Dude, I Just Work Here – Day 3

The following is a recap of my adventures and experiences while out on business continuity assignment for my employer. In brief summary, there is currently a work stoppage on the part of union employees in the Northeast region. As a result, I’ve been assigned to travel to the upstate New York and perform some of the duties of the striking employees.
My goal is to make this a running blog and post as often as possible.

(August 10, 2011)

That’s So Yesterday
As Day 3 began, it did so with my resolve burning. No longer was I going to allow these union employees to intimidate me and make me feel uncomfortable. My partner and I decided that instead of taking the trail cars for a ride – all the while wasting our time and preventing us from providing service to our customers – we were going to go directly to the site of the job we did not get to finish the day before. The plan was not so much a matter of me growing a pair overnight as it was knowing the location was up in the mountain, required a fairly lengthy drive to get there, and we would be protected by the 45 feet of driveway onto the customer’s property. The union picketers can follow us to our site and picket our work, but they cannot do so on the customer’s private property. Going directly to the site was a calculated move on our part.

CWA = Creepy Worker Association?
I will say there was a sense of “bring it on” as we left the garage to our work site. This was a result of the union sending their workers to our respective hotels in order to follow us and, I assume, intimidate us from the very beginning of the day. This was just unacceptable as far as we were concerned. It’s one thing to bother us once we’re on the clock and actually working for the company they’re fighting against, but to harass us at our hotel is just bad form.

One of my teammates, who is unfortunately staying at a separate hotel – by herself – was followed in to work by union employees. I can only imagine what this woman must have been thinking and feeling as two strangers were, in effect, stalking her on her way to work. I would have been terrified and pissed beyond belief. Let’s put it this way, if I were home and my wife were on a work stoppage assignment , and she called me with a story like that, I’d be on the next plane and the situation would end with me going to jail and the union guys going to the hospital. Again, totally unacceptable.

We didn’t have that problem. There’s a group of us staying in the same hotel and we’re all carpooling into work. On Tuesday, one of my peers drove and we went in the RAM 1500 my other peer had rented. Later that day, we all agreed we’d take my rental car on Wednesday. After having run to grab dinner late Tuesday evening, I came back to find the parking lot of my hotel full, and I ended up having to park on the other side of the building. On Wednesday morning, the union guys, whom we had no idea would be there, were waiting by the pickup truck. As it turns out, we all exited the other side of the hotel, piled into my rental, and left. As we were leaving, we noticed the guys in the red shirts. “Those aren’t union guys, are they?” We weren’t sure but it quickly dawned on us that if they were, they were waiting for us to come out to the truck. Through our laughter, I could hear my peer saying, “So long, suckers!”

Putting It Into Practice
I can honestly say Day 3 was a good day. We got some work done and managed to close out three of our orders (which is a good number given the circumstances of what we’re dealing with). We’re not entirely efficient, but with every day there’s a greater sense of familiarity and understanding of what to look for, how to troubleshoot it, and how to eventually resolve it. What also made the day great is that I actually go to put into practice the things I was taught in training over six weeks ago, specifically climbing a telephone pole using a ladder. Completing this task under normal circumstances is an effort unto itself. There’s a procedure to removing the ladder from the van. There’s a procedure for carrying the ladder. There’s a procedure for setting, raising, and securing the ladder. All these procedures exist for safety reasons, and they all take time. Add on the facts A) I was trying to recall so much of it from memory, B) the pole on which I’d be working was located one hundred feet into a wooded area full of shrubs, vines, and tall grass, and C) there was the added pressure or the picketing union employees watching my every move, what should have taken twenty or so minutes took about an hour.

Thankfully there was a moment of comic reprieve. My partner is Cuban and I am Cuban-American. In order to clear out the shrubbery and brush, we had to use a machete – yes, I said machete – that was in the van. As I’m whacking away at the foliage, I said to my teammate, “Two Cubans with a machete in the woods. How *bleeping* cliché is this?”

Once everything was set up, it was almost exhilarating to climb up the ladder and work on the aerial terminal the fed the customer’s home. I did my testing and trouble shooting, and I felt so comfortable up there, I had forgotten I was over twenty five feet off the ground.

Redemption?
I find my outlook and perspective towards the striking union workers having shifted. This is due largely to the fact that as I was setting up my ladder, one of the union employees suggested I set my ladder a little further back for safety reasons. He stated my ladder was too steep and I needed more incline. He also later provided additional instructions regarding the securing of the ladder to the pole.

I was shocked by his willingness to give me pointers, as well as what appeared to me to be genuine concern for my well being. Once I finished my work and returned my ladder and tools to my van, I walked over to the gentleman and thanked him in person. We shared a brief conversation and he was very cordial in his tone and demeanor. This was not the same tone and demeanor we’d seen just a couple of hours earlier as we left the garage. Gone was the venom in his words. Absent was the vitriol in the language he used. Instead, he was clear to state that he did not like nor appreciate the fact we were there doing the work, yet he understood the situation we’re in, and the last thing he wanted is for one of us to get hurt on a job. In return, I, too, empathized with the position they were in, and I explained I’d much rather be at home with my family than performing business continuity work.

The best way to describe the exchange was professional and filled with mutual respect. I do like to think, however, that his watching me setup the ladder, climb the pole, and work on the terminal allowed me to earn a measure of respect in his eyes. Rather than wimping out, I went out and got the job done.

Playing the Part
It turns out I have a lot more in common with the union employees than I had thought. Speaking specifically about the group protesting outside our garage, it’s become apparent the majority of them share the same sentiment as the gentleman with whom I conversed. They don’t necessarily want to be out in the sun or rain walking around in circles, blowing their whistles, and holding signs. Still, they have to in order to be paid by the union. They also have to play the part of irate union person in order to stay in the good graces of the union higher-ups.

This reveals to me that the loud, obnoxious, and rude protestors are really the vocal minority of the organization. Not everyone in a red shirt ‘hates me’, but rather they greatly dislike what I represent in terms of the company’s solution to the work stoppage. They also admitted – through surreptitious back channels, of course – they have no intention of causing any harm to anyone.

This really made me feel a lot better and a lot safer than I did just 48 hours earlier. It’s a shame that a select few force all others on strike to be so adversarial and uncompromising. Assholes will be assholes, I guess. The good news is going forward I will not feel the level of anxiety I did on Days 1 and 2, and less anxiety is always a good thing.

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