In The Dark

On August 14th, Southern Ontario and hunks of Eastern United States, celebrated (?) the tenth anniversary of a giant blackout.  Locally, we did better than many areas; the power was back on in about four hours.  As with so many other things, like jet-stream cold fronts, 9/11 terrorists, and Justin Bieber, Americans blamed Canada.

Local stories range from being five from the front at a giant waterslide, and having to turn around, and follow 150 other disappointed people back down the stairs, because the water pumps shut off, to the canoeist/camper in a National Park, who pulled in the next day, without knowing or noticing that anything had occurred.

I was at work, on a 3 to 11 shift, when we went dark, at about 8:00 PM.  The plant had already started its death spiral.  The General Manager who lied to the Big Three during contract negotiations, had been forced out.  His internal replacement/promotion lasted only six months before getting a good look at the oncoming train, and taking a different track.  The external hire, who thought he was going to helm a healthy company, bailed after only three months.  And so, we got Bill.

Already cynical, I kept an eye on him.  He was touted as the man who would turn things around, but his management style and abilities did not bode well for that.  The first week he was there, he held a town-hall meeting with each of the shifts.  Not in the boardroom – heaven forbid the peons’ sandals leave marks on the carpet, rather, in the Quality Assurance/Packing area.  He looked us all in the eye and said, “My name is Bill Rheem.”  Those first four words were a lie….and it went downhill from there.

He was not a Germanic Rheem (ream), he was a French-Canadian Rheaume (ray ome).  He had worked for Ford in Windsor, but had left to start his own small company.  My suspicious little whiskers were already vibrating.  He might have been an entrepreneur, or maybe, just a guy who did not play well with others.  If he had had his own company, why was he here running ours?  Did his workforce grab torches and pitchforks and riot, or did the company go public and shareholders force him out?

We worked with a cyanide-based isocyanate.  One day a forklift hit a supply pipe, and leaked a couple of gallons on the floor.  Too important to go around, while two hazmat-suited workers cleaned it up, he ripped down the yellow HAZARD tape, and escorted three guys from head-office right through the middle.

We had had a hot, muggy summer, prior to the power outage.  We normally got two air-conditioned breaks in our eight-hour shifts of working with hot vinyl, but every previous manager had agreed to a third, when the weather got bad.  Not Bill!  No F**kin’ way!  A contract’s a contract!  Union executive contacted the Labor Board, who showed up with books of Government regs.  It was so hot and sticky that we had the legal right to a ten-minute break every hour….and Bill had to ensure it was given, and documented.

Eight PM on an August evening is not dark.  When the power died, we did what we could to prevent fires, and other problems, then trickled outside to sit on benches and picnic tables.  We’d been out there for about a half-hour, when our fearless leader showed up.  He checked that protocols had been followed, and gave us what information he had, and a little pep-talk about getting right back to work, as soon as the power came back on.

He took a couple of cell phone calls, and another half-hour later announced, “Well, I guess the power’s not coming back on.  You guys all go home.”  Somebody said, “Well, at least we get paid for the whole shift.” And Grumpy Smurf lashed out again.  “No F**kin’ way!  It’s not my fault the plant can’t run!  You don’t work, you don’t get paid!”

The next day, the union president visited him and showed him a copy of the contract, with a Short Workweek clause, which guaranteed that we would be paid from a special, slowly increasing fund.

I carefully drove 5 Km. home, through a city with neither traffic lights, nor streetlights.  I joined a wife and son in a living room well-stocked with candles, and indulged in more conversation than since the invention of TV.  Well after midnight, just as we were thinking of pulling out a board game, and playing Yahtzee or Monopoly by candlelight, civilization returned in a rush.

When the axe finally fell on me a year later, I tried to access the above fund, to top up my unemployment benefits but, being one of the last to go, I found it empty and plundered by those who had preceded me.  I needed to find a job, fast!

Bill was perhaps, the most ineffectual, adversarial Plant Manager I’d ever worked with.  The Peter Principle had allowed him to bob up to the level of his incompetence several times.  It didn’t take a power stoppage to show that he was uninformed, and poorly trained for his position.  He was in the dark, even before the lights went out, and he kept those around him in the same condition.

Previous corporate decisions and policies had already doomed my plant and my job, but Billy-boy didn’t do them any extra favors.

Where were you when the lights went out?  In a part of the country or the world where you didn’t even notice?  Did you, or someone you know, have a baby nine months later?  A lot of folks did!  No Yahtzee boards or candles, I guess.

13 thoughts on “In The Dark

  1. BrainRants says:

    Sometimes leadership means looking at the rules and saying, ‘Fuck that.’


    • Archon's Den says:

      Bill would have liked to be the leader, but just couldn’t see over his huge asshole. What bugs me about guys like this, is that I’m out of work, and they use their golden parachute and land right on another job that pays 10 to 20 times what I make. 😦


  2. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Bill was an asshole.


  3. 1jaded1 says:

    Bill is a dickwad. We were talking about 10 years ago. I was traveling to Chicago and the blackout didn’t make it that far. The lights came back on just before my plane landed in Detroit. I was teased, mercilessly.


  4. Archon's Den says:

    And yet, the teasers were the ones who were in the dark. 🙂
    You had seen the light!


  5. aFrankAngle says:

    I don’t think that blackout hit us. Nonetheless, it’s interesting how ineptness either climb the ladder or get pushed back down to a level that is still important.


  6. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    I love your style of writing – very entertaining.

    Glad the union boss paid a visit but seriously sorry you didn’t get your share. What IS that… Nasty.

    But entertaining!!


    • Archon's Den says:

      Thank you for your kind words about my writing. There’s more to come. Feel free to drop in and comment, anytime. I’ve seen your thoughts on several other sites I frequent, and I’m honored that you decided to visit me. I’ll try to keep it entertaining. 😀


  7. Jim Wheeler says:

    I was an engineer at my civilian job and thus salaried, but a substantial part of our workforce was unionized. There was always an adversarial relationship between the two parts. Schizophrenic, really. Being closer to the management side I at first had trouble understanding why the workers wouldn’t want to maximize productivity for the benefit of us all. Each time the contract was up for renewal there was a threat of strike and each time, management and engineering would prepare to temporarily take over production, something we didn’t have to actually do while I was there because the union knew we could do it. It happened before I got there.

    Over time I came to understand the other side. Regardless of production, their lot never changed because short-term rewards didn’t reach them. They punched the clock and put in the time and that was it. Engineering was goal-driven, the union was clock-driven. Big difference. Too much of the world is like that. What’s the solution? Beats me, and I’ve got a Master’s in Management. Go figure.

    What’s going to happen when the robots finish taking over the production lines? In the 1930’s Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World” envisioned a society in which there were no meaningful jobs for the proletariat – they were essentially on a perpetual dole. I think it’s happening.

    No big power failure in Missouri back then, just smaller ones during ice storms.


  8. benzeknees says:

    Being as far away as NW Ont, we were not affected by the outage or if we were it was just another day or 2 for us. We routinely suffered from 28 hour power outages (which caused all our brand new equipment like freezers & coolers to consistently break down) all the time. We had a 28 hour power outage & lost all our frozen food, 2 weeks later we finally got all the frozen food replaced 2 hours before the power went out again for another 28 hours.
    I know, I know I’m supposed to write about this on my own blog – I will, I will. Don’t nag!


  9. Archon's Den says:

    The canoeist in my story was in Algonquin National Park. He didn’t see any more than you did. You’re more pioneer quality than I am. That on-again/off-again power thing would drive me berserk(er). You can write whatever you want on my blog, but yeah, carpe a blog-theme. I don’t nag! I have a wife executive assistant for that. 👿


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