Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where I've been

When last I posted, more than two weeks ago, I noted that I had recently returned to work on a temporary basis. While my classification is "Temporary / Casual Employee," this doesn't mean that I'm working less than full-time hours (though without the benefits that would accrue to a full-time worker.) In fact, I'm working more hours than I was in the weeks before I was laid off last December. And, for various reasons, the days are longer, too.

I was brought back to my old job as a DVD Mold/Bond operator at what is, on the surface, an increased rate of pay. Since it does not include benefits, any actual calculation of my bottom line has to take into consideration the amount I am spending on insurance and other expenses. Overtime is virtually unlimited, so I am taking as much as I can handle. How much exactly that amounts to is something I am working out every day.

My first rotation on I worked four twelve-hour nights. Monday night through Thursday night, and then took my four days off to take part in the Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton. After four days off, I then worked another four-night rotation, Tuesday night through Friday night, and added on two nights of overtime: one on Saturday night after the end of that rotation, and one on Tuesday night before the beginning of the third rotation. This gave me two days off, though the first day is spent almost completely in a state of recovery and adjustment, considering that I have just gotten out of work that morning. My third rotation consisted of six consecutive days, Tuesday (the overtime day), then Wednesday through Saturday of my regular rotation, then Sunday night as overtime. I tried to also get Wednesday night before my fourth rotation, but it was unavailable. So now my next rotation will be Thursday through Sunday nights. Maybe I'll be able to tack on overtime for Monday and Tuesday nights, too.

After the major layoffs at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, the plant went through some reconfigurations. The most  significant one to the employees was the closure of the front parking lot. While this produces what I have hiply dubbed "bad optics" - a major factory with a completely empty lot out front - it also means that all employees are packed into a deep, narrow, three-tiered parking lot in back, resulting in much longer walks to and from cars at the the beginning and end of the day, almost all involving flights of steps. This is a significant consideration for production workers who have been on their feet and running for the previous twelve hours.

My typical work day goes something like this: out of the house between 5:00 (ideally) to 5:08 (this is the most typical time for me to leave, based on observations.) Crawl through the school zone and down the hill to Main Street. Get on the Sans Souci Parkway and take the exit for Route 29. Take Route 29 to Interstate 81, optimally getting on 81 by 5:14. Continue along 81, passing the last Wilkes-Barre exit by 5:20 and the Pittston exit by 5:24. Hit the Montage Mountain bottleneck at 5:30 and stop. This bottleneck is the result of poor highway planning; an increased number of office buildings (mostly call centers and insurance agencies) have located in the new developments at Montage over the past ten years, and many of them release their workers onto 81 between 5:00 and 5:30. This sudden increase in volume on an already-crowded highway results in a choke-point that lasts two or three miles between the Montage and Scranton exits, which are also choked with construction. Highway traffic travels between 5 and 35 miles per hour for this stretch. Once we have moved past Scranton, traffic moves freely once again. Assuming no additional delays, I arrive at work - at the parking lot at work - no later than 5:48. Then the next phase of my commute begins.

I leave the car and begin my trek to the building. This is about a five minute walk, faster at the beginning of the rotation, slower after a few nights of work have left me sore. We are not allowed to punch in earlier than 5:53, so if I manage to hit the first time clock before then I just keep moving until I get to the next one. As a temporary worker I don't have a permanent home, so I stop at the supervisor's office to get my assignment - usually a set of presses on the far end of the building. I then begin the long hike across the huge plant, hoping to get to the presses by 6:00 so I can get a turnover.

From 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM I work. Changing stampers, pulling spindles of discs, responding to alarms, running tests, making adjustments, getting techs for assistance, cleaning dirty stampers, running across the plant to get new stampers when necessary, keeping the area clean. Some days are rougher than others. Changing stampers I don't mind so much anymore, but the alarms get to you after a while, especially when all the techs are busy with other things.

You're entitled, technically, to a 30-minute lunch and two 10 (or is it 15?)-minute breaks. It doesn't really matter; no one has time for breaks anymore, and the most that you can hope for is a few minutes off your feet, and maybe a chance to drink some water or grab a snack. Most people eat lunch at their machines, since there's really nobody left to cover for you when you go to lunch. I aim to take lunch between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM, but most nights that doesn't happen. Lately I've been wolfing down meals between alarms at about 5:00 in the morning. One day last week I ate lunch between 5:59 AM and 6:04 AM, while shouting out a list of issues to my day-shift replacement. In any event, you must be punched out by 6:07 AM. I usually punch out at a clock near to my machines, and then begin the long hike out of the plant and through the parking lot.

I'm typically ready to roll at 6:20 AM or so, having consumed a can of diet cola and the first of several apples for the ride home. I will take a second apple once I hit Pittston, and crack open a second can of diet cola as I get onto route 29, which is also when I begin a third apple if I need it. I need to be awake and alert when I get to Nanticoke, because my commute now takes me through an active school zone, complete with crossing guards and little kids crossing the road.

I get to my mom's house at 7:00 AM, run to the bathroom, brush my teeth, wash my face, and pick up the neighbor's cocker spaniel that we've been dogsitting. I will walk him a bit, then take him back to my car. I strap him into the passenger's seat and go around to the driver's side and get in the car, by which point he has usually jumped out of the car, leaving me sitting on his leash. I wrestle him back into the car and drive across town to my house, where I walk him again a bit, then take him inside to go to bed. We're usually in bed by 8:00 AM. My alarm goes off at 1:45 PM, and we're out of the house and back at my mom's just after 2:00. I then begin the process of getting ready for work, as well as trying to do all the other things most people usually take for granted every day.

(On Tuesdays this schedule is somewhat compressed: I need to be out of the house by 3:00 to get to the WBRE studios by 3:30 to do my weekly 90-second spot on "PA Live!" I park at a meter along the street and take a change of clothes with me. I'll get changed into my work clothes right after my segment and leave for work around 4:40 PM, which usually gets me in the parking lot by 5:20.)

Used to be that I could squeeze in some blogging before or after work, but that's not possible anymore. In addition to the demands of taking care of the neighbor's dog, the longer walk to and especially from work means that I've now lost an extra half-hour of "home" time to "work/commute" time. In addition I'm sleeping on average an hour or so longer than I used to; I used to squeeze by on four to five hours of  sleep a night, but now that just seems stupid and dangerous.

So that's where I've been. That's what I've been up to. That's why I haven't been posting much lately. It won't last long; this job is only temporary, and who knows when I'll be able to find another one - especially one that pays a decent wage, and doesn't require an even longer commute.


Michelle D said...

Aha! This explains why your car is never at the house when I pass it on the way to LCCC. Not that I'm stalking you or anything. I'm totally not. *creepy smile*

JimboBillyBob said...

How do you mentally handle the adjustment from periods of worked-near-dog-damned-dead to the stretches between jobs where there is perhaps a frightening amount of empty time? I've been on a 16+ year run of merely long hours to occasionally insane hours where I might leave the house not knowing what day I'll be home. I'm just shamelessly digging for pointers on how to handle that first morning when I sit up on the edge of the bed with nowhere to go, and the similar mornings that follow. So far what I've come up with is to attack the business of writing (work on my novels, start contacting editors, etc). Do that before the sun comes up, then look for work. And avoid the comfy chair in the living room at all costs while there's any productive time left in the day. It's a big change in lifestyle, and I'm trying to avoid as much *oh crap, what now?* as I can... (Where do you get your apples? They may play a role for me somewhere in all of this...)

D.B. Echo said...

Heh. JimboBillyBob, I could give you lots of information and advice about what I've done, but considering the ineffectiveness of my approaches, my advice would be worthless. Since losing my job in February 2007, my two periods of employment since then have resulted from being called back by my old employer. Twice.

But one piece of advice I absolutely will give is this: sign up with CareerLink, and register with the weekly Job Club. We meet every Tuesday at 9:00 AM at the CareerLink. The group consists of people actively seeking jobs, and regularly features presentations by employment professionals. CareerLink also offers lots of other very useful services that you should take advantage of. The job market has changed a lot since the last time you were looking for a job, and almost everything you were once told you absolutely had to do is now obsolete!

D.B. Echo said...

Here's the link to their site. There's also a private company calling itself "Careerlink" that has nothing to do with this agency.