Hours And Hours

 

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Some Japanese office workers literally work themselves to death, putting in huge numbers of hours. Others commit suicide if they feel that they have somehow failed – their employer, their family, or themselves.

North Americans may be losing ground to devoted Asians, even though they try to work smarter, not longer. Unlike my Cypriot Turkey auto-parts co-worker, I have never felt the need, or the ability, to put in consistent 80/90 hour work weeks.

The first full job I obtained in this town, 50 years ago, was a position as an Inventory clerk at a steel warehouse/fabricating plant. I was classed as an office worker, but was paid an hourly wage, rather than a weekly salary.

The rest of the office worked from 8:30 to 5:00 PM, with an hour for lunch. I was told that there was a lot to do in Inventory, and told to start at 7:00 AM. I quickly found that I accomplished more in that first hour and a half, than I did the rest of the day.

Long before computers, the department ran on paper. And we had piles and piles, and PILES of paper. Large cards in a bin for new material received, and then sold or applied to a job. Four drawers of rolodex-sized cards for material used in fabricating. If a 37 foot part-beam had another 19 feet cut off it, the 37’ card had to be removed, and a 18’ card inserted. We kept two women busy at an IBM punch-card machine. A worksheet for every job had to have weight calculated, material prices applied, and costed, so that Billing/Accounting could determine profit (or loss).

As company sales increased, so did the piles of paper. I took to coming back one evening a week, usually Wednesday, and working from 7 till 10. My 45 hour week became 48, and still the paper piles mounted. Billings (and company income) were delayed.

My manager asked me if I could work Saturday mornings to clear the backlog, so I came in from 7 till noon. The Provincial work standard insisted that any time above 48 hours had to be paid at time-and-a-half. Now I was regularly working 53 hours/week, and being paid the equivalent of 55-1/2.

No matter how careful we were with the paper, often the card amounts didn’t match the physical count. Once a year we did a physical inventory. The plant was divided into 4 categories, plate, sheet, bar and beam. Four counts were done on four successive weekends.

The workers from each division only had to work their one weekend. We lucky Inventory clerks had to work from 7 to 5, Saturday and Sunday, all four weeks – actually working 5 weeks without a day off. And since the Saturday time was spent correcting the inventory, an extra evening was often necessary to keep up with Billing.

It’s a good thing that I was young and stupid strong. I started with the company just before their yearly material count (lucky me), so I endured five of these 5-week, 7 days/70+ hours/week sprints, before I was promoted to the 37-1/2 hour position of Purchasing Agent, and got to know my kids.

Part of the reason for my lack of success, is my lack of stamina and dedication to both my career and my employers. How about you faithful readers?? Did you ever work somewhere where you had to put in long hours?? Or were you able to ‘git-er-done’ in a 40-hour (or less) work week? 😯

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.

Food For Thought

We’re famous!  Or, our twin city to the north is….well, at least one old restaurant in it is.  I went to MSN.ca the other day, and there was an article about Harmony Lunch.  Still in its original building on the main street of Waterloo, ON, this eatery has been in business for 83 years, passed from father to son, to grand-daughter.

Opened at the beginning of The Great Depression, it is typical of 1930’s diners, which means that it is very un-typical for it to still be in business.  The heart of its appeal, the thing that got it going then, and keeps it going now, is that, the staple of its menu is pork burgers with fried onions.  The writer of the article said that they were made with ham, but there’s lots of parts of a pig that ain’t ham.

Always cheaper than beef, the patties are made with ground pork.  They are fried by the dozen on an old flat gas grill, right beside the sliced onions which are constantly replaced, and fried all day, in the pork fat, till they are tasty and caramelized.  The place goes though a fifty-pound bag of onions a day, obtained from local Mennonite farmers.  The split buns are given a quick toast at the edge of the grill, and then this delicious concoction is assembled.

Before the son achieved full-time employment, I would take him out for lunch each week I was on afternoons.  A couple of times we wound up here.  Long-time residents of the Twin Cities know about the place, and keep it busy.  It’s an un-liquor-licenced, family restaurant.  Within walking distance of both the Universities, the place doesn’t advertise.  The owner says that many students don’t know that it exists, or head for trendier eateries, but once they get dragged in by friends or family, he sees the same young faces regularly.

The lean, mean automotive world operates on a just-in-time system, and deliveries must be guaranteed.  When I worked at the auto-parts stamping shop, normal problems sometimes caused production delays, which in turn caused Saturday overtime work.  If any of my eight underlings had to work, I was expected to be present to supervise.  As the Purchasing Agent, I couldn’t call anyone, but there was always some paperwork which needed to be cleaned up.

The company president also showed up, and, about ten o’clock would ask each worker how many of these gorgeous Harmony Burgers they wanted for lunch.  Depending on the size of the necessary crew, he would phone in an order for 30 or 40, or 50, and arrange to have them delivered to the plant.  I can’t say that he was a kind, thoughtful, caring boss, just that he was cynical enough to know that he should appear to be.

In one of his how-to-be-an-asshole boss instruction sessions with me, he taught me how to get an unwanted change made.  First you start a rumor about something that’s far worse than what you want to achieve.  Then you let the workers stew about it for a few days.  Tell them on Monday that, the next Monday, when they come to work, you’re going to cut off both their hands and feet.  Let them worry about it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  On Friday, you tell them, that you’re only going to cut off their left big toe.  They’re so happy that that is all they’re losing, that they go along with it willingly.  What a sweetheart!  I miss him….as much as I possibly can.  Oh yeah, asshole long enough and hard enough equals dead asshole.

I usually had two burgers at the plant, but, at the end of the day, there were inevitably a few left over.  I got to take these home for the wife and kids.  We joke that we can’t take the wife anywhere to eat, because she will figure out how to make the same food as well, or better.  Even though she was born and raised in Waterloo, the wife has never been to Harmony Lunch.  Despite that, based only on the leftovers, she has developed our own version.  I had a leftover one for lunch today before I decided to start this post.

It might not be the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices, but there’s obviously a recipe for them.  Other than ground pork instead of beef, we mix them as we do regular hamburgers, bread crumbs for filler, an egg for binder, salt, pepper, mesquite powder or liquid for tang, and some Worcestershire Sauce.  They make theirs thin, like a Big Mac single patty.  We make ours twice that thick.

To go with six burgers, for three people, I fry up two Sweet or Spanish onions, as big as melons.  It takes at least an hour and a half to render down a huge frying pan full of raw onion to a soup-bowl full of delicious condiment.  Add some mustard and sweet relish, on a lightly toasted bun, and you’ve I’ve got a meal that’ll stick to my ribs….and a lot of other places on this bowl-full-of-jelly body.

It’s nice to see a local business get some national recognition.  They must be doing something right, to have lasted for 83 years.  I hope that there is another generation to carry on the tradition.  I wish them another 83 years, although my cholesterol levels won’t let me stick around to see it.  It’s a good thing there was only the one burger left at lunch, but now I’m hungry again.  You guys talk among yourselves while I go raid the fridge.