Monkey Business

It’s Friday and this is the day the new trash haulers contract is supposed to be complete.

Trouble is, it’s not.

Private security guards of the unarmed variety started shifts in our yard last night, and the drivers didn’t take kindly to that. I’ve been hearing rumors of some monkeying around, and it is probably better for both sides that they’re here; both to act as a deterrent and possibly as witnesses.

The union will be presenting their case to the drivers and then letting the drivers vote on whether or not to strike this weekend. On Easter Sunday in the mid afternoon.

The unions are always flapping their lips about how a person’s job shouldn’t come between them and their family, and then they schedule a vote on the biggest religious holiday in Spring. I guess if they ask for another two week extension, they’ll have the next vote on MayDay?

Generally, both sides are talking optimistically to the media, but there are a few tensions over one issue: Healthcare benefits

As a non-union employee, I pay $70 a month for my medical, dental and vision plans. The union employees pay somewhere between $225 and $300, depending on their chosen plan and dependents.

While it may sound like a raw deal for them, there is a reason why there is such a disparity: I’m usually in the scalehouse, the office or the yard. If I’m on the clock and not there, I’m at another of my company’s sites or surveying one of our customer’s worksites.

The drivers, on the other hand, are in and out of their trucks and on the road every day, all day. If you look at a list of the Top 10 most dangerous jobs in the USA, truck drivers are at #10. But driving a trash truck isn’t just driving. They’re hopping out of the truck at least a few dozen times each day, sometimes into traffic, which puts them into the #5 most dangerous job as well. If they’re at a construction site, they run the same dangers that those guys face, which puts them into the #9 spot. The truck itself is also considered heavy equipment because of the hydraulic rams and lifts positioned around the thing, which puts them just outside the Top 10, at #12 or #13 most dangerous jobs.

On average, the trash industry loses a person every two weeks, either killing or severely disabling them. At my workplace, we have multiple walls showing the results of on the job accidents from around the country that have ended up killing or crippling the driver. I’ve got horror stories of things I’ve seen in accidents involving trash trucks that might just curl your toes.

The job itself, even without the accidents, is debilitating. Off the top of my head I can name three guys who are on L&I right now, two for their knees and one for his shoulder. There are at least a half dozen others whom I don’t work with closely that are also on L&I.

The job is highly repetative and the objects being moved around are quite heavy. Picking up trash isn’t for the light of frame. This is going to sound horrible, but we have had almost no women who can do this job for more than a couple months.

That is why there are new trucks coming out with grab and lift arms and other body saving equipment that will probably make this job a lot less strenuous than it currently is, and we are starting to upgrade or swap out our fleet for those new machines.

That is also why the driver’s health insurance cost so much more.

In the six-plus years I’ve been here, I’ve used my insurance exactly once: when I got pnuemonia last December. Other than that, I think doctor’s offices and hospitals smell like death and I stay away.

But I can guarantee you that even an unmarried driver with no dependents has to go to the doctor at least once, if not twice a year, for some type of injury.

They put a higher demand on the health insurance carrier, so the carrier charges my employer more for their health insurance, and my employer, rightfully so, has them pay their ‘fair share’ of it.

But unions only like to talk about ‘fair shares’, they don’t like paying them. The drivers want management to sing praises to them every morning, but management just wants to hum a few bars once a week, so the happy medium will involve a great deal of compromise.

It’s been over a month and while most of the compromises have taken place, this one is getting sticky.

There has also been some monkeying around inside the facility during operating hours. If’n you want to read about some of that, head below the fold.

About the same week that negotiations began, management called a temp agency and hired a number their people to ride along with the drivers and write down descriptions and locations of the dumpsters, as well as directions to each customer from the customer previous.

They were doing this so that, in case there was a strike, the strike drivers would be able to make their way around without too much guesswork. Guessing leads to accidents. Accidents in 30-Ton trucks hurt someone.

The drivers didn’t take kindly to this, and while most just worked a normal day, some of them started playing games on the temps. They start at 0300 and it’s dark and the temps have probably never been in these neighborhoods before. The drivers would circle blocks uselessly, usually leading to a confused temp.

I was hired on because I know the area better than 99% of even the locals, and when I started getting the paperwork back from the temps, I noticed these bad directions quite quickly. If a strike driver were to try and drive this, he’d either get lost or extremely frustrated. This is both a safety issue and something that would make my life suck for the duration of the strike, and I wanted neither of those options.

So I brought the fact that I noticed this up to one of the drivers. First he tried to play it off as the temp screwed up. When I pointed out the sheer number of circles the instructions would have someone driving in, he got defensive and tried to play it like he drove his route that way all the time. I pointed out the wasted time and said that it looked to me like he could use someone to help him drive the route more efficiently, which would lead to a few more added stops because he’d then have a bunch of free time. I got a half-assed confession and a quarter-assed apology before I told him I would fix it and left it at that.

The next morning, the union shop steward walked into my office. He said that the driver had complained about me noticing his little bit of fun and wanted to make sure I hadn’t fixed the route yet. I told him I had, which didn’t make him happy. His attitude then went from smarmy to rude.

‘I didn’t know the route like the driver did’ and ‘how could I second guess his judgement’ were just a few of the statements he made. I told him about the other drivers whose mistakes I had also already fixed and that any further mistakes would be reported to management because doing the fixes were taking up too much of my time and that set him off.

I was a tattle-tale and a trouble-maker and just about every other schoolyard insult he could think of. I ordered him out of my office, and because he was rude and insulting, the mistakes and all my corrections somehow made it onto the manager’s desk before I left that morning.

BANG! A new herd of temps were back in the trucks and all new instructions, remarkably close to my corrections were made with no monkeying around this time.

But all was not over.

About two weeks later, these instructions made it onto the driver’s paperwork. A couple of the drivers saw this and thought that messing with one of the new hires in the office would make for some good fun.

They made ‘corrections’ and handed them off to the newbie, who proceeded to enter them into the system. Their mistake was that one of them used a red pen to write his down with. I saw this stack of paperwork on her desk and the color caught my eye. It didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on.

I saw the red ink driver that morning and showed him what I had found. I pointed out the 6 illegal left hand turns he had inserted into the route as well as the 18 turns that would have a substitute driver going the wrong way down a one way street because of his ‘updates’.

After a claim of confusion with no apology, I got another visit from the steward. Same basic conversation as before with the same result: all ‘updates’ to the notes were put on hold until approval by management. Luckily, the newbie didn’t get very far and was able to fix what was already done.

But once again, the fun didn’t stop there.

Each stop on each set of daily paperwork has a number that corresponds to the order in which the stop is picked up. If the stop appears twice on the route (for an ‘early’ and a ‘late’ pick up) they will each have a different number.

The drivers are the ones who say which order the stops go in. They can change the numbers at will to make their route more efficiently. Or not.

This week, I started seeing at least a quarter of the daily paperwork come in with requests for complete renumbering. Somewhat luckily, the person who normally does this is out on extended family leave, so they fell into my lap. This was not so lucky for the drivers.

Once again, I bring it to the attention of the drivers, get a visit from the steward and we have a repeat of our previous conversations, and off it went to management, who put a hold on all renumbering until further notice.

You know what, if the monkeybusiness didn’t affect my workload, I probably couldn’t have given half a rat’s ass what they did. But now I’m just pissed off, even though I’m three for three.

If management doesn’t bring these games up during negotiations, they’re fools.

On another note, I found another use for my new truck, Grimm: Strike Line Breaking Truck.

He’s another 1500lbs heavier and a bit more imposing than my F150. Also, if the strikers want to whack him with their puny picket signs as I drive through their strike line, I won’t mind as much as if they were hitting my other truck.

These are the ground rules for their line: They can hold me up for two minutes, then they have to clear out. I’m thinking of borrowing the wife’s egg timer to hold out the window. When it dings, it’s time for them to move. I’ve got a decent reaction time off the line, so they’d better listen for it.

Also, the drivers from my workplace will be picketting the other company and the other company’s drivers will be picketting at my place. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a few key folks to let them know the big green Ford gets through, but I’m not going to count on it.

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3 Responses to Monkey Business

  1. Rivrdog says:

    I hope you are carrying a gun. It might be time to ask the mgmt if you can do that, based on the obvious adversarial position you have been put in.

    Also, I know that you feel you are equal to or better than all the tricks of the Teamsters, but never underestimate the power of the collective mind.

    If you give 100 monkeys 100 typewriters and 100 years, they will probably write a Shakespeare play.

    Also, “puny picket signs” have nails or pop-rivets in them. I would take serious offense if any picketer hit ANY vehicle of mine with a sign. Is Management documenting the activities at the gate with a video camera? They should be. That’s also a good job for your renta-cops.

    Never forget your company’s history, either. When they started out, the type of violence you’ve mentioned would have made any of the old goons laugh in their beers. People died during the birth of that company.

    Take care, my friend.

  2. Analog Mom says:

    You just please be careful – monkey business we can handle ….. anything more tends to bring out the Ma Bear in me!!

  3. Aaron Neal says:

    Dad faced something similar to the strike lines you mentioned at General Dynamics in Fort Worth. His answer was to drive a ’66 Chrysler Newport, and once they were waiting in line, tell the driver in front of him to put his car in neutral and Dad would push him through when it was his turn. Considering the paint was already pretty lousy, picketers would have had to do a bit of work to hurt that car.

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