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12/31/12

Part 3 of "The Party:" The king's speech

Installment 13 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in San Diego, CA

Just before the gift exchange, Ralph the CEO, made a speech to the crew. It was a terrible speech for many reasons. First, he looked ridiculous poorly dressed in an over-sized sport jacket and no tie, next to Magdalena who looked great in a form-fitting glittery red dress. Second, the room was too large and too crowded for his shriek voice to project well. Third, he's not a good extemporaneous speaker. 

Still, his two most important points got across. 

"I am so proud of our company! This year we have increased business by thirty percent and we have added 30 new employees." 

The crowd, with a few exceptions, went wild after each of these two announcements. So wild one would have believed that the increase in Godzilla's business had increased their own paychecks. It didn't, but sycophants are never in short supply. The person who won the Most Sycophant award was a twenty-something black female who stood up, pumped her fists (like the Nebraska Cornhuskers had just scored a touchdown) and yelled, "Yeaaaaaahhhhhh!" and then turned to Magdalena and mouthed "I love you! You are like family!" 

12/30/12

Part 2 of "The Party:" Secret Santa



Installment 12 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in Vista, CA


We had a secret Santa exchange. An hour before the party, I found myself creating a gift box out of a family-size Cheerios box. By the time I was finished, my gift appeared to be a personal-size box of cereal. Inside, however, was Nautica body spray. Ironically enough, the gift was for Carlos, a guy I got into a fierce argument with when he tried to rescue John from an argument I had going with him. That's how secret Santa exchanges work. You never know who you'll get.


Men's Pure Discovery by Nautica Eau de Toilette - 1.7 oz
target.com


As for me, I got exactly what I wanted. To my chagrin, I never learned who got it for me. It was a '"firm"' pillow for a queen size bed available at Target for just under $15.' This is what I wrote verbatim on the secret Santa slip. It came wrapped in shiny red paper with "Happy Holidays" in silver type and a silver bow. Very nice. I've put it under the Christmas tree.

Threshold™ Down Alternative Extra Firm Pillow
target.com

12/23/12

Part 1 of "The Party:" Conversations with my boss


Installment 10 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in San Diego, CA

One of the thoughts I had while chatting with Sam (Samantha) was: "I really like this lady. It's going to be very unpleasant to try to organize against this lady's company." 

This conversation took place in the large room that Godzilla rented at Casa de Bandini to celebrate the holidays. Out in the patio, there was an open bar and a buffet of enchiladas, tamales, and other Mexican staples. 


Sam is the vice president of Godzilla. She took over the company after her husband - the man who built it - passed on. She is, by my estimate, in her early sixties. 

John, the Christian who trained me on the Tru-Tech machine said about her, the other day, "She's still got something going on," meaning, she is still attractive. And she is. And she is fun, flirtatious - but not invasive - and cute.

Sam's forty-something son, Ralph, is the CEO of the company, known to shout and yell at employees. He has gray hair which he styles spiky. He's married to another very nice woman, who is about half a foot taller than her husband, named Magdalena. She is also a company executive. 

During our conversation, Sam told me what many white people tell a minority with wit: "You are SO intelligent." I still don't know how to respond to this token compliment on the spot, but I have developed one since. I did it because I got it again from a new friend. 

The next time it happens, it's going to go something like this:

White person: "You are SO intelligent and well-spoken!"

Mexican person: "Why is that a surprise to you?" 

White person: (Now asking himself the same question) Well, I don't really know. You just are.

Mexican Person: Do you say that to each intelligent person you speak with?

White person: (now beginning to feel embarrassed and self-conscious) No.

Mexican person: So then, do you reserve it for Mexicans, people who you think only wash your dishes, manicure your yard, and clean your home, and therefore could not hold an intelligent conversation.

END OF CONVERSATION


Sam and I talked about a number of things. For example, the work that we do and she provides: machining. The great majority of my fellow workers are young males of color. Machining, at least when you finally learn to program them, is a trade. Sam feels proud of teaching young people a trade. I agree with her. 

We went on to talk about off-shoring. 

Sam said, "We've been able to stay in America, but so many manufacturers have gone abroad. Americans don't know how to make anything anymore." 

I was glad we had moved on to economics and my two cents was, "Well, yeah, and in places like China, the manufacturing know-how is being learned and they don't need us anymore." 

This statement appeared to ring true with her, and she became suddenly indignant. "That's true! They're stealing our ideas!" 

She's right, but it seems United Statesians themselves are responsible for this. "Wait a minute! Who's responsible for this? We are the ones that went abroad with our machines. We did it to save money and now the chickens have come to roost. They have learned and don't need us anymore," I added.

This made her thoughtful, so I piled it on. "Today, the mid-level managers that cooperated with their bosses to move their production operations overseas are no longer needed. They've been spurned and these are the ghosts of people now in middle-age unable to find new work." 

Front Cover
A novel about what I just talked about

She paused to think about this too. There were more topics we touched on, but also a few we didn't and should have. 

For example, she talked about the importance of creating jobs, especially for kids who don't continue their education. I agreed with her, but failed to add that those jobs must provide a living wage, as opposed to a subsistence wage. 

Godzilla Tool starts us at $9.50 per hour, nobody gets a raise before 6 months and it only goes up by 75 cents or a dollar. After that, as much as a year can pass before another raise. Other than a few programmers, I don't know anybody who makes more than $10.50 per hour.

We make do by taking second jobs, working over time routinely, or pushing our standard of living down. 

All in all, Sam was very enthused about our mutually stimulating conversation (which also included the subject of student debt) and I am sure we could have extended it past midnight if it weren't for the fact that there were fifty other people we both had to attend and that there was an open bar and free food. 




12/5/12

Who Are My Co-workers?

Installment 9 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry, Godzilla Tool (fictional name)

There's a significant gap in schooling between most of my co-workers and myself. While I have a bachelor's degree in the arts, my co-workers have a high school diploma or equivalent, or are simply dropouts. Only one other time has someone had more schooling. His name was Chris and he had a master's degree in Robotics. He only lasted a few months though. The sensation I get when I learn that one of my co-workers did not even graduate from high school is that it's too little education. I mean, I wonder what it's like to go around the world without so much as a diploma or a GED. Yet, they exist, they survive, and they don't seem to worry too much that their education is seriously lacking. 

This is one story, though, of what path one Latino high school dropout takes...

Until now, I have never liked Hugo, who started as a loader a couple of months ago. I trained him and he downplayed the importance of paying close attention. He often blew me off in the middle of an explanation or he simply did not listen to me when I pointed out how to correct a mistake. His attitude was, "Don't make an issue out of it, okay?" Finally, he was often simply not on top of his tasks. I had to put him in line until I realized I was not his supervisor and was wasting my breath. I did confront him on occasion and made sure I had his attention. 

Now I understand him a little more and why he walks around with such attitudes and personality traits. Hugo, who is short, fat, and speaks with a lisp, left home and dropped out of high school hi sophomore year. 

"I was always truant anyway. So why even go to school. My friends and I went off to party with girls, smoke pot and drank."

Just before he dropped out, he had begun working in human trafficking. He helped a network to smuggle undocumented immigrants across deserts and to the United States. When he decided to stop school and to go live on his own, he was already earning $1000 per week. 

Undocumented Immigrants. photo: autos.aol.com

It was easy money and moving out his home of origin and living on his own with a partner and a baby on they way seemed like a breeze. He didn't work like his parents and lived comfortably. At only 17, though, the money and attendant power, quickly went to his head. He spent lavishly on himself and his family and soon began taking unnecessary risks.  

 
image:tvlistings.zap2it.com

One day, as he was gaining speed on the I-5 after performing a pickup of ten immigrants, he was surrounded by undercover ICE vehicles from all sides and forced off the road. He was arrested and arraigned. During trial, he discovered that he had been under surveillance for ninety days. In court, he watched himself performing routine pick ups in the desert roads. 

photo: findingtheperfectworld.blogspot.com

He was given a year in the County jail. After regaining his freedom, he was still put on probation for a year. 

The authorities seized all of is possessions, including his four cars. Once in jail and without an income, he soon defaulted on a large car loan and a maxed out credit card. When he left jail, he had a zero credit score. 

Today at Godzilla Tool, he has to adjust to part-time work at $9.50 an hour. He has to show up for eight hours each night and be sleep deprived. It's a shock to him to go from riches to rags. He feels morally offended and humiliated. 

Based on his story, his arrogant, haughty behavior during training is clear. He likely viewed me with disdain while I was instructing him and correcting him. He resented being one down. 

While some of my other co-workers don't have a criminal background quite like Hugo's, a few of them have definitely seen jail time.

12/4/12

What to Expect: On the Issue of a Raise

Installment 8 of Being a Machinist at Godzilla Tool


The procedure to earn a rise at Godzilla tool is quite something as well. One can wait to be offered a raise (and have to wait too long) or ask for a raise. I asked for a raise at least one month and a half ago. At that time, I learned that the wage-increase protocol is to first inform the manager about your demand. The manager then makes a written recommendation to The Man. The Man considers the recommendation and then, apparently, makes a solitary and unilateral decision on the matter. His decision is final if only because he's only occasionally accessible to machinists; especially those on graveyard shift. 

Ever since my request, these are the responses I've gotten. 

October 19: "Choleric Serpent! You are one of our best workers. You are reliable and you don't waste time while you are here. I will recommend you and I am sure that you'll be granted one. 

October 26: "Choleric Serpent, I have excellent news. There's a new opening for a Set Up machinist. You are first in line! You will start training in mid-November and that will come with a raise. 

In the interim, my promotion was complicated because Tiburcio made an issue of my reading while at work. See previous blog entries. 

November 2: "[Manager's name], has The Man made a decision on my raise?" 

My manager answered that he had "forgotten," expressed his apologies, and promised he'd get on it. 

November 16: "The Man is now considering your wage increase request, along with a dozen other ones. We are going to give raises to a number of people." 

December 4 (Today): I have not received a wage increase and my manager has not talked to me about it. I am angry. Before the week is over, I will ask him about it again. My expectations, though, are low.

The Business of Carbide Grinding

Installment 7 of Life As a CNC Machinist at Godzilla Tool

The business of a carbide-grinding machine shop is making tools using various grinding machines and procedures to create a wide array of drills. The machines include two types of centerless grinders and a small fleet of ANCA CNC machines. The centerless grinders grind rod diameters to the wanted diameters and add back tapers. The CNC machines fashion the rods into sophisticated tools like drills, end mills, and the like. 

A staple product at Godzilla Tool is the end mill. The carbide-made end mill is a gnarly tool that cuts metal. Any metal item you see, from stove tops, to industrial surfaces with grooves or geometric gaps, are created by end mills. 

Carlos, one of my current co-workers, is the former partner of a machine shop involved in the business of making airplane parts. He and his partner were actual customers of Godzilla. He claims that Godzilla's tools are high quality and long-lasting, that it is one of the best manufacturers out there. 

Godzilla's raw material is carbide. The vast majority of the carbide comes from the People's Republic of China. Another portion comes from Italy. The carbide does not arrive in actual raw form. It comes in the form of rods. Once in possession of the rods, Godzilla's machines modify the rods into the tool they need. 

After up to five procedures, the tools are washed and sprayed with something that makes them look shiny and spotless. It's packaged and sent to the warehouse where it's inventoried and sent off on a UPS vehicle. 

Orders at Godzilla range from 1 unit, for a very large custom tool, to 2000 units for needle size drills. In the middle are orders of 500 units for an average end mill. An average end mill costs in the vicinity of $25 per unit. 

Godzilla, which has two machine shops with about forty machines employs around twenty part-time and 30 full-time machine operators. Our starting wage is $9.50 per hour. Major holidays are paid. We are offered health plans from Kaiser Permanente (the affordable one) or Blue Shield (which is out of reach of any wage worker). 

Ownership is stingy in the extreme in terms of raises, so the great majority of basically skilled machine operators are still locked at $9.50, including yours truly. Godzilla does not raise wages based on seniority so loyal and excellent operators like Jose Luis, the center less grinder supervisor still earns under $12 per hour after four years! 

Anyone who wants a decent paycheck every two weeks, must work overtime. Needless to say, everyone with a family works from ten to twelve hours each day -- if they can. I stick to eight hours but only because my obligations are not as demanding.