You know I was a union steward for a couple of years, don’t want to do that again in my life time, maybe the next, you never know. I was working for the phone company in outside construction and I was one of those young Turks challenging to accepted order of entrenched interest. So I took my job as union steward seriously. I even took classes in Labor Law as taught by one of the attorneys who did worker compensation law. The legal process is very interesting and I made sure to almost memorize the Labor Relations Act of 1934. Now I hate that word, proactive as it sounds so marketing oriented. You know, that acne wash you use on your face to rid the skin of zits. About this time the EEOC decree took affect with the Bell System nation wide and we started to receive a few women into the construction garage as linemen, excuse me, line persons, and splicers, which is lucky for us gender neutral. Not many women could handle the physical demands of the job but many tried. I tried to keep my eye on the new transferees and my ear to the ground, looking for the first sign of trouble.
The line crew was a team in every sense of the word. They worked together in a tight knit team and one either pulled his weight or was shuffled off to some other job. I mean, it’s not just a safety issue, it’s family, if you know what I mean. Everyone depends on everyone else and there is the danger of death ever present. I had worked briefly as a lineman so I knew what was expected. We had one woman who took the ribbing in style, as I recall. On a hot summer’s day the guys on the line crew took off their shirts and laughed at the one slender woman on their crew. Gina took off her shirt to reveal a bikini top and laughed back. I think that cemented her position on the crew. She proved that she could pull her weight and that she could give and take with the best of them. Heaven help you if you ever uttered a word against him in their hearing. Line crews are like that, tight. Splicers are different. We tend to be loaners, sort of independent contractors, if you like. We work at our own pace and as long as the job gets done on time your foreman cuts you some slack. My own crew had a woman assigned to us, Jackie, a slim and petite woman who wanted to do the job. Well, we put her through the paces, made her prove herself. My foreman was appalled. But I told him after it was all over that she had to prove to us she could do the job. Our job could be just as physical as a lineman’s and sometimes you had to do for yourself without any help. Let me tell you, the day that the boys and I declared her in my bosses presence meant everything to her. It took six or eight weeks, but after that I told Augie, our boss, he could send her out on her own jobs. And I told her if she ever needed help to call us, we’d be there. Linda was a good worker, she had our respect and we had her back. That’s the thing about construction crews. Once you prove yourself, once you’re in, life gets good.
But Clay’s crew had some grumblings about the woman assigned to them. a manhole cover weighs 232 pounds. Hell, I was young and strong and could pop one using the fingers of both my hands. But we had our official manhole hooks to pull them off the opening. Not much or a problem as I recall. It was a requirement of the job. But Brenda, the woman on Clay’s crew, had to have help when she had a job down in a manhole. Guys on that crew were grumbling that they had to finish her work, do the heavy lifting for her, and some intimation about her relationship with Clay. I tried to talk about the rumors with her, trying to give her the security of union help if a supervisor was taking undue advantage. I was rebuffed. Clay wouldn’t even hear of it from me, I was summarily dismissed. So I waited. As a Stewart I could take no action until one party or the other complained. A couple of months passed with more bitching by the men of Clay’s crew. Still, no reason to take action. Besides, Thanksgiving was coming and I was looking forward to the holiday. I had some plans to go visit some people I knew up north.
The holiday was almost here. We were expecting a half day of work for a full day’s pay, a gift from your foreman. The construction manager had already taken off to do some hunting, deer was his prey in fall. So most everyone is already back in the yard, cleaning out their trucks and getting ready to go home for the holidays. A few remained out, perhaps they needed a full day to complete the work. You know, that’s how it goes, luck of the draw. But there was a strange car in the yard, one I didn’t know. I also missed seeing Brenda or her car. Seems she left a bit earlier than the rest of the crew. but there was a commotion in the building. Some guy was looking for Brenda. He had a bunch of flowers in his hand. Not roses but something equally pretty and floral in aroma. It was Brenda’s husband. He had showed up with the flowers and trying to make amends for some past peccadillo. Seems they had been having marital problems and then it hit me. All those rumors about Brenda and Clay were true. My god, love in a manhole, how gouache. Someone, I can’t remember who, said Brenda had left early and perhaps he should ask Clay where she was. The husband stood at askance for a few seconds, pondering that thought. then one of the crew said,”Didn’t you know, they see a lot of each other.” With that the husband asked where Clay could be found. One of the crew said, “That room.” Clay had poked his head out of the crew room at just that time. The husband broke on the run for that room as Clay retreated and locked the door. Man, the yelling and screaming that poor fellow did. He was going to kill the foreman if it was the last thing he did.
No one called the cops, we were enjoying the show too much. It surprises me how short a time it takes to burn out that immediate hatred one has for another man. It takes a lot of anger to go beyond an hour. Yeah, I got called in as a witness, seems she had filed a worker’s comp claim on her back. Clay was moved to some nothing job supervising abandoned manholes and telephone poles. Brenda ended up in another position doing inside work. I think the funniest thing I heard about Clay’s family is that his wife sued for divorce and won a good chunk of change while his daughter, a third degree black belt in karate, beat the crap out of him. Me, I gave up being a union steward about a year later, seems I was only keeping idiots from hurting themselves. You can’t help those who don’t want your help.