Monday, May 25, 2015

"It Won't Work" Chapter 13 Excerpt: Bruno; The Real Star Buck

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. 

It was nine years later that the Labor Board said the fired Dante’s Barista should get his job back. Emerson was glad Bruno was vindicated, after all this time. He'd always been a hero to him. Bruno Ascus was not a union organizer; he was told he was one by Ryland whose dirty work he did. Emerson remembered Bruno feeling his oats after Ryland dared him to stand up to the manager. Then, after he was fired, while Ryland kept his job, Ryland used Bruno as a test law case with some connections he had. Bruno didn’t even know what NLRB stood for when Ryland filed the petition on his behalf; all Bruno did was sign the paper.
In the nine years since federal authorities decided he should get his case back, Bruno washed dishes in delicatessens, took care of elderly home bound clients for an agency, and washed floors in a rehab center. “It’s disgusting,” Emerson thought, “that after all this time, his jobs were so bad that he still wanted his Dante’s Coffee Shop job back!”
 Emerson thought of calling up Bruno. He couldn’t muster the courage. To Bruno, Ryland was a hero though he lost Bruno the best job he ever had, literally. Emerson recalls how Ryland and two other Wobbly baristas wore the IWW button at work, too, but carefully didn’t say anything to management that would be considered grounds for firing; he wasn’t ready to play that card, yet. Bruno wasn’t that discreet. 
Bruno Ascus had already moved on, married and had kids when Ryland, seeing another opportunity for union fame, brought charges on his behalf to the NLRB accusing Dante’s of unfairly abusing him for union activism. The board ruled against the coffee chain. Dante’s took its case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals the court gave the case back to the NLRB after deciding that Bruno didn’t curse the manager in front of customers; just in front of other baristas.
Two years later, the NLRB had a new decision: Bruno’s firing was illegal no matter what because Bruno’s union activism contributed to the decision to get rid of him. The NLRB pointed out that Dante’ didn’t punish other employees for cursing—including the manager—and that a memo about Bruno’s dismissal specifically said it was because Bruno supported the IWW union.
When Emerson Davinsky started feeling the need for anti-Alzheimer’s medication, he put the pen down and stopped writing his memoirs. Through all the past e-mails and flame wars, he couldn’t put on his pants without pulling up a memory.
When he saw the news on-line about Bruno Ascus, he got that feeling again. Bruno was vindicated after nine years after he was fired from Dante’s Coffee Shop in the early days of the Ry Grossinger organizing there; Grossinger had an idea, for IWW solidarity, for workers to wear buttons during work time, even though only five of the twelve workers were in the union.
Ryland had contacted the NLRB to schedule an election. Emerson and the other Wobblies in the branch felt it showed their hand without a solid majority, it got Bruno, naive as he was, into an argument with the manager and eventually fired. Before a vote could be taken to join the union, it was postponed because they knew they would lose, since Dante management packed the location with anti-union stalwarts.
The only person who benefited from the organizing was Ry Grossinger; the corporate news it generated made him slightly famous, enough to be invited to write a preface to an old IWW anthology, get hangers-on, and make use of his law credentials.
He never asked permission from the IWW GMB to start the union drive and, finally, depleted the GMB of funds by stuffing votes; only Dante workers went to vote. Ry never shared funds raised by the Dante baristas with the GMB or GHQ. He even started his own website and list-serve without approval. With the tide against Emerson and no support from friends like Jack Covert who quit the branch, he never brought Ry up on charges; he left the branch in disgust.
It was the first shot in a volley of union organizing that the New York City General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World tried to accomplish. All the organizing had ended before it took hold, like moving a broken chair before the glue had dried or trying to sit on the chair after it had been removed, so eager were Emerson’s fellow workers to outdo each other. Workers who lost their jobs because of the impatience of the advising organizers would eventually win some of their cases in court after guilt and pro-bono defense helped them get through. Colonel Crutch even donated a sum of his own money to ease his conscience and get workers their jobs back. Emerson was long gone from the branch by the time mop-up began.
Colonial Crutch moved on as Ryland moved away with his own version of the IWW. Emerson stayed true to the General Membership Branch and tried to safeguard meetings and funds for all members, not just Ryland’s gang or the Clutch-Willy faction.
In Brooklyn Crutch and Willy were joined by Fergie and Emerson and a few others at four shops that had let them help organize unions for them. Emerson was especially helpful with his Mandarin ability by ad-libbing chants outside the Chinese run businesses. For their services, all workers in two of the shops had been fired and management demanded to see proof of legal immigrant status as a way of scaring the un-fired workers into behaving.
Emerson proudly participated in the union pushes at the shops in Bushwick. One day in particular stands out in his mind as exemplary. The day began at 5:30 am in front of Great City Produce. A few workers arriving heard whistles and home-made drums. A supervisor kept the door closed an hour until the Latino manager arrived; he could speak with his own people, the Chinese bosses knew. Next, Emerson and the other Wobblies walked to the nearby Americana Market. It was there the previous year that four workers were fired for organizing. A few stayed on because they were discreet and not openly involved with the union, so the management thought.
After stopping off for breakfast, Emerson took his fellow workers in his car a few miles away to Dawn Plus Corp., formally called Rosy Supply Corp. Rosy Supply was the company that fired all its workers involved with the IWW. Wobblies from out of town in New York City at the time joined the demonstration to get the workers their back pay.
The final stop of that perfect union day was at Hung-Easy, the foodstuffs distributor that Willy the Glove and Colonial Crutch went to after one worker complained about them at Allanar El Camino. The warehouse was locked up for the holiday. Despite that, the solidarity party continued until the police came to send them away. Emerson drove his fellow workers back to the subway station and headed home fulfilled.
     Willy the Glove expressed himself satisfied with the day’s events in every way. Everyone let him believe it was his party. Emerson resented him and the way the branch was strictly divided along selfish lines of heroism by Crutch and Ryland. Despite all the hard effort, almost everyone who was being helped organizing lost their jobs. Baristas usually didn’t go to Bushwich actions and Bushwich organizers weren’t welcome at barista meetings. Only Emerson and a few other Wobblies stayed on to participate in both. Emerson knew there had to be a better way. The NYC GMB was ruining more people’s lives than they helped. Only Ryland came out smelling like Bread & Roses.

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