I’ve always prided myself on being early. On time for me isn’t a literal term as much as it is being early for every appointment, engagement, or event.
Just ask my wife. It’s not enough that we arrive at the airport an hour before departure. An hour and a half gives me more comfort—two is even better.
After 14 years of marriage, it still drives her nuts. Some things I can change about myself. This one I’d prefer to leave alone.
Rewind 16 years ago. I’ve recently graduated from university and quickly need a job to pay for that valuable and expensive degree.
Some school pals let me know that they’ve just landed a job on a labouring crew for a shutdown at one of Edmonton’s large petroleum refining facilities in its industrial heartland. They tell me they can get me on if I’m interested, and I say, “Of course!” I’m no stranger to hard work and the money is good so I take it.
We get to work and it’s intense. Twelve- to fifteen-hour days in the middle of the summer leave us ready for bed at night with the feeling of a job well done. This is a major shutdown at this facility so days turn into weeks, and we do little but eat, sleep, and work.
I don’t own a vehicle so I rely on one of my buddies to get me to and from work each day. One morning, my ride doesn’t show up on time. My friend “decided” to sleep in.
As two minutes turn into five, then ten, then twenty, the early bird within me goes into panic mode. I try calling him multiple times. No answer.
I call the contractor we work for and leave a message. I tell them my ride hasn't shown up, I will be late, but will be there as soon as possible.
Eventually, my buddy shows up and we arrive at work—a full hour late.
While being assigned our duties for the day, I have the “good fortune” of running into the top boss and owner of our company. I know he is a hothead at the best of times, and I don't relish what will come next.
When he hears about my late arrival, he gives me the verbal beating of a lifetime—complete with every creative piece of profanity known to humanity.
It is bad enough that he berates me, but he does so in front of my supervisors and coworkers. I feel about two feet tall and absolutely humiliated.
If I didn't need the money, I may have returned his insults and walked off the job. Instead, I suck up what very little pride I have left and dutifully go to my work assignment.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m not always sure about that, but this situation did prepare me for something more.
Only two years later, I found myself employed as a CLAC representative, and my humiliating experience with the top boss gave me more empathy and understanding of what our members sometimes face. We did not have a union at the plant, and the incident gave me more understanding of the need for workers to have strong representation.
Good worker advocacy is as important today as it has been forever. Some of the challenges workers and companies face today are new, but the need to treat people with dignity and respect is the same as it has ever been.
Strong representation helps create a work community that doesn’t tolerate workers being humiliated and not given the respect they deserve. It helps facilitate a culture where innocent mistakes can be understood, with the ongoing need to improve—even if late on arrival.