Assistant Quality Control Coordinator

Submitted into Contest #146 in response to: Write about a character discovering a surprising strength in either themself or another.... view prompt

2 comments

Fiction

Johnson had never noticed how large Lourdes’ eyes were until they narrowed at him, filled with fire.  Her voice, deeper than Johnson expected, skipped over any polite discussion of ‘maybe a mistake was made’, and erupted in fury.  In the Factory break room, with an audience Lourdes didn't even notice, she described the sexual proclivities of his mother, the despicable vices of his father, the poor character of his ancestors, all in such colorful language that Tommy, the General Manager of the Factory, had no choice but to move her, again, away from floor entirely. 

It started when Johnson tried to write Lourdes out of her preferred shifts at the Factory.  Bill tried to intervene, don’t mess with Lourdes, she takes Wednesdays off to train her dogs he said, but Johnson did not listen. New to being a Supervisor, he saw her as an easy way to solve a scheduling problem. But when Lourdes saw the new schedule, she tracked Johnson down, finding him in the break room and then walked up on him, anger sparking off her like an overloaded electrical transformer. A full figured woman with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, she was easy to overlook. Maybe because she only wore baggy jeans and men’s boots with her uniform polo shirt, or because she kept mostly to herself.  Tommy had recognized Lourdes’ value when she was about to get fired as a secretary, and found her a job on the Factory floor. After this latest insubordination, Tommy told her she had one last chance, and demoted her to Assistant Quality Control Coordinator, in the disregarded QC department hidden in the back.  

For Lourdes, it was as if she fell into a hole, she felt completely disconnected and lost with this change, no longer responsible for her well-defined role on the line.  Outside of the day-to-day working of the Factory, the small QC room was dark, filled with broken equipment and detritus, washed up and collected from the swirling flow of the factory,  just as leaves collect behind a rock in a river.  Billy Joe, the QC Department manager only a year from retirement, tried hard to do as little as possible, and had several bottles of Kentucky’s best bourbon to help him meet his goal. 

Lourdes knew enough to realize the dire nature of this position, had even apologized to Johnson, but the die was cast. She went to look at another job, a factory the next town over. One look at her experience, and the HR Manager’s only question was when she could start. But it would add an hour to her day with the traffic, and she would have to meet new people. Not wanting less time with her dogs, she decided to stick it out. 

‘Any job worth doing is worth doing well’,  her Mother said, so Lourdes cleaned the small office, and replaced the lights. She worked hard to learn the product requirements and allowable limits. The QC Department had been approving everything regardless of quality, Lourdes realized, and the Factory products were way off specifications, explaining the high return rate. Dealing with machines instead of people, and a focus on a clear right and wrong in the QC room, Lourdes had finally found a place where she fit, her specs matched requirements for the first time in her life. Her new boss, Billy Joe, had been a good manager once, and he knew enough to let her do his job too. With her hyper-focus, the technical components started getting sent back to the Factory floor at a much higher rate. Deservedly, Lourdes received the blame for the slowdown in productivity and the Factory staff began to rebel.  ‘The bitch kicked my part again’.  

For Lourdes who had always been an outsider, this was not new.  She understood tools and mechanical systems better than people. She had a hard time reading emotions, and took what someone said literally.  When younger and could be mistaken for just another girl, dressed by her Mother in jumpers and calico, she regularly offended adults with her strange conversations.  She expected the other girls to share her interest in insects and rodents, and when they played house, Lourdes crushed their fantasy’s pointing out the stick and mud concoction was not cake, and the small dolls were not their friends, just stuffed fabric with plastic buttons for eyes. Softball could have been an outlet for her, if they had girls’ sports then, or if they allowed her in the high school auto shop, instead of home economics and typing classes. The typing teacher did appreciate Lourdes when she fixed and oiled all the typewriters in the class, and gave her a passing grade to get into the secretary pool, even though with her thick fingers she could never do more than 20 words a minute.  

Tommy though, he paid attention, and understood Lourdes' peculiar gifts. Tommy defended her, and the QC Department.  Soon, the workers on the Factory line understood someone actually cared, and so they spent an extra minute, or two to be accurate, instead of close-enough.  Caring is contagious, and soon the QC Department became an integral part of the Factory floor. Productivity and profitability skyrocketed. Lourdes had never felt so comfortable before, her unique strengths were finally valued. 

As Lourdes’ Mother said, ‘Change is the only constant in life’.  Soon enough, Tommy’s success got him promoted to Corporate, and Billy Joe finally retired. Johnson, Billy Joe’s replacement in the prestigious QC Department, lasted three days with Lourdes, before he pushed her, and her attention to detail, out, back to her old job.    

The new Plant Manager, Williamson, brought in all new Management. With newly minted MBAs, they only saw the black and white of inputs and outputs, and missed the colors of experience and training; quality and pride. Not-caring is contagious too, and productivity dropped precipitously. 

With the new Management, it was as if the directional setting on a drive was just one degree off center. The effect, gradual at first, took the entire Factory on a new, downward trajectory.  Then the memos started, ‘snowflakes’ someone called them as they came from managers office above the factory floor and always in so many flurries. 

Changes to hours, removal of safety precautions, increases to mandatory over-time, increases to production goals, and all with reduced staff.  Accidents increased, small and large, however once the lunch times were changed to just 20 minutes, the conversations started, and then the call for a Union began in earnest.  A small shop, the factory had avoided Unions until then through the usual way, illegal firing and rigorous harassment of anyone who brought it up. 

Lourdes did not have the same issues with Management all her co-workers did.  Tommy the General Manager had taken Lourdes’s side when her personality quirks annoyed those around her. He had moved her to her home, as she thought of the QC Department, even though she had been ultimately pushed out.  But Williamson and the new Management continued to make poor decisions, focused only on profitability, they turned the once-successful and vibrant Factory into a clunking, broken machine. Lourdes went to one or two of the Union organizing meetings outside in the parking lot, and of course the mandatory weekly anti-Union seminars held by Management. Lourdes didn't believe what the company said about Unions, but she knew what the organizers were promising could not be true either. 

Bill asked her to join the Union organizing team, as the most senior person at her position, but Lourdes knew enough about herself, she should not get involved with people. She had so little control of her emotions, a steam boiler with faulty controls, liable to erupt at any time. She stayed at her job and out of the fray, which was getting hard to do with more snowflakes, more loud and contentious meetings.  When every Union supporter was fired, for performance issues they said, Lourdes began to worry. 

She spoke to Bill again, in the parking lot tent he and the other fired employees had set up to protest the company. Bill understood Lourdes well and broke it down, slowly and carefully.  He could not commit to all the Union promises, but he didn't need to tell her how the company was going to turn on the employees;  she could see it happening every day. Lourdes could not read people well, she could not understand when they talked in vague assurances or in meandering stories which said one thing,  but meant something else. But right and wrong were clear in her mind. And what Management was doing was wrong. She would join the effort to organize.

They needed a current employee to be the representative for the staff.  Bill nominated her and those involved chose Lourdes to be the lead negotiator, against her protests. Bill gave Lourdes the rules on how to establish a Union, and she got to work.  ‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’, her Mother said.  One by one she met with the Factory workers, her reputation from the QC Department carried more weight than anything she could have said. 

The staff and Management meeting was held in a nearby hotel Boardroom; the corporate lawyers, Williamson and his Management team on one side of the table, Lourdes and Bill on the other, an arbitrator in the middle. Lourdes wore a pantsuit a women helped her pick out, with low-heeled dress shoes, though she kept her ponytail. She absolutely refused make-up, until Bill spoke to her about how war-paint is a better word for it, and she agreed to a light blush and lipstick.  

The corporate setting was all new to Lourdes, she appreciated the free coffee and muffins, she leaned back in the soft comfortable chairs, so different from the hard plastic at the Factory. 

Used to being invisible to men,  Lourdes didn't even notice when the corporate lawyers ignored her and addressed their presentation to Bill.  

The  Ivy-league trained and highly paid lawyers were experts in the art and majesty of negotiation. Fluent in the foreign language of legalese, they delivered an eloquent discourse on unenforceability, inure of right-to-work, liability herein, and denial. 

Hypnotized by the handsome young lawyers in their crisp suits all in different tones of gray, Lourdes sat back in awe of their linguistic prowess. Their lyrical words flowed and circled above her head, in hoops and swirls, streaks of sound coloring the air of the conference room, never landing, and then out the window. 

As usual, Lourdes did not understand their words or her role.  As seen by the lawyers, she was there to listen to their well designed and airtight arguments and then, with a bowed head and tears, they always hoped for tears, give in;  with time left for them to make their dinner reservation, Italian, and then to their flight, booked first class. When the performance ended, it took her a minute to realize they expected her to speak, the other side of the table and Bill were looking to her for a response.

“No”, said Lourdes.

The corporate lawyers laughed at her impudence, and continued their elaborations, words again dancing and flowing, though not connecting. 

Again only, “No”.

Lourdes, ex-Assistant Quality Control Coordinator, had a strength that Tommy recognized, and now Bill; she paid attention to details and followed rules. 

Not speaking, Lourdes took out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, rules on Safe Working Conditions, with pertinent passages marked and highlighted. Then she produced her own blizzard; Memo after Memo from Williamson requiring Factory workers to break OSHA rules to meet productivity targets.  

Next she pushed across the table the National Labor Relations Board agreement on Union requirements.  She opened her file to hand over signed Union Authorization Cards representing 62% of the Factory staff, double the requirement. 

She finished with her longest speech of the day, “Copies have been sent to OSHA, and the state Labor Board. We want an election to form a Union.”  

As her Mother said, ‘winning isn’t everything, it's the only thing.’ 

All in all, Lourdes didn’t get much out of the new Union contract.  Her salary went up, although it just went into the bank, and her paid days off increased, but she never used those anyway. Workplace safety requirements improved, however Lourdes had always followed them to the letter. The snowflakes stopped.  She did get her job back in the QC department, now with Bill, who let her do his job as he worked on his duties as the Shop Steward.  But no one messed with her shifts and she got to spend more time with her dogs.

Next year for sure they will get on the podium for the Agility competitions. She read the rules,  and training is going well. 

May 20, 2022 04:37

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2 comments

Michał Przywara
21:01 May 26, 2022

A fun story, and definitely in keeping with the prompt. Lourdes came through very strongly as a character, and I could see both her frustrations (and her frustrating others) and her joys. I also like the sweeping scale of this story. A mediocre factory becomes great, then falls, and then a union victory is pulled out at the last moment. I feel like I just watched a movie :) The line "Not-caring is contagious too" stood out to me, particularly with its complement. How very true on both counts, and lovely as a device.

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Marty B
00:07 May 27, 2022

I know a Lourdes, or two. The line you mentioned is my favorite also- Thanks for reading!

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