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Blogging: Politics To Poo … Labor Of Love In Motor City

September 1st, 2014 · Tags:Cities · Satire


Hitsville Ping

It’s Labor Day and I am sitting just beyond the shadows of multi-story skyscrapers of Detroit — their outer walls adorned with the names and logos of car companies, like so many decorative hood ornaments on a grille.


Earlier this morning on my way to Bell Island, just off the shoreline of this once booming city, and then on to Motown in the heart of Detroit, I motored by the offices of the UAW. Motor City. (Cool logo, by the way, for the United Auto Workers union, with workers icons lining the perimeter of a huge circle, emulating the spokes of a wheel … or at least that is my interpretation … I digress.)

… Kind of strange to be in this bastion of American unions on Labor Day. Can’t remember the last time I heard this holiday given so much attention in the media. … Certainly never has been a big deal for me and my peeps. Ha! In Texas I think Labor Day is lightheartedly viewed as a “much-needed” three-day weekend … Ha … after only one week of school.



As I begin blogging, I’m sitting in Starbucks in the affluent Grosse Pointe — one of the original urban flight-to-the-suburbs communities — just northeast of Detroit … on Labor Day — somewhat of a guest here in Michigan. Grosse Pointe, Gross Pointe Farms, etc. … all side by side and their backbone, Jefferson Avenue lined with mansion after mansion … no doubt the results of better days for the car industry and this city.


Blogger Downer


Anywho, I don’t want to be disrespectful and focus much on just how anti-union I am, since I’m here in auto manufacturing country, but I will share some quick opinions.


First, wholeheartedly I think there was a time when sweat shops and child labor absolutely necessitated the rise of unions to protect workers — no question. However, those days are long gone. Today, as an outsider, I have to wonder how unions — a system that compensates based on membership and seniority on the job rather than performance — can be that constructive. It seems to be counterintuitive … if you believe competition leads to improved performance and quality.


How can a guaranteed, ever-increasing wage do more than drive prices up while spreading complacency in the workplace? How can our industries remain competitive in a global marketplace when we inflate production workers’ salaries and therefore production costs?


Isn’t the end result that there will be fewer, albeit higher-paying jobs? As I look around, I don’t see our workforce (or population) shrinking … How can it be good to “handicap” U.S. industry with labor contracts that seem to ignore all laws of economics?


But what do I know? I am just a dumb farm kid from Vega, but that’s not to be confused with a vegan. I digress … And no, with such views, I am typically not confused with any other sort of liberal lifestyle or opinion for that matter.


More blog pondering … curiously strategic that The Vice President of The United States was here today. I suppose that is a better decision than a round of golf. … Here to beat the pro-union drum and stir up support from a traditional Democratic power base. Maybe it is just me … but didn’t hear a lot of hoopla about the visit. The TV stations reported the visit, but there didn’t seem to be any huge vote of confidence or an overwhelming show of support … no roaring crowds of union members hoisting the old VP up on their shoulders. Could it be the even the working man is very concerned about the current administration’s void in leadership and the globe in chaos? I don’t know. Is it such a leap of faith to think a guy who ratchets wheels onto a pickup truck chassis is also concerned with terrorist jihadists bent on destroying us. I think so. Ha! Bet your arse you didn’t see me walking across the street to hear what Mr. Biden was selling.


Would I be giving any thought to all of the “haves and have nots” if I wasn’t seeing the different socio-economic realities along Jefferson Avenue. Interesting. If you have never been to this city, as you leave the suburbs, there is an abrupt end to the opulence. The most drastic I have seen in a city … like a prosperity on/off switch has been flipped as you cross the intersection of Jefferson and Alter. Night and day. Instantly, the demographics change from three-story homes with columns and acreage to the type of sub-groups who huddle up on sidewalks in front of empty buildings that are now in decay, although there are still signs of nice architectural design, once upon a time.


It’s no secret. Detroit is in trouble. We all know the city went bankrupt. I guess the saddest thing I saw was a multi-story, brick, abandoned YMCA building. The entire roof was caved in, with the sky showing through, although the rest of the structure appeared to be salvageable. Near the top, on a ledge was a 12-foot tree, awkwardly jutting toward the sky … a sapling that somehow sprouted then flourished in refuse left behind, as the building was neglected. Nature taking over where man had failed. Ha … maybe that is a sign of hope.



Blogger Upper


Now forget all that depressing stuff … hear this. I am convinced Detroit and the auto industry are about to turn a corner. I have been fortunate to see some more positive things here around Motor City. The Dirty Gig brought me and my colleagues here to assist with courthouses and automobile plants that were deluged with floodwaters a few weeks back. We’re in the bowels — the dark tunnels … in the design rooms and in the display areas … and all around the high-security campuses … we are seeing some very cool, promising, innovative stuff.


Because it is such a spy-vs-spy industry, I shouldn’t even tell you specifically where we’ve been working. And I can’t give much detail … but we have seen not only next year’s models but also unannounced concept cars … sports cars … smart cars with even more revolutionary size/design specifications … luxury cars … variations on older, reliable themes and totally new designs. So competitive and security-sensitive is the place, that we have even seen drones with security cameras hovering overhead — presumably to monitor our activities. Around the facility, we see next-year’s models driving around with the bodies encapsulated in cocoons of packing materials … so the vehicles can be tested, but not in view of the wrong eyes. Pretty interesting. A portion of our workplace is elbow-to-elbow with one company’s research department. Who knows what all that entails, for the cars of the future … And I am sure I don’t know how this fit in. One afternoon, I saw what appeared to be a skateboard racing down the street. As it zoomed by me, I saw that it was a motorized skateboard, remote-controlled from a nearby office, with a stand-up outline of a man “riding” the thing. Ha … a skate punk drone. Interesting.


And so where does this lead to? My story. For some reason, I am working a new position on this Dirty Gig. I am in supply … Ha … I am the supply department, with a couple of hired laborers. Nothing exciting … order what we need, and try to get it delivered “yesterday.” All the time, trying to guess the exact point when one task will be finished, and the corresponding supplies are no longer needed.


As I try to make heads/tails of the supply and demands, I am reminded of the humorous TV views of Wall Street traders, where the guy has a phone to each ear, and he is yelling “Sell, sell, sell” into one phone and into there other, “Buy, buy, buy.” My stint in supply has been about that crazy. Anyone know where I can unload about a pallet-full of now unneeded yellow rubber boot covers? Oops.


But I don’t want to downplay the scope of my responsibilities on this job. Seems just about — everything … and I mean everything — has the potential to be the supply guy’s job.


Like the other day. Our teams had finished work in a building at one end of the complex. Well, in a flood situation where water supplies and electric utilities are shut down … one of humanity’s most basic needs is accommodated within the fiberglas confines of a horrible little thing called a porta-john.


Perhaps it is obvious, but the porta-loo (as they call them in New Zealand) is one of the first things to arrive on the job and the last to leave. So, when we packed our things to leave an area … we had to move these “honey pots” as they are also sometimes misnomered. Who’s job was it? Supply. But, thank goodness I had help.


Enter what I can only describe as “the poop train.” Three comrades and I had to mount up on forklifts, drive to the far end of the facility — yes, on the first day that the auto professionals were back on the jobs driving their new vehicles and dressed in coats and ties — and transport poo. Ha … we had quite a little caravan … moving slowly, flashing hand signals before a turn, tooting our horns to warn on-coming traffic, avoiding any bumps in the road as to rule out any sloshing … Ha … Yes I know … very gross. But this was our important mission that day, and we were just the guys for the job:) I had to joke that we were “taking our …. and going home.”


Mission accomplished and no “hazardous materials” left the tiny buildings. Hmmm … wonder if there is a union for potty train conductors, where I can file my grievance for that little Dirty Gig.


Know what I sayin?