I don’t have to tell any of you how bad shift work can be. Our bodies never seem to adjust, especially when night becomes day. It’s hard enough to sleep when the sun is up; it’s even harder to get proper rest when week day family obligations are on a normal 9-5 schedule. And forget weekends. The pressure to attend family functions can wreak havoc on sleep-deprived workers on the midnight shift.
Add to these pressures, a man I’ll call Terrible T. A supervisor from hell if ever there was one. No, I won’t name the airline or the airport but some of you will recognize who I’m talking about. Maybe not personally; but you may have had a similar supervisor of your very own: more interested in tormenting his workers than getting the job done properly. Terrible T. was a regional director for maintenance, responsible for more than a dozen maintenance stations from Washington, DC to Vermont with over 500 mechanics. The maintenance at these stations affected hundreds of aircraft and ranged from changing light bulbs to rigging flight controls, and everything in between.
Terrible T. delighted in unannounced station visits on the midnight shift. Checking on the quality of work performed was clearly not - at least to us mechanics - his first priority. It certainly seemed to us that his main goal on these surprise visits was to catch a hapless worker overcome by fatigue who dared to shut his eyes for a few minutes, either because his work was done or because he was just too tired to go on. Terrible T. would search the lunch room, break room, parked equipment and the airplanes: on the lookout for the occasional dozing figure. He sure seemed pleased with himself when he found one. He would send for the manager to witness the mechanic in the act of catching a few z’s, and then yell loud enough to wake the dead, “You’re fired!”
And the mechanics were actually fired from their jobs although after union appeals, the mechanics usually got their jobs back minus a few days or even weeks of pay. Terrible T.’s routine continued for a number of years. Workers everywhere had had enough. But the mechanics at one of the larger maintenance bases had their fill and got their revenge. A couple of workers spotted Terrible T. pulling into the parking lot. They quickly found a pair of coveralls, stuffed them, placed a cap where the head should be and put the dummy in a vehicle parked in a dimly lit area.
Sure enough, on Terrible T.’s rounds, he spotted the new “employee,” apparently asleep at the wheel. As was his habit, he called for the manager to witness the offense. Little did he know that several mechanics were also acting as witnesses that night. Sure enough, true to form, as soon as the manager arrived, Terrible T. yanked open the vehicle door and shouted “You’re fired” to a dummy. As the laughing workers, melted into the shadows, it was clear that more than one dummy was on the ramp that night. Word of the dummy firing spread like wildfire through the maintenance underground. For months afterwards, Terrible T. would be asked, “Fired any dummies lately?”
The embarrassment of that night had its intended effect. While midnight shifts continued to play havoc with our lives, at least we stopped having to worry about Terrible T. sneaking up on us if fatigue overcame us.
Moral of the Story: Don’t mess with mechanics on the midnight shift.