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Industrial Experience

By Arthur J. Miller.

Got called in for a night shift Tote job, that is working a Totem container ship. After about four hours the foreman comes by and tells us that we may have to work over tonight, well most of the time when they say that it means having to work over after an 8-hour shift, but this is different, we were already working a 12 hour shift and they wanted 14 hours because the ship had to sail at 2 am and the crew had the cooler off of one of the four main engines and we had to have four large pipes connected back up to the engine before they sailed or they would have to sail on just three engines. So what ever happened to the 8-hour day?

I can’t turn down the dispatch because I’ll lose my unemployment, lose my seniority and place on the work list. The union doesn’t give a damn about what we think about long hours because they make good money off overtime by our working dues.

We finally got called off our other job to hook-up the pipes to the engine. The foreman had left and the only leadman left on the ship was a welding leadman. Nice guy but a little too gung-ho and he did not know much about pipes. He was a bit worried about getting the pipes connected in time because I told him of the trouble we would have because the pipes were connected to expansion joints. Expansion joints are rather like accordions, you install then with braces weld to them as they are compressed and after the fit up you take the braces off, and before you remove them you should weld new braces on them because if you don’t they will expand when you take the pipes off them and they are hard as hell to get back in again and it takes time to compress them again so that you can connect the pipes.

Any time I start a pipe job I first look at it and figure out how I am going to do it and possible problems that must be overcome. Part of that is having a very clear idea on how I am going to rig the pipe and see the possible problems there. The welding leadman sees one pipe still hooked up to the overhead chainfall that runs on a trolley. This is set up to pull parts off of the engine and is rather large, it would take two people or more to pick it up and it had a five-ton load limit.

The leadman gets another fitter to help start pulling the pipe over without watching what they are doing and they break off a sensor pipe off the main pipe. I told them to wait for a moment and I would help. The first thing I noticed was that the pipe was not rigged correctly because the strap was straddling the pipe rather than choking the pipe. What this means is the pipe could slip. So I said we had to have someone on both ends of the pipe so that it would not slip out of the strap.

So we start moving the pipe down the trolley to where it needed to go. I was watching out for other parts on the pipe so that they would not break off and keeping my end of the pipe steady. Well the leadman was pulling the chainfall down the trolley which he had not checked out before hand and he was not watching the chainfall. All of a sudden the pipe and the large chainfall come crashing down on me. What the leadman had failed to notice is that before the ship’s crew pulled the engine’s cooler out and after they had pulled that pipe off to the other end of the trolley, they had cut out a section of the trolley that was in the way, and they had not put that section back up nor had they put a stop on the trolley. It was like a train crossing a bridge with a section of the bridge out and the only place the train could go is down.

So there I was knocked to the deck with my whole left side of my body smashed up. A big old gash on my collarbone bleeding and swelling up like a golf ball. I could barely move my shoulder and had pains in my side and back and a cut on my head. They thought my collarbone was busted and maybe my shoulder (turned out I have hard bones and nothing did break). They got me out on to the main deck but the ship did not have a way to get me to the front gate and they would not let the ambulance into the terminal, I guess either because of so-called homeland security or because that may cause a delay in the loading of the ship. So they called up for a longshore truck to come up and take me to the gate. Half way to the gate the ILWU union rep. stopped the truck yelling at the driver as if he had committed some great crime. What it turned out to be is that they could not pull a truck off the work of loading the ship even for an injury. There I was in the truck all smashed up and bleeding hearing this damn union rep. yelling about the only thing that mattered was getting the ship loaded.

This little story has a point to it. Trusting experience and knowledge is far more important than wanting to do things without such experience and knowledge. My industrial experience would not have allowed that "accident" to happen because I knew better than to just doing things without knowing the impact and dangers of my actions. Had I been the person to start rigging that pipe over I would have looked down the line to see if there would have be any problems because  part of my job is to do that. Had I been a few inches closer inline to where the chainfall had dropped I would be dead, smashed like a bug on a windshield because someone acting without knowing the possible impact of their actions. As it was I was only hit on the left side of my body.

That is why in most things I trust the experience and knowledge of those in industry over just theoretical abstractions. In my industry trusting experience can be the difference of life or death. If nothing else it makes a big different in getting the job done and done right. The theoreticians can dream up all kinds of ideal societies for us, but it will be the workers with their industrial experience in creating practical applications out of ideas that will create a new society.

So here I sit hurting like hell but too much on my mind that I have to write down before I rest.