Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

A few years back, I knew an Irish immigrant, Paul, a tall, blonde, balding guy with a bushy beard. He had a wife and children, a girl and two boys, out in a suburb of Vancouver. I met him a few times; I know lots of people at UBC where he worked as an electrician.  It was a soft job: one of the guys who worked with Paul in UBC Plant Operations told me, "I don't remember ever taking a coffee break less than half an hour long."

A former co-worker of Paul's told me that he played guitar and had been in a band, in Ireland I believe.  Shortly after he quit, the band made it big.  

Paul eventually got out of doing electrical work by getting elected Vice President of his CUPE Local at UBC.  Rather than working at Plant Operations on campus, he now worked in the union office. He had a secretary and when the union newsletter had his photo in it, he would ask her to give him extra copies to send to the relatives.  Working class boy makes good.

People who worked with Paul agree that he was not at all snobby and enjoyed banter with co-workers, but he was quick to rage and to use dirty tactics against political opponents.  A male manager in UBC Human Resources announced that he would no longer deal with him.  A steam fitter in Plant Operations, an immigrant from Scotland who had begun questioning the dollar amounts on cheques handled by the union office, discovered that Paul had told police that he had threatened him. 

Observers say Paul didn't seem to initially have the confidence to be a union Vice President and morphed into a payroll clerk, immersing himself in correcting minor payroll mistakes, mistakes that were common at the time since UBC had switched to a new payroll system.  But union staff thought these were problems that Paul should have been referring to UBC Financial Services. Eventually Paul started doing that, and even referred himself to one of the female managers in Financial Services.  

It may have been this manager who sent the letter to him at the union office.  Paul never forgave his secretary, Kim, for not seeing the word "Personal" on the front of that letter.  That was the beginning of the end for Kim.  She then pushed her luck by speaking up about working conditions.  Paul got her fired.  That was easy to do since CUPE had been quietly employing non-union secretaries.    

One afternoon when the union office was exceptionally busy and Paul's help was needed, sources say he disappeared.  His explanation was that he had been at this manager's home installing a new overhead light.

He must have been re-installing it at a later date when a staffer in Financial Services walked in on the two of them in a compromising position. "She lost her job," a former co-worker of Paul's at Plant Operations said of the manager.  Paul didn't lose his.  The luck of the Irish.

But then again, some people say the luck of the Irish does not refer to good luck but to bad luck. Then it would be Kim who had the luck of the Irish.

I've heard that the luck of the Irish could also refer to the fact that Irish immigrants were at one time perceived as less than competent, so anything good that happened to them was considered luck. That would bring us back to Paul.