Thursday, January 21, 2010

the pickets

I was carrying a new model differential pressure measuring instrument and was in front of the Illuminating building downtown. There were pickets pacing back and forth in front of the entrance. They were carrying placards bearing messages announcing that they were on strike. As I was about to enter the building, I was confronted by one of the men who asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Up to the Engineering Department”, I replied.
“Haven’t you heard? We’re on strike.”
“I know that. Don’t you expect to settle?”, I asked.
“I guess so, but not today”, he responded.
“You won’t be able to start up again unless you install one of these”. I took the gauge off my shoulder and showed it to him.
“What’s it do?” he asked .
“It replaces (and I began pointing at each of the pickets as I spoke) seven men”, I answered.
He looked at the gauge and then at me and said,” Go ahead up. You’re nuts”.
Later, as I was leaving the building with the gauge in hand, one of the men said, “It looks like we’ll have to start without it”. They all laughed and so did I.

I tried a similar approach sometime later at a plant in Ashtabula. This time there were more pickets and I had no sample with me. When one of the men challenged me, I told him it was a service call and if I was unable to meet with my contact, they would not be able to restart production after the strike ended. He asked me to wait while he called someone on his walkie-talkie. Very soon after he had completed the phone conversation a car arrived and I was told that the man inside the car was a union steward representing the Strike Committee.
Without getting out of the car he asked me,” What do you want?”
“ I don’t want anything; one of your engineers called my office and asked me to come here.”
“We’re on strike! Didn’t he mention that?” he said rather loudly.
“If I don’t get in to see him and solve his problem, you’re not going to be able to get back into production”, I claimed.
He opened the car door and shouted, “Get in.”
Off we went to the plant entrance where I was met by the engineer whose name I had mentioned. He accompanied me to his office and we talked. His first question was, “How did you manage to get past the pickets? I haven’t been able to have a visitor for a week”. He enjoyed my explanation.
After we had completed our conversation, he used his phone to call the union man who came to transport me back to the parking lot and my car.

One other encounter with pickets was very different and quite brief. It happened at a plant in Fostoria. I parked my car, got out and began walking toward the plant gate. A shot rang out. I looked around and saw a man with a shotgun and a picket sign. He shouted,” We are on strike, go away”.
I walked back to my car and left without leaving a message.

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