Wherefore Art Thou Supervisor?
by J. Pierce
One Friday afternoon, the bosses called a big meeting in the recycling yard where I work. It was cool because I used it to count 40 workers and 10 boss types. I took the opportunity to see how many names I knew. It gave me a premonition of a large strike meeting--only the bosses wouldn’t be wearing those stupid grins.
At this meeting the bosses handed out memos that, among various threats and pomp, told everybody that I was the new supervisor for the warehouse. I laughed out loud when I read it. Meanwhile the whole place was silent as everybody read the Spanish version of the memo. The whole meeting was in Spanish so I barely knew what they were saying. Most of the supervisors (more properly called foremen) stood with their guys in the crowd instead of up by the bosses.
The various supervisors in the crowd appeared, to me, to be asking controversial questions. The bosses looked nervous. (I asked my fellow workers later but they said these comments were crap.) I couldn’t understand what they were saying so I took it for what it looked like. It seemed like people were challenging the bosses! So at the end of the meeting, the new head guy asked, “Any last questions.” I shot up my hand. “I have a question!” I shouted in English, as all eyes turned to me. “When are the bathrooms gonna be finished?” Pointing to the abandoned-construction-site-looking building behind us. Eyes lit up and everyone started smiling and chattering. Most of my co-workers have heard me complain about the locker room/bathroom situation so they knew what I was up to. One of the supervisors laughed really loud and said “When? When?” meaning “Don’t Ask!” The bosses squirmed saying “Um, we’re working on that. They’ll be done soon.” Everybody was talking and grinning. In between being called “Jefe,” I got some good pats on the back as we all went to clock out.
That weekend I fixed up a plan to give the bosses a letter saying that I was declining the promotion. My roommate translated this letter into Spanish so that I could show it to all my co-workers. I finally gave it to the bosses that Wednesday after telling all my co-workers (that were saluting me and calling me Jefe and Patron) that this whole supervisor nonsense was “Mentira, Huey!” I went around showing the letter to my co-workers and they, or I, read the Spanish translation. If the bosses inferred that I had it translated for the benefit of my companeros--Good. So be it. The conversations we had strengthened me because people inevitably ask, “Why don’t you want to be a supervisor?” That’s the perfect place to talk about how the bosses are racist and how they want you to work harder and longer for nothing. They want you to take responsibility for their incompetence and the list goes on. All my co-workers understood my reasoning and had the same thoughts themselves. The whole thing turned out to be a very solidifying and educational process.
But don't get too excited just yet. It took them two months to do it but they finally canned me. There was plenty of reason for them to want to get rid of me but you can bet that the supervisor stunt was a big factor. Is it all a loss? Not quite: There are lights in the locker room and plumbers in the soon-to-be-bathroom. But beyond that, for two months we were the only department with no one looking over our shoulder. Any new supervisor that comes in will face a situation where the workers know they don't need one.