This month, we reprint the following in honor of Andy Lamb of Arrow Glass in downstate Illinois, who reminded me about this long-forgotten article.
When work is progressing smoothly at a union shop, management and labor tend to forget their adversarial roles. All it takes to change that situation, however, is that dreaded word "strike." A strike clearly identifies the players. A line is drawn, sides are taken . . . and the games begin!
Thats the way it all started one hot summer a decade ago. Striking glaziers marched in front of the building all day, every day, shouldering picket signs boldly declaring management to be unfair. By the end of two weeks, negotiations had broken off and both sides had become frustrated. One manager discovered that his car tires mysteriously went flat every other day. All the glaziers picket signs mysteriously disappeared from the back seat of the union stewards car one night. Accusations were thrown from both sides. The summer got hotter with each passing day.
In the beginning, the various shops around the city were unified and had agreed to stand together. But once the reality of a strike set in, the weaker shops broke rank and put their crews back on the street. As usual, the biggest talkers were the first to cave in. In ten days all but three companies of the 20 or so that started out were still standing firm.
As the days passed, pressure on both sides increased. The strikes were losing money and the company was losing customers, particularly to those shops who had gone back to work. Something had to be done and done quickly. Therefore, we did what management does best. We formed a committee and held a meeting.
During the meeting, we decided to prove to the strikers that we could manage without them. We also need to start salvaging some of our customers. Even though our team was a little lean on field experience, it was heavy on enthusiasm and it was time to show the strikers that their work could be done without them. Yes, indeed, we managers would load, deliver and install the glass and metal ourselves.
The maiden voyage into the world of labor would involve loading the biggest rack truck in the fleet with some very large lites of glass and all the necessary equipment to install them. Additional trucks and crews would go out on the following days. It was time to put fear into the hearts and minds of the strikers. This action was designed to do just that.
On the designated day, I was to have the dubious honor of driving the first truck through the picket line. The enormous rack truck was fully loaded. I took the wheel and maneuvered the truck to the back of the shop to get a 75-foot running start. With the engine revved, I signaled for the button to be pushed that would open the designated the overhead door. The door began to rise slowly. I let out the clutch and headed toward it.
As I gained speed, the door continued to rise and I could see the startled faces of the picketers as they peered into the shop from the partially opened door. A few jumped right in front of the opening into my path and with hands waving violently, they yelled "stop" but I wasnt intimidated. In fact, I had anticipated such action and it only made me more determined to get through. While continuing to gain speed, I started honking the horn and as I knew they would, the strikers jumped back out the door. "They arent going to stop me!"
Here it was . . . the big moment. What I hadnt counted on was the fact that the overhead door needed to be fully opened in order for a big rack truck to clear it. It finally dawned on me that the picketers had been trying to keep me from hitting the bottom of the door with the top of the truck, not trying to keep me from leaving the building. The guys I had been ready to drive through had been trying to save my life and property.
When I finally looked back, all I could see was glass and wood all over the place . . . and a bunch of striking glaziers howling with laughter.
Within a week or so an agreement was reached. Everyone went back to doing what they do best and each side gained a new level of respect for the other. One thing was certain though, the strike had been a costly one. Those overhead doors are expensive.
© Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.