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« Update on Fast Eddie Williams' track bike | Main | The significance of a decade ending in nine »
Monday
Jan142019

They called me Don Dave

When I left my bicycle business in 1993 I went to work for a company that manufactured bowling equipment. The company was located in the City of Orange just south of Los Angeles in Southern California. The workforce of about 100 was almost entirely Mexican.

The following year the owner of the company decided to move the business to Springfield, Oregon. The State of Oregon, along with the City of Springfield gave him large tax breaks, low rent, and other incentives to move there because of Oregon’s high unemployment rate.

All employees were given the opportunity to move with the company but only about 15 of the original workforce including myself decided to move. When we arrived in Oregon we immediately started hiring. My position with the company was Welding Production Manager so I did some of the hiring. 

We were not necessarily looking for skilled workers, we were prepared to train people. We didn’t drug test anyone which may have been a big mistake, most of the people we hired it seemed had been unemployed for so long, they had lost any desire to work. One man I remember started work at 8:00 a.m. I showed him how to do a simple assembly job with a wrench. He worked until 10:00 a.m. when we took a break, he left and we never saw him again.

Another man I hired lived near me and I gave him a ride to work each day because he had no car. He quit after two weeks and stole a box of bronze bushes from the company worth several hundred dollars and sold it for ten dollars to a local scrap metal dealer. How do I know this? I found the bill of sale from the scrap dealer in my car some days later. As fast as we could hire these local workers, they quit. We didn’t fire them, they quit. We may be found two or three workers we could hang on to.

In desperation the owner contacted some of his original Mexican workers from Southern California and offered them a job. A few of them came and soon the word spread and others followed and by the end of that first year in Oregon our entire workforce was once again almost all Mexican. The company had really tried to give locals the jobs but had failed through no fault of our own.

I found these Mexican workers a joy to work with. You could take someone who had never welded in his life before, spend about half an hour showing him how, and by the end of the day he was welding with the speed and quality of someone who had been doing it for years. The Mexican has a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe having been taught to work hard from a very early age. In their own country they don’t work just to get by, they have to work hard in order to survive.

If one of their group was not pulling his weight for example the others would say to me, “Juan is lazy.” Not behind his back but to his face. Juan would become embarrassed and we would all have a laugh. He had been shamed into working harder by his fellow countrymen.

They called me “Don Dave,” in a somewhat lighthearted manner, but never-the-less a mark of respect they didn’t even extend to the owner of the company. Being an immigrant myself helped, but I believe I got that respect because I treated them with respect. I treated them as I treat everyone, as an equal, neither above me nor beneath me. I learned a few words in Spanish, enough to instruct them on their daily task. They made me look good with the company, because of the quality and quantity of work they produced.

Mexicans would not cross the border each day in their thousands if there were no jobs. People hire them not because the Mexican National is cheap labor, but because they work hard, do a good job and often an employer can’t find others to do the work they do.

 

This article was first posted in 2016. Immigration is a topic that is now even more current, not only in America, but in the UK too. It is one of the reasons for the mess known as Brexit. Often a thinly veiled form of racism. When the company was raided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. (INS.) in 1997, only those of Hispanic appearance were  questioned and deported. I was not asked to show my Green Card. (Even though I have one.) Several white Mexicans of European appearance, and one black Mexican (Of African heritage.) were also not questioned, or deported.

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Reader Comments (8)

i could think of more than a few people who need to read this and take it to heart, particularly your additional comment. Thank you.

January 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

We have Mexicans, that I am sure have a green card,that do our yard work etc, I agree that they are in the most part hard workers. BUT the problem I see is that people coming into this country across the border, with no checking off who they are, can be a threat to this country .I came over to the USA in 1957 I had to have in England, a medical and drug test etc I also had to have in the USA a sponsor, that was an Uncle.who guaranteed that I had a roof over my head food and a job. I became a citizen of this country in the 1980s after working on a green card for years.I felt it important to be able to vote, have some control over how this country is controlled and run. I am very glad that I did, as I now have a son that has served 27 years in the US Navy

January 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Crump

Thanks for posting this again, Dave. I have the old one bookmarked and often send the link to people who spout the hateful party lines about Mexicans. I appreciate your follow up comments in this version. Yes, they only target those who could be picked out in a room full of otherwise white people. Remember when you point out someone in a crowd to note their whiteness the same way you might use their skin color as a descriptor if it is not white.
-Rob

January 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob Hildebrand

Great post! It answered my question from the previous article. Thanks.

I wish you would send this article to the White House!

January 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDonald Baskin

Hi, Don Dave, thank you for sharing! Best regards from Bucharest, Romania ;-)

January 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMircea Andrei Ghinea

1970 to 1999.
Seems you were in the frame-building business at the right time, the best of times for many small businesses that required skill and experience. After you left so did many others. It was no longer possible to earn a middle-class living building frames.
That is why manufacturers came up with carbon fiber frames, takes little skill to build (lay the fiber down inside the mold) them. Reduced labor costs were achieved.
Dave Tesch headed (migrated?) the other way, to Mexico, to Hooker Headers. You went (migrated?) north to a totally different line of work. Surrounded by lower wages. Why didn’t Tesh go to work for Specialized? Why didn’t you go to Trek? Was it because of the corporate attitude, an environment so different as to be repulsive?

I know the same thing happened in the machining industry. Small Job Shops dissolved after a couple decades of good middle-class living as a CNC Swiss Screw Machinist turned into lower wages and less skilled jobs. The skilled, experienced machinist was broken up into several less-skilled jobs. The 80’s and 90’s will never be repeated. It was inevitable, apparently, and what happens in a capitalist society, and has nothing to do with racism, but the need for lower wages. It just seems to be happening faster since computers became ubiquitous.
Same thing happened in sports, the 90’s were the best I’ve seen for baseball, football and even international cycling. Of course, it all comes to an end.
It just becomes personal when your income is cut but your skill and experience remain, just no longer needed.

Just wait till AI takes off…because computers have no moral interest and can't be called racist or sexist.

January 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Times change. I often wonder when I am with my 9 year grandson what this earth will be like when he is 85? Looking back at old photos of my Dad and Grandfather what a different world they lived in. When I was an apprentice to the Birmingham Sculptor William Bloye we used all hand tools many of them we made ourselves.Carving in stone was an art and mistakes could be very costly, Now the masons use power tools. My Grandson has not learnt to even write, Every things done on a key pad, We had to learn cursive and form our letters.Progress? Skills now are how fast you can win a PC game.

January 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Crump

Good write up Dave! My father ran a construction company in North Carolina. He retired about 1991. One of the contributing factors in retiring early was his continuing disappointment in the declining quality of the workers that he had access to. Many years later he commented that if he had waited another year or two that he would have been able to hire the immigrants from Mexico that started appearing in larger numbers in North Carolina. My diehard Republican father had huge respect for their work ethic and he could never understand why our country couldn't come up with a reasonable work visa program for people from Central America.

January 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Williams

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