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Lindsey Williams – The Energy Non-Crisis – Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Toilet Paper Holder for Sale Cheap—Only $375.00!

We said we would mention problems. We do not wish to major on Union difficulties, so we shall give only one example to keep the picture in true perspective.

I was sitting with Alyeska's field engineer in the office, simply shooting the breeze before getting down to more important business. In walks one of the workers and says, “The toilet paper holder is falling off the wall in the commode stall over yonder in B dorm.”

“Okay,” said the manager, and he called in a carpenter. The carpenter came in, dressed for work, of course.”Hey Jim, I'd like you to go over and fix the toilet paper holder in B dorm.” “Okay,” said Jim and off he went. I watched him go out and vaguely thought that he looked a capable man, really dressed for the part. I thought of some of the carpentry jobs around my home I'd like him to do. Surely he would be a lot quicker than I would be, although before very long my opinion on that was drastically changed.

The manager and I went on discussing our business, and had forgotten about that unimportant toilet paper holder over in B dorm. Forty-five minutes went by, and Jim, the carpenter, returned. “Hey,” he said, “I can't do that job over there. That's a metal wall and it has to have a screw put in it. That's not a carpenter's job—you ought to know that. That's a metal worker's job.The union would not let me do that.”

You notice that it had taken him 45 minutes to decide that, and he then came back to the office. Of course, we must allow the man to have time off for coffee and a cigarette. However, I did think 45 minutes was just a little long. “All right,” said the manager, and he did the expected thing and called over a metal worker. In due time the metalworker arrived, and he in turn was told of the urgent need to repair the toilet paper holder on the metal wall in the dorm. Off went the metal worker, and about an hour later he came back. I was still there, for there were some matters that I needed to go over in detail with the manager. In walked the metal worker, and now I had a job to control myself.

“Hey, I can't do this. This involves a screwdriver. That's a laborer's job, and I'm a metal worker. I just tie metal together. You can't expect me to do a laborer's work.”

The manager was beginning to feel frustrated, though not all that much, for after all these things happen so often. “All right,” he said, “I'll send for one of the laborers.” And he did. A little while later a laborer came in, and the manager carefully explained to him what dormitory it was he was to go to. He was very particular, because he had the impression that the man might not be following him very closely. The laborer went off, apparently knowing what it was all about, and the manager and I got down to our business again. It was probably 40 minutes later that again we were interrupted, this time by the laborer coming in with his story as to why he could not fix that toilet paper holder on that metal wall in B dorm.

“Hey, you can't expect me to do this.That screw you talked about—that's gotta go into some wood there—you know that as well as I do. That's a carpenter's job —I'd be on strike if I were to go against the union rules in a thing like this.”

The manager turned to me, this time really frustrated. “What do you do, Chaplain? The carpenter can't do it because metal is involved, the metal worker can't do it because there's a screw involved, the laborer can't do it because there's a piece of wood involved—what do I do with that line up of men who are wanting to use the toilet paper?”

In desperation the manager now called in the foreman of the metal workers, the foreman of the carpenters, and the foreman of the laborers, hoping to be able to figure out some way in which somebody, somewhere, somehow could fix that toilet paper holder onto the metal wall with the little bit of wood over in B dorm.

So, these foremen came in, each of them being paid about $25.00 an hour. The carpenter would have earned something like $15.00 an hour, the metal worker about the same, and the laborer a little less. So the foremen were called in.The doors were closed. Chairs were drawn up. They sat down to this very important conference. None dare interrupt. It was almost as though the blinds should be drawn in case anybody would happen to see over their shoulders as they seriously discussed regulations for putting toilet paper holders on walls—no, not just walls, metal walls with wood protruding.

At last an amicable arrangement was entered into. It was clearly an excellent illustration of the unity that could be shown by human beings when they set their mind to do a thing. Nothing is too hard for men to accomplish when they really are serious about finding a solution! The conference relating to the toilet paper holder was a glorious demonstration of human ingenuity, friendship, and common sense. (Or was it?)

Of course, you will be very interested to know what the result was. When we tell you, it will be something like the interpretation of the Pharoah's dream in the days of Joseph. Once the interpretation is given, it is obvious.

The decision was that the foremen would call up one man from each of their ranks, and those three men would go together to that metal wall with the wood protruding over in B dorm. There was no decision made as to who would actually lift the toilet paper container, but it was agreed that the three foremen themselves would be there to insure that nobody did anything that was against the union rules. So the procession went across to B dorm. Unfortunately, the manager and I were unable to go . . . we couldn't stop laughing long enough! To be honest, we found it hard enough to not laugh until the team of valiant workmen were out of sight. Then we laughed until they came back.

We were told later what happened. One man would pick up the screwdriver. The other would pick up the piece of wood. The other would hold the screw. Between them they eventually managed to get the toilet paper holder back onto that metal wall with the piece of wood protruding, without offending any union rules. The three officials were satisfied, the workmen were pleased with their noble day's work, and the line of men that had congregated at the other toilets was reduced as the word went around that the toilet in B dorm was again in working condition.

As we say, everything can be done so long as there is a spirit of compromise, fraternity, and “ridiculously.”
You think that's the end of the story? Well, it's not, actually. After all, rules are rules. History has that grim habit of repeating itself. Who knows, perhaps one of those three men did not do his work properly. It would be a dreadful thing to go into that room and find the toilet paper holder had fallen off again. Perhaps by that time one of the foremen would be gone, and they would not have a proper reference to be able to see the matter through so expeditiously and so harmoniously as it had been the first time.

The manager was a man of great foresight. He recognized the problem, and so he said to the men concerned, “Now that you men have done such a good job, and have come to such a wise conclusion, we must see that this is properly established in case there's a repeat at some future time. I must put this down and telex it for our records.” He did just that, and sent an elaborate telex down to Fairbanks. Presumably someone at Fairbanks had the arduous task of deciding into what subsection the new regulation should be inserted in the New Operations Manual.

Looking back, it is undoubtedly funny, and I've laughed many times as I've thought of that particular incident. However, the more serious aspect is that the cost of replacing that toilet paper holder on that metal wall with a small piece of wood attached was astronomical! (And that didn't even include the cost of buying the holder, itself.) I have actually sat down and calculated what the total cost would be, based on the salaries of the men concerned. Six men were involved, at salaries ranging between approximately $12 and $25.00 per hour, so the total cost was something like $375.00. As we say, it has its funny side, but it was a ridiculous, frustrating waste. Unfortunately, that was typical of so much that took place on the oil fields.

By the way, the next time you go to a gas station and pay over $1.50 for a gallon, remember that toilet paper holder. Your extra cents are helping to pay for that important piece of engineering, and that is symptomatic of so much that took place while the Pipeline was being constructed.

As we have said, there were many problems over union matters—as with various types of labor being required for the simple maintenance of vehicles. There were many irritating delays and unnecessary, exorbitant costs.

The practice of wobbling became a serious problem. That was what the union men called it. It seemed that everything was piling up, all at once. It seemed almost as though there was some underlying force planning this whole thing—every day another catastrophe. By now there were only six months to go until the flow of oil, but everything was breaking loose—the whole place was coming apart. The unions had agreements with the oil companies, and they had promised that for the life of the pipeline they would not strike. The reason that they had promised this was that the men had been given salaries that were exorbitant. Nowhere on the face of the earth could you make that kind of money in these trades, and therefore the unions agreed to sign an agreement that they would not strike.

And then, some of my own Christian men—men who were supposed to be honest—came to me and said, “Chaplain, we can't strike, but we can wobble.”I asked, “What's wobbling?”

They said, “That's just another way of striking. Instead of leaving the job and not getting paid for it, we just slow it down. We just sit in the buses and refuse to work because conditions are not right.”

Who told them that the conditions were not right? Those conditions had been right for two years, and in all that time there had been no wobbling. The conditions were identically the same as they had been through that period of time, so who was telling them that conditions were not right? Why did they decide to start wobbling?

When I asked for further explanation of this term “wobble,” they said to me. “Haven't you ever seen a wheel turning on its axle? It doesn't come off, but just wobbles and slows the whole thing down.” I said to myself, “That's it. That's exactly what's happening. They're trying to slow the whole thing down.”

So Union problems were adding to other problems, such as the demand to dig up the pipes, the constant urging for withdrawal of permits, the claims that there were faulty welds, and the attempt everywhere to stop the flow of oil.

Despite these problems, it is worth mentioning that to a great extent the lower echelons of workers were very much behind the oil companies, especially in these last 6 to 9 months. They recognized that the government policies were ridiculous, and they could see what was happening. It was talked about quite openly. However, those workmen did not have the in-depth understanding I had, for they did not have executive privileges which I had as Chaplain. It is true to say, however, that to a remarkable extent the workmen were very upset at the ridiculous impositions by government authorities.

It is also true to say that the government policy was to put restrictions in the way of the oil companies at every conceivable and every inconceivable point. They seemed determined to give problems everywhere they could. It was bureaucracy gone mad.

The oil companies put some information out from time to time in their periodicals, but their reports are not usually available to the general public, and although much of the information about the way the ecology was protected to such extremes was written up, it did not receive wide publicity.

Extremes? Yes—let us illustrate that.

 

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