This edition of Heavy Metal is about coworkers who are also close friends.
As coordinator of the Plastics News Processor of the Year Award, I get to travel to the finalists every year, along with PN Editor Don Loepp. These trips are the highlight of my year. I'm sure Don would say the same thing.
It's super-educational. I call the visits a "one-day MBA" in plastics, at some of the best processors in the United States.
Every finalist we've ever had excels in employee relations, which is one of seven criteria used to judge Processor of the Year. And we hear a lot on the visits about progressive management, good benefits, safety, open-door policies, even things like executives cooking lunch for employees when they meet certain goals.
These types of executive-led activities get included in the stories we write about the award winners. But there's another angle that we often hear about, but it doesn't make it into the stories: The fact that employees like their fellow employees. They don't want to let them down.
It has nothing to do with management. This is workers who like their fellow workers. And it's powerful. They look forward to coming to work. This connection between people is a big part of what keeps employees staying at a manufacturing company, cutting down on the dreaded problem of turnover.
At these award finalist companies, it's not uncommon for us to hear about employees working together to raise money for a fellow employee whose car breaks down, or who faces a serious illness. They care about each other. Yes, management does count, but what really means a lot is that workers also are loyal to their fellow workers.
Work certainly is not combat, but this personal connection of regular factory workers always reminds me of soldiers in wartime who bond with each other as they face a common enemy. They watch each other's backs.
And now, I know this first-hand. Because my wife, Nancy, died suddenly on Feb. 22. I woke up on that Friday morning and she was gone. She was 57.
After the crew from the coroner took Nancy to a waiting ambulance, I called Don to let him know the sad news and arrange for time off work. A few minutes later, fellow reporter Frank Esposito called from his home office in the Cleveland area. (I also work at home, about 45 minutes away from Frank).
Frank ended up coming over that night and brought KFC. Frank and his wife Regina visited the next night to talk and bring some homemade food.
I also had long talks on the phone with PN news editor-international Steve Toloken. And I got a lot of cards and phone calls from all my fellow Plastics News employees.
Don, Frank and Steve are some of my closest friends. I've known them for more than 20 years. They know my whole story, with all the ups and downs, as well as the story of my wonderful wife, Nancy.
They become an important part of your life, these people you work with, and spend so many hours around. And in the embattled world of journalism circa 2019, we're just like soldiers in a way. We've withstood a common enemy: Turmoil and layoffs that are devastating the publishing industry.
But most importantly, these great friends have been there to lend an ear in this challenging point in my life. More than just coworkers, they are helping me deal with a dark time.