As some of you may know, I have begun the process of retiring; with the date of my ‘official’ retirement being June 28th. According to the Social Security Administration if I had waited until full retirement age, 66 yrs 8 months, I would have received $500 per month more than I will get now at age 62, but taking all things into consideration I have decided to throw in the towel now, and get out early. This article outlines the reasons I made this decision.
Please know that the following thoughts are not in any specific order of importance; they are all just straws that led to ‘breaking the camel’s back’ so to speak. Taken individually they may, or may not have led me to make this decision; but taken together the decision became, not only much easier, but the logical thing to do.
Sixty-two is old, but not so old I could not have kept working had I wanted to; there are a lot of people older than I who continue to work; and God bless them for their dedication and decision to do so. However, being 62 also means that I’m no spry chicken anymore. My work ethics will not allow me to ‘slow down’ just because I’m getting up in years, which means that the work I do is taking its toll on me physically.
I already underwent surgery on my rotator cuff on my left shoulder once; and due to the fact that I returned to work after only 1 month of rehab the shoulder is almost as sore now as it was before I underwent the surgery; a fact that is aggravated by dumping heavy baskets of fruit and pulling 3/4 ton pallets of fruit all over the plant floor with a pallet jack. Lately, my right shoulder has also been complaining; meaning it probably has a torn rotator cuff as well. So there’s that aspect to look at; could I work another 3-5 years without doing serious damage to my shoulders.
Then there are my feet. When I was a young pup in the military I had to go in and see a foot doctor to have an ingrown toenail cut out. The doctor told me that when I got older I would begin experiencing foot pain; possibly so severe as to require I walk on crutches or be confined to a wheel chair. I thought he was joking; pulling the leg of a fresh recruit to scare him. I wish I’d taken him more seriously; because there are days now that I look at my 12 gauge shotgun with the thought, “Just blow those fuckers off and all your pain will be gone.”
I have been to 3 or 4 foot doctors, (I honestly can’t remember), and not one of them has examined my feet; done X-rays or taken MRI’s to find out why my feet hurt. Yet each of them have had their own ideas as the mode of treating me for the pain…none of which has done anything to alleviate it. For awhile my primary care doctor was prescribing me prescription strength pain medication to ease the pain, but then along came the Opioid Crisis and Donald Trump. Due to the Opioid Crisis the president put tighter restrictions on the prescription of opioids which led to my doctor cutting me off; because according to the new standards I was a drug addict.
So, for almost a year now I’ve been coming home from work every night feeling as if someone had beaten my feet senseless with a baseball bat; not a very pleasant sensation! While I was off work after the CEO of our company was diagnosed as having contracted the Covid virus, the pain in my feet gradually went away until it was almost non-existent; even though I was not standing on them any less.
That led me to conclude that the primary cause of the constant pain I feel in my feet is due to the fact that I’m required to walk around on hard concrete surfaces, or stand on those damned steel platforms in front of the hoppers at work for extended periods. Take away the cause and the pain recedes, or goes away entirely. So that was also taken into consideration as well in deciding whether to continue working or retire early.
The next consideration may offend some of those reading this, but since I’m retiring, I simply don’t care anymore. I may like you as a person; I may even talk to some of you frequently. But make no mistake about it, the work ethics of most of you SUCK!!! I don’t know if this is pervasive throughout the workforce in America these days, but y’all are some lazy motherfuckers! Now when I say that, I’m not referring to mechanics, operators, forklift drivers, or any of the other positions throughout the plant; I’m talking about those who do Utility work.
I have been told on multiple occasions that I’m a good worker, or that I work TOO HARD. When I first started working at Sunsweet many moons ago, every single Utility Worker worked as hard as my wife and I do now. Not a single Utility Worker just stood at the hopper all day/night long and let the Production Helper do their job for them; and God forbid if any of them be caught sitting down on the job!
Yet now, that’s exactly what happens; regardless of how well new hires are trained. It does not matter if a new employee has the best trainer in the plant, (which happens to be my wife), once they are qualified most of them don’t do shit except stand next to the hopper like some fucking Gargoyle standing guard over it.
Every trainee, upon completion of their training, signs paperwork saying that they have undergone the prescribed course of training and that they understand what their job entails. Yet very few of them actually perform at the standards expected of them; and they think that their sub-par performance entitles them to a pay check? If Sunsweet were my company, they’d find themselves in the unemployment line if they didn’t do the job they are expected to do!
A big part of that problem lies in the fact that there used to be 2 line leads who were in charge of watching over the lines and making sure the Utilities did their jobs; Stan Lewis and Brent Bishop. Some people used to hate those guys; calling them hard-asses. I had no problems with them; if you did your job they didn’t give you any shit; it was as simple as that. Neither of us, (my wife and I), ever had any problems with Stan or Brent; they would laugh and joke with us because they knew that if we were standing the floor was clean, the trash cans were emptied, the red baskets had been dumped, and that our line was in tip top shape.
After they retired they were not replaced, and now the Utility Workers act like a bunch of unsupervised kids in a day care center; doing whatever they want without any adult supervision. None of the Utilities are told by leads or Supervisors to do their job, nor are they written up for repeatedly not doing what they are supposed to be doing. I understand that leads and supervisors have a lot of other things to deal with, (I was a in a supervisory position in the military as well), but one of their jobs is to effectively manage their resources and make sure they are doing the job they are supposed to; and in that they are failing miserably.
So, what ends up happening is that the assigned Utility to a lie stands, or sometimes even sits, at the hopper most of the night, and the things they are supposed to be doing gets shifted to the Production Helpers; and some of them are so lazy, or untrained as to the responsibilities of a Helper, that they don’t do their jobs either. What ends up happening is a few ‘good’ workers end up doing the lion’s share of work that is supposed to be done by whatever Utility is assigned to a line; and I’m tired of getting the same pay as these lazy fucks who think they deserve a paycheck for just standing around all night long!
You can blame the Union for that, with all employees in a particular job code getting the same pay rate, but it is well within your power as a company to give bonuses to those who perform beyond the call of duty, or show initiative when initiative and motivation is a rare quality these days. Yet we are told that that would cause jealousy and friction; as only a few ‘good’ workers would get these bonuses time and time again. Well tough shit; if the lazy ones started working harder maybe they would qualify for them too. How do you think I feel when I get the same pay as the lazy people, yet I work twice as hard as they do; don’t they think that causes friction and animosity?
That aspect alone played a considerable role in my deciding to get out while I could.
Then there is the fact that the work just isn’t fun anymore. When I first began working at Sunsweet all those years ago I never saw so many days where the lines ran like complete shit. If you had a bad day where the lines ran like total crap, it was the rare occasion, happening maybe once a month…if that. Sure, there were the occasional breakdowns during your shift, but it was not the kind of stuff that happens now with the lines being down for hours at a time; all while they wait until you have 3 to 5 pallets of fruit tailed off before deciding to shut off the pitters.
This may just be my personal opinion, but I think the reason there are so many bad days now is because they used to shut the plant down for 3-4 weeks every summer and overhaul the equipment; tearing down and rebuilding it completely. That hasn’t happened in years, and now it seems like the lines are being held together by duct tape and baling wire.
While this places heavy burdens upon the mechanics and operators, (who work their asses off to keep the lines running), it is the Utility who has to tail off pallet after pallet of fruit because the lines are being properly maintained. And that’s just the packing lines; then there are the pitter issues that also force us to work harder; pits and moisture problems which we were told would be remedied by the changes management was undertaking to correct these issues; issues that still persist. Sure, that fruit gets put back onto the lines eventually; but it is the Utilities who end up having to dump it.
The fact that the lines run like total crap more often than they run good also plays a role in the fact that standards, or order quantities are not being met. The way I understand it, order quantities are based upon what a line is capable of producing in 8 hours; not 9, not 10, not 11. It seems like the only thing that matters is what numbers get entered into a spread sheet at the end of the shift; not how hard the employees have to work to attain those numbers. We, (and I’m the only one who has the guts to say this out loud), feel like we’re nothing more than expendable or replaceable items to management; to be worked hard and replaced when we wear out.
Yet we were constantly told that our health matters, that you care about us. Rubbish! If you cared you wouldn’t work us like dogs, and if you did you would compensate us with good pay raises every time contract negotiations roll around. Not once in my 16 years at Sunsweet have I seen a pay raise that has kept up with an increase in the cost of living; not to mention that every time we do get one the Union takes their cut, and the health insurance premiums typically go up; eating away at most of the increase. This leaves me feeling underappreciated and overworked; which is another big factor in deciding to retire at age 62.
But the final straw, the one that broke the camel’s back, was this bullshit in response to the Covid virus. Our job is hard enough under normal conditions. The environment in the plant, especially during the summer months, is almost unbearable under optimum conditions. Then when you add in the requirement that we wear face masks and face shields; restricting not only our ability to breathe normally, but air flow around our faces, and it becomes a living hell just working at a medium pace.
Then you have supervisors walking the halls telling people to put on their masks; people who don’t have to dump 40-50 pound baskets of fruit all night, and it’s a miracle someone hasn’t punched any of them in the face! I don’t care if these are guidelines established by the County, if this were my company I’d tell those assholes at the County to come in and wear a mask and face shield and do Utility work for 8 hours; see how those pussies like it! If you truly cared about us, about our health, and our safety, you would stand up for us by fighting these ridiculous rules; rules that don’t do a goddamned thing to prevent the spread of the Covid virus!
For crying out loud, the masks the company hands out are so thin you can see through them. Wearing one of those thin masks is like putting up a chain link fence around your house to keep mosquitoes out; it ain’t gonna stop shit!
Yet we, (meaning those who actually package the fruit so that the company remains a viable business), have to come to work, complying with these idiotic restrictions, while upper management gets to stay home and work in a climate controlled environment without the same restrictions we do. If the plant is safe enough for us to work in, then by God it’s safe enough for them too. If it isn’t safe enough for them, then it is a slap in the face to those who pack the fruit for them; as if our lives and safety don’t matter as long as the profits keep rolling in.
That was the final straw for me; the biggest factor in me deciding to put in my paperwork and retire early. Had you showed me that you actually cared; by not forcing us to work with these stupid masks and shields; and had you truly shown your appreciation for all the hard work we do for you by giving us a decent pay increase every year, maybe I would have stayed. It is kind of ironic though that, due to the Covid virus, this is the ONLY time in 16 years of working for you that you could justify NOT giving us a decent pay increase; with the drop in sales due to people across the country/world having lost their income due to this virus.
Anyway, that’s it, I’m gone, and while I may miss seeing some of the people, I damn sure ain’t gonna miss working there anymore. I’ll be thinking about y’all as I tip back some Jack Daniels, smoke some grass, and listen to loud music while I work in my garden.