The petition drive had been a rubber band, stretched by workers wanting to express their rights. The band kept being pulled, with no outside support, and no assurance that jobs would be protected. Unfortunately, the farther the band was pulled, the stronger management snapped back.
Calling managementís actions following our petition drive a "plan" has a diabolical ring, but the moves certainly seemed premeditated. One day, from accessory load, which was directly behind2 her desk, I could see Ana meeting with several peoplevery rare for her.
Ana called Barbara over, and her words brought a smile to Barbaraís face and a few nods. I tried to act like I wasnít watching, but when she got back my cover of ind2ifference was blown by my "what happened?"
"Oh nothing," Barbara winked at me. "She was just telling me I had nothing to worry about if and when a line shutdown came, since she knew what a reliable worker I was." Barbara saw right through the ploy to defuse further group action.
Then Ana began calling on people who had been particularly insistent in meeting with managers. She told them they were on a "hot list" to be fired. One more problem would result in their termination. The hot list was soon the talk of the line, and by lunchtime everyone had an opinion about who was on the list and why. The tactic was already working. Cherise, for example, told me: "I saw Raquel staring at me. Iím not gonna say anything any more."
That Wednesday, as I was walking out, I saw on Markís desk a notepad that looked very much like a to-do list. At the top was "Talk to Raj!!!" It actually had the three exclamation points and was underlined twice. When we met, he said he wanted to tell me about a job, elsewhere, for ten dollars an hour. He told me to call Susan, another manager, to find2 out more details. I did, hoping to get a place for my friend Thomas, but, during our talk, Susan revealed that only people on the layoff list were getting referred for these jobs.
I went back to Mark. "So I guess I am getting laid off?" He looked sheepish and perplexed.
"I donít know. Layoff list? Iíve never seen it. Let me ask around, Ďcause if oneís out there I didnít know about it, but I should really try to get ahold of it."
"Well, canít you just ask Ana for me if I am getting laid off?"
He avoided me for the rest of the shift, and I didnít catch up to him until the next day. He spoke as soon as he saw I had cornered him. "Oh, Raj, yah, I am still trying to get ahold of that list."
"I just want to know if I should be saying goodbye to my friends."
"I will talk to Ana today."
"Today" was coming to a close, and Mark had not talked to Ana, even though they sometimes stood ten yards apart. Mark dragged up to me later that day and passed on, almost apologetically, "MSL policy wonít allow us to say. If I tell you anything, they will come down on me."
"So today is definitely the last day for those on the list?"
"Yes." It was the most honest Mark had ever been.
I tried to get an answer from the Big Boss at MSL, Frank; in response, he sent an MSL rep to tell me "any such questions should be addressed to your line supervisor."
When I got home, a nice lady from Manpower called me who had the horrible job of telling people she had never met that their assignments had ended and that we needed to hand in our badges.
"Do you know why my assignment was ended?"
"No, Iím sorry, I wasnít given that information."
"Could I ask the supervisor at the plant?"
"No, you are not supposed to have any contact with anyone from the plant anymore. When you return your badge, please do so at our main office, not the plant."
I received one more phone call that night, from Kuldit. She had received the same phone call from Manpower.
Raj Jayadev is awaiting a decision from the California industrial Relations Board on his complaint for wrongful termination for expressing his health and safety rights. He works at the East Palo Alto non-profit Youth United for Community Action (YUCA), and was recently profiled on www.littleindia.com.