I was Atlanta today and saw men picketing on the street. I had an unpleasant flashback to my days as a scab.
It was 1983. I had landed my first professional job out of grad school. I was a Market Research Analyst at Miller Brewing Company. I wore business suits and pumps to work and carried a brief case. All that ended when the brewery workers went on strike.
Corporate workers were drafted (pun intended) to man the brewery and keep the beer flowing. I traded in my business suit for jeans and t-shirts. My pumps were replaced with steel-toe boots. My brief case held my PBJ.
My assignment: Depalletizer Operator - 2nd shift.
For those of you not familiar with a Depalletizer Machine, I will provide a very simple, albeit immature, description.
The Depalletizer Machine eats empty cans stacked on pallets one row at a time and poops them out the other end, in one continuous, very long turd which makes its way onto an assembly line. The cans then travel the assembly line high above the plant to the subsequent station(s) where they are cleaned, labeled, and filled with beer.
There were 3 Depalletizer machines in the brewery. I was on Line C.
After I fed the Depalletizer, I was to stand at the back end and make sure all the cans remained standing as they made their way onto the assembly line. I was provided a high tech tool, which was integral to the operation. It was a stick with a hook on the end of it. In theory, the cans would leave the Depalletizer in an orderly fashion and make their way onto the line. And if a can toppled over, it was my job to reach out and pick up the can using my high tech tool.
I can still remember that first day on the Depalletizer. "Wow," I thought! "This is so easy! Why the heck are those guys on strike?"
Picking up those cans was a complete breeze. But after watching 3,000 or so cans pass by my mind started to wander....
- "What should I do after work?"
- "I hope the dog's doing OK alone at home.."
- "I wonder how they make fruit cake..."
Oops. I guess I missed one. They had to shut down line C. Someone had to locate the downed can and remove the log jam. My DB (Depalletizer Boss) reminded me how important it was to pay attention to my job.
I promise you, I'd start my shift every day focused and determined not to let any cans get past me. But those cans had a hypnotic effect on me. I'd start thinking about what I was going to have for lunch... what I needed from the grocery store... if Peeps were a fruit or a vegetable and I'd hear 'CAN DOWN LINE C'. My DB started to lose his patience.
Gradually, my inability to focus on moving cans resulted in my demotion from Depalletizer Operator to the Label Wash, which involved, not surprisingly, washing labels off of beer bottles. (The labels had been placed on the bottles up-side-down by another corporate scab working the Labeling machine.)
When I opened my paycheck the next Friday I realized that my check was larger than it had been. I realized that Miller had adjusted my pay to reflect my scabbing. Then it sunk in. Not only did Brewery workers make more than I did, they were on strike so they could earn even more. I had a Masters Degree in Applied Statistics and their jobs required a high school diploma. No fair!
Then I remembered that voice "CAN DOWN LINE C" and realized that their jobs were much, much harder than mine.
They deserved every penny.