Shimoniac Jones

I didn't lose my mind – it fled in terror.

Archive for the tag “utility worker”

Temporary Workers a Permanent Pain

The company I work for uses `casual labour’ to fill out the workforce. The usual term is `temps’, for temporary worker. These are contract workers from employment agencies. There are six full-time machine operators on my shift, and there are at any time from six to ten `casual labourers’ to fill out the roster.

That’s right, full-time workers are out-numbered by temps.

Now, in theory at least, contract workers are supposed to put in 480 hours of work, and then either be hired or let go; that works out to three months. That’s how it worked for me five years ago; I started in the spring, was hired in the summer, and worked out my probationary period by autumn. The reality is that in a surplus labour economy such as currently exists, the company might simply extend your contract and keep you at temp wages and no benefits for as long as they see fit.

One co-worker called temps ‘goldfish’. When I asked why, she said it was based on their transient nature and ease of replacement, how they only last fifteen minutes then they’re gone and you go get a new one. Now that I’ve been there five years, I know what she’s talking about; I’ve found myself, more than once, referring to a new temp as New Guy right to his face.

A couple of weeks ago I was training two new temps at the same time, I called one `New Guy’ and the other one ‘Other New Guy’ to their face. When ‘Other New Guy’ mildly complained, I told him that if they were still there in a week I might bother to learn their names. It’s a couple weeks later, they’re both gone and we’ve had others come and go in the meantime. I do wonder from time to time if my open lack of respect of them actually makes them move on, then I remember, ‘goldfish’.

Over the years here, I’ve lost track of the number of temp workers who have come and gone. I lost track in the first year, four more just add to the blur. Scores easily, hundreds probably, have come for a day, a week, a month, nine months, then they’re gone. The problem is that every one of them needed and got training on however many jobs they were assigned to, taking up hours of my and other workers’ time, and now they’re gone and the training time is wasted. There have actually been times I’ve wanted to just tell some dim-witted, slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breather to simply stand there out of my way while I did the job because they weren’t going to be asked to come back.

Although, in the blur of bodies, there have been a few who did manage to be memorable, though not often for positive reasons. There were two different older gents, who went code blue on us and required an ambulance to be called. They didn’t die, they just passed out. There was the jittery guy who we’re pretty sure was on some illegal stimulant, because a baggie containing some white crystalline powder and a rolled up piece of paper was found on a table kind of behind his machine. It might have been sugar, but it got tossed out anyway. There was rooster-crow guy, who would, at random, emit a startlingly life-like imitation of a rooster. Then there’s the clone of Richard Simmons who actually left in the middle of one shift literally crying and accusing the most inoffensive lady I know of ‘destroying his confidence’.

We had a temp last year who had his contract fully extended twice and wound up working for us for nine months before realizing that he wasn’t going to get hired; it was even his second round of working here as a temp. I think it was the fact that three or four other temps were hired in those nine months that finally clued him in.

I actually felt bad for him, he liked to do a particularly s**t job that no one else likes, and did it well. I felt that we should have hired him on that basis alone. I think it was his background in automotive that did him in. He wanted, and expected, to do the same job day in and day out for months or years. However, the Powers That Be, feel that all workers should be able to perform a majority of the jobs before being hired, and he was kind of a one-and-a-half trick pony.

In my experience the majority of temps want to move into a full-time position. Those are usually the ones you want to keep around as long as possible; hopefully have the company hire on full-time. Then you get the ones who seem to make a living, marginal at best, by drifting from place to place. They just want to skate by and collect a pay cheque. Those are the ones you desperately hope get arrested, strip-searched, and deported; preferably to some third-world country where they get thrown in jail.

The most difficult temps to deal with are those who do want to make it through their contracts to a full-time position, but just don’t have the candle-power of a brain-damaged chimpanzee. They need special handling. On the one hand you reassure them that the company does actually hire temps, but on the other you think to yourself what a hypocrite you are for raising their hopes when you know they don’t have a chance.

I have a kind of code I use to rate temps: clueless, useless, hopeless, worthless, and pointless. All temps, by definition get clueless; they’re coming into a job they generally know nothing about. I was that way when I started out here. Useless temps are those whose cluelessness is persistent and/or permanent. Hopeless indicates persistent clueless and useless behaviour in spite of all efforts by the temp in question. Worthless is someone who is all of the previous and isn’t even trying.
Pointless should be self-explanatory. They’re the ones you want to slap a label on reading ‘Contaminated Scrap. Discard at once. Do not reuse. Do not recycle.’

Pressure

This week’s word is sarcasm, which the dictionary describes as harsh or bitter irony. An example is: I had a lovely week at work.

My company has been aggressive the past few years in chasing down new business, diversifying our product line so that we can more easily weather this recession. The good news is that we’ve increased our customer base by probably 50%. The bad news is that we’ve increased our customer base by probably 50%.

That means that every couple of weeks, we’re making some new part we’ve never made before; we don’t know the tricks, tips, and shortcuts for production, quality testing, and packing. Guess who gets to learn, run, and train others on these new jobs? I do.

So, why was it an unpleasant week for me? On Monday, I was told by our supervisor pro-tem to report fifteen minutes early to my assigned machine. There was a new job in it, he wanted me to learn the job and do it for my shift. Fifteen minutes for training on an unfamiliar job is actually pretty generous by company standards, the usual is a quick five-minute session during the handover period between shifts. I was lucky because the afternoon guy used to be on nights, therefore intelligent and helpful; not like the rest of the evening shift mouth-breathers.

Oh, by the way, I probably won’t get paid for those extra minutes; I wasn’t three weeks ago when I was sent to the last new job I had to learn. “Unfair”, you say? It probably is, but I have a job and that’s not bad.

So, there I am, doing this new job when, half an hour before first break, the straw boss sent over one of the more competent temps for me to train. The job is `hot’, therefore high on the priority list, therefore the machine will be kept running at all times. Well, I train the temp and when I judge them to be sufficiently competent, get told that I will be covering another break as well as taking my own, then coming back to this job; breaks are twenty minutes, twice a shift. So I’ll be gone a minimum of forty minutes, more realistically forty-five to fifty, before the poor temp can take their break.

Now comes 6:00 and the bosses start trickling in. My machine is the first one they come to, it being a new job and all. Right off the hop, they start b*tching about how I’m packing the parts. I’ve been there five years; I’m not worried about their complaints anymore. I’m following the instructions I’ve been given, if those instructions are in error, then it is someone else’s problem.

When 7:00 rolls around, the day shiftless worker finally wandered over, realized it was a new job, and whined about having to learn it during the five-minute handover, which they’ve wasted two or three minutes of.  I smiled unsympathetically, handed them the written work instructions, demonstrated a few cycles, and told them that I got there fifteen minutes early to learn the job.

Then I walked away.

Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

Friday, they put me back on the new job, but at about midnight gave me a different new temp to train. Temps run the gamut of sharp as a tack to about as sharp as a cotton ball; this one was more toward the cotton ball part of the spectrum. I persevered though and brought him to something resembling competent on the job. In the middle of this, the straw boss stood in the aisle and shouted an unnecessary question about how I was training.

That’s two things that p*ss me off right there. Standing in the aisle and shouting a question over the noise of the machinery and asking a stupid question. I’m going to have sharp words with them one of these days. I made a reply that I will admit was a bit terse. The straw boss snarked, “Don’t snap at me…”, looked at my face, got quiet, turned and walked away.

I was then told to cover two breaks plus my own and report to a different machine, which had to be started up for me to run. When I got there, I ran it for less than an hour before it was shut down again. I was told to take my break first, then go to yet a third machine, relieve that operator for their second break and they would be reassigned for the remainder of the night. That’s typical Friday fuss.

At 5:00-ish in the morning I had to have a potty break, and it wasn’t a machine where one can nip off for a quick moment, then come back and catch up. Now the proper procedure in these cases is actually to flag down the QA, a set up technician, or the supervisor, inform them of your need and they will find an operator to take over while you’re gone. Usually though, you just grab someone who can cover you for a couple of minutes, go do your business, come back and thank them, and carry on.

Casting my eyes around, I spot the QA operator performing scheduled checks, flag them down, etc. While I was gone, the reliever inexplicable bungled a job I know they’ve done numerous times. I got back and two cycles in, noticed the problem and warned the packer of it. Now we have to examine all the parts in the pipeline to weed out the botched ones, take them out of the system, list them as scrap, and keep up with a machine on automatic continuing to pump out new parts.

I had barely achieved equilibrium again when the supervisor pro-tem arrived on his rounds and noticed all these new scrap parts. I do not exaggerate when I say that he shrieked. I then had to explain who, when, why, and how these numerous parts had been fouled up, while still keeping up to the machine. He took a swipe at me, stormed away to berate the guilty party, stormed back to berate me, and was less than pleased when I told him that I had followed procedure in getting a relief operator; that meant he had to apologize for the second swipe.

Saturday morning shut down is always welcomed. This week I welcomed it a bit more than usual.

More About Me

Well, perhaps I should tell you a little more about me. I work for an injection-moulded plastics company, the name of which I’m going to omit, so that a co-worker who might stumble on this blog won’t be able to definitively point fingers. The term I’m going for is plausible deniability. I’ve worked there about five years now, after losing my previous job at which I’d also worked for five years.
I don’t know why we say we’ve lost our jobs. We either know where they are, they just aren’t ours anymore, or they’ve gone elsewhere and someone else is doing them.
When I started here, I had no previous experience in plastics, or in injection moulding. I’ve worked in factories before, I’ve worked as a security guard, I even did some janitorial work in high school, but working in plastics was new to me. Thankfully, I’m reasonably intelligent and fairly dedicated, so I was able to learn and adapt. Although, I was told later, that there was doubt that I’d make the cut, being so ignorant about the type of work.
I work on the night shift; have done so for ten years or more, mostly by preference. For those of you familiar with shift work, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you not familiar with shift work here’s a quick rundown. On the twenty-four hour clock, day shift runs from 0700 – 1500, afternoon/evening shift runs from 1500 – 2300, and night/midnight shift runs from 2300 – 0700.
On days, the bosses are always around and everything is uptight. On afternoons, the bosses are still there until 1730 – 1830. Night shift, however, the bosses are long gone, or, if present, there’s a catastrophe of some sort and their presence is unusual. Night shift generally has a looser, more laid-back vibe; we get the work done, but we’re not frantic about it. In point of fact, at my company, night shift consistently has a lower scrap rate, and higher production figures than either of the other shifts.
Since I’ve been working here for five years, I technically qualify as the senior machine operator on my shift. There are two other employees on the shift who’ve been there 8 or more years, but they’ve moved to Quality Control. Then there’s a guy who started a month before I did, quit a couple years ago, then asked for his job back a couple months later, when the relationship he went chasing wound up not working out; more on him later. (Moron, how appropriate.) Therefore, I’m senior.
Since, I’m the senior machine operator; I get a strange blend of perks and bullshit. I’m the go-to guy when there’s a new or difficult job to do; on the other hand, I’m sometimes used as an assistant material handler, a trainer, or a utility infielder. Friday night, for example, I trained a temporary employee on a job (it’s so cute destroying their hopes), kept an eye on two other temps doing two different jobs, helped the material handler by hand wrapping skids of finished product and making up cartons, helped the QC guy by labelling some cartons, covered for breaks on multiple machines, trained another temp on a different job from the first, did a quality audit of a bin of twenty thousand small parts, reconfigured a work cell for a new job, and collected and disposed of big lumps of plastic called “purges”, putting them in the appropriate recycling bins by type.
Now, reading the list, I realize that it may sound busy, but at no time did I feel pushed or rushed; the trick is to do the next thing and not obsess about any one of them.
That advice works for life too, I suppose.

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