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Friday, February 24, 2012


Can't rule out making some haters from this, but I haven't ranted for a while.... this blog used to be all about ranting and I just haven't had much to rant about since getting into my terrific new job. Summarily, the posts have thinned out to the remaining non-rant topics, and the readership has subsequently dropped. So... rant time!

UnionThink is the warped, disconnected from logical reality way of thinking that doesn't come naturally from the workforce. It pretty much only appears from union members, due to the evolution of unions from an umbrella of protection to a confederation of greed. I understand the need for protection. I've been a dues-paying member myself. If only protection remained the mission. In fact, I've never heard of a union having a mission statement to occasionally verify their bearings and purpose from. Any you know that have one? What is it?

Don't get me wrong, not all dues-paying union members are like this. I am hopeful that most aren't. But nearly all people who do think this way are in a union, and that is where they picked it up. The same way my oldest daughter, who is stunningly beautiful and freak-out intelligent, recently went totally off the rails after a couple of years of bad friend influences despite our efforts. Yes, prevention may not be possible.

Here is the microcosm seed for the rant. The working agreement between my outfit and the IBEW local states that overtime must be shared equally, but does not get into any specifics of how we make that happen. It is quite ambiguous in its definition.

The way we've been managing overtime for years is to keep track of how many OT hours you have accumulated on the year, and release a callout list every week with the lowest OT hours at the top and highest at the bottom. When you have a callout, you start at the lowest hours guy and work your way down until you get someone.

The problem is, some guys frequently don't want OT, or they like to "cherry pick" their OT by asking what the call is. These guys end up at the top of the list because their acceptances are low. Thus, we end up wasting our time on every callout by going through the people who don't answer or say no, and wasting our time describing the incident to someone who only wants the "good" ones, before finally getting someone to take the call down somewhere past the 5th or 6th person.

Since the rules are ambiguous, we are proposing a change. We are being nice and proposing it to them even though the agreement definition does not require us to, and there is no doubt it would survive arbitration. The change is a rolling callout list, and requiring a simple yes or no response without discussion.

Now, I take my callout list and start at the top. If I get the 3rd guy to take it, that is where I will start my calls on the next incident, on the 4th. This spreads the number of callouts to each employee perfectly evenly, and it is up to the employee to take it or not. This saves us time, as we get someone on the road earlier without the guaranteed initial nuisance calls. People with their power out will appreciate that.

This change will also vastly improve some callout acceptance percentages for my guys. For example, I've got one guy who hangs in the middle of the pack who has been working a great deal of OT and actually worked the most OT last week by a wide margin, but relative to how many calls were made to him, his acceptance rate was below 30%, partially because he was worn out and had to say no here and there. Another guy farther down the list who has accumulated his OT by being held over instead of called out has only been called three times, worked two of them, and has not willfully contributed much on callouts historically. Yet, his acceptance rate is 67%. Where's the justice? My hard worker is getting dinged on his performance even though he is by far the better of these two.

Under the rolling list, my hard worker example will get called fewer times and not have to refuse so many, forcing his acceptance rate up without any change in effort on his part. The no-OT people will get called vastly fewer times, and the cherry pickers will be forced to stop cherry picking because (a) they won't be told what the job is first, and (b) the calls will be fewer and far between and they better say yes now and then to get the OT.

So we take this to the guys, and they don't like it. They reason that if you don't have as much OT as other guys, it will be harder or impossible to catch up. Also, with the calls for those at the top farther apart, there will be less chances of them getting calls in the time window that kicks in their premium pay rule.

As a side note to the change, we are also invoking a callout exemption for certain predefined emergency events, where the closest serviceman will be called without regard to the callout list at all. But, the emergency event has to be one we've pre-defined, to avoid claims of gaming the system for anyone. Emergencies are pole damage, wire down, arcing/fire involving equipment, structure fires, and as requested by 911.

They perceive this whole thing as what we are taking away from them, as if it was an evil scheme because managers hate union employees. Where in the rules does it say we are responsible to make sure everyone works the same amount of OT despite the inconsistent OT behavior across the ranks?  The rules talk about equal OT opportunities, not guaranteed OT equity.

Insert reality here. Let's try to remember what we do, why we exist, and who we work for.

We keep the lights on.

We exist to keep the lights on.

We work for the people whose lights we keep on.

The new callout procedure will help us get personnel on the road earlier, especially in emergencies, and will save us money by eliminating the rules nuance that some of the guys play to get into premium time situations. Premium time will still happen, but it will be nearly impossible to "arrange" it any more. We are making OT available to everyone as fairly as possible, and it is up to you, the employee, to take it or leave it. It is not up to us to help you catch up if you get behind.

Faster response, save money. Wow, imagine that. As managers, that's in line with what we are charged with. We know our mission.

Some of my union people have forgotten what we do and why we're here, and only concern themselves with what they feel entitled to, especially if a change reduces that "entitlement".

That is why unions are broken. And it's too bad, because they once had a noble and necessary purpose. Sadly, UnionThink has detached from reality.

The new callout procedure will probably go into effect anyway, because it is the right thing to do for the ratepayers. Because in reality, it is the ratepayer that pays us money and actually has an entitlement to what they pay us to do. That's reality.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fast Start to the New Arrangement

Station 51 by my place is located at the fringes of our area in a southern corner of the district, and rather close to the border with Mayberry VFD of Hazzard County. I've shared some Mayberry/Hazzard tales before, their tone is generally that of an organization filled with well-intentioned but underfunded and under-appreciated volunteers doing the best they can with what little they have. Sometimes this causes problems when they play in our system and some of their newer (or older) members feel in over their heads in the midst of our "city" procedures shared countywide on our side. Most of the inter-agency issues we experience that cause gray hairs is actually a result of communications issues between our respective dispatch centers, beyond our control. Overall, it is a good relationship.

So it came as no surprise that after long last, an auto-aid arrangement was recently signed, sealed and delivered so that Station 51 is automatically dispatched to all incidents in a certain predefined slice of Mayberry territory, and has a standing invitation to make an appearance at any major incident in their full area. This affects me on our side more than anyone, as I am the only active guy near Station 51, so I made an appointment with the blessings of our leadership to go visit their Chief and discuss practical things under the arrangement. It was a good, productive meeting and I left with one of their pagers to keep at my house.

Afterwards I went to grab a bite at the local Gas-N-Go before heading home. I had to pass their HQ again on the way back. Lo and behold, Mayberry Rescue 13 pulls out up ahead of me and is off to the races. Missed that one by just a few minutes or I would have been invited to take a seat aboard. They proceeded to head into the area predefined for our auto-aid, so I followed along to see what came of it.

After a few miles, the Rescue pulled over to the side of the road, and the lone EMT aboard came back to me. The message from dispatch gave him a bad cross street reference that didn't pan out, and he did not know where this obscure road was.

Well, it just so happened...... that since Mayberry does not have useful maps of their area, I had created my own to cover the portion we would probably be taking rigs from 51 to. And it was with me in the truck. Found the street soon enough, and the Mayberry guy asked to follow me to the call.

So that is exactly what we did, Rescue 13, Code 2, following me in my truck.

Sometimes timing is everything. I rarely visit Mayberry HQ. I never had that special map in the truck with me before that day. I never in years have happened to see one of their rigs pull out in front of me. Two days prior our auto-aid agreement had not been in effect. But it all came together that day like a lawn dart landing on a quarter.

That worked out pretty well, and I now have a few more banked "thank-you" points with them. A good way to start the new arrangement.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Sendoff

We lost three employees during my tenure at my previous rather heartless and cold power company gig, and other than passing a card around, not much else was done except feel bad..... mainly because no one was really doing anything else.

At the new power company gig, it clearly is a family. It's like the fire department. I love my new job.

Howie's memorial service was billed as a celebration of his life. A large convention hall was reserved at one of the new hotels on the edge of town. A couple of bucket trucks were set up to form an arch and half-staff flag between the buckets that everyone drove under to arrive. And as a special touch, Truck 579 was detailed and shined up, and parked inside the building.

A catered dinner was served, and mourner/celebrants walked a long row of tables filled with pictures of Howie throughout his active life both in and out of the company, and stacked with memorabilia and artifacts of his power company career. All his current gear at the time of his passing was on a table, and elsewhere were his past helmets, certificates, mementos, awards. It was beautiful.

There were probably about 750 people in attendance. It took ninety minutes to get people to finish looking over the displays of Howie's life and quiet down for the slide show. My phone camera is ancient so the resolution isn't that great.

I found Howie's best friend and ran an idea by him, something we've all seen at firefighter memorials. It made him a little emotional, and he then ran it by Howie's widow to see if she would be OK with it. She was.

After the slide show was a group toast and a moment of silence. Then, from Truck 579's radio, came a voice.

"Dispatch to 579."  The room had been quiet already, but now you could hear a pin drop.

"Dispatch to 579."


"Dispatch calling Truck 579."


"Truck 579 is 10-7."

It's hard to describe how the room felt, but it was powerful. Bringing a firefighting memorial tradition into there was the right thing to do, and I've been hearing people express appreciation for it for over a week, again and again. I keep reminding them that it wasn't "me" that did it and I don't want credit, but that it worked because of the kind of guy Howie was. It was not easy for the dispatcher who called it out, either, and he also deserves credit for making it work when he couldn't be at the service and couldn't see its effect. It worked because when guys retire from here, it is a big deal to go 10-7 for the last time, but as Howie went out sick and never returned to duty, he didn't get his 10-7 moment.

We saw to it that it happened anyway.

This is a good company, and I am lucky to be in this family.