Warehouse Woes

25 11 2021

It’s late summer and my back is on the verge of giving out.

Ten months into the warehouse job and the pain is plenty. It was bound to happen.

“I’m surprised you’ve lasted this long,” my buddy Zac said over our weekly brew pub outing. Zac arrived in Portland shortly after I took the warehouse job. We worked together at Glacier. The older I get the more I recognize how great those park gigs were.

Pain began pulsing up and through my shoulders last week. Maybe I should be warming up and stretching more before engaging in the heavy push, pull, reach, bend and climbing that is this warehouse job. But who has time for stretches when you gotta make rate and stay on task?

After studying some cloud computing — on my own time mind you — I’ve come to the conclusion this site is a design to fail situation. On top of the chaos with COVID, during which management was still pushing pre-COVID lofty rates as bodies continued to drop, a construction project was launched inside the warehouse which appeared to counter the current operational methods.

Project Tornado

And then vaccine wars started. The company took a laissez-faire approach at first, so we had to go off-site in search of the vaccine. Testing continued on-site where the number of positive cases topped the state for private commercial employers.

Before COVID, this warehouse was one of the company’s leaders in injury rates.

I tried to bring dangerous situations to the attention of management but soon learned retaliation was a consequence of whistle blowing: A flat tire in the parking lot. Pallets deliberately dropped on the floor creating loud, gun shot like bangs while your back is turned. That sort of thing.

“It’s the culture here,” a process assistant told me. Likely a reflection of Portland’s failed leadership.

A culture of anarchary in the streets with strict virus protocols from the state is a deadly mix.

Those of us who got the vaccine were allowed to work unmasked, which in the swealtering summer heat was a relief, while those who refused the vaccine were required to keep masking. This policy produced division, resentment and gang-like behavior.

While waiting for station assignments one day, I turned to ask a young co-worker if he had considered getting vaccinated and his reaction was an emotional detonation.

“Don’t talk to me!,” he said. “I don’t like you!”

When I brought this up to human resources, their response was, “John, nobody is required to speak to you and you cannot ask anyone their vaccination status.” For the record, I asked if he had “considered” getting vaccinated.

People not talking to each other in this warehouse was one of the first things that struck me as odd. Workers walk around like their dog just got run over. No eye contact. The robots have more personality. Sadness permeates throughout the miles long facility, which measures the length of four football fields. Some sit on the toilet for long periods of time to escape having to go back on to the noisy and treacherous floor.

Conditions are so bad now I shudder to think what it was like before the virus hit. It’s obvious there is not enough suckers desperate enough to risk their health to keep the company’s speed driven model on a sustainable path. The average warehouse worker lasts three days on the job, I’m told. Enforce the rules too much and they quit and then no one gets their Christmas gifts. Oh vey.

When I first started I imagined that someone — David, T or even Pete Buttigieg — would walk in, sweep me up and take me outta there a la An Officer and a Gentleman. That fantasy quickly turned into the harsh reality that no writer should ever romantize this kind of work.

This has been a hard, demoralizing job. I have never watched a clock or schemed how long I could take refilling a water bottle or walking to the bathroom. We’re all back to wearing masks again and yet somehow the anti-vaxxers have managed to keep their roles as training and learning ambassadors. This is ridiculous on so many levels. A global company where vaccinations are required to travel employs people who deny science to train new hires? What is wrong with this picture?

I could reveal so much more, but I think I have found the 21st century version of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle. Now the challenge is to accept what I cannot change and muster the courage — and smile — to change the things I can.


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