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You need to know up front that I’m a long-suffering semi-successful professional industrial goddamned supervisor.  In other words, I drink a lot on Saturday nights to forget what I go through Mondays to Fridays.  I used to be a teacher but I needed a bigger challenge.  And more money.  And you, my long-suffering semi-successful bastard friend-I’ve-never-met who is reading this, are just as fucked up as I have been all these years (kind of like that last sentence).  Why else would you be reading a book looking for help to the age-old quasi-religious question: How the hell do you get lazy-ass sons-of-bitches (and daughters-of-bitches) to work faster, safer, more productively and with a song in their hearts?  And, since you’re a supervisor, which means you occupy the combat zone between labor and management and are bleeding from wounds out of both directions, you have also to grapple with the question of meeting the fucking quota, or, making the big boss happy.

No doubt you’ve already thought about closing this book and chucking it (and therefore me) in the waste bin.  Well, go ahead.  Still, don’t dump that waste bin just yet.  After all, where else are you going to find a dumb sucker like me who gives a shit enough to talk to you straight about some of the problems that face us every day?  Go look on the book store shelves for those snore fests about motivation and self-starting employees.  Words like “work unit” and “spendthrift efficiency,” “information fatigue syndrome,” or “fiscal year”, assail you on the first page.  By page two you’re either asleep or you firmly believe you’re reading a science fiction novel written in the language of the alien. Here’s an example of the gibberish: “Day labor costs shift overages greatly into the off-budget galaxy, leaving expense to profit margins thin and overexposed to whimsical market fluctuation attacks.”  A page-turner to be sure.  Me, I’m writing shit you know you’ve seen and shit you’ve experienced and wondered over at night at about 3:30 am when labor and management are both fast asleep secure in the knowledge that their supervisor will have everything figured out and running smoothly in the morning.  Besides, I’m putting anything remotely technical in bold print (the only print your myopic boss can read) so if he catches you reading this book at work (the only place you should read a book about work), then he’ll be so impressed with what you’re reading he will say something like, “After you’ve finished reading that book, you’re fired.”  Two good things: you get paid for reading this book, and you get out of the dead end job that caused you to read the book in the first place.

So, with everything stacked against us, why do we supervise?  Why not bail out and go back to simple labor?  Why not apply for that promotion to management?  Because, you were born to supervise!  You are too ambitious to just assemble parts.  And you have, you poor slob, too much integrity to be a useless drone manager towing the company line.  In other words, you’re too damned smart and you’ve got too much hustle to do anything but your best and expect the same from others and are willing to gnash your teeth and sweat blood to create what was not there and would never have been there without you.  In other words, you’re screwed by personal integrity.  Management can somehow detect that integrity; I believe it is a smell sense, like hyenas to bleeding meat, that has them slinking after you to make you a supervisor with the integrity to do nothing wrong while at the same time being responsible for everyone’s failures.

Supervision is the single most important aspect of industry, bar none.  Engineers? Fuck ‘em.  They can’t make anything but mock-ups, models and demos.  And, while those things are really fun to break while the engineers are at lunch, the average model product actually resembles the final on-line product in the same way that the planet Mars resembles, say, your dog’s ass.  CEO’s?  Those pompous, greedy suits?  Give me a break.  Being rich is not an asset to the company.  Just think how much more money there would be for improvements in the work place if those dickhead CEO’s donated their stock options for a bazzilion dollars every fiscal year to the bottom line of the company operating budget!  And let’s not even pretend that labor is anything but a faceless crowd of slackers out to pickpocket the company’s toilet paper and coffee.  Management?  Hah!  Management (including damn-them-to-hell CEO’s) is the 15% of the country that earns 50% of the money.  And no one knows what those people do to earn that money!  I take orders from management every day, and I know for a fact by the very orders given that they don’t have a clue what goes on outside their office doors.  I know for a fact that if I, like all good supervisors, didn’t creatively interpret company dictums, then labor would be wasting time waiting on the warehouse loading platform to unload a truck full of supplies that arrived and was put away for assembly last week.

So, who does that leave running everything from work assignments to quota schedules, from ten minute breaks to the intricacies of laying off an employee so that they can afford to get their back surgically repaired from a lifetime of ergonomically sadistic work stations?  Who knows what goes on in the employee’s bathroom?  Who knows how many illegal, cross-border, day laborers are actually living inside the toilet stalls?  Who can get information about sick days and vacation time from the human resources department?  Who else, but you the supervisor, can walk, talk, think and shoot birds at the same time?  I’ll tell you who: NOBODY.

Here’s a proof, one of many you could probably point to yourself.  Something any profitable company would never do is pay someone a wage for producing nothing.  Management produces reams of reports and charts and budget projections.  Labor produces goods and services.  But supervision produces, at the end of each day, actually nothing, nada, poof.  So why do companies keep these people around?  Why can’t management simply cut out the middle man and speak directly to labor?  Well, I’m here to tell you why.  The reason labor and management don’t communicate directly is because labor is surly and prone to violent behavior, while management is wimpy and prefers to chase balls around a golf course.  So companies pay supervisors to go in and translate orders from on high to the mean street workers down low.  And believe me; companies don’t pay nearly the worth of the job.

Here’s a classic example, all too true.  A meat packing company distributes vast quantities of contaminated meat products to a huge fast-food chain customerConsumers get sick and some die and the fast-food chain actually stops selling some of its products for a short time (a thing unheard of even if they’ve sold out of the item).  The fast-food company gets real pissed off and drops its contract with the meat packer (not because of the contaminated meat and the deaths, mind you, but because of having to pull a product off the shelves for a few days).  And so, the meat packing company takes a huge hit in profits, and loses much business to their competitor (who, in the long run, is probably owned by the same multi-national anyway).  All this you probably read about at the time (while you were in the hospital getting over that touch of fast-food poisoning).

But here’s what you most likely didn’t read about, and almost every word is true, except for the parts I made up.  That particular meat-packing company was being sued (true) by its own employees (true) in association with (unbelievable, but true) the OSHA people (yes, they actually do exist, though I personally have never seen one and wouldn’t know what one looked like if he/she was about to stick his/her nose in that open socket that has had frayed wires since World War One out back beside the stack of oil soaked rags by the half-ton press).  For four years, four years, this unique law suit had been going on (true).  And what was the lawsuit about?  Wages?  False.  Health insurance?  False.  Job safety?  Sure, tell me another.  No, this legal action involved the most intricate corporate planning and fiscal responsibility known to the free-enterprise world: bathroom breaks (true).

Remember that old joke wherein the brain decides to shut down to prove that it’s the master of the body?  Then the eyes close to prove their importance?  Then the mouth, etc?  And each body part shuts down to show it’s boss until there’s nothing left except the asshole?  But when the asshole shuts down, all the other parts open up and scream.  Proving, as the joke goes, that you don’t have to be a brain to be a boss, just an asshole?  Well, bathroom breaks can function in a similar manner in disrupting the work place.  Now, let’s see how this works in real life.  Let’s say you need to have five gross of a product packaged by the end of the day. You get your set-up men (hold on, one of them is in the crapper), okay, after a while you get your set-up men (where’d the other one go?  Taking a piss?).  Toilet urge, just like coughing, is contagious, let’s be clear on that.  Fine, okay, the set-up is done on the packaging machine, and we’re only just a little behind on the project.  Bring in the packagers and put ‘em to work.  Damn, one’s got the flu and a case of the runs.  That machine is up less time per hour than it is idle.  All right, one machine dysfunctional won’t throw off the whole thing.  Except that one by one, each of the other packagers is off to the john at some time or other so that we’re down two machines or more at any one time and this packaging job (let’s say with Easter frills to it so that there’s a seasonal urgency to the whole task) doesn’t look like it’ll be done until Christmas.  Damn.  Well, that’s just how it goes.  And speaking of going, excuse me while I go relieve myself.  Be right back.

There.  See what I mean?  Bathroom breaks are no small affair in relation to production time.  So this meat packing company decided to ban bathroom breaks.  But not outright.  Just that no one goes to the bathroom unless another worker is available to replace that person on the line.  Now, how many companies do you know of that have spare “bathroom break employees” ready to jump in when nature calls?  It sounds like a great job really, kind of like a substitute teacher or something, but on a smaller time scale and with a wider variety of skills involved.  Needless to say, this meat packing company did not have a position for bathroom replacement in their budget.  So no one took a shit on the job.  Or did they?

I’m no lawyer; I deal only in truth.  So I won’t come to any conclusions about the contaminated meat (e. Coli was the type of bacterial contamination involved– e. Coli bacteria comes from feces, you know? like shit).  What I really want to point out is the spectacularly difficult situation the supervisors at that meat-packing company were in.  A work force of professional, high-speed butchers, armed with the latest meat-cutting and bone-shearing equipment (pronounced weapons) wants to go to the bathroom.  Those supervisors have to tell them no, then start counting their limbs to make sure nothing was cut off (by industrial accident, of course).  Perhaps one such encounter went like this:        

 

Armed employee: Hey, Merl!  I gotta go to the bathroom.

Merl (the supervisor): Not until I can hire a replacement for you. 

Armed employee: (buzzz, swish, grind, buzzz, slash) I really got to go to the bathroom.

Merl (bleeding profusely from the stub of his left arm): I gotta go to the hospital.

Armed employee: Not until we can hire a replacement for you.

 

Now, that’s earning a tough paycheck.  Years of that kind of supervision could leave a person with very few body parts. (ironic end of fragment).

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