convenient. So we played by the rules for a while, until they got tired. After a few days everybody went into a huddle. Then one of them came over and said "Okay, here's the main disconnect, this other one is power to the generators, this is power to the test berth. You're on your own, Jack." A friend, as it turned out the maintenance shop union steward, later said I was the illegitimus who carborundomed their tushis.

Things rocked along okay for a few weeks. I was even able to leave my took kit around, I've always packed one of those that looks like a briefcase to carry my frufru electronic tools, without things disappearing. I did lose a couple sets of hemostats but that occasionally happened about anywhere. Coming back from lunch one day one of the test technicians said he'd used some of my tools so he didn't have to walk half way across the plant for his... "But I wiped all yours off and put 'em back in the same slots," he said. He mixed up two screwdrivers, but who's counting.

Then one day production was down because they'd run out of a part. About mid-morning we were all taking a smoke break when one of the guys turned the discussion around to the system I was installing. I asked what the problem was and someone else commented "We don't want your equipment to replace our jobs."

Okay, so in a plant employing 2,800-ish people, in a town of 25,000-ish total residents, in a county with less than 60,000 residents, that's a significant issue. Who wants to lose a job for anything, much less because some computerized gizwidgit gets installed? So we chit-chatted a while longer and nobody, N-O-B-O-D-Y, had ever explained to them what our equipment was going to do.

I went over to my appropriated office to get some drawings, a quick phone call for approval to explain the new equipment to them, and back over to the test mezzanine. I gave Booger, a handle he'd picked up in the 5th grade when he was supposed to do a book report and couldn't find a biography for "Booger" T. Washington as his teacher told him, money for pizza and sody pops, and off he went. The rest of us sat down and began going through that system, what it would do, how it operated compared to what they currently had in place, how it would give them more accurate and reliable data, and show there was no way any of their jobs would be in jeopardy... at least not for a long, long time. They understood they could be spending their time testing electrical hickiebobs instead of repairing test equipment. They made several very good suggestions that were ultimately implemented in the system, both hardware and software changes. In the end everything was copacetic, and they actually assisted with further suggestions as the installation went along.

What's all this got to do with the price of sweet tea in Southeast Tennessee? A lot, at the moment.

Full disclosure statement: I've never belonged to a union. I've always been fortunate enough to have skills enabling me to either negotiate my own deal or go down the street if we couldn't come to terms, back when I had a real job, but have observed instances where an employee was assisted by a union in a positive manner. Over the past 45 or so years in the working world I've also observed the down side... seen equipment destroyed during a labor dispute, work slow-downs, walk-outs, incompetent employees kept on a specific job, or the payroll, because they had seniority, everything that can happen during management/labor interface. Just like any inter-personal relationship, the interaction between management and labor seems to hinge on the level of respect held by each toward the other, doesn't it.

We hear daily from our establishment republican elites how dastardly those unions, and their members, are... yet they don't spare any effort soliciting union money and union votes, do they. Neither do they spare any effort eliminating industrial and trades training from our public education system, do they. Where but the union hall are our children supposed to learn the skills necessary for many trades required by industry to function? I've watched shopkeeps denigrate unions, while accepting money for their wares from a union member. I've also watched union members stand in front of that same type person, write a check for a rather large purchase, then proceed to tear up the check and hand it to the shopkeep while walking out the door... as they should righteously do to anyone who wants their money but isn't willing to respect them as individuals.

However, we also have a situation here in Southeast Tennessee, don't we. But it's actually an issue with the entire State, as well as every other State of the Union in this, the greatest nation to ever grace the face of Planet Terra, isn't it.

What happens when, say, Schmuckatelli's Muffler Bearing Corporation wants to build a plant in a new area? Here's what happens; the local elected officials, leaders in their own minds, step all over themselves attempting to give away the biggest and bestest filet mignon trying to shut out all the other locations Schmuckatelli has announced he's looking, don't they. It isn't, after all, their personal money they're participating in the bidding war with, is it. It's merely taxpayer money, with those endlessly deep pockets we taxpayers have, and taxpayers will continue to elect them, so what's to lose?

And Snidely Schmuckatelli sits back twirling the ends of his handlebar mustache...

Take the instant case with Volkswagen in Chattanooga. Elected officials "invested" 600 (M)illion tax dollars in facilities, that they admit to, for VW to build at the selected site... with the promise of jobs in return. They've already reached deep, deep, deep down into our collective pocket, and we have no real way of knowing the true extent of our taxpayer funded corporate welfare if we include the supplier companies they also moved to town. Weren't all of those supposed to go to our homies?

And we didn't even get kissed...

Now come threats by the UAW to invade the plant, supported by VW management, with every advantage that could be provided including, but not limited to, propagandizing employees in the plant, on company time, with full knowledge and support of management while they totally exclude anyone who would present an opposing perspective from doing the same... and our elected "leaders" get all indignant and stuff.

The Hamilton County Republican delegation circled their wagons. Richard Floyd sat up on that dais trying to look tough and mean. Senator Watson and Representative McCormick stated future corporate welfare would be at risk if a union was approved by employees. Senator Corker kissed and told about discussions he's had about additional production being at risk if the union prevails. VW management disputed those statements. Senator Corker, suave and debonaire dapper dude that he is, insulted management while trying to play one-up with supposed inside knowledge even the manager didn't have while reiterating that future corporate welfare was at risk. The end result?

Hans Whiplash sits with feet on his desk back in Deutschland, twirling the ends of his mustache and smiling... secure in the knowledge those superb American negotiators have done nothing more than guarantee he'll have all the taxpayer funding he wants as they squirm. He's accomplished check, and mate... because now the Americans must do what ever's necessary to ensure another production line comes to Chattanooga.

Then our elected leaders, who believe those of us who elected them are their followers, quote Stephen Sondheim... "Where are the clowns? Quick! Send in the clowns!"

While we taxpayers think, if not say, "Don't bother. They're here."

Ta-daa, ta-daa, ta-daa-da-da-da-daa, ta-daa, ta-daa, ta-daa-da-da-da-da-da-daa... where's Dudley Do Right when we really need him?

You know, the darkest hour truly is just before dawn. But believers in the American Spirit know brighter days are coming.

Royce Burrage, Jr.

Royce@Officially Chapped.org 

* * * 

The UAW thinks they are too big to fail and when they lose, they blame someone else. Sounds familiar doesn't it? But they are still here causing turmoil with whining.  

Hey, UAW. You lost fair and square. Go home, but I do thank you for showing your colors. They only prove what a headache you would be if you did get locked in at V.W.   

Michael Burns


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