This submission comes to us from an IWW organizer about his organizing that led to his being fired and returned to work. Given that firings are the greatest fear we often encounter in organizing, a detailed account like this is valuable for workers learning to organize. Emmett was organizing in a typical environment we find ourselves in; without a union, organizing only semi-publicly, and trying to move forward without reproducing the errors of business unions. Working without contracts, elections, or the typical management union relation, Emmett’s piece helps show the tensions that come out of our work, and how they were able to turn things around.
By Emmett J. Nolan
Originally Published in the Industrial Worker Issue 1761 December 2013.
Arriving to work, I entered through the break room as usual. There, awaiting me was my manager who immediately said that we needed to talk. He told me not to put away my bag; I couldn’t get ready for my shift like I usually did. I asked him if this was a disciplinary meeting but he did not respond directly to the question. He just said, “We need to talk. This will just take a minute.” While walking through the production floor I greeted co-workers as I usually do and I followed my manager into his office. Seeing that no one else was in the office, I asked, “Is someone from HR [Human Resources] going to be here?” He barked back at me, “This is coming straight from HR.” I then asked him if I could have a co-worker in the meeting with me. He denied this request, responding, “Hmmm, no.”
Immediately after the door closed, my manager informed me “this” wasn’t working out, perhaps justifying this by stating I was “clearly unhappy” here. He went through a cursory explanation of paperwork and stated that I was terminated. I did not agree with the judgments and told him so; and when instructed to sign a termination form I refused.
I inquired if the termination was a result of my work performance. “No. You’re a great worker, but a bad employee,” he replied. While still in shock at what was happening, I had enough sense to ask some follow-up questions and see what he’d reveal. Foremost, I was curiously struck by that explicit worker/employee distinction he mentioned, and so I asked him about it. He elaborated that while I was a “leader” on the crew, I was nonetheless disrespectful to the owners. For example he cited the frustration I’ve expressed to other co-workers, including him, about how the owners leave their week-old dirty dishes from the office by the sink and neglect to wash them. With that I readily pointed out how he and everyone else complain to me about just that practice as well.
“They’re the owners, and it doesn’t matter,” he replied.
“Can I work my shift or am I fired?” I asked to clarify that firing was, in fact, underway.
I was told no, I could not work my shift. I inquired if the company would approve my unemployment, to which he responded affirmatively.
I’ve had many a nightmare about being fired from this job; and have thought at length about what I would do should that day arrive. Having seen how managers call unsuspecting co-workers to cover shifts for workers walking into termination, and how they wait for their target to arrive through the break room, I recognized what was happening to me. Previously, when my departmental co-workers and I were better-organized, we discussed what we’d do if one of us was fired for a collective action we’d taken. Continue reading