• Mike Burke

Management has been a love of mine since I worked on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore. It's also where I met my wife. When I was twenty-seven, my wife and I had four young daughters, just purchased our first house, and I had just earned the title of operations manager in one of our company's largest and most profitable operations. The facility was notorious for management union conflicts for decades. The manager before me was just forced out by the union, and that's why the opportunity opened up for me. My age, combined with the fact that I wasn't "one of them," quickly made me a target, but I didn't care. You've probably felt this way before, but by this point, I had so much success, combined with the fact that some of my family were in the same union made me think I was invincible. Within a couple of weeks, my boss told me that the company was moving the direct business to its own profit and loss center. The direct business was anything that didn't come out of our facility, and it accounted for two-thirds of our profit. He said we were now losing money on paper and effective immediately had to take extreme cost-cutting measures. If you've ever managed a union facility, you know that cutting overtime and reducing people is like pushing a giant boulder up Mount Everest. Eventually, you'll get tired, and the boulder will crush you. Before I made any changes, I decided to check the overtime everyone was working, and something didn't make sense. Everyone in the warehouse had an extreme amount of overtime, and I knew for a fact that some weren't working that many hours. When I went to my managers, they would dismiss it and said I was wrong, and they were there. One night I was working late and decided to pull the time cards. To my surprise, people were clocked in that weren't there. Immediately my manager got flustered, made some calls, and in no time magically, they appeared. I decided to put a camera up and BAM! Major time theft was happening that my managers were not only covering up but signing off. The accountants and lawyers calculated it to be more than one million dollars per year. To complicate matters, we were in the middle of contract negotiation with the union. In the end, we terminated several warehouse workers and managers and suspended over 90 percent of our warehouse people for one month each. Suspensions were done in shifts to keep the place running. Tempers were flaring everywhere, and most of the anger was in my direction. One day the lawyers decided we were at an "impasse," which I learned meant there was no contract, and we didn't have to play by the rules of the contract. Upper management, combined with the legal team decided to bring in nonunion employees to work with our union employees. Imagine a blowtorch meeting a gas tanker. A devastating explosion is inevitable. Having virtually no managers because we fired them, I was sleeping there most nights. When I did go home, my wife would be crying because a family member in the union told her the there were physical threats against me. One night after I called someone into work, he got upset and came to my house and smashed the windshield in my car. When I told my boss he said, we're close to getting a contract, so just put it through your insurance company. You can probably imagine how betrayed I felt. I thought things were stabilizing until my boss told me that a manager that I just hired was met at a gas station by "goons" and told not to work at my company. In retrospect, I think I was close to having a nervous breakdown from the pressure from work, plus the fear I was having trying to protect my family. Then out of the blue, the union and our lawyers announced they reached an agreement, and we now had a three-year contract that was good for both sides. My boss pulled me into my office and told me it's over, and I have to make peace with the union people. There couldn't be any retaliation on my part, or it would mean I would lose my job "for cause." He told me that I would be getting a raise and a higher title for my dedication. I didn't tell him, but I knew it would never work, plus I didn't trust him. But I refused to leave the company, probably more out of spite than anything else. In the end, the president of the corporation approved me to become a sales manager in our Pittsburgh division. I would be responsible for twelve outside salespeople that generated forty-five million dollars in revenue. I had no sales experience, but again I felt fearless. Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm with the same company all be it through merger and acquisition after merger and acquisition. I'm now running the whole show in Boston. The union members decided to go on strike. Through all the cut brake lines, smashed windows, and verbal abuse, everyone always asked me how I kept so calm through it all. I just smiled and said, "experience." Mike

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