Wednesday, October 14, 2009

White Van Solidarity - Labor Pt. 1

Monday was a bad day. Not only did the Rockies get booted out of the playoffs by the defending champ Phillies, but the MeRF's paper baler broke, shutting down our fiber lines and sending most of the workers home. The fact that I also got out early, and don't give two owls hoots about baseball would indicate that I had a good Monday, which I did, so perhaps I should change the first sentence to "Monday was a bad day, from a production standpoint."

Equipment breaks pretty frequently here at the recycling center. I'd say on average something breaks four out of five days of the week, usually something minor, which sends the production supervisor Lou scrambling to fix it. This could include me running to the hardware or auto parts store, but usually involves Lou tracking down or ordering needed parts from satellite companies throughout the area. Machinery malfunctioning could be avoided by better preventative maintenance (PM) checks, or the hiring of a maintenance mechanic, something that Lou has been advocating, but the operations manager Jerry has been refusing. Hiring a knowledgeable and efficient mechanic would reduce system downtime, keep things running smoothly, and decrease time spent on such matters by Lou, someone who puts in nearly 60 hours a week.
However, since the markets turned for the worse, operating managers understandably have to keep a close eye on the budget, and hiring anybody new even on a modest salary sets the whole ship back. This is just one example of the politicking encountered in MeRFtown, from a production standpoint.

I have already indicated my respect for the hired workers here who do battle daily against the endless stream of a community's recyclable waste, putting their health and fortunes at risk with little-to-no upward job security/mobility and minimal benefits, but I suppose any job is a valuable blessing to have in these times. I have not yet mentioned the noble management that weighs financial and employment decisions as well as directs production orders (how many bales of x are shipped when and where as well as what exactly x is comprised of). I have not been here long enough to accurately judge these folks, but needless to say, theirs is a kushier, much more desirable job, from a production standpoint.

I count myself as a strange hybrid between the two echelons, running errands and other odd jobs for the facility as well as conducting research and compiling educational materials for outreach campaigns. I still don't know exactly what I do here, but I like the variety and relaxed schedule. The most consistent responsibilities I've been given besides exploring the local hardware store, are getting lunches from the county jail for the inmate workers Monday to Wednesday, and dropping off/picking up gloves at the laundromat. Strangely, the manager at the laundromat used to work as a contract laborer at the MeRF and mentioned the headaches she would have at the end of a day working here.

When I go on errands in the Eco-Cycle van, I count myself a member of the mystical and elusive Order of White Vans, pledging solidarity and assistance to all fellow workers driving white vans. If we happen to see another white van on the road, all modes of sympathy go out to our brother or sister in need, especially in traffic easing; mainly letting them get onto a highway at the accelerating speed they so choose, or patiently allowing them to pull in and out of tight parking spaces. I trace this heritage back to my days driving white vans for ExpresSign, UMD Residential Facilities, and Lutheran Social Services, back in Maryland. White van drivers always seem to be the root of suspicion in communities (remember the sniper attacks?), yet they provide some of the most needed services. So next time you're on the road, bee kind to the fellow in the white van.

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