Unions – Part 1 – My Epiphnay

I’m English, and was educated at a Public School, a boarding School, in the UK while my parents were expats in Africa. My parents, both from Norfolk, owned two houses in rural Norfolk over this period, in small villages. Consequently, my experience with people in England was limited to a few people in the Village, and later to farm workers.

My views on the world were created by my parents and my schooling. At boarding school we were encouraged to read newspapers, TV was verboten, and my schoolmates generally conservative.

Thus the message about unions and their members was that the union members were bolshie, aggressive, idle layabouts, and generally just difficult. In England at that time the Unions did not manage the pension funds for the workers. I now believe this an important distinction for union behavior, because money corrupts, and managing massive pension funds leads to massive corruption.

Such was life, and even under socialist government, Harold Wilson’s government in the ’60, labor strife continued. I was focused on A & S Levels, and possibly university, to which a few, 3 to 5% attended. My school Masters were expert at sending people to Oxbridge, and basically ignorant of the “Red Brick” universities.

On my own initiative, and completely uninformed, I applied for a Scholarship to RMCS, and to my complete surprise, was awarded one for an engineering degree, with the comment “You have better do better at Maths, because engineering is based on Maths.”

I suspect my sleeping in Maths class at school and never taking notes has something to do with my lack of good marks in Maths exams.

University is hard work, and I did work had after Prof T administered a “kick in the ass” with the pungent comment “You could get a First if you applied yourself.”

I worked hard and graduated. While at University I worked in the Holidays, which was a continuation of the pattern from my last two years at school.

A note here to US readers: University in the UK at that time was pass/fail and if you failed you were out. The tuition was free, but places limited, and classes 20 hours a week, labs 20 hours a week, studying after dinner 20 hours a week, and was a full-time effort.

Work during university holiday mostly involved construction, in the company of Irish Navvies.

After graduation, I was offered a job at a Computer Bureau, recently purchased by National Westminster Bank. Here we developed their payroll offering to the Banks customers. After a three-month training course in IBM OS/360 and assembler 2 of the 4 new hires were assigned to the payroll programming group in January, and the other two fired.

I was in a two-person group and we had to write from scratch the end-of-year tax reporting programs for the new payroll service, and have the work complete by April 1st – because early April is when employee tax reporting happens (24 days after Lady Day to be precise). I had written two or three programs in the training class, and this were my first ever “production” programs.

Machine time for compiling and testing this new code was VERY limited. We worked Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, and after 5pm Friday worked continuously until 7pm Sunday night.

Now we come to the interesting part – Dealing with Management

40 Hours work in the week, plus 45 hours over the weekend. After 40 hours we were paid overtime, for a couple of weeks.

After the couple of weeks we were informed that the Bank’s policies only permitted payment for 8 hours of overtime in a 24 hour period.

40 Hours work in the week, 24 hours overtime on Friday Saturday and Sunday, and 26 hours we were assured could be accumulated and then taken as Holiday time.

One week later to accumulated hours were “clarified.” We could only take the accumulated time when the project was current, and as soon as we finished our work, the project was ended and not current.

40 Hours work in the week, 24 hours overtime on Friday Saturday and Sunday, and 26 working for nothing.

As I sat there at my desk, with my 5 colleagues, the programming team, I has an epiphany. I needed to rethink the actual motivation of Unions:

What had the management done to the workers to make them “bolshie” and
“aggressive” and “strike prone?”

And I never got paid for the 8 weeks we worked unpaid overtime. Thanks NatWest, both for the training and the life lesson.

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One Response to Unions – Part 1 – My Epiphnay

  1. Ray Saunders says:

      Initially, I was paid wages rather than salary at IBM, but when my overtime pay got to about $200/week, I was ‘promoted’ to a salaried position – $50 raise, so I lost $150. Once the /360 came out, I worked 140-hour weeks for six months, with 2 days off. Supposedly, we’d get ‘comp time’ instead of overtime, but that assumed the workload would allow our absence, which did not happen. By the time I left, IBM probably owed me at least 6 months salary.
      I also worked a lot of unpaid overtime at another company, but that was a case of them doing right by me and me doing right by them and nobody had reason to keep score.
      Treat your people right, they will treat your customers right and you have nothing to fear from unions. You only have to fear the stockholders, which is why I will never work for a for-profit company. Ever.