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You Shall Not Pass! Unless You Clean Up Your Act

, , , , , , | Working | September 13, 2021

I happened to move shortly before the health crisis hit, and as a result, the job I had lined up fell through. Now, a year later, I’ve begun working a job that I am frankly overqualified for. I have previously had jobs as a welder and machinist before becoming a team lead in the workshop I was in, and then I worked as a production engineer in an electronics factory. 

Now, I am an assistant in the shop of a college that teaches manufacturing technology. I am not an instructor; instead, I am responsible for inventory and maintenance tasks, managing the tools and equipment, tracking what is being used, repairing tools or ordering new ones if things break, signing out machines and tools for the students who come in to work on their projects, and making sure they are in good shape when the students are finished.

It should be noted that I am a relatively small woman and am no stranger to some coworkers initially not taking me seriously in industrial jobs.

One day, a new student comes in to use a lathe. He initially goes to his instructor before the instructor brings him to me to check him in and record the equipment usage. He scowls and just generally seems irritated to me, but nothing strikes me as out of the ordinary until the end of the day, when he leaves without having me check him off the lathe, and without cleaning up the metal shavings and cutting oils from the machine. Okay, that’s kind of annoying but no big deal. I clean up the machine and close up the shop.

The next day, he is in again. Similar routine as yesterday. He goes to the instructor and seems annoyed when the instructor brings him to me.

Me: “Okay, I put you on lathe B. By the way, I cleaned up for you yesterday, but don’t forget that cleaning the tools and machine when you’re done is your responsibility.”

He grunts, which I take as an acknowledgment, and goes about the day normally. This time, he leaves earlier than yesterday, and once again, he does not clean up. Metal shavings are everywhere, the cutting tools have oils all over them and are strewn about randomly, some crumpled paper towels he used to wipe things are still on the table next to the machine, and a drill bit is still in a chuck in the tailstock. It isn’t anything particularly unusual for a machine in use, since machining can be very messy, but it is definitely not an acceptable condition. 

I realize I can use this chance to teach the guy a lesson. One benefit of the health crisis is that we have fewer students who will need to use a lathe this term than we have lathes. I leave the machine exactly as it is, allowing the oils to slowly gum up and get sticky as they tend to do when exposed to air. It isn’t too bad after only one day, but this continues. Every day he comes in, I put him on the same machine that has not been cleaned at all. He looks increasingly frustrated, and he usually cleans a little when he comes in, but he clearly is not getting the message as, day by day, the machine gets into worse and worse shape. 

I let the other instructors know what’s happening and my intent. We knew that besides my reminder, he was specifically told the same things in his orientation class, which taught shop protocol and such. He took a test on those protocols, which required a 100% score in order to be allowed to use any tools or machines. He has no excuse.

We all watch and allow this to happen for two weeks, with him coming in for around four hours a day, four days a week. Every day I put him on the same machine, and it becomes an absolutely horrific mess.

Along the way, we hear stories from other students, since the shop is very informal and everybody chats, about him calling me the “cleaning lady” and complaining about the machines always being a mess. He tells people I am bad at my job, and, my favorite, when another student reminded him that everybody was responsible for cleaning their machine and tools, he said, “Cleaning is woman’s work,” and that it was “that b****’s job” to clean up.

So, after two weeks, he still hasn’t cleaned up but has finished all of his classwork on the lathe. Nonetheless, when he is brought to me and tells me he needs to get on a mill, I ignore him and tell him that he is on lathe B. This pisses him off.

Idiot: “I said I need a mill! Are you deaf?!”

And he generally insults me more, but I will not tell him anything other than, “I have you on lathe B.”

Complaining to the instructors doesn’t help him, as they will not give him the overview and instructions for his mill projects, while they reiterate that he is on lathe B. By this point, everybody in the shop, students included, knows what is going on. Somehow, though, the idiot student still does not get the message. I am told that he has gone on to insult me, insult women in general, and complain to one of the instructors who is also director of the manufacturing program, who then apparently gave him an earful. 

I then get to relish the sweet, sweet reward of this idiot coming into the tool room, effectively my office in the workshop, with the director following him silently.

Idiot: “Uh, okay… Do you just want me to clean the machine so I can get on the mill?”

Director: “No, that’s not what I said. If this were a job, you would have been fired ages ago. I told you that she is the authority in the shop. I told you that you need to clean your station, she told you that you need to clean your station, and your peers told you that you need to clean your station, and you ignored all that. Then, you came to me to spout off a pile of bulls*** about men and women. Every single class in this program requires my approval before the system will even let a student register for a class, so if you don’t want to drop out or switch majors, this is what you are going to do. You are going to apologize for not cleaning up, for your stupidity and ignorance, and for your rudeness. You are going to beg her for forgiveness, and then you are going to do every single thing she asks you to do for the rest of the term, whether it has anything to do with what you were doing or not. If she asks you to sharpen a drill bit, you will sharpen the drill bit. If she asks you to carry some stock metal, you will do it. And every time you come to the shop, before you leave, you are going to make sure that not only your machine, but every machine is absolutely spotless. Understand?”

I don’t remember the exact response after that, but I did actually quite enjoy teaching him how to clean everything off using an industrial degreaser for the caked-on, congealed oils and then how to re-oil the machine afterward to get it back into working condition. He actually did as instructed and spent about six hours giving the machine the most thorough, detailed cleaning I have ever seen, and after a few more weeks of reflecting and sweeping up the entire shop every day, his attitude really took a turn for the better. By the end of the term, we actually got along pretty well, although I definitely give him a hard time pretty often. We don’t have any classes over the summer, but I am actually looking forward to him coming back in the fall term.

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