Under Pressure – Overtime

Recently, the son climbed out of the car and left his choice of radio station on.  When I climbed in, I left it playing.  Because of this, both of us heard David Wilcox’s, sexual innuendo, double-entendre song, Layin’ Pipe, with its line of, “Eight shifts a week is never enough.”

People like young, up-and-coming doctors and lawyers put in huge amounts of hours to guarantee future success, but often, hourly-paid workers will do the same, working two or three jobs, to get ahead.

One of my fellow auto-workers put in an 8 AM to 4 PM shift every Saturday at a cookie factory in the next city.  There was no problem when he was on day-shift, or afternoons, but, when our week ended after a midnight shift, Saturday at 7 AM, he had an hour, to drive 20 miles, and punch in by 8.

The son has a co-worker who works as a bus-boy/prep chef at a local family restaurant every Sat. & Sun.  On a straight midnight shift, he gets a few hours sleep, and works Saturday, from 2 till 10.  The plastics plant has offered a couple of Saturday midnight shifts recently, and he took them.  Leave the restaurant at 10 PM Saturday, drive across town and put in an 11 to 7, grab a few Sunday ZZZs, and back to the diner.

Fortunately, they were the weekends before, and after, Easter, giving him a week to recuperate.  The son worked both weekends also.  He had a four-day week with Easter Friday off, but followed by a six-day week.

My auto plant had a five-year stretch of prosperity, where there was overtime available every week and weekend.  As a union shop, the work went first to the person on the required job, and then by seniority.  A young man hot-forming vinyl sheets went through two packs of Hall’s Mentho-Lyptus cough candies per shift, to keep his mouth moist.

Someone suggested doing something on his day off, and he replied that he hadn’t had a day off work in 17 weeks, and many of them had been 12 hour days.  It was either the work stress, dextro-methorphan poisoning from all the Hall’s, or a combination of both, that lost him his job.  Not once, but twice, he phoned the plant manager’s house (who, of course, wasn’t home) and screamed at his wife and daughters and threatened them with violence and death.  I’m not sure if he demanded less overtime, or more.

The inspector/packer on my Jeep line was a little, Muslim, Turkish Cypriot.  As such, he had a great need for male children.  His wife first presented him with two daughters.  He bitched at her, but she was sufficiently Canadian to tell him that he only got back what he put in.

She finally gave him a son, but – Oh Horrors – the boy’s right ear was malformed, and he held it against her, loudly, constantly.  They had a nice little house, with a nice little mortgage.  She must have felt that, if he was going to either ignore her or belittle her, she wanted something that included room away from him.  Before long, they had a nice big house, with a nice big mortgage.

Soon, between abandoning her and paying down the mortgage, he was spending huge amounts of time at the plant.  One day, the supervisor distributed our pay checks and, without thinking, I asked, “Did you work any overtime last week?”  Then I slapped myself!  I worked the standard 40 hours.  He had a slow week at 80, 24 at time-and-a-half, and 16 at double-time pay, and yet, his check was exactly double mine.  All the premium pay had gone to the government as taxes.

He would work four hours over, each day – five 12-hour days by Friday – then come in on Saturday and Sunday as well.  If he wasn’t asked for overtime, he had a system.  Even if he worked till 11 PM Friday night, he was back at the plant by 6 AM Saturday morning, “Just to get something from his locker.”  He knew that, of a crew of 10 or 12, at least one would get drunk, or forget to set an alarm, and he would be invited to fill in.

He had another trick.  He would work the Saturday day-shift, come back at 11 PM and work the overnight midnight shift, get a bit of food and sleep, and return once again and work the Sunday afternoon shift, getting in three shifts over two days.

A few times, he managed to stretch one of the weekend shifts to 12 hours, giving him a total of 88 hours for the week.  Wilcox’s “eight shifts a week” is nothing; that’s eleven! At least once that I know of, he managed to get 12 hours on two of the weekend shifts, setting his record (and anybody else’s) at 92 hours.

He showed me a picture in his wallet once, of a handsome young man.  I thought it might be a younger brother or cousin.  It was just him, shortly before I met him, pinched, dried, wasted!  I own an 11-year-old car that I may not be able to afford to replace.  At 70, my mortgage isn’t paid off yet, but people still don’t believe I’m as old as I am.  I worked to live.  I didn’t live to work.

Huge work hours, and dedication to a job or career can buy you lots of “stuff”, but it often doesn’t leave you enough time or energy to truly enjoy your stuff.  I tried to attain a middle ground with my employment, and still often shake my head at those who don’t leave time for life or family.

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