Skip to main content

There Would Not Be Labor Day, Without the American Laborer

As Labor Day approaches, I again have been contemplating what it takes to be a valuable middle manager.  I grew up in the Detroit area and have worked in Michigan for half of my adult life.  As an engineer I was attracted to heavy industry.  The first third of my career was spent at a large integrated steel mill with 3500+ employees organized by the United Steel Workers of America.  As a 28 year old general foreman, nothing prepared me for the daily confrontations of an organized environment.

 My father, taught me important lessons relating to why companies become organized by unions, and how it has been usually the fault of poor management.  Poor management directly correlates with the poor treatment of the workforce.  During the middle third of my career, I joined a newer steelmaker that was a vibrant and growing leader in the steel industry.  The management of the company were also its owners, and fully understood the integral part that the workforce played in the success of the company. The company was production bonus driven, safety conscious, and awarded stock options to each and every employee. Likewise, efforts to organize the workforce failed, and the open shop environment succeeded. Leaving the company two years ago was one of the hardest decisions that I have made in my career.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about how those Indiana farm boys were the best Steelmakers I have ever had the honor to work with side by side.

Now, back in the Detroit area, I once again work in an organized environment.  Although it is a much better labor-management relationship than that which I experience early in my career, the daily confrontations still exist.  It takes a great deal of energy to manage in the organized environment due to a lack of trust, resistance to rules, and an pervasive "Us and Them" tainting of the shop floor.  What keeps me in the game, and coming to work each day are the values that my family taught me.  The basics of respect, consideration, and compassion that are necessary to manage with a heart (even if it is a small one, in my case).  I always remember that my great uncle Joe Bussell, the younger brother of my grandfather Harry Bussell was taken in the ensuing machine gun massacre that ended the Ford Hunger March of 1932.  At the age of sixteen, he was killed as the demonstration broke down into a melee when security forces sprayed machine gun fire into the crowd on the orders of Henry Ford's chief henchman, Harry Bennett.
Joe Bussell at 16

 I will always balance my responsibilities to lead and manage with the necessity to honor the men and women who perform the work and tasks that is the motive force of American manufacturing.  The "Made in America" products on the shelves in your favorite store, the car you may be driving, and the aircraft flying you on your next trip are all brought to you by the US workforce.  Even though manufacturing doesn't dominate this country's GNP like it did in years prior, it is the source of our might.  The ability to turn natural resources into energy, hard goods, and the infrastructure which is the backbone of this country is an absolute necessity.

Millions of Americans make their daily living through manufacturing jobs of all kinds.  Millions of American workers fought hard for the rights that so many enjoy today.  This Labor Day is for them.


Popular posts from this blog

Outlaw Management: My Anger and Disappointment With the Sons of Anarchy, Jax Teller, and Kurt Sutter

     I have always enjoyed quality drama in books, television, and movies.  It is so admirable the creative ways that authors use to conjure believable characters out of nothing but pure inspiration.  The use of the word “conjure” is pivotal in its importance with this article since fictional characters are created, not born and raised from birth.  All too often, people fall into the “Star Trek Character Trap” (I just made that up) where they over analyze the consistency and depth of fictional scripts.  Back in 1986, a memorable skit on SNL, starring Bill Shatner at a Star Trek convention poked fun at the fans for over-analyzing the show into minutia.  Shatner’s stabbing lines including “Get a Life!”, and “ . . .move out of your parent’s basement . .” coupled with the players’ characters reactions (Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, and Kevin Nealon) were priceless.  Forget all of the controversy and upset fans, the truth is that the show, like so many other iconic creations was 100% conjur

The Mentor of a Middle Manager - Joel Bussell

       I have been writing this article for almost a month; bits and pieces at a time.   I wanted to finish it before December 26 th, on what would have been my father’s 84 th birthday.   Joel Bussell was the most important mentor in my life.   I have had many people who have influenced me during my journey into middle management.   Supervisors, department managers, coworkers, and even direct supports have helped guide me through numerous challenges.   However, my father was the first and most significant mentor of my entire life.   An engineer, and later an attorney, he was not ever a C-suite executive or a world-renowned leader. To those he taught in his classes or hired and developed in his 40-year manufacturing career, and 15 years as an educator, he was an invaluable mentor.        As I look back on my life, I can visualize many of the times my father advised me.   It was his idea for me to spend my summer mornings as 14-year-old, selling donuts door to door in office building

Smart, Capable, and Competent People Get Fired Everyday

    Over six months ago I experienced something that I haven't been through since my very first job renting prom tuxedos; I was fired.  Don't get any gossipy ideas, I wasn't let go because of anything immoral, illegal, or unethical.  My employment was terminated for "not achieving the goals of my position".  This is a very nebulous statement, and one that is very common when you are in upper management or on the upper end of middle management.     There is a strata in middle management where as long as you are doing your job, and business conditions aren't disastrous, you are pretty secure in your position.  You will notice that your manager or boss doesn't enjoy the same flavor of stability.  In my 25 years in heavy industry, I have seen countless regime changes that have resulted in a purging of the upper management.  Are these managers incompetent? Not always.  Are they insolent and stubborn? Sometimes.  Most often, they don't have the trust of th