Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Industrial Fiction:'s illusions I recall

On the morning of Snodgrass’s second day in the Random Parts station Snodgrass stopped Matthias half-way to his job assignment to pump him for information. Matthias always accommodated Snodgrass, particularly since Snodgrass always chose a high visibility location for the information download.

“What is a per-diem supervisor?” Snodgrass asked.

“Neither fish nor fowl” Matthias answered.

“A per-diem supervisor is a regular, hourly employee who management thinks is capable of managing people. So they make them a offer and move them to a temporary supervisor position with all of the headaches and none of the advantages” Matthias replied. 

“What do you mean ‘none of the advantages’?” Snodgrass asked.

“No guarantee that they will ever become salary. No guarantee they will get the fringe benefits. From the hourly side, their seniority is frozen so folks with less seniority pass them by and get advantage for vacation and the per-diem’s time as a per-diem does not count toward their hourly retirement nor does it count toward retirement as a salary employee” Matthias said. "Some per-diem are in that position for five, even ten years and never become permanent, salary employees."

“Ouch!” Snodgrass said. “Why so harsh?”

“Management wants to have it both ways” Matthias said. “They are like a man with a wife and a mistress on the side. It really isn’t fair to either woman. The Union’s position is to make the per-diem uncomfortable and pressure Management to either shit or get off the pot.”

“I would think per-diem supervisors would be pretty good” Snodgrass said, thinking of how he had picked up loads of experience with just his tiny amount of time on the line.

“Most of them are way better than the kids they bring in from college or recruit from fast-food restaurants” Matthais admitted. “A few let the power go to their heads but most of them know the contract and know the people and the processes.”

“So why doesn’t management hire them” Snodgrass asked, not able to make sense of what seemed like an obvious thing.

“Well, they usually say it is because the per-diems don’t have a four-year college degree” Matthias scoffed. “Human resources put a might high priority on any kind of four-year degree.”

“What can you tell me about the station I am in?” Snodgrass asked.

Matthias was a pretty good poker player but Snodgrass had been studying him closely enough to see that Matthias was hedging.

“I can’t tell you anything. You are going to have to figure it out on your own” Matthias said. “I will tell you that I represent every hourly person in this plant and that this is not primarily an operator problem.”

“It is not my place to get in the middle of pissing matches between management. Like I said. You are on your own.”

Snodgrass ran into a problem on his very first unit. He looked at the screen to see what the next model was. He put on his apron and loaded it with the parts he needed. He had no problem installing them.

The problem occurred when he scanned the second unit and put his hand into his apron on his way over to the pick-face and he felt an SD card.

Crap! He had no idea if the SD card he had installed was the one he picked or the one that had been in the pocket of the apron when he picked it off the hook.

He told his Team Leader and the T/L told him not to sweat it. Snodgrass didn’t think that was the right action but he was in training. He though the T/L should have grabbed the correct SD card and chased the unit down the line and changed out the part.

Another thing that Snodgrass noticed that seemed unusual was that the entire team bolted out the side-door at every break. Then, fifteen minutes after production restarted the T/L would give each team-member another fifteen minute break.

“What’s with that?” Snodgrass asked the T/L.

“They need to go to the can” the T/L informed him.

“Weren’t they supposed to do that during the break?” Snodgrass asked.

“Nah” the T/L informed him. “Breaks are for smoking cigarettes and talking.”

Had this been one of the first two jobs Snodgrass had learned he never would have noticed that the team-member never signed out of the job station and the T/L never signed in when the T/L gave them their unofficial breaks.

Snodgrass came to the conclusion that the T/L was as half-assed at doing the jobs as he was at doing everything else. He noticed the quality station alarming about 45 minutes after the T/L left each job. The pattern of alarms seemed totally random unless you knew about the T/L giving each team-member extra breaks.

Snodgrass had a dilemma. He could say something but that would lock him out of solving the bigger problem. Or, he could act like any other new trainee and nod his head and just keep learning the job.

Snodgrass kept his mouth shut and kept learning the job.

He considered Matthias to be a straight-shooter. He might not tell Snodgrass everything he knew but what he did share was probably the truth-as-Matthias knew it. 

Snodgrass could not see what the problem was or how it could be a management issue.

Next Installment


  1. Many moons ago I worked in a steel mill and they used vice foremans like your per-diem position. It was a try out for management that mostly failed. It wasn't they could not do the job, it was because they didn't want to be shunned by their union buddies.

  2. An interesting example of the difference between how things are and how they are supposed to be.

  3. I think the 'problem' is the T/L... since the 'problems' roll with him.

  4. I'm curious about the back story of the T/L. His arrangement with the team members might well be more complicated than half-assed leadership.