Broken-down Poetry: My Summer as a Striped-Collar Worker, Pt. 1: Call Me Barbara


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Monday, June 16, 2008

My Summer as a Striped-Collar Worker, Pt. 1: Call Me Barbara

So, as most of you know via Facebook or in passing, I have taken upon myself 3 jobs. I wasn't really going to, honestly. The first one is It's Playtime!, that I love too much to quit. The second is a job that will help me prove to Cameron Strang that I'm worthy of RELEVANT. And then the third: My life as a blue-collar worker. Seriously, call me Barbara Ehrenreich.

So... let's discuss my third job for a moment. I am part of BF Goodrich's "summer help," a group of grads and college students that fill in for plant workers who are on vacation. Our jobs consist of anything from tire manufacturing to trucking (uhm, that's me!). So why did I take the job?

$10.00 an hour, 40 hours a week. THAT'S WHY.

Now, I know I have spent previous blogs scorning this so-called American Dream of disposable income coming out the wah-zoo. But honestly, I'm human. I won't lie. $400 dollars a week sounds mighty nice to a poor high school graduate.

And there's this part of the deal: THE BLOG. What I'm doing right now.

I'm going to be a journalist. I cannot remain a sheltered middle class girly who only hangs around celebs of the Christian music industry. (And yes, RELEVANT does cover more than that crap. I'm pretty sure Obama's going to make a guest appearance on the next podcast.)

I need to see the real world! The gruff n' grime of it all. And it will start here. I will, as an eighteen year old woman, venture into the forsaken world of the blue-collar workforce. I will work the swing shift. I will smell like sweat and rubber. I will be around fifty-year-old men all day. I can do it!

This introduction was a bit longer than anticipated. I will recall the events of my day reporter style, not like Barbara (from Nickel and Dimed, if you still have no idea what I'm talking about) who just told stories.



The layout of the factory is how you would expect, I assume. You know, machines everywhere, cement floors, steel ladders leading somewhere, an occasional window (open, of course, it's awfully hot in there), and industrial fans. I won't bore you with all that. Let's talk details.

Throughout the tire room there are racks and racks of "bobbins," covered in interliner fabric and rubber used to create tires. There are hundreds of them. Different sizes: 85, 100 something-or-others. Passing down the sectioned off "sidewalk," you come across these racks, some empty but most full. And their labeled. How? With a big number 200 or 50. The guys there must get bored at their jobs though. Most of the numbers I saw had little faces colored into the 0's. I appreciate their creativity.

Everyone manufacturing the tires (and there are only a few doing that, for the machines do a great deal of the work) has a rhythmic pace. Pull rubber. Wrap rubber. Cut. Pull white-liner. Wrap and cut.

There's a radio playing at about every corner of the "sidewalk." Most of it is unrecognizable to me.

I noticed how much the management wanted to make Goodrich to be a "friendly environment." They had team flags hanging on one wall--not just one college's name, but all the ones in the area. In every office I entered I saw a DIVERSITY poster with white and black kids holding hands.

Everyone who passed my trainer and me today waved. You know, those little hand-not-far-from-the-thigh kind of waves--almost like a grab or swat rather than a "goodday, neighbor."

But, it's a tire factory. A TIRE FACTORY. It's not some fancy corporate headquarters with carry-ins every Wednesday or casual Friday. It's a 24-hour sweat-dirt-grime-sleepless-on your feet job.

Does every American company want their environment mimic the so-called "high class" career of our society? Do we all secretly want to work where there are promotions, bosses in fancy offices, and company Christmas parties? Is that what Michelin is? A cheap imitation of an Orange County firm, but really at the core just a group of muscled men and women struggling to make a living, working 12 hour shifts, jumping in bed exhausted, forgetting to say their prayers because their head is spinning....

Maybe I'm being a bit melodramatic. Michelin pays their workers a fair wage--hullo, 10 dollars an hour!--but is it necessary to immitate white-collar businesses in the process? Or are they?


I logged onto my computer at 4:30 (after orientation at the plant) expecting 11 more emails from my boss Beverley at Nea Matia, Inc., where I do web updates and print-documents for the business. I had two from her, nothing more to do, just a thank-you and a CC to her secretary asking her to give me some help. Phew. It turns out one of Nea Matia's websites has this backyard server (as I'll call it) in order to update the site. Too confusing for Lauren. I'll stick with her other site that uses strictly HTML. Easy peasy.

[It's 10:34. Gotta get up early tomorrow and repeat this over again.]

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