The first sign that something was wrong with me came one morning at a pre-shift meeting. I was still feeling the sting of the recent loss of Sunday double time and had started to check out. I just didn’t give a damn about anything anymore. At the end of the meeting one of our team leads told us where we would be working that day. My assigned position that day was one I had come to hate and- I felt at the time and still feel to this day- was slowly killing me. I flew into a rage that included multiple f-bombs. Even those coworkers who were more vocal about their hatred for the place were taken by surprise at my reaction.
Our shift leader spoke to me later. I was not surprised. I had earned it. He gave me the expected talk about unacceptable behavior but did not give me the expected step of
discipline corrective action. I chalked one up for good fortune and promised myself to never fly off the handle like that again.
I did my best to play it cool, still speaking up when it felt necessary but doing so in a respectful manner. I still complained about things with some of my coworkers but did so in a discreet fashion. The fits of rage were a memory.
While I was paying a lot of attention to keeping my cool I paid little attention to my attendance. I was starting to rack up points, one point for each absence and half a point for being late or leaving early. We were allowed seven-and-a-half points in a rolling calendar before
discipline corrective action went into effect and I was precariously close to that total. This was virgin territory for me. I began playing the attendance game like so many others had in the past. Very few played the game and won. I had to be cautious about this. I wanted out but not this way.
My nineteenth anniversary had come and gone and soon after that the calendar turned over into a new year. I was still playing the attendance game, still dealing with those silly lessons that people were creating for the betterment of mankind, and still dealing with the stupid shit that each department felt was the most important shit in the plant.
Our numbers began to lag once again as they always did in a cyclical fashion. Management’s solution was a renewed focus on the boards each line used to mark their progress. Each line’s board was set up so that line operators would fill in information throughout the day. Some of the information was changed each day to reflect how the line was running each shift. Graphs were added to show the progress being made for the month. The frustrating thing for the operators was that these boards were supposed to help us run better. This was hardly the case. The metrics – one of The Company’s favorite words that I learned to hate – were constantly changing with little to no explanation as to what they measured or how we were to measure them. Even some of those in management admitted that they didn’t know what some of the measurements were.
Two things were constant: 1) Green numbers were within our goals; 2) Red numbers were outside the goals and required action to solve the issue. Several operators admittedly pencil whipped their information to keep the numbers green. We learned that the manager’s opinion was that there should be no green numbers, that they should all be red to show that we are pushing to be better. The boards were audited daily by higher ups. One of these higher ups, who had no experience in the production area, once pulled me aside while my line was having problems to show me that I had colored one of the graphs outside the lines. The last time I had received such a remark on my coloring abilities was in the third grade. My reaction to Mrs. Pitzer then was considerably more mild-mannered than the one I had to the dipshit who was auditing me on this particular day.
An audit of my board nearly cost me the months I had been able to keep my cool. Our shift leader performed the audit just moments after I had updated the board with the noon numbers. He approached me and asked me if I could update the board for him. After I assured him that I had he informed me that one of the charts had yesterday’s date on it. I gave him an “Are you serious?”-look. He was serious. All of my numbers for the day were genuinely green on a line that was often in the red. He paid no notice to how things were running, but Holy Mother of God that incorrect date could have meant a complete recall if his reaction was any indicator.
The f-bomb that I always have loaded and ready to go was this close to being launched. Somehow, I didn’t pull the trigger. I changed the date on the graph and thanked him for pointing it out. He went on his merry way while I kept a clenched fist in my pocket.
At that moment I had a new and more immediate goal. I had to change shifts. Now.