Democracy in Action

We’ve been having a big union battle where I work that has pretty evenly divided the company. In the first election, the current union, Local 1199, garnered 81 votes, the challenging union, NEMSA, garnered 71, and 16 people voted no union. Since there was no clear majority, there is a run-off election held today between the top two vote getters, 1199 and NEMSA.

I am working out at my suburban post, along with another company employee who I am precepting. Federal law requires that we be brought in to vote. The last election, the suburban medic was allowed to drive in to the company headquarters to vote during the day while another ambulance came and covered the town. I do think about calling up and asking if they can send an ambulance out to cover while I head to the office to vote. This would be without telling them that my car is in the shop and I rode a bike to work this morning. It’s about twenty miles from the suburban base to the headquarters. A nice bike ride back and forth — all on the clock. But I guess since my preceptee has a car, I would probably be expected to get a ride with him. No call comes to offer to cover us and I don’t call to ask for one. After all our shift ends at 6:00 and the polls are open until 7:30, so I don’t really think it is going to be a problem.

I call the mechanic at the garage working on my car and he has bad news. He still can’t figure out what is wrong. The car has no power. He has wires out all over the place and is looking at two sets of blueprints for the car and is at a loss. He does offer me a loaner car. I stop by and pick up the keys for the loaner car so I can get it when the shift is over. With fifteen minutes to go (5:45) we get a call to a local group home for a patient who has taken a double dose of tegretol. It seems an aide gave the patient his meds at 4:00 and then another aide gave him the same meds at 4:20. Reason does not work at group homes. How about we call the patient’s doctor and see if he thinks the patient needs to go to the hospital? They have already called the nurse, who called the doctor and the doctor told her to tell them to call an ambulance and bring her to the ED. I think added into the bit about taking two pills instead of one was a complaint of abdominal pain. The patient, who is profoundly retarded and spends most of the time biting his hand, it seems ate some spicy rice earlier, and has been grabbing his belly in between hand-biting episodes. Okay, fine, on the stretcher, and lets go.

It is going to be close to get to the hospital, get the patient triaged, get the paperwork done, get back to the suburban base, and then drive to the company base to vote. The polls will close at 7:30 precisely.

We make all due haste. The time is now 7:00. We are back at the base, I punch out, jump in my preceptee’s car and we race to the garage where I jump out, while he peels away after I have given him directions on cutting through two towns. The garage is now closed. I find the used car — a boat-sized 1992 silver Buick LeSabre with a rusted roof. It takes me awhile to figure out how to move the seat back so I can get in. There is no bar under the seat and no controls on the side. I finally find the seat back controls on the door, and am able to fit in. I roll down the window because it is hot and humid, and then I too peel out. Time. 7:10.

The radio is on a rap station, but I can’t figure out how to change the dial — I think it is stuck on the channel. So with a pulsing base line beat and a rapper dropping rhymes, I weave in and out of traffic, checking my watch at every light, keeping an eye out for the man. This is going to be close.

At 7:26, I am less then a mile from the base, when the car in front of me stops at a red light, but doesn’t leave me enough room to take a right turn. I turn anyway, into a gas station, cut across the pumps and then out onto a side street. I lay rubber on the road as I gun it fishtailing up the hill and then take a left down the last street.

I can see all the union organizers along with many employees standing on the sidewalk. I skid into the driveway, slam the shifter up into park and jump out of the car. I see my preceptee walking out. “I told them you were coming,” he says, “but they close in two minutes.”

“Run!” a union delegate tells me.

I sprint through the garage, pound the three-digit code on the door, swing it open and then run up the stairs three at a time to the training room where the election is being held. The door still open, I hustle through. The federal election monitor and the two vote monitors from each union side seem to say together “You made it!” Thirty seconds to spare. I am handed a ballot, go into the booth, mark an X in the box for my choice, come out, and drop the ballot in the box. Done.

It doesn’t occur to me until later, as I drive peacefully home, that my preceptee and I never discussed who we were voting for. I wonder if we cancelled each other out.


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