I was introduced to the disturbing prevailing modern relationship between management and labor when I left the Albion Evening Recorder in 1984, when the small daily newspaper began to struggle economically, just like the community in which it was situated.
I was painfully aware that downtown businesses were closing in alarming numbers and local industries were folding up shop and heading for places such as Tyler, Texas, where wages and taxes were lower. I was watching the rust belt and urban decay unfold and I was aware that it was highly unlikely that I’d be getting much in the way of future pay increases. My benevolent family-owned newspaper chain just couldn’t afford such luxuries any more.
So I went in search of other employment and was offered a position as assistant editor of a chain of weekly Oakland County newspapers known as The Spinal Column. The salary hike was $55 per week, so I decided to be an economic animal and make the move.
My wife and I were living in White Lake Township in a community called Union Lake, through it was not a community, not a city, not a village. It was a huge version of Delton or Gun Lake, indeed situated in what is known yet today as “The Lakes Area” of Oakland County.
I realized there was no sense of community. About the only common thread for where you lived was your school district.
I also realized that I had sacrificed a low-paying job in which my employer respected me and did everything he could to be fair and instead took a higher paying position in which I was treated like a lowlife, just a necessary expense.
General Manager David P. Hohendorf, often regarded me as a low-life, just a hired hand, a chunk of a lower rung on the chain of command. When he found out that I sometimes was guilty of carousing and quaffing alcoholic beverages at bars with news reporters, he told me, “If you insist on hanging out with staff, I will treat you like staff.”
In other words, there was a class hierarchy at work, somewhat of a caste system in which I had better know my place on the plantation.
I came to believe “The Ho,” his nickname behind his back, was a work place bully, a megalomaniac, perhaps even a sort of sociopath. There were times he could be charming, but he often would be abusive of anyone who was below him on the Spinal Column food chain.
So I began another job search, and along the way I decided to seek the help of an employment assistance company. This firm would test me, present seminars and give me tips on how to land that new job in changing times.
I was taught that job seekers should not be tied down by any hobbies or memberships in any civic groups. A good candidate should be available to work at any time.
I also was told I should stop in at the offices of the decision makers, the bosses, the CEOs and ask them how I could get a job. Flattered, they might point me in the right direction or even hire me themselves.
It reminded of a scene in “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” in which Gregory Peck tells his wife that we’ve become a society in which you tell the boss man what he wants to hear, not the truth, if you want to advance in the world of work.
I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing and hearing, that the corporate world owned me lock, stock and barrel because of my need to make money to feed, clothe and house my family. If I didn’t like it, I could always quit, drop out or go live in a commune.
I was lucky in that I soon afterward landed a new job as copy editor at the Ypsilanti Press, but encountered an even more toxic personality as a boss and was able to get out in less than a year because Irv and H Helmey asked me to come back to dear old Wayland, where I started my community journalism odyssey in 1972.
So the old pig Major’s speech in “Animal Farm” took on special meaning:
“Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is
free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth. “