Work was called today because of the rain. Bobby, the senior foremen on our job, an older gentleman with thick white hair who is missing half his right ear, made the announcement during the morning safety briefing. A sigh of relief went up from the crowd. Sardonic smiles exchanged all around. After working through monsoon conditions Saturday and misty Irish-countryside-wetness yesterday, no one was in the mood. Rain sucks the energy right from your bones and leaves not but a chill in its wake.
The men lifted up their lunchboxes and walked back to their trucks and cars where they peeled off rain gear before climbing behind various wheels to suffer rush hour traffic on the way home.
The official name for what happened is "The Rain Rule." If the day is called short due to precipitation we’re paid as if we worked four hours. It’s one of those union perks that makes me stop and wonder: who died for this, and how? When I was with the laborers we always worked through the rain, so what violence made the railroad unions decide this was a benefit worth negotiating for inclusion in the contract?
Did lightning strike one of the machines and fry an operator inside?
Did the wheels of a machine slip on wet rails and plow into some unsuspecting trackman blam, splat, squish?
It’s not as though a company would offer such a perk out of simple generosity and, with rare exceptions, are not considerate of worker safety as a rule. Though comprised of people with the capacity for empathy, a corporation is not living being capable of envisioning itself existing as something other than what it is. It does not, as a rule, care about the people under its employ. Not until the blood on the factory floor, or in today’s terms, hospital or disability bills sent from our insurance overlords, begin eating into the profit margin. Then, and only then, does it respond. So then: how much blood was spilled?
How many limbs lost?
How severe the burn?
What made the four hours pay worth it?
And most importantly: am I still at risk?
The only answer I have is to the last question, and it's one I don't care to dwell on very long.