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2022-07 #4 Laid Off...

I joined GE in March of 1981 and quickly became a lead man by eliminating Reggie. Another pretty smart guy joined GE in 1981 and his name was Jack Welch. When I started the CEO of GE was Reginald Jones but it was his last year. Ultimately I would serve under 5 GE CEOs. I was also to learn that the jet engine business is feast or famine. Position had nothing to do with who got laid off. It was pure seniority due to the union contract. They take out the bottom X number of workers and rearrange the chess board with whomever is left. After hiring about 20 guys in March, By June GE laid us all off again.


I had been living in a cab over camper on a Datsun pick up when I worked at Sailplane Enterprises. That was traded in for a 1976(?) VW Rabbit and I had moved back into the family home in Ontario. The Rabbit became my Douglas commuter car for the next 3 months or so. I loved that car.


This was before the internet. There was no jobs.com, monster.com or anything like that. I went to the Chaffey College library and checked out a book called, "Aviation Employers of America" or something like that. I made 300 individual cover letters on a typewriter, inserted that and a resume into 300 hand addressed envelopes and licked 300 stamps. Getting a job was my full time job. I went nationwide and would have moved anywhere but the US was in a mini-recession still caused by the latest gas crisis and I ended up with only two replies.


Baja Air had a Beech 18 at Ontario and I suspect they flew drugs in from Mexico. I considered it for a minute as the airplane was cool, it was close to home and I could have ended up a rich drug smuggler. The other reply was from Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach where the "official" money was better and there was less likelihood of ending up in jail, so I interviewed, took an aptitude test and ended up in one of the highest hourly pay categories they had.


The aptitude test was pretty interesting. It was a bunch of modules. It started with basic reading and basic math. Then some folks left. Then there was a test of hand tools, what they are used for and things like and some folks left. Next were spatial tests like, "Here's a 3D drawing. Pick what the opposite side looks like from the choices below." At each step people left. Finally there were like 10 of us left and we were given the "assembly" training manuals for the DC9 and asked some questions about the guide. Obviously in hind sight this is how one gets categorized as a worker at Douglas.


After like two weeks of class training I ended up as a "Final Assembly & Prep to Test" mechanic. Really good pay, more than GE, and I was to find out really interesting work.


Douglas was about a 45 minute drive in those days of lower traffic and I met a guy in Ontario who also worked at Douglas so we set up a car pool. We were in swing shift which was like 3:30pm to midnight.


Douglas had the largest assembly hangar in the world at that time and they were building DC9 Super 80's. The DC9 was iconic and as Aviation goes they kept stretching it and growing it. The super 80 was the last of the breed.


When I worked at Sailplane Enterprises the mechanics were ancient. Homer was the crew chief and had mad skills. Joe Stasznik(sp?) was the main airframe guy. He was an artist in aluminum but didn't really integrate with the hangar crew. He spent his time fixing gliders while we predominantly did the tow planes and 3rd party maintenance. There was a 3rd guy and he was a stereotype of the 1940's mechanic. Big hands, doughy face, ball cap and a grease rag hanging out of his back pocket. I bring this up because Charlie worked at Douglas during WWII and the years following. This guy built everything from DC3s to DC 6s and regaled me with how great Douglas was as a company. I was to find out that Douglas was a serious dysfunctional company.


They were organized however. On the first day you enter through a smallish Quonset hut that abutted the perimeter fence. You were instructed to bring your toolbox and the toolbox needed a clasp and padlock - I talked to one of the other hirees and he said I also wanted the box on wheels. When I graduated A&P school dad bought me a Snap-On top box and a set of box wrenches which I still have to this day. I drilled hole in it. added the hasp and wheels and dutifully showed up at the induction hut.


You entered the room and there was a 40 foot long bench - think army induction. You put your box on the table, filled out some forms and started shuffling down the bench. They issued you an air drill and a couple of other hand tools, drilled 4 holes and riveted and ID plate to your box and at the end of the bench they handed you a company badge and told you that you had a $300 credit at the company store and gave you a list of things you had to have. You exited the hut and waiting was a tram with open carriages like Disneyland. Under your seats, which were back to back facing outward, was a space for your toolbox. When everyone had finished the process and were loaded on the tram they made a 30 minute stop at the company store for guys to get things they did not have.


Then the tram went to the DC9 hangar and dropped people off at various locations depending on their crew assignments and job type. The hangar had probably 30 columns. Every 3 days the line would be broken down, on night shift, a small army of tugs would show up all the scaffolding would be pulled back and all the airplanes move to the next column. Everyone participated in the line move. It was a pretty amazing thing to watch and do and it broke up the monotony of building airplanes.


My "home base" column was like 26. At the beginning of the hangar only the center section of the fuselage came in. near there on the floor they built other sub-assemblies. Lots' of drilling and riveting and noise. As the airplane moved down the columns internal systems were added and connected, the wings were put on the passenger tube, the tail, the engines were hung and so on.


By the time the airplane reached 26 it was supposed to be complete. Our job was really cool. We were supposed to rig all the flight controls, tightening cables, setting the limits and testing everything. We also were responsible to fix any and most screw ups that escaped from upstream. The idea was that in a couple of line moves the airplane would be shoved out of the hangar and then test flown. Here I am a 20 year old dude and the last person to touch a plane before it flies - pretty responsible stuff.


The hangar was a sea of humanity. We were "blue badges" or hourly mechanics and our details and picture were on a background of blue. The leadmen were blue/silver, the foreman were silver, the managers were silver/gold and the supreme boss of the hangar was a guy named Serta who wore a gold badge. Serta was like God. He basically walked up and down the aisle all night, stopping into various bullpens and observing his kingdom.


So the tram pulls up to a bullpen area near column 26 and me and a few other guys were last off the tram. The bullpen is where the leadmen hang out. There were a lot of unwritten rules which I will touch on later but basically leadmen never went into the airplanes. You showed up, got your assignment at the bullpen and went to work, not seeing your leadman unless you needed him or the end of shift when you made your progress report.


By now it's about halfway through the shift. I am introduced to my leadman who says, "Grab your toolbox and follow me", walks me over to a crew working and says, "Here's you new guy" and walks away. It was a team of about 4 guys and as it was coming up lunch time I just watched for a bit until the whistle blew. Oh, yeah. It was like the Flinstones. You lived by the whistle. One 10 minute break before lunch, a 30 minute lunch and a 10 minute break after lunch.


I don't remember any names of guys I worked with there. It was a blur but I do remember a couple of faces distinctly. I became good friends with this blond curly haired, typical surfer dude. One name I remember distinctly was a Filipino guy named named Benji - more on him later.


For lunch you could brown bag but more typically you raced out to near the perimeter fence and the classic SoCal food trucks would all be lined up there - inside he fence near the entrance turnstiles.


The fence turned out to be legendary. Guys would steal anything from anywhere at Douglas and sidle up to the fence and toss crap over to awaiting accomplices. You had to really keep an eye on your tools, especially your company issued tools as you were responsible for them. The other place stuff left out, besides the food trucks, was the turnstile - 4 lanes no, no waiting. Over the years guys took all kinds of stuff. One guy wrapped like 100 feet of air hose around himself and put his coat on over it. Another guy had a string of air tools - drills and riveters - hanging from his neck like a necklace under his coat.


But as a sign of a future America where good crimes go unpunished they busted a guy who was taking scrap aluminum sheet, folding the panels in his newspaper and walking it out under his arm. So stealing is bad, right? Apparently this guy took the scrap home and made toys for welfare kids. In the 1980s version of "going viral" the media picked up on this, the community rallied around this fired and disgraced guy and not only did he get his job back, Douglas allowed him to take scrap home with him to continue his good works.


But the tacos were good from the truck, I had a job and it looked like it was gonna be interesting and fun work.


Picture - The Douglas Hangar in Long Beach. You can see what an international mix there is of customers. The Super 80 was a huge seller for Douglas. You can see the socond airplane still has scafolding on and the engine cowl is open. The third airplane has no engine cowl. By the time the planes hit our function none of that should be there. This indicates something wrong, or some problem and the plane is being worked on out of position. The upstream crew follows the plane until it is done as the line moves every three days. During my time I think at least 4 of these were pushed out on the ramp and parked outside as they still had problems.




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This story is great, can't wait for the next instalment !


BTW - I worked at an electronic assembly factory at Uni for a while and we lived on the clock too. Great fun everyone knocking off at 5 minutes to midnight then standing next to the punchclock waiting for 12:00 exactly to hit.

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