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In the late 00’s Trinity began a new safety program.  When I began working for them  they had the same kind of safety program  as Brighton and Trinity.  They showed videos and put up posters showing how to work safely.  And we were provided personal protection equipment, such as safety glasses and hearing protection, and sometimes a hard hat.  We were also provided a stipend to purchase steel-toed safety shoes and work gloves.  But if there was a serious injury, OSHA would investigate, give out fines for any safety violations it discovered, and demand the unsafe conditions be fixed.  Of course, any action by OSHA would cause the company’s insurance, which all companies pay into the disability fund that pays for the treatment and care of employees injured in the workplace, to go up.

This new policy was intended to take OSHA out of the equation.  If there were no injuries, then this insurance rate would go down, saving the company money.  The company would have to make an initial investment to get the ball rolling, but after that the reduced insurance rates would more than pay for the safety program.  So a safety director was hired.  Our first, Hal, wasn’t very good.  But the next, Jeff W., was effective.  And there were many other changes.  The company began giving out work gloves, instead of giving out money for people to buy them.  People were likely to buy the cheapest they could find, or, like me, keep the money and not buy them at all.  The company also insisted people wear them.  I never wore work gloves during most of my life.  As a result, I constantly got burns and cuts and steel splinters.  Once I got in the habit of wearing gloves my hands became so soft my wife couldn’t believe it.  The company also got better safety glasses, with a foam seal.  And it was mandated that we affix plastic face shields onto our hard hats whenever we were machining or grinding.  Anyone working around the acid tanks not only had to wear a face shield, but also an apron.  Anyone performing hot work, which meant welding or burning or cutting, had to wear leather guards over their clothing to prevent it from catching fire.  Also, half-face respirators that covered your nose and mouth had to be worn whenever grinding or doing hot work with certain metals.

Of course, you can lead a horse, yada,yada.  But Jeff W. made us drink the water.  If he caught you without any of your safety equipment he suggested you put it on.  If that didn’t work, he would report you and the foreman would demand you put it on, reminding you that safety violations could be cause for dismissal.  But it seldom, if ever, got that far.  Jeff was a friendly guy, and a suggestion from him was enough.  With Hal, as soon as his back was turned you went back to doing what you wanted to do.  But Jeff was gently insistent.  Also, you got the impression he really cared about doing a good job, which for him was insuring our well-being.

There were other changes.  We began having daily safety meetings.  These would happen after our morning break, and would generally last 5 to 10 minutes.  Jeff usually had a topic to discuss, and we could bring up any safety-related issue that was going on out in the shop.  Also, at the beginning of every shift the lead man would hold a brief safety meeting with his department at which any ongoing hazards in the shop were discussed.  We began having monthly safety lunches, at which the company catered a meal, if there had been no injuries that month.  We were also issued gift cards, usually for $50, monthly if there had been no injuries.  More and better safety videos were shown.  Anyone interested was given CPR training.  The company sent people to be trained as first responders.  A defibrillator station was set up.  A first aid station was also set up.  The eye wash and shower stations were greatly improved.  Also, near misses were reported.  A near miss was an incident in which no one was injured, but easily could have been.  Any pain-killing medication you were on had to be reported in writing to the office.  And your physician had to certify that any medication he has prescribed for you would not imperil you at work.

The results were amazing.  Injuries dropped dramatically.  It was truly astounding.  We went an entire year once without a single lost time accident.  Some people gripe and complain that nothing ever changes, that all these changes are accomplishing nothing.  They just don’t remember, or are willfully forgetting, what this place used to be like.  I sure wouldn’t recognize it from the dangerous place I walked into 44 years ago.

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By 2005 Brighton had recovered.  The two shops were fully integrated.  The Enerfab employees who had been forced to relocate to the Sharonville plant once the head shop at Spring Grove was shut down were either happy with their situation or had quit.  Calvin, a flanger operator, didn’t like our machines at all, and took an early retirement.  Bob, a press operator, didn’t like working at our shop and got a disability for his back.  Of course, the welders could come and go as they pleased.  All the Enerfab welders who transferred to Sharonville eventually transferred back.  So the Enerfab employees who were still here at the beginning of 2005 were satisfied with their situation.  Also by 2005, nearly all of the Brighton employees who hadn’t been hired by Enerfab in December of 2002 had been called back.  They lost their seniority, of course, but they had their old jobs back.  The ones who didn’t come back had either found better jobs, or Brighton didn’t want them back.

So by 2005 Brighton was up to full strength, with enough work for the shop.  More than enough work.  Enerfab’s policy is to schedule as much overtime as the workers can bear.  It was more profitable for them to pay time and a half and double time for overtime than to hire more workers, who had to be trained and paid full benefits.  I had never worked so much overtime in my life.  Brighton had always had some overtime.  There were times when the shop would get flooded with work, and we were expected to get the work done no matter how many hours it took.  But with Enerfab it was a steady deluge.  Five 10-hour days, with 5 to 8 hours on Saturday, and another 5 hours on Sunday.  Week after week.  I drew the line on Sunday.  I was in my 50’s by then, and I needed some rest.  According to the contract, Enerfab could schedule as much overtime as was necessary.  But as a policy they never scheduled more than 50 hours a week.  Everything over that was voluntary.  I almost always volunteered for Saturday.  I only turned it down if there was something important going on.  So if I came in Saturday, I was almost always asked to work 5 hours Sunday.  Which I always turned down.  But a lot of guys worked Sundays.  Some men would go months at a time without taking a day off.

Enerfab never had 3 shifts.  It was always 2, with overtime to keep the shop open around the clock if need be.  I worked some 12 shifts, but not many.  Mostly 10 hours a day.  The usual start time for first shift was 6:30 AM.  But working 10 hours, we would start at 4:30 AM.  Which meant I’d need to get up for work at 3:30 AM.  So to get 6 hours sleep, which I rarely did, I had to get to bed by 9:30 PM.  I did this for 10 years or so.  You can get used to anything.

I could have turned down more overtime.  But you were expected to work when asked  If not enough people volunteered, it no longer was voluntary.  They would schedule the overtime.  But I rarely turned it down.  I was glad to get it.  My last 10 to 12 years working for Enerfab not only was I able to save up a lot of money for retirement, but it really added a lot to my pension, which was based on how many hours I worked.  So all this work came at a good time in my life.  It just wore me out.

There was a slowdown.  From sometime in 2008 to sometime in 2010 the Great Recession hit us.  Work dried up.  For a while we only worked 40 hours a week.  So we talked Mark L. into scheduling 4 10-hour days.  It was great.  We had a 3-day weekend every week.  I really enjoyed having Fridays off.  My wife was babysitting two grandchildren at the time, so on Fridays we’d go places with them.  But it didn’t last.  As things got slower, people were laid off.  Then when things picked up a little we needed to  work 10 hours on Friday to make up for the laid-off people.  Soon having Fridays off was a thing of the past, and we started working Saturdays, too.  By by the time everyone was called back to work, it was the same grueling schedule as before.

The final year I worked, 2016, I turned down every Saturday.  Mark didn’t mind, since he knew I was retiring at the end of the year.  That seemed so relaxing, having every Saturday off.  Now I have every day off.  Even more relaxing.

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The Enerfab employees who transferred to our Sharonville plant had to learn how to operate our machines.  But we had to adapt to their way of doing things.  One of the biggest changes we had to adapt to were lead men.  The Steelworkers Union had sharply separated the office employees from the shop employees.  Our old contracts forbade lead men.  You were either in management or were working on the floor.  But the Boilermakers Union allowed lead men.  So we now had lead men.  The original lead men from Spring Grove were Joe L. and Tom K., while the original lead men from the our plant were Gary B. and Curtis W. and Dennis B.  There was only one lead man on second shift, Doug R., a former Brighton employee.  The reason for this being not only was second shift smaller, but there were no former Spring Grove employees on second, they were all on first.  As the years went by, this distinction between the Spring Grove employees and the old Brighton employees faded away as we eventually merged into a single work force.  Just like Mark L. had said we would.

I did not want to be a lead man.  It was a lot of responsibility for only a little more pay.  Not only were you responsible for your own work, but also the work of everybody in your department.  Curtis W. was in charge of the first shift flanging department.  So anytime a flanger operator ran into difficulties, Curtis had to fix his screw-up.  If the piece was so messed up he couldn’t fix it himself, he determined where it needed to go, either back to the press or to a welder or to the polisher or into the scrap dumpster.  Of course, he couldn’t make all these decisions by himself, say if a piece needed to be scrapped he would have to get the foreman, Bruce K., to agree with him.  But if a problem could be resolved among the departments without involving the office, it was.  This was a much better way of running the shop than how we had done it before, without lead men.

As long as you had good lead men.  Tom resigned after his wife died, leaving him with 12 children to raise on his own.  Everyone understood, that was enough pressure for any man, he didn’t need the added headache of being a lead man.  In fact, the company allowed him to take off from work whenever he needed to tend to family business.  At first that was quite often, but lately as his older children could help out more and more, he has missed less and less work.  Then Doug quit simply because he didn’t like being a lead man.  I don’t blame him.  As I said, I wouldn’t want to be one.  But others took their places.  Jerry W. took over Tom K.’s position.  And Don M. took over Doug’s position.  And there have been other lead men.

The lead men come in a half-hour early to prepare the work for the day.  So they get 2 and a half hours more overtime every week than the rest of the shop.  On first shift they hold a daily meeting with the shop foreman, Bruce K., and also the maintenance supervisor, Matt H., and the quality control supervisor, Rick S., to discuss problems.  On second shift the lead man comes in a half-hour early to meet with Bruce and find out what kind of problems are going on.

You are never too old to learn new tricks.  Having lead men has worked out well.  Brighton should have been doing it years ago.  Under the old system, a shop employee had to leave the union to take a management position.  With lead men, a shop worker could do this and remain in the union.  It has worked out well for everybody.

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I don’t know the new owners very well.  There are two, Wendell Bell and Dave Hershey.  Wendell Bell has come out to our shop several times to talk with us.  He seems a personable guy, friendly and gracious.  I don’t remember ever meeting Dave Hershey.  All I know about him is he was involved in a serious boating accident.

I did meet one of his sons.  That first spring, in 2003, when hardly anyone was working at the Sharonville plant, I noticed a young guy out cleaning up the yard.  He swept and picked up broken-up skids and other pieces of wood, metal strapping, any debris that was out there.  I asked my foreman, Larry F., who he was, and he said it was Dave Hershey’s son.  Apparently he had done something to badly upset his father, and coming out here to do helper work was his punishment.  I guess that was a good thing, to give a young man from a wealthy family a taste of manual labor.

But I don’t think it’s a good thing to make simple physical labor a punishment.  There is certainly nothing wrong with any kind of honest labor.  I have known several men who performed such tasks while suffering from extreme physical or mental impairments.  Mark K. comes to mind.  He worked all his life with a mental handicap I’m sure he could easily have gotten a disability for.  Not only worked, but raised a family.  There was also Scotty.  He was severely injured, yet continued to work at whatever the company could give him to do.  And there was this little guy, I forget his name (Jerry, I need you!), but his spine was so badly twisted he could hardly stand, let alone work.  And he did whatever chores he could handle at work, until his doctor forced him to quit.  I’m sure there have been others.  Men who would rather keep working at whatever they could handle, rather than live off disability payments.

So no labor is so lowly as to be considered a punishment.  If simple tasks are all a physically or mentally handicapped person can do, then that person, and the rest of us, are better off with them performing this work.  Rather than giving up and drawing a pension.

Of course, I never knew any of the owners from Trinity.  I saw some of them parade through the shop.  They wouldn’t deign to talk to any of us.  In fact, this one guy was surrounded by so many assistants you couldn’t get near him.  Now the Hocks were approachable.  But you didn’t want to approach Alvin Jr.  He had a wicked tongue, you were better off staying away.  And if he had anything to say to you, he wouldn’t.  He’d go to the shop supervisor and tell him, and you’d hear it from the office.  While his brother Paul was just the opposite.  He often came up to talk to us.  He was open and friendly.  His son Jeff is the same, very approachable and agreeable.

Of course, I was much younger when I knew the Hocks.  I was in my fifties when Enerfab bought us.  I’m sure I’m not as friendly or agreeable as I used to be.  So it’s probably my fault as much as anybody’s that I don’t know much about Enerfab’s owners.

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Dan H. was the poster child for the alt-right movement.  He was one of the original Enerfab head division guys to come out to the Sharonville plant.  He tried running our flangers, but had already decided he didn’t like them by the time I returned to Sharonville, and settled on operating a press.  He lived way way out east of Cincinnati, way out in the hills and woods half-way to West Virginia.  I know it took him over an hour to drive to work each way.  So I can see why he wanted to transfer out to Sharonville.  Driving into the Spring Grove plant probably took an hour and a half each way.  And I heard he couldn’t even drive his car up to his house.  The hill his house was on was so steep he had to park his car at the bottom and walk up.

He shared a ride from out there with a welder, after this welder transferred out to Sharonville.  There was the story that Dan was sleeping while the other guy was driving into work one morning, when he woke up to find the welder was sound asleep, too.  I don’t remember if Dan yelled and woke him up, or if he just grabbed the wheel.  They were on the Interstate doing at least 70.  Hell of a way to wake up, for either of them.  I don’t remember, either, what it was that woke Dan up.  Probably those damn ridges on the shoulders.  I know they’ve irritated me enough times.  Looks like the road crews could do a better job on the shoulders, make them smoother.

Dan wasn’t racist.  Yeah, right.  Like Steve Bannon isn’t.  But Dan swore he wasn’t.  He got along well with the blacks he worked with, such as Randy V. and Chip M.  That’s the thing.  The ones he knew and saw on a daily basis, the ones he worked alongside with, they were the ‘good’ ones.  It was all the ‘bad’ ones, the ones he heard about on the news but didn’t know personally, ‘they’ were the problem.  Hard workers like Randy V., who worked at two occupations, was married and not only had raised his own children, but also several grandchildren, he was the exception.  And Chip M., who had served in the military, was another exception.  But to hear Dan carry on about blacks and Mexicans was a hoot.

Which made working with him those last years, while Obama was President, also a hoot.  To him Obama was the Devil incarnate.  Dan wasn’t around for Trump’s election, but it was fun enough listening to him during Obama’s election and re-election,  It’s a shame he and Leotis W. had never worked together.  At least while I was around.  I think they did work together at Enerfab.  Two soul mates.

Enough about politics.  Dan was a good press operator who came in every day to work.  He would help anybody who asked for help.  Sometimes when he had a large head to press, he’d get the job set up and running smoothly, then take off his work boots and kick back in his sock feet and relax.  Also, he had an appetite that rivaled Gene S.  He ate at least two lunches a day, plus before work, and he ate at his machine.  And the guy didn’t have an ounce of fat on him.  Gene didn’t, either.  But Gene was young.  Dan was in his fifties, with the metabolism of a twenty-year old.  It was amazing to watch him eat.  It’s people like that who discourage us normal humans who get fat.

Dan got injured at home, I’m not sure how.  But he was off from work for a long time.  He was intending to return to work, but was cutting down a tree and had it fall on him.  I don’t believe he was drawing worker’s comp since I don’t believe it was a workplace injury.  But if it was a personal injury, he would still be drawing partial disability pay from the company, which covers non-work related injuries or sicknesses that prevent you from working.  Anyway, he definitely was supposed to be so bad off he never should have been cutting down trees.  So I’m sure he lost anything he was drawing.  Anyway, this latest injury finished him off.  He never returned to work, so he must have been awarded a total disability.  And besides, the Boilermakers Union has an excellent pension, which I’m sure he drew.  So if Dan recovered from this latest injury, and I hope he did, I bet he’s happy living so far out in God’s country the illegals can’t even find the place.

As I’m sure you noticed, there are a lot of uncertainties in this post.  That’s because I’m retired now, and have to rely only on my own faulty memory.  I used to be able to fact check stories with guys at work, especially Jerry W.  He was my go-to guy for info.  He knew everything about everybody.  But now I don’t see him every day anymore.  So now I have to muddle through on my own.