Local 495 Member Brings Innovative Teamster Spirit To The Workplace
Confucius said: "The mechanic that would perfect his work must sharpen his tools," but he failed to mention what to do when the tools are not available. Fortunately, one mechanic had the knowhow to think outside the box, sharpening his ingenuity to create a tool of his own in the name of a more perfect workplace.
Such is the story of Local 495 member Ezequiel “EZ” Carrillo, a Penske mechanic in Fontana, Calif. During his 15 years working as a mechanic, Carrillo has witnessed his fair share of pinched hands and fingers installing axles.
Mechanics have long risked injury assembling machinery by hand, especially when installing big rig axles, explained Carrillo, and they have long needed a tool to protect them on the job.
“We’ve all had some kind of accident installing axles. I’ve had a few minor ones myself, but nothing major. A lot mechanics haven’t been as lucky,” he said, explaining how the 90-plus pound axles can inflict severe injury to workers whose fingers get pinched in the process.
“We have the tools to remove them, but nothing to install them. When mechanics have to stick their fingers in a tight spot between pieces of heavy machinery, accidents are bound to happen.”
Every day, mechanics put their fingers on the line to install the heavy axles. And every year, thousands of mechanics get pinched in the process. All too many mechanics, including several of Carrillo’s fellow Penske mechanics, have the scars and missing fingers to prove to it.
After a co-worker broke two fingers installing an axle, he decided to take matters into his own hands. An avid tinkerer and inventor since childhood, Carrillo said he went home and buried himself in his garage, devising a much-needed tool to prevent mechanics from placing their hands in potential danger.
“I knew there had to be a better way. I devoted every spare hour I had to making the idea a reality. Between work and taking care of my kids, I only had about one to two hours a day, but I committed myself fully.”
For the next two years, Carrillo searched through scrap yards and tinkered in his garage, welding and cutting and assembling. Piece by piece, the device began to take shape, designed to protect mechanics from injuries. It also aimed to increase efficiency, allowing for a faster installation process.
"I could visualize the final product in my head—I knew how it would work, I just didn’t know where to find all the parts. Each piece was like a scavenger hunt, and the assembly was a trial-by-error process.”
A Helping Hand
In March 2015, Carrillo debuted the EZ Axle Installer (patent pending), a heavy-duty installer for large trucks that allows mechanics to guide and maneuver the axle without touching—or hurting—their fingers. He has since trademarked it and is currently working to expand his operation with the help of a third-party manufacturer.
“It’s ingenious for someone to create a tool to improve their working life. We’re proud to have Ezequiel as part of our membership,” said Local 495 Business Agent Jim Lennox, noting that “EZ” is a fitting nickname for the Teamster mechanic. “He wants to help others by making things easier for them. In this case, it improves both safety and efficiency.”
Carrillo has received lots of praise from his coworkers, too.
“I’ve had mechanics come up to me after seeing it and say, ‘Man, where were you 25-30 years ago?’ And they’ll show me their scars or missing finger tips,” Carrillo said. “I’m surprised no one thought to invent it sooner. It could have prevented all kinds of injuries.”
This is not Carrillo’s first invention. He previously devised a tool to help a friend who had hurt his back put on his socks without bending. He has also created a tool for conserving water, saving seven gallons a day “and then some” to help California in the wake of the state’s record-long drought.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping others. I’m always thinking of things I can do to make things easier for people,” said Carrillo, noting that for each invention, there is a similar catalyst: people in need of help.
"My girlfriend says the world is full of crazy people and the world is full of poets, and that I'm a poet. Truth is, I saw a need that wasn't being met for workers and decided to do something about it. I'm not doing this for money or fame. I just want to help people."
After appearing in Local 495’s magazine in January, Carrillo received a call from another member looking for help. As always, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I love when people come to me with an idea for something. I do whatever I can to help make it happen. If you can think, you can do it.”