Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Working to Rule

The term "Quiet Quitting" has crossed my FB page a few times now. I looked it up and was amused that it is a term used to describe worker bees who only perform at the levels they are expected to. Once off the clock, they close the door on their workplace. No overtime, no work texts, no work emails, nothing. Do what you contracted for and that is it. In the needlessly contentious world of labor relations in the US, we are supposed to look on employees who only do their job and nothing more as somehow not living up to the work ethic browbeaten into us for the last 150 years. 

But this post is not about our work ethic or imagined lack thereof.

Today a fellow pointed out that there is actually an older definition for "Quiet Quitting". It was created back in the hey days of the union movements. It is known as "Working to Rule". Follow the rules of your workplace but nothing else. Nothing. When your shift is up, go home, crack a PBR and relax.

Immediately I was reminded of my time as a Teamster working out of Baltimore in the late 1970's.

Lever Brothers (now called Uni-Lever) had a soap plant on Holabird Avenue in Southeast Baltimore. At the time I was jockeying between driving jobs when I answered an ad for drivers needed at their plant. Little did I know I was stepping into a shit storm battle between two union shops, the Chemical Workers Union and a brand new Teamster local just trying to get off the ground. All I knew was the pay was fantastic. I mean fantastic. It was 1978 and I was going to make over $50K a year. Hello new pick up truck.

The new division was to be a team operation ( two drivers per truck). A team could make the coast to coast run to the Lever plant in Los Angeles and back to Charm City in a week. That was the plan. I made that run that first month solo. Ran two logs, gobbled go fast pills and looked for a way to hook up an intravenous tube for coffee infusions. Eventually they gave me a co-driver and we turned the run faster than any other team. Yeah, we broke rules. but we were the fastest turn in the operation.

A result of this new setup at the Baltimore plant was hard feelings from the workers in the plant. They felt the new transport division should have been theirs. But since Lever brothers was saving I think around $8 an hour by using Teamsters, the Chemical Workers were left out. 

In retaliation, the local Chemical Worker shop negotiated some very strict rules about where, how, and when we Teamsters could go, work and use the toilet. For use outside of the truck, we now had only one picnic table set up near the stairs to the Dispatch office. Our movements were restricted to a twelve foot wide strip that ran the length of the loading docks. We had one bathroom we could use. And we could not engage any Chemical Worker in job interfering jocularity. All this happened while I was out on the road the previous week.

Back now from LA, I backed my trailer into the dock, got out and went in the only door I was allowed to use and went upstairs to dispatch. I did not notice the new red lines painted on the floors in front of the docks. Dispatch mentioned nothing about them. I turned in my paperwork for the last run and picked up my papers for the one coming up on Sunday evening. I left dispatch and headed to the dock my trailer was backed into.

I had not gone twenty feet towards my trailer when the blast from the plant whistle sounded. It made me jump. Blue lights started flashing and before I knew it,  the plant had gone quiet. Not thinking it was because of anything I had done, I continued to the back of my trailer. I looked down the line of dock doors and noticed all the fork lifts were sitting idle with no drivers on them. They were all headed for their break room. 

Just then my dispatcher came running towards me,"What have you done? Did you cross the line? Jeezus Christ, the whole plant shut down. I didn't think they would do it."

I don't know how I looked, but I am guessing I had a blank look on my face.

He stopped in front of me. "Seriously, did you cross the line?"

"What line",  was my response. And then I saw the freshly painted line that had not been there when I left for California a week earlier. 'You mean that line?"

"Yeah dumass, that line."

Still not understanding the seriousness of my mistake, I remember trying to shrug it off by saying, "Uh yeah, probably. Why?"

"You shut the whole plant down by crossing that line." ........... I will always remember how upset this guy was, and then he said, "It is going to be an hour now before the plant gets back up to speed."

And still I had no clue how deep my mistake ran. I said something to the effect, "Sorry guy. Maybe you should have warned me. If I didn't know, how is it my fault? Looks to me this is on you."

That was the first write up I received of the three I would get that would allow them to fire me. The other two were also bogus write ups for things we drivers all did on the road to make our turns faster. I ended up losing my job for not "working to rule". 

My year as a Teamster did not sour me on unions though. On the contrary, my year as a union driver consolidated my feelings about the need for unions. And then the last 45 years watching management destroy the healthy labor market sealed the deal. 

The US business model is based on an antagonistic relationship between managers and labor. Union people understand this and use their collective power to fight it. It is too bad too. Working conditions in this country could be so much better, productivity could be so much higher and relationships between the worker bees and their queens could be so much friendlier.

This American "Us against Them" workplace mentality does no one any good.

Later ...............................................


Along with a musical selection, today's post is also offering up a blast from my past, a commercial for the laundry detergent made from the raw materials I picked up and delivered all over the US. I also picked up the Cannon towels millions of lucky women found inside their boxes of Breeze detergent; Their slogan was, "A towel in every box!"

For music that might be appropriate, well, um, not sure. Well, I decided to tip my hat to one of the best fans of unions in American history. A quote from a discography site says this about his most famous song:

“This Land Is Your Land” was recorded by (Woody) Guthrie in 1944 and was his response to “God Bless America.” The song is pro-American from every background. He saw “God Bless America” as too sappy and didn’t do it for those Americans facing the rough edges of the Great Depression.


The Blog Fodder said...

That quiet quitting is how Canada operates all the time. The rest of the developed world lives better than those in the land of the (not) free. I am glad to see unions making a comeback. Is there some way to prevent them from imitating the Soviet Union in demanding everyone perform the same and punishing those who do better?

Nan said...

Quiet quitting and working to rule aren't quite the same. Quiet quitting seems to refer to simply refusing to extend work beyond the time a person actually gets paid for. No working off the clock to open or close, no taking work home, basically doing what used to be considered a normal job. Clock in, do whatever needs to be done in your normal shift, clock out. Working to Rule is doing everything exactly by the book and not doing anything that was not specifically included in your job description or contract. Working to rule inevitably slows everything down.

One from Ukraine said...

\\Is there some way to prevent them from imitating the Soviet Union in demanding everyone perform the same and punishing those who do better?

That was NOT the problem of USSR. :-))
Funny prejudgies that is.
Like some other time when some westerner concluded that USSR made so much holidays for people to have someting to do with their spare time.

While that is totally opposite -- USSR was doing *everything* for people to have NO time to spare. No free time, when they could relax and start thinking, and find that something wrong with all ideological setup of USSR.
Stupid Gorbi didn't knew that secret. Well enough. That's why he ruined it all. When he allowed people to have some free time to think. And that was time to think about political matters to boot. :-)))

They, in USSR, liked very much, when workers did MORE and BETTER.
They NOT provided instruments and raw materials for that. Except for some poster cases and for propaganda reasons.
But if dumb worker somehow decided to work himself to a bone... he could recieve "gramota" -- certificate of his excellent work. But no additional money, of course. :-)

Story in the post is interesting. But frankly, have nothing to say 'bout it.

Did you know that 24th of August it's our Ukrainian Independence Day?

Maybe some cheer of it was heard in your place too. 'Cause of known reason. I wonder?

yellowdoggranny said...

ok, now we're really fucked.