The 90 day jacket

I used to work on the assembly line in car plants 1 and 2 in Oshawa, from around the time the Y2k programmer job market dried up to the time when GM shut down the truck plant in Oshawa. I wanted to get into the electrical trade, and GM had a program where they would offer free training and recruit from the assembly line to fill their need for electricians. I came in with a group of around 600 new hires when they started a 3rd shift in the truck plant in 2002, but for some reason I ended up on the swing shift in the car plant that built the Impala and Monte Carlo. This made me the lowest seniority guy in the entire department; the guy with the next lowest seniority had 15 years and came from the Scarborough Van Plant, and, as one would expect, there was always someone there wanting to bust the balls of the “New guy,” which I always managed to turn around, like the time I got my “90 day jacket.”

The 90 day mark was a significant milestone for new workers back then. From day 1 to day 89, General Motors could let a new worker go for any reason at all, or even for no reason whatsoever. There were stories of guys who got on the bad side of a foreman who got let go right on day 89. However, all that would change on day 90, because, on day 90, a new worker got the full protection of the union. Back then, it was called the Canadian Auto Worker’s union, or CAW, local 222, and they had power. I dare not repeat some of the stories I’ve heard, but let’s say that even if you killed someone, the union would make sure your job would still be there for you. The only time the CAW did not defend its members was the time when two guys were caught putting sand in the paint. To their credit, the CAW takes pride in the products its members build, and are probably responsible for the high quality of Oshawa made cars and trucks, and would not tolerate sabotage to the product that is the livelihood of their members.

One particular fellow delighted in sadistically tormenting me during my first 89 days. His locker was next to mine, and we usually sat at the same table during lunch. Back then, our lockers and lunch tables were on the shop floor, near where we worked. He wasn’t dangerous nor terribly obnoxious, he was just trying to have a good time at my expense. I honestly couldn’t really blame him, as a place like that can really take its toll on the mind of a middle aged guy who has to come to terms with the fact that all he has to look forward to is counting down the days until his retirement, where the average life expectancy of a GM retiree is only 18 months. It’s almost like counting down the days left to live, so I played along.

The GM Picnic, 2002

Almost to the day of my 90 day mark, GM held its annual picnic towards the end of October. This was an event where we were able to bring our families on tours of the plant, eat food, enjoy a live band, and buy GM merchandise at a discount price. At this time, I was in need of a good winter jacket, and so I bought a flashy GM Goodwrench Racing winter jacket at a heavily discounted price. I also noticed that the ball buster did not attend.

Me wearing my 90 day jacket today

The following Monday, I wore my brand new jacket to work, onto the shop floor, making sure to keep it on until the ball buster showed up. When he did, I took it off carefully to hang it on the hook in my locker.

“Where the fuck did you get that,” he asked. “Where the fuck did I get what,” I asked innocently, as if I didn’t know. “The jacket, where’d you get it?” I had his attention, it was time for some fun.

“Didn’t you know? All of us new hires got these jackets for passing our 90 days,” I told him. Since I was the only new hire in the department, he had no way of knowing otherwise. “Well, I didn’t get no 90 day jacket,” he protested. “That’s probably because you’re not a new hire,” I advised him. “Well, I’m going to put in a call for Johnny,” he said. Johnny was our union rep.

Later on that day, I got a visit from Johnny asking me about the jacket. I explained everything to him, how the ball buster had been trying to bust my balls for the past three months, so I made up the story about the jacket because it was my turn to get him going. Johnny thought it was a great joke, and went back to the ball buster to advise him that I got a 90 day company jacket, not a 90 day union jacket, and if the ball buster wanted one, he would have to talk to the foreman about it. Johnny knew full well that the ball buster was not on speaking terms with the foreman. Others in our department were, and couldn’t help themselves when they heard about this story, and started telling the ball buster that they got their jackets in the mail that week.

In the end, the ball buster eventually realized he’d been had, and was eager to get in on a joke with another ball buster a few weeks later…but that, my friends, is a tale for another day.