Monday, November 24, 2003

Fascinating essay coming soon to the Lair?

A friend of mine spent over a half hour yesterday telling me about her thesis for a master's in history, and I hope that I can get permission to share it with you.

EFL and paralegal programs

As a translator who would like to get a paying gig someday, it appears that teaching English as a Foreign Language or undergoing a course of paralegal studies would be of some use. Unfortunately, how does one tell between the fly-by-night programs and the respected programs?

And just how well-respected is the University of Phoenix?


Sunday, November 23, 2003

Requiem for a Plate Mill

The U.S. Steel Plate Mill, which produced the steel plate used in everything from bridges to the Picasso statue in Chicago, was traded to ISG for a pickle mill (which bathes steel coils in a mixture of strong acids) in August. ISG decided to close the plate production mill, and most of the people working there lost their jobs. Most of my old friends lost theirs on Halloween, but three were at work as of November 19; two of them closing the last of the mill down. About 600 jobs were lost in all, though seniority and other considerations will serve to put plate mill people in other jobs.

In the late 1980s, the Plate Mill was taken out of Gary Works control and given considerable authority. A reversible-rolling model developed by the cream of French engineering (don't laugh, it was an industry leader) was purchased and installed. My guess is that the French experience also served as a splendid exercise in teamwork.

I started work there in 1995, complete with management blue-hat. It probably helped my relations with the union rollers when I said: "You know, you've been rolling plate longer than I've been alive." Unfortunately, my modelling skills needed improvement and an expert was brought in from Pittsburgh to help...he became my boss and we probably did not have the best relationship until the mill bought this curiosity known as a Windows NT server and set up an Ethernet...set up TCP/IP addresses...and installed Internet Information Server and Oracle. My hobby had turned into my job.

Plate was probably far more advanced than the rest of the corporation in delegating authority. One exchange comes to mind. A salesman from a Company That Shall Remain Nameless (CTSRN) came calling, and I was to greet him at the door and introduce him to the people to whom he would make his presentation. Here's the conversation, transliterated:

"Mr. A, J1 and P will be here shortly to hear your presentation."
"But I want to speak to the person in charge."
"Sir, the person in charge is going to make his decision based on their recommendations. "
"But I want to see the management."
"The management has decided that J1 and P would make the evaluation because they will be working with the system."

J1 and P showed up in millwear, the salesman went with them, treated them like peons and then wandered off into the mill...losing the sale and risking his life, for not everybody knows not to stand under a crane.

We developed our own sales staff, since Plates Are Not Coils. We did most of our own IT as well, and did it quite well. After a sensible reorg, upper-corporate management made this huge, costly show about how authority was to be devolved to the people on the floor and that a series of committees of lower management, union, etc. would reinvigorate the company. I wasn't named to any of the committees, and took it very badly...it probably contributed to my decision to leave the Plate Mill.

Whenever I had any sort of thought that going on my own was a bad idea, I could always call the old workplace and get a new batch of horror stories. Sometimes Pittsburgh would decide that Plate Mill did not need to maintain a database of customer inquiries. Perhaps the committees which precipitated my departure were given strict orders on what to approve from above. Finally the ISG purchase came about, and the final horror stories were related.

Some six hundred jobs were lost. Again, not all of the newly unemployed are Plate Mill people, since seniority rules allow union workers to switch mills and bump out people currently working there. A few managers are undergoing growth experiences doing completely different jobs elsewhere in the corporation. I still suspect that USS had it in for Plate because its people were particularly poor at kissing the requisite posteriors, and it's too bad that the workers (and the shareholders) will be the ones who suffer.


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