All Sections
Welcome guest, you have 3 views left.  Register| Sign In

Home  Columns

Your Turn, NH -- Karl Tubalkain: Some interesting experiences I've had with labor unions

January 13. 2013 11:25PM

Recent right-to-work legislation and the automotive bailouts brought to mind some past work experiences. Back in 1969, I landed a summer job at the GM Transmission Plant in Parma, Ohio, where I worked as a technician in the testing lab. One day I was trouble-shooting a test stand and needed to replace a blown fuse. I replaced the fuse and was told I had violated union rules because I should have called a union electrician to replace the fuse. Fortunately, no one reported me.

Another time I went to eat lunch at the company cafeteria and I noticed posters on the wall describing how to spot marked playing cards. I asked a colleague what was going on, and he told me that workers would lose their paychecks to card sharks on pay day, and this was an attempt by management to reduce their losses. Evidently union rules allowed members to gamble in the locker rooms.

Another sign in the cafeteria announced the winner of the employee suggestion contest. The winning suggestion was a way to reword the new car warranty so that GM could reduce its warranty costs. Improving reliability did not seem to be a goal.

One time I accompanied an engineer to Detroit, where we visited the torque converter department. There were approximately 40 engineers in the department. I recall asking the chief engineer what the efficiency of the torque converters was. He replied that the torque converter efficiency was 98 percent, and they were trying to improve that number. I was glad I wasn't working in that department.

On the drive back from Detroit, I asked the engineer I was with if he was concerned about the possible United Auto Workers strike. He said he wasn't too worried because when the union wages went up, the engineers' wages also increased.

When I later worked for Westinghouse, I had the opportunity to visit a number of boiler control rooms. One of these was at a Ford plant near Detroit. I parked my VW Rabbit in the visitor parking lot. I was told they would tow my car because it wasn't built in the United States. I told them that my VW had been assembled in New Stanton, Pa. Luckily, my car wasn't towed.

Boiler control rooms were interesting places to watch people who have little to do most of the time, but who watch a control panel and then have to call somebody to fix a problem when an alarm occurs.

One of the control-room operators spent much of his time on the phone managing his apartment rentals. He told me that single women use almost no water because they don't want to mess up their hair, whereas single guys take showers all the time, running up his water bill. He described how he evicted a family for not paying rent. He moved in with them, claiming his wife had kicked him out of the house. He brought a folding lawn chair and a six pack and parked himself in front of the TV in their living room. They couldn't take it and left.

These are a few of my observations about unions, car companies and interesting people I met along the way.

Karl Tubalkain lives in Hampstead.

Business Labor Politics Guest Commentary

Newsletter Signup