Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Death in the Workplace

While reading Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems, I was reminded of my time working at American Airlines as a fleet service clerk or baggage handler. There were about 2000 men and women, but mostly men, who helped load and unload baggage and freight from planes, clean the interior and exterior, and make sure the planes were entering and exiting their gates on time. I worked there from June ’07 to August ’09 when I was laid off. There were men and women who had been working there before I was born in ’87, and who had experienced 9/11 first hand. They had stories about losing jobs, pay cuts, frustration, anger, and death.

One tragic story was told to me on a cold early morning as I was waiting for my plane to come in. I was sitting in the ready room watching the morning news drinking some crappy coffee that is usually served on the planes. I don’t remember how the story got brought up, maybe it was the news that triggered it. The story was bounced around from the few people sitting around me. They all seemed to know the story and the couple who was involved.

Before I tell the story its important you understand the plane that this couple was working with was a small American Eagle plane. They hold up to around seventy passengers and are only used to fly short distances in the States like Chicago to Champaign or Chicago to Lexington. I took one home to Chicago from Washington D.C. once. These planes are easy to load and unload quickly. They sometimes have turn around times of about twenty-five minutes, which means they land and go back out within twenty-five minutes. They also have the propellers covered, so no one has to really watch out for them as they are wing walking. Wing walking consists of two people, one watching each wing as it is pushed back on the ramp. I don’t know how many years ago it was when these propellers didn’t have any covers, but the newly wed couple was working there at the time when these propellers were not covered.

So one hot summer day this newly wed couple, working on the ramp at Terminal 3, were pushing back one of the American Eagle planes.

The woman was just half way into her pregnancy and was getting ready to take leave and get things ready for the baby. She was standing by the wing waiting for the push to begin, not realizing how close she was to the propellers. When the plane started its engines, she was in the way of the propeller. I was told that it sliced through her vertically, killing her instantly.

I’m not exactly sure how accurate my account is, because I’m a little hazy on the details, but I know for a fact that there was a pregnant newlywed, that was killed by one of these propellers. My co-workers also told me how the husband, not too long after, died from some disease, which was probably brought on by a serious depression.

I bring this up, because I feel it relates to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and also Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems. It is that bloody depressing Chicago history in the workplace, and it was one of the more depressing stories I had ever heard while working there.

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