By Garland Davis
A conversation about unions reminded me of a story told me by a shipmate. His name was Jack and he was from my hometown. A few years older than me. We knew some of the same people but had never met before the Navy.
Jack was on his second tour. He worked on the flight line driving the yellow gear and moving aircraft. He had taken a discharge after his first tour and returned to Winston-Salem. He was lucky enough to get a job with the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He worked on the loading docks, driving a forklift, loading cigarettes into rail cars and unloading paper and packaging material for the rolling lines.
Now, in the fifties and sixties, a job with RJR was the epitome of success in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. High school graduates considered themselves fortunate if they were hired by the company. Many people spent their entire working life dealing with making and selling cigarettes.
I asked Jack why he left and came back in the Navy if he had such a good, well-paying job. He told me it was because of the union. He had joined the union because it was required by the agreement with the company.
He said, almost from the beginning, he was cautioned by his fellow workers for working too fast or too hard. They were loading a string of boxcars. There were only four pallets left when the lunch bell rang. He said he went ahead and loaded the final car before lunch. The rail workers buttoned up the train and moved it out and moved a new string of cars in. The Union steward and his fellow workers gave him hell. If he had stopped for lunch and loaded the car afterward, they wouldn’t have had any work while the cars were moved out and another string of cars moved in.
He said the unwritten rule was only a certain number of cars were loaded or unloaded per day. They worked at a speed that supported that number.
He told me on his day off he went to the recruiter and reenlisted. He returned to the job to quit and tell the union steward and his fellow workers to go fuck themselves.
BTW, he retired as a Master Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate.