Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Low Wage Job Story

(Based on the wonderful recommendations of others I have moved this entire story over HERE - I've left the first entry in to whet your appetites. You can read the rest at the link.)

Some time ago - after getting fired from a half-decent job and quickly grasping onto a poorly paid one - I started writing something called "Week One In A Low Wage Job." It was a rolling update on an Expat forum between November 12th 2010, and March 14th 2011. Here it is in one big blob. I've divided each entry by the date I posted it originally.  The rest of this blog will concentrate on my time at home with the kids.


NOVEMBER 12, 2010

As some of you know I lost my job a month ago. It paid enough to allow my wife to stay home with the kids. Some people think this means we were lucky enough to do this because I made lots of money. No - I can assure you we just decided we wanted to do it this way and spend 4 or 5 years on a low income. Seriously, we loved doing it and it meant we couldn't afford things most families could on two-incomes. But who gives a shit - my wife was always home with my kids instead of paying someone else a good $20,000 a year to raise them instead (and for those of you without kids, that is not an exaggerated number - that it how much it costs around here for daycare). When I got canned I immediately started looking for shit work. And I mean scum-shit work. Anything that would have an income because frankly, when I make my car payments they don't give a flying fuck where the money came from, just that I give it all to them on time. The plan is that my wife will actually go back to work and I will quit, be a stay-at-home dad for the next 4 years and get into free-lance writing.

A little back-story. When we moved back to the United States two years ago I just took a job in insurance so I could be near the in-laws. No really, I did. My wife, frankly, is the smartest person I know. I may have an education but this woman has more smarts and determination than anyone she's met so far. Her earning potential far outstrips mine by about 4/5 times what I've ever earned. So it should take a few months and then the fun will begin.

Anyhoo, on Monday I started a low wage bag of shit job in Utica, NY helping phone companies in the Maine/NH/VT area establish service to their business users. It has 5 weeks of training (which so far appears to be having someone read to us from a very poorly written manual) and then we "go live." I've done shitty work in the past, and I've done call-center work years and years ago. I know this kind of work, I know the kind of people, but I haven't done it in a long while. Because I've been doing real jobs since then. Needless to say, it has been very interesting.

There are nine of us in training. Four of the nine of us were fired from our last job. This company is clearly aiming high here. Three of the remaining five lost their jobs due to the economy killing their old companies. Of the last two people one was a horse inseminator and the other claims he was a sparring partner for Ultimate Fighting competitors. On our first Monday the HR guy read out a bunch of rules of what was and was not allowed in the building. After he read through no food (seriously you HAVE to either buy your own or leave to get your own, it seems you CANNOT bring your own), no cell phones and the usual garbage he started talking about no drugs and no weapons and how you should leave them in the car. The lady right in front of me got up, apologized, opened her purse, flashed a hand gun and walked down the corridor to put it in her car. Nice.

Another thing you aren't allowed in work are your pets. Needless to say I thought that was obvious. But no - one of the training class got very irate because they live with forty ferrets and stated that when they breed the babies need to keep warm and this company will damn well accommodate her bringing the babies in so she can keep an eye on them. Never have I worked anywhere where someone has insisted on bringing ferrets to work with them or they'll walk the fuck out of this fascist job immediately.

In other words, this is an odd-ball bunch. The trainer says he used to work with Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom. Who is now in jail. He's a loud brash eccentric guy who states that he has no need to work for the money (say's he loaded and his wife is bringing home some quality bacon), but says he is bored shitless at home. He states that living on his luxury farm and driving into a miserable city like Utica and training people on simple stuff like this is something to do. He is very honest about doing the job - he calls it public assistance and that it's good to help those less fortunate in the community. Very back-handed insults but I think he's being 100% honest about it. He is the exact mix of Anthony Bourdain and Gilbert Gottfried. He introduced his right hand man by saying he is a 32 year old political asylum IT professional from Mexico.Actually he's just a dude from Puerto Rico.

Anyway, the company here is new - three months at this location - and they don't really have managers, proper training materials or a clue as to what is going on. It's fun just watching different people answer simple questions from us trainees with, "erm.......no clue.....I'll get back to you." Everything about this screams unprofessional. I haven't seen a single printed document in this building without a typo. When you walk into the foyer there is a sign that tells you they want to maintain a clean, sanitary workplace, so no food. Except it doesn't say that. It says, a "clean and sanity environment."

Basically in the job what happens is phone service providers order what they want as you would when buying something online. It arrives with us electronically and is converted into a different ordering program. Which doesn't work. So they hired 45 people to pick up all these orders that don't work and fix them. Not exactly rocket science. When we asked what happens when the IT people get the system to work properly there was a long period of hysterical laughing from the trainer and IT guy. They said in 20 years of telecom they have never figured out how to combine an ordering system with a resolution system. Seriously - anyone who has worked somewhere else where they have figured this out (95% of the rest of corporate America) would be punching walls here. They genuinely think it cannot be done.

The building I am in also houses 550 call center staff who work for a well-known phone company. To let those of you with the misfortune of having had to call one of these people in on it, the metrics they have suck. The turnover rate for staff is 80% a year! That is unbelievable to me. And apparently it's an industry equivalent rate too. Call center work in America is just shit work. The average absence level on a per day basis over the last month is 13%. So every day on average 55 people just don't bother to show up. Their quality percentage is 67%. WHICH THEY ARE PROUD OF. This is almost entirely based on whether they put you on hold for more than a minute and whether they get back from their lunch on time. Neither of which the staff appear to give a fuck about doing. We receive daily emails internally on the myriad ways that their call center reps have avoided working. My favorite so far was a guy who spent 5 hours on mute so that when a caller connected to a customer service person they got dead air and thought the call had disconnected - so hung up. That person was fired. As were 23 other people last week for not meeting metrics. These people hate their job, and they hate you. They get back to back to back calls (average 60-75 daily). They are not allowed to get up from their seat until break. If they are on a call, tough shit no break. Need the bathroom? That time will be deducted from your break. My little enclave of 45 original people don't fall into the same metrics management or whatever. They don't take 1-800 calls. They barely answer the phone at all. It's a call center job without calls. And yet in 3 months they have fired 6 people for simply not showing up to work. 9 others have left of their own accord. Of the 30 people remaining this week the average no-show rate is 20%. Yep - 6 people don't come in every day. Out of 30!!!

On day two of my job the General Manager gave a speech to us where he introduced himself by saying, "I'm the big dog here. I bite. You break my rules and you're fired. S'all you need to know." Then he stormed across the hall, dragged a trainer out from his class for using a cell-phone and chewed him out for a good five minutes in front of 25 new hires. I have never actually met someone before who acted like those wankish idiots from the NFL or NBA who behave like they are God's gift to everyone else. This guy oozes that same thing. He knows without doubt that he is the most awesome man in Utica. However if he likes you apparently it means you get promoted. The guy who interviewed me (and by interview I mean he looked at my resume and offered me a job - no questions of any kind....) was doing my job 3 months ago. After 8 days on the floor he was promoted.

There are only a few other things to really note. The first is that everyone, and I mean everyone in the building seems to drink Amp or Monster energy drinks. At 3pm each day the other 10 people in my room get really crabby and have a massive sugar-crash and just lie down on their desks. On Monday Ultimate Fighter Guy slept from noon until 3pm. No one cared. Secondly it costs $1.75 to buy a Snickers in the vending machine. And people actually pay for it. Thirdly, the mugging-Mecca in the whole of Utica is between the parking garage and my building. It's a 30 foot walk, but apparently a really great place to lose your wallet and your dignity. But my company have recognized this by putting an Employee Of The Month parking bay right in this dingy back alley in downtown Utica. Yes, it snows here 6 months out of the year. And yes the parking garage is the same distance away. But if you do a good job, you can park your car between the dumpsters in a scary back-alley and get mugged while trying to scrape the untold feet of snow off of your car.

My wife hears about a job today. Fingers crossed. Why? Because yesterday I had to explain to a group of managers what Control-F means on a computer. Because they had never heard of it.

Continue To The Rest Of The Story

1 comment:

  1. Your wife has greater earning potential so you should stay home? I'm sure you tell all the working women whose husband's earn more, that they should stay at home. Right?