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    Thursday, June 13
    A publication of the Industrial Workers of the World union in Arizona and Sonora
    Una publicaciĆ³n del sindicato de les Trabajadores Industriales del Mundo en Arizona y Sonora

    by: J. Pierce, TUC IWW

    Back in the early 2000s, I worked for a produce company in Portland, Oregon. Delivering to restaurants mostly, this bottom-feeder outfit should be properly called “Sal Monella’s Produce” since it cut corners and applied dozens of sleazy, and sometimes dangerous tricks to make a buck. One of Sal’s cost-cutting elements was to acquire an assortment of old vans of every shape and size to use for the “late driver”, irregular and smaller routes, such as the ones I did. Some of these rigs were reliable and others were not. Some were so old and beat up that you wondered if they were still street legal.

    This one time, I took a newly acquired van to get gasoline. It was a former rock-n-roll van with carpet in the back and a shimmery, metallic green paint job. When I was about to fill up the tank, I discovered that the gas cap was missing and it looked all funky and different. I was like, “Weird. Isn’t that dangerous?” but since each van was so different, I decided “Whatever,” and filled it up all the same. When I was done, I turned the key and saw that the gas gage didn’t move from where it was, about a quarter tank. I thought that was strange and so I called the bosses. (My memory is hazy at this point. They either told me to bring it back and gave me a new route. Or they told me not to worry about the gas gage and head out.)

    About a week later, I was assigned the same green rock-n-roll van and I took it to the gas station again. This time when I filled up the tank, it started pouring back out, like it was already full. I thought that was really weird, so I called it in. The bosses told me to bring it back. I stood around on the dock for a while while they checked it out. Then they told me to go and sit down in the HR guy’s office. One of them comes to me and says “Do you know that you filled up the water tank with gasoline?”

    I’m all, “What water tank?”

    “It’s got a water tank. It used to be a camper,” they say.

    (Gulp. Holy shit. That’s why it was missing a gas cap and looked all funny! That means that I filled up the water tank a week ago and half a dozen drivers were driving around with an open gas tank! One cigarette and the van could have blown sky high and killed a grip of people! Not to mention scorch the veggies.)

    “There’s a water tank?” I said.

    They took me back to the dock and pointed out the real gas tank near the back of the van and I felt just about as stupid as possible. The bosses grilled me about when, exactly, I first put gasoline in the water tank. I lied and said that this was the first time. It definitely and absolutely was not me who filled the whole fucking thing up with gasoline and let people drive a bomb around for a week. I swear.

    Anyway, they sit me back down and find the HR guy. He was the boss’ son-in-law, or something. Drives a Mercedes and is supposed to be a manager, but they treat him like a servant. Anyway, the bosses come back in and grill me, telling me I must be high on drugs for putting gasoline in the water tank. I deny being high on drugs, which is true. (Firing workers for being high on drugs must be a classic Sal Monella routine to get out of paying Unemployment Insurance.) They tell the HR guy to take me to go get drug tested. So he drives me in his Mercedes to the drug testing place and, of course, I come back clean. It was a fun experience at least since this was a shitty job that I was not worried about being fired from.

    I wasn’t terminated, after all, and now I know that former rock-n-roll vans might have a water tank right where the gas tank should be, since maybe they used to be campers. And because of this possibility, you have to verify that you are putting gasoline where it belongs. Incidentally, another van had the gas cap hidden right above the middle of the back bumper, so you never know.

    This is what could have happened, or worse.

    What’s the lesson from all this? What does this have to do with the IWW and class struggle?

    Well, it was my fault for being a total dunce. But if the gas tank had blown up and killed a score of people, who would have been to blame? The news media would certainly have focused on the worker who messed up. The talking heads would have followed my court trial and blasted my mugshot on the 5:00 news. And all the amazing world’s-best-workers/employers would have shook their heads and tsk-tsk’ed that some idiot employee should have known better.

    Would all of these experts have taken note of the lack of training on vehicle operation? Would they have questioned what the bosses could have fixed and chose not to? There were no markings on the van saying OLD WATER TANK – NO GAS. The bosses didn’t remove the water tank, or block it off, or even tell us it was there. Each shitty old van was different and we were supposed to just go out there and figure out what’s what while on the route. I was young and didn’t know shit; half the workers were my age or younger. And I was not the only doofus there, let me tell you. So who knows what else went down that never made the news.

    I’m glad that no one got hurt. But the lesson is that even something as simple as having drivers put gasoline in their vans improperly could result in a tragedy. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that they counted 5,486 work deaths for 2022. They say that workers in transportation and material moving are the group facing the highest fatality rate with 1,620 workers killed in 2022. Meanwhile, fatal transportation incidents, from all industries, resulted in the highest amount of workers slain, making up 37.7% of the total deaths. In that year alone, 2,066 employees were killed in on-the-job vehicle accidents. And those are just the ones reported.

    I could blame myself, or Sal and his managers, for this mistake. But the reality is that capitalism reproduces an infinite number of scenarios where bosses are cutting corners and creating unsafe situations. Under capitalism, if something goes wrong, expect the bosses to put all the blame on you.

    Don’t be a dunce. Join the IWW today: redcard.iww.org

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