Monday, December 15, 2008

When I was a youngster, I worked rotating shifts- twelve on, eight off. My Days off were Tuesday and Thursday. If I came in at 11:59 PM on Monday and worked until 10:00 AM on Tuesday, they still said that I'd had a day off. Then they'd bring me in at 3:00 AM on Wednesday.

I thought all of that was behind me, then I found myself forced onto a schedule of twelve on twelve off for ten days in a row. That was last year. I was 54. This year I'm 55 and working an "easy" fourteen hour split shift. I've got six hours off in the middle of the day, and I get paid for most of the split. The trouble is, I'm not off work. I'm stuck sixty miles from home.

I spend two and a half hours working in the yard, parking buses. That adds up to almost nine hours when I am "not in revenue service." I get to change out of my uniform for nine hours and facilities have been provided for me to "sleep" fitfully, if I can find space in the tiny, noisy crowded sleep room. If it's not too hot or too cold, I could sleep in the back of a parked bus. Trouble is, I can't do that anymore. Like I said, I'm 55. I have a permanently damaged shoulder, an equally mangled knee and hip joints that are starting to pain me. If I twist myself up to sleep on the narrow shelf that passes for a back seat, I wake up with my back killing me.

Lately, in response to complaints about overcrowding in the sleep room, management put out a memo "reminding" us that they are not obliged to provide sleep facilities at all.

Joint injuries, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, respiratory infections, alcoholism, divorce and cancer are as much a part of the job as bullshit and coffee. Management is not responsible for any of that. We "choose" to drink coffee and talk shit in the break room just like we "make bad lifestyle choices." The truth is that most of us work incredibly hard to take care of ourselves. Drivers bring healthy food to work and cook it any time facilities are provided. They walk, or go to the gym on their breaks. They meditate. They play music and write in journals. They get together in little informal groups and encourage one another to follow their diets, take their meds and exercise regularly.

Still, "coincidence" and "bad choices" have resulted in a group of workers who are chronically sick and injured. Management has taken steps to deal with the problem. They recently issued a memo restating the guidelines for doctor's notes in the event of absence. Failure to comply will result in "discipline up to and including termination." That takes care of that.

What's amazing is that we are "labor aristocrats". We have excellent health care for ourselves and our families. We can retire "young" with life time medical benefits for ourselves and our spouses. We are union members. We can't be fired without being put through an elaborate arbitration procedure. We have a guaranteed "fixed benefit" pension plan. The pension board has fifty percent labor representation.

We are constantly reminded that millions of people would love to have what we have. Hell, why not remind us that India and Pakistan and China are out there, wanting our jobs? Make it billions. Billions of people want what we have.

That's the problem with workers. We are greedy and ungrateful.


ib said...

This may be your best post yet, Jon. I'm in a bad way too; apologies for being so brief.

ib said...

What I meant to say was, more power to you and your fellow workers on the line.

Anonymous said...

its no credit to the human race that as evolved and civilised as we are our work is so often dehumanising. we have few choices though, stark ones yes as you pointed out in earlier post. it sounds corny but you have your ability to maintain your dignity whatever work throws at you. our culture never did care about the aging and the old so better make that dignity a habit now you will need it later. solidarity to you!

Hagar's Daughter said...

Excellent post, Jon.

Employers, managers, powers-that-be can give a fat rat's --- about employees. I'm degreed up (as my neighbor says) - BS, MA, MDiv, EdD - and I work in an office that infested with rodents.
No one wants to hear it. The response I often get is that *I* lack ambition or am lazy because *I* choose to continue working as a public servant. No one cares if I am doing an honorable, much needed job of protecting children and trying to maintain families. I should find work that elevates *me* to a position of authority -blah, blah, blah.

Working along with psychologists, social workers, nurses, you would think that program managers would encourage self care, but they don't. In fact we get similar memos reminding us about absenteeism, job production, etc. As a person with disabling chronic pain, I give til it hurts each time I show up to work. I work nights, weekends, and holidays as my regular schedule, but do the program managers care? No, they find things to complain about.

I practice self care. I agree with Another Number in encouraging workers to maintain dignity in the workplace. (I have to keep my feet up away from the rats.)

Jon said...

Thanks to all of you. HD, check my link to "sugar coated crisis". It's in my blog roll. Sugar Coated Crisis is a book about self care for people with type II diabetes, but the author, David Spero has written on self care for other long term conditions. He's sort of my guru for managing diabetes. I'd be interested to hear who you look to for managing your condition.

We got a memo from a boss that was essentially threatening anyone who tried to go out on disability leave. Later we found out that his wife was out on disability leave from her job.

Another Number: Solidarity! That's the stuff. I used to think of solidarity as a trade union principle but I'm coming to see it as a spiritual practice. I've been trying to come up with a few words on the subject. Hopefully I'll have a post up sometime soon.

Hagar's Daughter said...

I'll check it out. I rely on info from Joel Fuhrman, MD to help me to control flare ups of fibromyalgia and lupus. I eat mainly plant based diet.

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