The Red Lever

red lever imageIf you are of a certain age you will remember an airline (I don’t remember which one) used to run television commercials showing all of the mechanics working on an airplane, mostly older mid-40s guys and one twenty-something “aw shucks” looking kid. There was a voice over, or maybe one of the actual characters saying something like

Even the most junior mechanic can keep a plane on the ground.

This was the post-pinto era when Ford was running “Quality is Job 1” commercials. I believe, but could be wrong, that the these commercials came about after flight 191 lost an engine during take off from O’Hare International Airport. The engine didn’t just fail, it literally fell off the plane. Thank God it was a daytime flight or there would have been a lot more people home in that apartment complex.

The gist of the commercial was the need a change of shorts moment when the junior mechanic had to flag down the crew chief and point out the plane was not ready for service. There was lots of nodding and hand shaking with the crew chief saying something like

There are no junior mechanics here.

Around the same time Saturn was running commercials about the red cord/level/handle. It featured some line worker and opened with a statement like

June 24 blah blah blah, I’ll never forget that day. That’s the day it was my turn to pull the red lever.

It was an ad campaign showing how any worker on the line could stop the entire line for a quality issue. In the commercial there was much praise and hand shaking. The quality problem was a broken retaining clip or some such thing. The message they were trying to sell is “We’ll stop the entire line if even the littlest thing is wrong with your car.”

Most of you won’t know this, but every mid-range and mainframe computer room has a big red button, usually protected by a clear plastic case. This button is the master power switch. Swat that and silence surrounds you. These buttons were an absolute necessity in early days. Computers ran hot and could “magic smoke” shorts which cause many other problems. The only solution was to kill it all. Large capacity line printers had motors which would get hot on big jobs. If you weren’t diligent about vacuuming the paper dust you could have a dust fire.

Of course, the clear plastic box wasn’t perfect protection. I worked as a computer operator early in my career. The day shift operator was trying to juggle too many reports through the security door and in an attempt to catch/stabilize the tipping pile the plastic cover rose up, allowing the button to be pushed. Silence descended almost instantaneously. All of the office workers got a coffee break and the programmers got to figure out where the batch jobs died so they could be properly restarted.

Many of these computer rooms also had a big, usually blue, button, equally protected. This killed the power to the Halon system. You will still find some Halon systems around today but the original chemical can no longer be manufactured in America. It fell victim to the save the o-zone movement. You needed the big blue button in case an operator was in the room when then Halon system deployed. It basically removed the oxygen, or enough of it, from the room that a human could not survive. A faulty sensor could trigger a Halon dump. I worked at a stock exchange where a

We all know the reality. Nobody working a regular job wants to pull the red level. You cease being an anonymous employee and become the pet which just messed on the carpet. Despite all of the scenes of handshakes on television, in our current North Korea quality on a Walmart shelf management culture there comes a great grumbling and a corrective action plan you cannot achieve so they have just cause to fire you. They want it fast and cheap, believing they have more than enough insurance to cover any consumer deaths which actually go to trial.

The red level was a great marketing ploy which lasted until people thought about basic human nature.

  • Nobody wants to be the pet which pooped on the rug.
  • Management has insatiable greed which allows it to justify both killing people and blatantly robbing them like Wells Fargo did. Why should they care? Jamie Dimon hasn’t went to prison. Nobody from Ford went to prison over the Pinto and nobody from Wells Fargo went to prison over their life ruining blatant theft.

So, you can put those red levers all over the place and have a mouthpiece talk to the press, but, everyone has caught onto the scam. The first person to pull it will be let go. They will be replaced with an illegal alien who couldn’t risk pulling it even if the place was on fire. Management will collect their bonuses and people will continue to die.

One thought on “The Red Lever

Leave a Reply