Staying awake is a major problem. It’s worse for press operators, because they sit down a lot. I mentioned waking John M. up in an earlier post. And the incident with Mark K. when I was union committeeman. But it’s not as much of an issue for flanger operators because we are on their feet most of the time. Although I know one who sits on a stool while he is machining a head and dozes off. I sat on a stool when I ran the polishing machine, and the trick for me was to hold something. When it slipped out of my fingers I would wake up. But being on your feet is no guarantee you’ll stay awake. When I was on third shift I sometimes drifted off while I was at the flanging controls. I would start leaning into the machine and jerk awake. Third shift was hard on me. I used a lot of No-Doze. I chewed them up instead of swallowing them with water. They tasted so terrible that in itself would wake me up.
This leads to one of the best pranks ever played on me. When I was on third shift, from 11 pm to 7 am, we took our lunch break at 3 am. It was a half hour, so I would finish eating in fifteen minutes and then lay my head down and sleep the other fifteen minutes. One night I woke up with the foreman, Tom H., yelling at me to wake up. I looked up and saw the room was empty and the clock said 4:20. I had slept right through the whistle and overslept 20 minutes. Tom was yelling at me to get up and get to work. So I jumped up, still in a daze, and stumbled out the door. To find the rest of third shift standing just outside the break room laughing at me. I found a clock in the shop and saw it wasn’t 4 yet, there were still several minutes left of lunch break. Tom had herded everyone out of the break room without waking me up, then had changed the clock in the break room. Good joke.
Most of the time falling asleep at your machine isn’t a big deal. A tap on the shoulder, a yell, is all that usually happens. It depends who you are and who finds you asleep. I remember two cases when I was on second shift, not long after I began working at Brighton. This young man operating the spinning lathe was fired for sleeping. I didn’t know him, so I don’t know the reasons for the company wanting to get rid of him. Maybe he missed a lot, maybe his work was bad, I don’t know. But not long after that Al H., a fork lift operator on third shift, was found asleep on his forklift outside in the yard. He was sent home. That was the extent of his discipline, the loss of several hours’ pay. So the union took the case of the spinning lathe operator’s dismissal to arbitration. The argument was how could the company give out such different disciplinary actions for the same infraction? The union wasn’t trying to get Al H. fired, they were trying to get the young spinning lathe operator’s job back. But the judge ruled that length of service can be a determining factor. The spinning lathe operator had worked there less than a year, while Al had worked there for five years or longer. So the company won that one.
Al H. was in his thirties at the time. He never missed a day and worked all the overtime that was offered. Plus he worked a second job at a grocery store. I guess it all caught up with him that time when he was sitting on his forklift outside in the quiet in the dark. Later he transferred to shipping and receiving clerk on first shift when it became available. He was well into his sixties, maybe even seventies, by the time he retired. He was very good at his job, very dependable, very hard working. So the company had made a wise move keeping him. I don’t know whatever happened to that young spinning lathe operator.
Another time a guy got fired for sleeping happened on first shift. He fell asleep on the toilet. You’d think that would be impossible. But the foreman at the time, Tom H., who had come to first shift after third shift was discontinued, got to missing him. So he checked the locker room and saw his feet under the door of a stall, and just waited. The guy never budged. So Tom looked over top of the door and saw him leaned up against the side with his pants down around his ankles, sound asleep. He was fired, no questions asked.
Only when I was on third shift, which adds up to about 2 years, did I ever have a problem staying awake at a flanging machine. What’s difficult now are the hours. When we’re busy, which is most of the time since Enerfab bought us, and there is no third shift, we work 10-12 hour shifts. We start a normal 8-hour shift at 6:30 am. So when we’re on 10 hours we start at 4:30. Which means I have to get up at 3:30. So if I make it to bed by 9:30 the night before, I get 6 hours sleep. But it’s hard getting to sleep at that time, especially in the summer when you are going to bed while it is still light outside. It just wears you out, especially at my age. So it’s not an issue of staying awake for me so much as felling tired all the time.