By John Previsich UTU Assistant President/ GS&T | Wed, 9 Jan 2013
Discipline in the railroad industry is a curious business. I recall that when I first hired out, I was proud of my new employment. The railroad had selected me over other well-qualified applicants, and I was sent to school and provided extensive on-the-job training before being allowed to mark up.
I thought the railroad that hired and trained me actually valued a good, responsible employee who was loyal to the company and who wanted to give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
And then I marked up. On my first trip for pay, we saw a burning fusee very close to the rail on the outside of the curve. Thanks to the engineer, we stopped short of the burning fusee, with plenty of room to spare. Nonetheless, two company officers climbed on board and told us we got lucky this time, but maybe next time the fusee would be a little harder to see or some other more difficult test might be coming our way. There was not a word of praise for the heads-up performance of the engineer or a welcome aboard to the new guy.
After the officers left, I asked the engineer what that was all about. He said those were the local managers and they were forced by their supervisors to perform a number of efficiency tests each month and that some portion of those tests were required to be failures — that some superintendents actually required a number of dismissals to ensure all of the other employees “got the message”.
He said if a manager refused to comply with the requirements, that manager would be looking for another job real soon – that managers sometimes were under pressure to produce test failures and dismissals without regard for the positive performance of the employees.
When asked how he knew about such matters, the engineer said he had been one of those managers, and as a result of his refusal to comply with such directives, he had been released back to the ranks. I shared my thoughts about having a good relationship with the company and that throughout the entire employment and training process all involved stressed repeatedly how much the company valued me and wanted to keep me around. The engineer said, “Kid, those were the guys who hired you and you won’t see them ever again. These are the guys that want to fire you, and they will be in your face every day until they are successful.”
That exchange occurred more than 30 years ago, and I never was fired. But I did become a union officer, and learned a great deal about how things work in a command and control environment.