Someone Remind Me Why I Wanted to Be a Union Steward

The Ohio Civil Service Employees’ Association (OCSEA) is my third labor union.  (The first was the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers when I worked at Medco–the union later became the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union; and the second was the National Treasury Employees Union.)  I knew straight out of the gate that I wanted to be a steward, heavily influenced by Norma Rae and with visions of carrying out some type of Atticus Finch-type role while waxing eloquent at arbitration hearings à la Al Pacino in …And Justice For All.  Reality has come at me with lights and sirens blaring once again.

I had the misfortune today (it’s still Tuesday night, in my eyes) of having to escort a terminated employee from the building today.  I learned about this during the last hour and a half of the work day.  No union officers were available, so the task fell to me.  I had an immediate “Please let this cup pass” gut reaction, but agreed to do it.  A manager from Human Resources came and got me, and I waited in a supervisor’s office while he and the supervisor broke the news to the employee.

After that, it was my turn.  I went into the conference room and sat down across from the shaken, sullen man. I offered my sympathy, told him what his options were about grievance procedures, etc., and jotted down his contact information, so I could mail him grievance forms, etc.  The head of security and I walked with him back to his cubicle so he could gather up some personal effects (enough to fill a small bag; he’ll get the rest later, he said) and take him to the elevator.

The three of us were silent as we walked across Spring St. over to the employees’ garage.  It was almost like the last mile on Death Row, minus a chaplain bringing up the rear reading the Bible aloud.  The security head and I had to come with him so he could give back his magnetic card for the garage.  He would need it to raise the wooden arm on the gate to leave, so he couldn’t hand it in at the same time as his badge.

While he went up to the deck where he parked his car, the security officer and I waited at the foot of the exit ramp for his car.  I began to get worried after a few minutes, and I had an irrational fear when I saw his car coming down the incline.  The driver-side window slid down as he drew up to us, and all I could think as I saw him handing the card to us was Please, God, let that be the only thing that he sticks out that window at us.  (This was not rampant paranoia.  I was a casual clerk and rescue clerk at the Cincinnati post office from 1992 to 1995, and during that time four postal workers in several cities died at the hands of their co-workers, including those killers who turned the weapons on themselves.  Among these were two separate incidents on the same day, in post offices 2300 miles apart.)

This didn’t happen, there were no veiled threats along the lines of “This isn’t over!” or “You haven’t heard the last of me!”  Sadly, I watched him roll out of the garage and turn the corner.  I took my photocopy of his dismissal letter and left a copy under the chapter vice president’s computer keyboard, and typed her and the president of the local an email describing what went down.  (I felt like I was learning to swim by being thrown out in the middle, so I included everything I said, heard, and did during this unhappy business.)

I’m thankful the day was nearly over.  My concentration was too shaken to focus on the task I had stopped when H.R. called me, so I began closing up shop for the night.  Susie was in the lobby waiting for me, so we could go shoe-shopping after work, and that was a balm to my mood.