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Friday, December 02, 2011

Trapped

I've lost my job twice in my life, both times from the same company.  When I was cut as part of a huge reduction in force that eliminated nearly half my department in 2007, I wasn't too worried. I had a great resumé, or so I thought, with a degree in Physics and (at the time) over sixteen years of experience in industry, in positions ranging from basic grunt work to statistical analysis to management. I would be fine. Finding a job would be no problem.

Six months later, the company called and asked if I would like to come back - as a basic grunt, with a 1/3 cut in pay. I jumped at the chance, since nothing else had presented itself in that time.

For the next three years I buried myself in this job, racking up as much overtime as I could. With enough overtime I could almost earn as much as I had been earning before I lost my job in 2007. And there was always a chance that the industry would pull itself out of the slump that was killing it, that it would latch onto new and innovative products and services that would carry it forward through the next decade. And if that happened, that better jobs would appear on the boards, jobs similar to the one I had lost in 2007.

That didn't happen. Market forces and the loss of a major client (not through any fault at the manufacturing level) forced another major reduction in force at the end of 2010. Hundreds of employees lost their jobs. Including me.

Because a lot of the work that we lost was now being manufactured in Mexico, those of us who lost our jobs in this layoff were eligible for some special services offered by the federal government. These services included retraining, primarily to learn things like medical records filing or basic computer skills. I opted to put my efforts into finding a job. Again, great resumé, now over nineteen years of experience in industry, etc.

Thing is, employers don't see things the way I expected they would. I've worked as a menial but fairly well-paid menial grunt, but any potential employer who is offering a job at that level may look at the other parts of my resumé and say "Whoa, degree in Physics? Statistical Process Control Coordinator? DVD Asset Manager? This guy doesn't want to work here. Next."  And any potential employer offering a higher-level position might say "Yes, you have a degree in Physics, but you haven't used it. Nineteen years experience in industry? Maybe that will come in handy if we need a janitor. Next."

So around September I decided to give up. Take advantage of the training offer. Go back to school. And right on cue, the phone rang. Would I be interested in coming back to my old position on a temporary basis during the busy season? I would be working the regular 4x4 schedule, either 36 or 48 hours each week, with the option of working as much overtime as I wanted.

I didn't answer right away. The money would be fantastic. The job was slated to run from late September through mid-November. But how would this affect my eligibility for training? I called the people who would know at the relevant agencies. They looked into it, and they believed it would essentially stop the clock while I was working - deadlines for enrollment would be pushed out during my period of employment. And, more importantly, if I were to refuse the job, I might very well find myself ineligible for further unemployment benefits.

I took the job. I didn't have a choice, really. But I was really looking forward to earning money again.

And earn I did. A 48 hour week (for 52 hours pay, by overtime rules) followed by two 60 hour weeks (with 70 hours of pay.) I had visions of 72 and 84 hour weeks coming up (with 88 and 106 hour pays, respectively.) In the few weeks I would be there, I would sock away thousands of dollars.  (I forgot about the bite that federal, state, and local taxes take out of your paycheck. That was a bit of a shock.)

But things started to dial back fairly quickly. I got in my 48 hour week and two 60 hour weeks, but then my next week was a measly 36 hour week. And the next one...well, it had been scheduled for 36 hours: twelve hours on Sunday, then twelve hours each on Friday and Saturday. I worked Sunday and things were going full-steam, but on Friday there was an eerie quiet to the plant. It wasn't until I got onto the floor that I discovered I was running some of the only systems that were operating. And that didn't last: someone with higher seniority wanted to work that night, so after four and a half hours I found myself handing off the presses and going home.

I didn't work the next day. Or the next week. Or the week after that. Though I was effectively "on call" each night that I was scheduled to work. I had to sleep as though I were on night shift, and by 8:00 each morning I would know if I had work at 6:00 that night.

The week after that I worked - a long week of 54 hours, since we were transitioning from the 4x4 to what I call the "krazy kalendar" of three (or four) twelve-hour days capped by four- or six- hour days. The week after that was Thanksgiving week. We were scheduled to start back on Tuesday, though I was cancelled for that day. Shockingly, I was scheduled to work on the night before Thanksgiving, but at the last moment - six hours after the "final" work schedule had been posted, and minutes before I was heading into the shower - I was told that I was being cancelled for the night. Thursday was Thanksgiving (just another day without pay for me) and Friday we were shut down.

This week I've been cancelled every day.

I expected this "temporary" assignment to end the week before Thanksgiving. It didn't. The person who brought me in, the person who said he would answer any questions I had, lost his job a few weeks after I started. I don't know if there's anyone left to turn this off. I don't know if there's any reason for the company not to have a "temporary" operator on reserve at all times, just in case.

I went in to the employment office to talk about the educational program. And I found - surprise, surprise - that the clock had been ticking all this while. If I wanted to take advantage of the educational benefits, I had to find something immediately. And since I was technically working, albeit temporarily and sporadically, I would have to find a class schedule that would work around a night shift "krazy kalendar" schedule. And I couldn't quit my (temporary, sporadic) job or I would lose all my benefits, including the educational benefits.

I still think I have a great resumé. I still think someone somewhere will see value in my educational background and in my nineteen years of experience in industry. And I have spent much of the last year - the parts where I wasn't working or looking for work - learning on my own, and developing and honing new skills. I haven't given up on finding a job, not yet. I will keep looking. But, who knows? Maybe next week my "temporary" job will call me back in to work again. Who would have thought that a temporary job would become a trap?

2 comments:

JimboBillyBob said...

GREAT post, and very relevant to far too many folks (myself included).

Karla said...

Harold -Perhaps consider that "a great resumé" gets you an interview.... not the job. As hard as it may be to hear, 19 years of experience is great but employers pay attention to the last 10 years - because really what you did past that time is not relevant any longer in most occupations. You have a very detailed writing style, have you considered technical writing? Just a thought. Remember that living in the past and holding on to what was instead of what could be limits people. How about identifying 10 companies you would like to work for and creating a strategic plan on how to get an interview with them? If you want help brainstorming that just let me know. You know I'm always here =)