Monday, December 29, 2008

As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and if I had known then what I know now I would have definitely done things differently. I went to work for the company I am employed at which I currently refer to as my "day job" over 19 years ago. I was fairly fresh out of school having graduated High School then taking courses in Electronic Engineering at I.T.T. and working for Dominoes Pizza while putting in applications and doing interviews in the hopes of landing a "real job". I finally did get a job with a company that offered a great benefits package and a future of better pay although the starting pay was actually a step down from what I was making delivering pizzas if you include the tips. I literally began at the bottom sweeping floors and later upgraded into a higher position in the same department operating powered equipment.

I actually had a chance to take several other positions along the way but I chose the "safe" route of staying where I was at because I had built up some seniority which gave me a buffer in case of layoffs and it was guaranteed 40 hours per week whereas one of the other jobs, fleet service, starts off part time until you can build up enough time to bid for a full time position. Then in 1996 a new contract started that had been voted in during the 1995 negotiations. The department I was working in was to be contracted out but all of the people in the department would be transferred to a new position of cabin cleaning. The trouble was, they were also telling everyone that all future pay raises were to be frozen. Well, obviously that wasn't going to work so I started looking for a new place to go. A lot of my friends took positions as fleet service clerks, stock clerks, overhaul support mechanics and other assorted positions throughout the company. I, again going the safe route, decided on a Plant Maintenance Man position and passed the test initially for the Automotive Department where I remained for another 5 1/2 years until September 11th, 2001 put the industry into a tailspin and caused massive layoffs which sent me to a different work location and into the Facilities Maintenance department. After coming to Facilities I became interested in the equipment we worked on and started learning more about it, especially the electrical end of things and eventually got a Maintenance Electrician's License from the state.

The trouble is, after making all these "safe" moves over the years I find myself in a position that hasn't panned out for me. I make an average of $2 less per hour than all of my former co-workers who went on to other positions within the company, I have fewer options for working extra shifts (called CSing in company lingo) and very rarely see opportunities for overtime (which is often more plentiful for other positions. I made the "safe" move to the Plant Maintenance Man (PMM for short) thinking it would be a temporary position for a few years maybe and I would later be able to upgrade into a full Mechanic position (a position that pays $9 per hour more than I make now). But due primarily to politics (under a shoddy facade of policy and experience credit review procedures) I have been shut out time and again from getting such an upgrade but at the same time I have seen others with less experience (in one particular case an 18 year old kid fresh out of High School) who were deemed to be "qualified" which usually boils down to knowing the right people, being related to the right people or filling the agenda of "diversification of the work force". The PMM position requires three years previous maintenance experience to get into in the first place. The fleet service clerk position requires only a High School diploma or equivalent and a driver's license to start then training is provided. PMM is classified in the union contract as a semi-skilled position. Fleet Service Clerk is classified as non-skilled. So, 18 years ago if I had gone into the so called "non-skilled" Fleet Service Clerk position I would be making $2 more per hour now than I do by going into the "semi-skilled" position. But it goes beyond that because with 18 years I could easily have pulled a Crew Chief position by now giving me another $1.70 per hour on top of that. Plus more opportunities for CSing and overtime due to it being a MUCH larger department.

So, long story short, I messed up doing what I thought was the "safe" thing and I'm paying for it now every hour that I work. I can still transfer to one of these other positions and likely will as soon as the economy improves and there is more hiring taking place because I see now that the "few years" that I thought it might take to upgrade has become 12 1/2 years and counting. Transferring will mean throwing away all of my seniority and starting at the bottom of the list for bidding jobs and being among the first to be impacted by layoffs. But my pay will increase at least. It's just ironic that I find myself in the predicament that I have to transfer to a position which has lower initial qualification requirements in order to make more money. It all boils down to politics though. There are more of them than there are of us and our union doesn't care because A.) We don't represent enough votes to do them any good and B.) some of us have more seniority than the very union representatives who are supposed to represent us therefore they have a vested interest in keeping me and others like me right where we are at. The company has no interest in helping us upgrade because, hey, it's cheap labor, we have guys doing essentially the same work for $9 per hour less. What's not to love about that right?

I'm not getting any younger though and if I am going to start over in another department now is the time to do it because later it will be too late. But on the other hand, there is that nagging doubt of what if I transfer out and they finally do the right thing and implement a program to allow those of us trapped in this dead end to finally get an upgrade through training and testing? The current contract is in negotiations and there is talk of just such a program being a part of it but there has been talk before. There is talk at every contract negotiation. Talk is cheap. Talk won't pay my bills or support my family. I need more than talk.

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