Saturday, March 30, 2019

Banged Up and Battered By Bluestem Brands: Part 4 - A Ship Without a Rudder

The Dawning of a New Age

So to recap my previous post: We were merged into an unrelated department, given a new supervisor, lost the most profitable position that we had, and were now devoted to full-time hard labor. Are you all caught up? Good, because here is the most stressful part of my story.

Almost all of our senior crew (that is to say, the people who were there longer than I was) were essentially gone at this point. Most of them were a little on the older side and realized that they couldn't kill themselves with what was now expected of us. They mostly fled to other departments, sometimes in other buildings, but I still saw them occasionally. Most would brag about how their pay had gone up significantly in the first weeks after leaving as the other departments demanded about half the work an paid out much more in incentive. But I didn't want to go to a different department: I chose receiving because it was the only job I actually enjoyed doing during my first round of Blair back in the 1990s. I liked driving the pallet jacks, I liked getting some exercise, and I could not conceive of doing one of the other lighter, more boring jobs in the company. But this choice was getting hard to justify.

Our "busy season" normally ran from early October to early January. This was when the number of incoming trucks increased to get our winter stock for the upcoming holidays. This year (in 2018 that is), our "busy season" started in July, and as far as I know hasn't abated at all as of this writing. This meant mandatory overtime (usually two extra hours a day), which is not something you want when your job would tire out trained athletes on a normal day, and was especially bad when the trucks you are unloading by hand are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside.

It was during this time that our third shift receiving crew was retired. The ones that were still there were moved to other departments and they were disavowed from unloading any loads at night. Now, our third shift was always smaller and never did the volume that we did. However, not having them there meant that all of the volume would now be handled by first shift.

I should also point out here, that I was written up in August of that year because I refused to work a Saturday of overtime. We had already worked five 10 hour days during the Warren County Fair, and Saturday was the last day -- I was not going to miss it! I believe my actual words to management were something like, "You've already ruined my f***ing week, you're not going to ruin my f***ing Saturday as well!" This resulted in a first (and final) warning for insubordination. C'est la vie.

Most of my coworkers were burning out due to injury (rotator cuff tears were becoming more common due to the increased volume) or just from the stress of being written up because they couldn't meet the outrageous production goals at the time. My coworker Dan, a man I had grown up with and was at that point the longest remaining receiving employee, was becoming increasingly angry at the new crew due to their slowness and laissez-faire attitude towards the work we were doing. But really, who could blame them? They were being written up rather than worked with, they weren't earning enough money alone to make it worthwhile, and some of them (me included) were in near-constant pain from the sheer amount of work we were doing.

Also during this time, we started having issues with the pallet jacks. They were being run almost 24/7 at this point, and that meant that the batteries were no longer being charged properly. Even the rare days that they were being charged,

Alone, I break

In the middle of October, on one of our mandatory Saturdays, I woke up with an odd tightness in my left arm. I went to work, whereupon my arm got stiffer throughout the day until it became very uncomfortable, then it started swelling very noticeably. I asked my team leader if I could just haul for the day, and told my supervisor that I would be going to the walk-in clinic after work. No other information was relayed to me during this time.

At the clinic, the nurse practitioner was afraid that it was a burst blood vessel and that I was in danger of a clot-related stroke or heart attack. Because it was a Saturday, I had to go to the (considerably more expensive) emergency room at the Warren General Hospital. After being poked and prodded by the doctor on duty, I was told that it was just tissue inflammation, I was given a prescription for an anti-inflammatory medication, and told to take it easy for the weekend. I did, and the swelling went down.

When I went back to work on the following Monday, I was sent out to the warehouse to run the "cranes." These were massive order-picking trucks that went up to about 60 feet into the air. I hated running these things. It wasn't that I was bad at it, but it was just boring as hell; driving back and forth in a single aisle for a whole day isn't a lot of fun, and there wasn't a lot of movement either. Because of my arm, it wasn't too bad; at the very least, it was less work than being up front. By Thursday of that week, my arm was swelling again, this time even worse than the first time. 

Please note that it wasn't exactly painful, but rather like the muscles in my arm were as tight as making a tight fist... all the time.

This time, I couldn't continue working and reported to my supervisor. We called the triage help line the company had (because they were too cheap to pay for an on-site nurse anymore). I was told to go to the ER again, which I did, in the middle of the day. The doctor on duty finally diagnosed me with a severe case of lateral epicondylitis (more commonly known as "tennis elbow"). Most likely, this was due to the months of hard work I had put into the company catching up to me. I was ordered to put my arm in a sling and take over a week off of work. I would have to put in a workman's compensation claim.

If you've never been deprived of using your dominant arm for over a week, let me tell you that it's no picnic. I couldn't type, I couldn't play video games, write, draw, or do much of anything else.

I will leave it here for now, but there will be more in part 5.

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