Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A bad day in the life

For the past seven months I’ve been following the same routine every workday morning. Because there are no buses running at 4 AM and not being able to afford the expense of a car, I walk an hour or so (fortunately it is that close).  Part of the route is an “urban trail” where I can cover a considerable distance without being disturbed by traffic or unwanted people, before cutting across an empty parking lot and then onto the sidewalks the remainder of the distance. Sometimes I do encounter unwanted company, like a stray bike rider racing down the pitch-black trail without a headlight—or a “curious” security guard driving around in a marked car, who rather than seek a “confrontation,” just drives around slowly until you “go away” so they can go somewhere and resume their nap. 

But this was not the case during the most recent such “encounter” today, while walking down the third leg of my journey. A “Securitas” car drove up along side of me and the white female inside asked in an “intimidating” manner what I was doing out there. In no mood to humor her “tough guy” paranoia, I told her where she could get off, to which she informed that me that she had “already” contacted the police. Really? I informed her in my own inimitable way that it was of no concern to me what she did, and I continued on my way without further molestation.

Incidents such as this when my personal business is purposefully “misinterpreted,”  per the prejudices and stereotypes of others, are never entirely forgotten over time, just thrown into the recycle bin of the mind to be dredged-up for future reference. Some people can simply brush these things off and chalk it up to the ignorance of people, but I cannot do that; perhaps because I never “empty” the recycle bin, its overflow keeps the memories and the anger front and center.

Things didn’t seem to change for the positive much when I arrived at work. I’ve talked about the supervisor and the new individual she has bestowed obvious favoritism upon, despite her limitations as a worker. Except for two hours last week, until today the favorite was absent for two weeks without explanation, during a time when the department I work in was engaged on a particularly troublesome product. Although technically a temp, this lengthy absence did not harm her standing with the supervisor. Perhaps not surprisingly, the favorite’s absence coincided with a relative absence of interference in the lead’s running of the department, and production was only limited by the limitations of the temps that other departments discarded and we had to "trade" better people.  But that all changed when the favorite suddenly showed up today; the favorite had already decided she was going to do the easy work of filling tins and watch the people on her “team” scramble to do the “hard” stuff. There was nothing the lead could do, because she knew that the supervisor would be unhappy if she saw her favorite doing anything “hard.” 

But by lunch, the lead decided the favorite’s “team” was going too slow, and had the audacity to instruct the favorite to close tin cases; after an hour-and-a –half of this when others had been doing this for days, the favorite made the decision that she wasn’t going to do this anymore and just sit and do some minor piece work at another table, regardless of what the lead wanted her to do. The favorite actually had the audacity to argue for five minutes with the lead about what she was or wasn’t going to do; even I didn’t have that “right,” but because she is the supervisor’s favorite, this was not an “argument” that the lead was going win without the favorite going off and complaining to the supervisor. 

The favorite stayed put, claiming that her shoulder “hurt.” She engaged in some badass banter to get “friendly,” but those present were an unlikely audience and only lamely reciprocated, and the scene soon became very quiet, with further conversation only pursued in non-English languages. Perhaps feeling left-out, the favorite suddenly decided to get up and go home early, ostensibly because her shoulder still “hurt.” Soon afterward, the supervisor showed up and told the lead that everything was going to “change” the next day, regardless of where people were best suited to be with this particular product (the person who followed the lead in the hierarchy also supported "change"--except that her motives usually tended toward the self-serving rather than promoting production goals). If this was a typical work environment where people are tasked to do a particular function well, some of these people would not last long if they did not “like” the task. But here, there are “choices” if you don’t like the task you’ve been assigned to—or at least that is now the case for the “favorite” since she showed up.

The lead and I discussed what was going on here. We agreed that these “changes” were just a too-obvious smokescreen to conceal the real intent for it. The fact is that until the favorite showed up, as long as the machines didn’t break down we were fairly “productive,” and that there was seldom any quibbling about the lead's production choices and decisions. But that all changed when the supervisor’s favorite arrived. Instead of working her into the department to make sure she was a good fit and where (for example, not deployed on the side of a tin feeder where one is responsible for both loading trays and feeding them into the conveyor without constant assistance by others who are busy doing their own work), the supervisor told the lead how and where the favorite was going to be utilized—period.  If the favorite doesn’t like doing something she is instructed to do, she will go to the supervisor and complain about it, and the supervisor would “right” the situation for her, and the lead has no say in it. Suddenly, there were problems everywhere; now the supervisor is never “happy’ with how things were being run—unless her favorite is “happy.” Not surprisingly, production is down noticeably; for example, on one product we generally produced 180+ cases over the course of a day, but with the supervisor instructing the lead to utilize the favorite in “easy” positions that required speed, our production of the same product fell to 160 cases or less.

Now, there is a legitimate question to be asked if the favorite has some sort of physical (or psychological) limitations that we have not been told about, but because of them everything has to “change.” She is the “largest” person in the department, and while I wouldn’t expect an 80-pound Asian woman to lug around something that weighs almost half her weight, I have seen much smaller and older people (like myself) lift buckets with 35 lbs. of product more than two inches off the ground without help. On some days, I lift and dump at least head high with my 120-lbs. frame and skinny little 50+ year-old-arms 60 or more of these buckets over the course of a day, and I do it because I am expected to do it as a male, and any thought about feelings of soreness from the effort is just the price you pay for having a job. But for the favorite, any assignment that requires the slightest physical exertion or “excessive” movement of any particular part of the body is bound to bring about excessive exertions of complaint.

But for some people, having a job is a “right” rather than a privilege, and when obvious favoritism is tied to it, there shouldn’t be any “surprise” that people who work hard at whatever they are tasked to do—and without deliberately attempting to undermine the authority of a person above them or complaining of physical disability after only a brief time at the task—would find this favoritism off-putting.

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