Sunday, January 19, 2014

As It Stands Now.....

This will be a lengthy entry – I have a lot to catch up on, so grab a cup of coffee, and a doughnut. Here we go…

In early spring of 2010 I was sitting in a parking lot drinking a frappe from McDonald's. The reason I was doing this was because the calls in my segment (segment 1 2 3 or low volume), were very few. I was doing well to get two or three calls a day. Most of the other guys were the same – I would call to see if anybody needed help, and most of the other guys were in the same situation. I was a little concerned that at some point some pencilneck in New Jersey would see the low numbers and decide that the company no longer needed me.

It was then that I got an email from my manager, Joe. The email asked if I had any interest in going into the production print area. Thinking that it might be a good idea, I called Joe and arranged to meet him, so we could talk about it. I assumed – correctly – that the position would involve working with the Kodak high-speed digital printers installed at a company called Deluxe Corp. Deluxe is involved in many aspects of the printing industry, but they are best known for printing bank checks. If your bank orders replacement checks through Deluxe (and most of them do), there is a good possibility they were printed on one of the machines I work on.   

Deluxe has three facilities at present for their check printing operations. One is in New Jersey, one is in California, and the largest and busiest facility is here in the Kansas City area, in Lenexa, Kansas.

During our conversation, Joe did confirm that the position was at Deluxe, and that at times it could be "challenging." That was quite an understatement. Challenging does not begin to describe the environment I was about to encounter. I was also informed that the position did involve some night shift work but, I was informed, it would be minimal. I would work both the early evening shift (2:30 PM to 10:30 PM), and night shift (10:30 PM to 6:30 AM). Each would last only a month, and I would only have to do this a couple times a year.

Nothing was ever mentioned – to the best of my memory – about working Saturdays or Sundays. Had mention been made that Deluxe likes to work weekends a lot, I would have turned down the position then and there. It's not that I would never be willing to work Saturday, but I feel like I work hard enough during the week that I deserve those two days at the end of the week to relax and do what I want to do. I know it's a foreign concept these days, but I work to live – I don't live to work.

At any rate, I accepted the position and in July, 2010, I went to Tampa Florida for a five-week training course on the Kodak digital printers.
Kodak Digimaster Printer

Upon my return in August 2010, I was immediately put on evening shift, and there I stayed for well over two months. The only silver lining to this is that I was working with a guy named Gary, who is not only extremely knowledgeable about these machines, but is just a great guy to work with.

However, I began to immediately realize what a hellstorm I had gotten myself into. We were constantly bombarded with calls, and there were several nights when we didn't even get to take our half hour lunch break. (We work a straight eight hour shift, so we don't get an hour for lunch. However we can take around a half an hour to gobble down a sandwich).

It was only after I sent an email to Joe and Stan (Stan was the branch service manager at that time), requesting a transfer back to my field service position, that I was taken off evening shift and allowed to work days for a while.
Deluxe Corp, Lenexa, Ks.
 Not long after that, the new shift schedule was implemented, and we began a rotation between all three shifts. After a few months of this one of our technicians, Jimmy, volunteered to stay permanently on night shift rather than rotate into a new shift every month. With Jimmy on nights permanently, a new schedule of rotation was implemented. We would now work two months on dayshift, two months on evening or mid-shift, and one month on night shift.

As new modifications were made to the printers, things got a little easier – the call rates seemed to ease up a bit, and it became not quite so stressful – at least on dayshift and especially on mid-shift. Night shift is a different story altogether. From the beginning, night shift has been populated with a crew that is – to put it mildly – considerably more needy than both of the other two shifts put together. On the entire night shift crew there are perhaps three people that rarely have problems.

The operators are shifted to different machines each week, so they are not constantly on the same machines. The three individuals mentioned above rarely have problems no matter what machines they are operating. Conversely there are about four individuals – two in particular – who have problems all night every night, no matter what machines they're assigned to. The floor managers – called production coordinators, or PCs – do not seem inclined to try to improve the situation in any way. Unlike the PCs on days or mid-shift, they will briefly look at the machines, then usually come to us with the issues. Yes, that is what we are there for. But the usual situation on night shift is that you are relentlessly pounded with call after call after call. By the time 6:30 AM arrives, you're so exhausted you can barely drive home to go to bed.

Fast-forward to early 2013...

For the past couple of years, Jimmy had been working night shift on a permanent basis. Jimmy is a great guy, and quite knowledgeable on the equipment. In my opinion, he did a really great job. A short stocky fellow from Chicago, he can sometimes seem a little rough around the edges, and if you don't quite know how to take him he can seem quite abrasive at times. There had been several incidents where operators or others on third shift had become offended at something Jimmy had said or done. After several incidents, the management at Deluxe demanded that Jimmy be removed.

With Jimmy now out of the rotation, our crew was down to seven technicians: Gary, Tommy, Fred, Ray, Danny, Kevin, and me. The shift rotation was changed accordingly – a month on days, a month on nights, and two weeks on mid-shift. Fred is permanently assigned to mid-shift, and Gary is permanently assigned to dayshift. This leaves the shift rotation to be shared by the remaining five of us.

Mid-shift is by far the easiest shift to work, as far as a less stressful environment is concerned. The PCs on mid-shift are great. They take care of approximately 90% of the issues which are normally easily solved either by the machine operators or the PCs. Dayshift is not quite so relaxed – for one thing all of the top level managers are there during the days, so of course the dayshift PCs want to keep the managers more or less happy. Night shift of course, continues to be a pain in the butt of epic proportions. As stated above not only is it the busiest shift in terms of machine problems (or more correctly machine operator problems), but of course the hours are a real killer.

In early autumn of 2013, we began to hear rumors that Konica Minolta was not going to renew the contract with Deluxe, and another company – Ricoh – would be coming in to take over the maintenance of Deluxe's printers.

It was only a few months ago that Joe, who has now been promoted to branch service manager, had told us "if anything ever happens with Deluxe, everyone who is working here will have a position in field service." However, now that something is "happening" with Deluxe, a different tune is being sung. Now the lyrics go something like: "Will I have homes for everybody? Probably not." Funny how things change…

When the formal announcement about the contract change was made, we were told that Ricoh would be talking to us, the technicians, regarding positions with them. These positions would, of course, continue to be doing the same thing – servicing the machines at Deluxe. Unlike with Konica Minolta, overtime (in other words working on the weekends) is mandatory with Ricoh. In speaking with some of the technicians at Ricoh – and with their service manager, Rusty, the picture quickly formed in my mind of what it would be like were I to jump ship.

Rusty had made mention of shift rotations of two months, to quarterly. The thought of spending three months on night shift almost made me nauseous. During my conversation with Rusty (who I knew by the way, from a former job with DeCoursey Business Systems), I indicated that after 3 1/2 years, my main goal was to get out of Deluxe and back to doing field service work.

By taking the safe route – or what I thought to be the safe route – 3 1/2 years ago, and accepting the position at Deluxe, my life has basically been turned upside down. I feel exhausted all the time, and especially while on the third shift I just do not feel good most of the time. I could have taken the "safe route" and indicated to Rusty that I was interested in joining their team, and staying on at Deluxe. I chose not to. I've had enough.

As things stand now, Gary has decided to take early retirement, and Ray and Tommy have decided to leave Konica Minolta, and join Ricoh's team at Deluxe. I wish them all well. That leaves Fred, Kevin, Danny, and me to hopefully stay on with Konica Minolta in a field service position. Will there be room for all of us? I don't know. No one at Konica Minolta seems to know, or frankly give a damn. Joe doesn't seem to know, or at least nothing has been said to any of us. At this point, I am on night shift until the contract ends on January 31. I have no idea if I will have a job come February, and nobody at my company seems to give a rat's ass. In my opinion, this is a really crappy way to treat people who have turned their lives basically upside down for anywhere from 2 to 5 years. But then I guess that's the Corporate America way, isn't it?

I'm hoping that Konica Minolta will have a position for me in field service, but if not, at 65 I don't want to work that many more years anyway – at least not for Corporate America. I may have to see what I can accomplish on my own. Financially speaking, we're in fairly good shape, and I would most likely get at least a couple months' severance pay.

That is the situation I am facing now. I will try to update a little more often in the future – I may wind up with plenty of time to do so. We shall see...