Harold could not remember a day when his back did not ache as he huddled under the hopper. He had spent his entire adult life working under this factory roof. The rubber and tire industry had built this town, and in turn had helped build him. The entire area of the ‘Rubber City’ and its suburbs had been dedicated to industry and manufacturing. People like Harold made a living being the blood of the manufacturing beast. Specks of silver in his dark hair had been earned under this roof. The metal roof held rows upon rows of machinery. Designed and laid out to provide efficiency to the workers, the plant was a hive of industrial activity. The smell of sweat was faint to the point it was almost drowned out by the smell of rubber. Workers on every shift kept the concrete floor occupied as they churned out the high-quality tire.
The hopper was interfering with Harold’s efficiency. To ensure hard work was rewarded by the company, the labor union negotiated a production pay scale. Harold normally made the top level of that wage. Calloused hands, covered in the black soot the machines produced as a byproduct, reached into the machine to clear the obstruction. The safety violation he was committing was the risk he would have to take to feed the three other mouths waiting for him at home.
How his life ended up under the hopper was a mystery that kept his mind occupied. He had dreams as a kid. Those dreams chipped away bit by bit with every inch of height he gained. By the time, Harold reached six feet tall they had all become a memory. Dreams and goals had to change to meet life’s demands.
Harold had become a father way too soon. The dreams of finishing college disappeared. He needed funds now. A baby had to be his priority. Harold gave up his dream of being a chemist thanks to the result of a bad decision at a party. It taunted him that the road to his dream of earning a degree was just a half mile away. Close enough to remind him of all the potential he had possessed that went wasted with one night of poor judgment. The family held his heart but what could have been held his thoughts.
A clog in the hopper was typical of his life. Harold thought he was a magnet of bad luck. There was always something to get in his way just as he was making progress. Moving forward was his only option. There was too much riding on the sweat of his brow. Too many people were dependent on his paycheck. A semi-skilled labor job was an anomaly in the area. The family man was thankful for his one bit of good luck finding it so long ago.
There were good men and women who went behind the closed doors with the best intentions for their people. Greed found the weak link. Soon that weak link was disparaging anyone who tried to better bargain. Working class people found their world turned against them. Harold and his colleagues feared for their own interests. Everything stacked against the union, it seemed to them. Even laws were set up to make sure the semi-skilled workers were cast aside and forgotten. Greed knew no area that it could not find a willing ear. Politicians, lawyers, managers, trusted friends all were fair game. Greed could even make a sworn law enforcement officer look away. It wasn’t that greed had created the situation, the situation had created greed. The lack of assurance that a future was going to be pleasant, made the present more important.
Rumors had been circulating around the factory floor already that a facility would be opening overseas. The new workers would not have the same experience as the ones currently putting tires on shelves in the company’s name. The company knew the quality would drop a bit. The loss of the years of experience that someone like Harold possessed took quality with it. Drastic decreases in labor costs made relocating appealing to the heads of the company. Greed had gotten them long before it was a communicable disease. Consumers are easy to sway when they already have a brand loyalty. The risk would be minimal. It would be some time before the lower quality product damaged the stellar reputation that consumers had come to know. There was also all the sponsorship deals the tire company held. There had been no formal decisions just a few task forces set up in secret to search for the cheapest labor possible. Harold dismissed the rumor as nothing more than the company trying to gain leverage in the next negotiations.
New workers in a foreign land would not possess the skill it took to be as efficient as a veteran on the line. Harold allowed his mind to take in the thought as he freed the blockage. He would have to sneak time during break to catch up before his shift ended. The blocked hopper slowed his pace down to the minimum standard. Harold did not want to settle for just the standard pay. He had too much at risk with the budget Jess had made for the household.
Jess, his Jessica, had been with him for eleven years, married for the last ten. Their first child arrived before a proper wedding. Together through most of college, they had big plans together. Harold lamented about the death of those plans for a moment. Harold wanted to be part of the team that had designed better compounds. He was intrigued with the process the day the school went on a field trip to the research portion of the very company he was a member of now. He felt the call of the tire industry but in a different direction than the one he was lost on now. Jess wanted to be a lawyer. Harold always promised to one day, send her back to school to reach her goals. Addition to a few more mouths and their costs, broke that promise.
The two made the most of the hands they were dealt. Responsibility did not end their dreams it just forced drastic changes. Jess no longer chased the dreams of court drama she had enough playing judge with the children and the sibling squabbling. The dreams of Harold were dismissed and buried in the back of his mind. He hid his grief in his work. Every day he put his thoughts into his work to hide his disappointment.