Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Life Passages - Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)
After starting my job at NCR, I learned how to stuff and solder circuit board assemblies, to run auto-insertion machines, and to read blueprints.  These circuit board assemblies were for the new digital cash registers that scanned prices.  I liked the work and the camaraderie of my fellow co-workers who were mostly female, black, white, Mexican and Filipino.  We would share communal dinners, talk about life, love and anything else, and then head to the clubs for dancing and drinking when our shift ended at midnight.  The Teamsters were trying to organize the Sony plant and I went to their meetings and took membership cards to NCR.  I put up flyers in the stalls of the restrooms telling people about their right to organize.  We hadn't received a raise of any kind but, as NCR ramped up production, the company hired new workers for more money than we were receiving and we were expected to train them.  In September, 1977, my car pool riders heard that General Dynamics was hiring and we all applied as electronic assemblers there.  General Dynamics was the largest private employer in San Diego and it had good benefits and wages and a union.  I and three of my co-workers were immediately hired by General Dynamics Electronics Division (GDE).  I started at $3 per hour and got a cost-of-living raise of 11 cents an hour within two weeks (per the Union Contract).  I got fully paid medical insurance after three months and dental insurance after one year.  I got two weeks paid vacation and five days paid sick leave after one year.  I got life insurance, a stock and savings plan with a 100% company match of stock for every dollar we put in,  I also began a five-year vesting period for a retirement pension.

At GDE, I built circuit card assemblies, wiring harnesses, and electro-mechanical assemblies for government defense contracts.  In 1979, we went on strike.  We were trying to get better wages but President Carter's Wage and Price Controls capped defense industry wage increases.  We did get an increase to our pension and some other concessions.  We built wonderful solidarity during that time.

I developed friendships from my years at General Dynamics over the years that were the most important in my life.  The people I worked with were the kindest and most caring people I've ever met. In 1980, I got married and my co-workers gave me a bridal shower.  My co-workers were loyal and helped me to get elected to union office.  I was now an elected shop steward and an officer in my local union. I worked hard to give them the best union representation they deserved.

I applied for a promotion to Offset Printing Press Operator.  When they hired an outside employee, I filed a grievance and won because our union contract guaranteed that qualified current employees have preference for a job opening over new hires, and I was certainly qualified. I worked in several bargaining unit jobs during the 19 years that I was hourly: I was a Group Leader for Assembly,  an Inspector and a Stock Clerk.

In 1985, I was elected as the IAM&AW Business Representative to represent all the union employees in the three divisions of General Dynamics in San Diego: Electronics, Convair, and Space Systems.  I heard grievances, represented employees in arbitration hearings and Unemployment Appeals, wrote briefs and negotiated contracts, trained union stewards and worked on election campaigns and organizing campaigns.  I won my first arbitration case for a terminated employee and got a decision that reinstated him and gave him full back pay.  Although not quite a lawyer, I was doing a similar job and had to go up against high paid lawyers of General Dynamics in both arbitrations and contract negotiations and I always held my own.   I was elected twice by the union members and I did this job for 9 years while on a "leave of absence" from my regular job. The union members paid my salary from dues.  My kids learned first hand the value of unions and they were active in solidarity marches and strikes.

Amanda and I marching in Washington DC for Solidarity Day
Mary helped picket United Airlines to stop union busting

 We also enjoyed family union picnics and even a pig roast at the beach.  These were wonderful days from the early 1980's until the the early 1990's.  I got to combine my talents and capabilities with my love of working with people to improve lives and working conditions.

In the early 1990's, in a post Cold War economy, the U.S. Defense Budget was on the chopping block.  General Dynamics was selling off its plants to enhance their cash position and to drive up its stock price. The result was that thousands of General Dynamics workers were laid off in San Diego from 1991 through 1996.  It was a very tough time for all General Dynamics workers and the chaos and uncertainty sometimes generated workplace violence with my narrowly escaping a murder during a grievance hearing.  We had four Machinists Union Business Representatives in 1991, but two went on medical leaves in the midst of the most termination grievances we had ever experienced.  The other Business Representative, Paul Pechtor,  and I split up the Convair termination cases and Paul drew the Robert Mack termination case.  In January, 1992, Robert Mack, a 23 year Convair employee who had been suspended before the Christmas holidays, showed up at his grievance hearing with a gun and killed a company human resources representative and severely wounded his supervisor.   I actually felt relief when I was laid off from my stressful Business Representative job in March, 1994. I went back into the factory for a couple of weeks before I was laid off from my job, too.

During my lay-off, I went to work for Sir Speedy Printing and took classes at the Community College in Desktop Publishing with a goal to open my own graphics-related business. At Sir Speedy, my duties were not printing, but were estimating, bindery, shipping and delivery and copying documents.  It was hard work and I wasn't sure I would make it.  Then, one day when several casual day laborers who spoke only Spanish were having trouble with a shipping job, I spoke to them in Spanish and directed their work to a satisfactory end..  My boss was so impressed and I earned his respect. I had a mortgage and property taxes to pay and although the Sir Speedy job paid only $9/hour, I really needed that job.   I was separated from my husband now and raising two children on my own. I worked a second job at night in telemarketing to pay my bills but I was rapidly going into debt. My boss at Sir Speedy gave me a $1 raise which helped.  The General Dynamics Electronics Division had been acquired by the Carlyle Group in November, 2002, and the company remained in San Diego as GDE Systems, moving their operations to Rancho Bernardo.  I was recalled in 1995 to a job as an assembler when GDE Systems was awarded a Lockheed subcontract for the Atlas-Centaur rocket program.  The work paid $11.85 an hour and my benefits were restored and my pension time bridged, so I had to quit Sir Speedy and my goal to start my own business. I now assembled Gyro Assemblies and other sophisticated flight assemblies.  But I knew I had to make more money to pay off debts and enhance my marketable skills so  I went to classes at UCSD-Extension at night to get a Professional Certificate in Purchasing and Supply Management .

I was hired in 1997 as a Buyer and the manager of the Small Business Subcontracting Program at GDE Systems.  This was a salaried position and therefore I was leaving the protection of a union contract.  I was wary of this because I had been an active union advocate and many in management disliked me.  The Vice President of Operations, Kevin Harkenrider, who hired me convinced me that there would be no retaliation and he wanted me for my abilities.  Kevin was always very supportive but he lost his job in 2001 as many management changes occurred after the retirement of our beloved President, Dr. Terry Straeter.

My company went through a series of ownership changes the next 7 years during which I was primarily administering my company's  Small Business Subcontracting Program to insure compliance with the SBA and government goals.  Our company received many awards for our Small Business Program and we exceeded many of the SBA goals.

DCMA award for our Small Business Program in December, 2004.  Enid Allen (2nd from left) was the DCMA Small Business Manager and Dennis Bent (far right) was the Vice President-Procurement for BAE Systems. 
During these years, I traveled a lot for small business conferences and met wonderful people both in the government procurement world and the small business world. I frequently went to Washington, DC for the annual SBA Conference and I visited NYC for the first time.

A cruise up the Potomac River in Washington, DC

Visiting New York City
Another advantage to my job was that my youngest daughter, Mary, was able to get a college scholarship awarded to her 2002 by the company.

After our company was acquired by Carlyle, we went through a number of ownership changes from Tracor to Marconi Electronic Systems and finally to British Aerospace.  We were now a division of BAE Systems.  It was clear great changes were ahead when management began to show us videos  like "Who Moved My Cheese?" and my manager told me to get a Master's Degree.

I was thinking about a "second career" now because I could retire at 55 with 30 years of service and receive a pension.  I had always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't think starting as a K-12 teacher was a smart idea with the low salaries and great patience you needed to teach in the public schools nowadays.  I loved travel, so why not become a teacher at an overseas English language  school?  In 1999, I  began night classes to obtain a Certificate in Teaching English As A Second Language.  I completed my practicum in 2002 at a local community college and began volunteer ESL tutoring for READ San Diego, to gain experience.

My first ESL student was Hermalinda Figueroa, a wonderful person from Oaxaca, Mexico who was working, buying a house, and raising 3 grand-children and taking care of her own elderly mother. She and her grandchildren are still my dear friends to this day.

I began a plan to enhance my skill set at the company to keep my job until I could retire at 55. I got a Professional Certificate  at San Diego State University in Government Contracts.  I began an MBA program at the University of Phoenix.  I got half-way through the MBA program with the help of the company tuition reimbursement program before I was laid off in 2004.  My division was now known as BAE Systems Mission Solutions.  I had worked in the Procurement Department for seven years and was laid off at age 54 on December 31, 2004 along with 7 other legacy employees in my department who were over the age of 55.  We were replaced by college hires who had fewer benefits and lower salaries than we legacy employees had.

My children were in college in other cities.  I had a huge house where I lived all alone. I had a couple of mortgages and was looking at more debt so I put the house up for sale and it sold in less than 2 months in the overheated California housing market.  I packed my belongings, my kitties, rented a U-Haul moving truck and drove to my new house in Tijeras, New Mexico in a rural area of the Mazanita Mountains, about 30 minutes drive from Albuquerque.  I was in heaven living in the midst of the national forest with nature all around me at 7,000 ft. elevation.  I began to remodel, paint and repair my new home to my liking.

My Tijeras home and the jeep I bought after getting 2 feet of snow in March, 2005
Long driveway from the road

Bandit and Precious loved their new home

My dining room

My living room 

Sunset view from my house in Tijeras
In Tijeras, now 54 years old

Amanda, visiting me in winter
My Tijeras home in winter

I was now settling down into a semi-retired life, spending my spare time on art and photography.  I applied to the local community college as an Adjunct ESL teacher but wasn't hired, so I began volunteer ESL tutoring in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I also completed a certificate in Teaching Business English with a goal to work overseas as an TESL instructor.

 I then began negotiations with an English Language School in Chile to work for them in a new career as an English Teacher.

Continued in Part 3.

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