Issue 3 Contents


Doing Time on the Assembly Line

The evening began auspiciously enough. On my way to my first night's drudgery on the midnight shift, I was stopped for speeding. Not that I was particularly in a hurry to get to the god-forsaken destination of my new place of employment, but I had been informed that promptness was of the utmost necessity.

Traffic citation shoved into the glove compartment as a first debit from my not-yet realized paycheck, I proceeded onward to the sprawling megaplex of Quality Glass Industries, better known as QGI, where I was to spend the next eight hours lifting win dshield-size sheets of glass from an assembly line and placing them ever so carefully into ship-able containers. This was a summer job made in hell.

I had spent the previous week on the day-shift as a trainee, learning the minute ins and outs of being a glass packer. Our first day covered safety gear and distribution, and believe me, it took a full day's work. Head to toe coverage, from hard hat and safety glasses to aprons, shoulder and wrist guards, three layers of gloves, chaps (just like in the Old West) and of course, steel-toed boots. Bein g a female, and not a particularly large one at that, the gear was even more encumbering for me. Even size small was men's small, so I looked like a midget doing battle with a gore-tex (TM) factory. Despite my rather awkward outfitting, I accessorized wit h a fashionable leather tool belt, which was filled with the necessary tools of my trade: glass cutter, measuring tape, and hammer.--Yes, a hammer.

In doubt as to the worth of hammer in a glass factory, I endured a safety lesson on the proper usage of our tools. During this, I was informed that in previous summers, the hammer privileges of the temps had been revoked due to improper usage of the tool. With visions of my predecessors, in a mass fit of madness, smashing glass with their requisitioned implements, I tried to feel the pride I knew me supervisors meant to instill in me with the bestowal of this hammer. I must prove to them that I was w orthy of hammer privileges, lest this great honor be revoked and future generations be left hammerless.

Still unclear on the exact nature of our need for hammer privileges, I proceeded to the warehouse floor, where still more wonders awaited me, namely, HEAT. Mind you, the temperature outside was already in the nineties, and I was working in a warehouse filled with a furnace that melted glass, wearing multiple la yers of safety gear that could double as arctic-weather-wear. Temperatures were not unlike those imaginable for the inner circle of Dante's inferno, and I was convinced I had the worst summer job on the planet.

I guess I consider myself pretty tough. I could handle the excess weight and discomfort of my gear; I could deal with the physical exhaustion of manual labor, the boredom of assembly-line work, and even thehotter-than-Georgia-asphalt atmosphere. The heat I couldn't take was the treatment of my co-workers. W ith a few exceptions, they were the meanest, crudest, rudest group of men I have ever encountered in my life. I was a temp, just there for the summer, while they were full-timers, and had been, most of them, for ten or more years. They felt no need to mak e me feel welcome during my transitory stay.

As a temp, I could be relied upon to take the worst end of the work, to do the sweeping under machinery no one else wanted to finish, to take the last and shortest lunch break, to work on my own at two-man posts. I was there to fill in for men on vac ation, but it also seemed that I was there to provide a vacation for the men still working. After all, I was dispensable labor, a temp.

Besides being a temp, I soon discovered that the biggest source of their disgruntlement toward me was the fact that I was one of those smart college students, those know-it-all rich kids from the university. Ok, I can't deny that I am a privileged student at one of our nation's private institutions of higher learning, but if I'm so privileged, what the hell am I doing packing glass for my summer vacation? Shouldn't I be backpacking in the Alps or something?

I took quite a bit of jibing about going off to school and getting to smart to work. I ignored it, and took heart in the fact that they were, no doubt, jealous.

Then there was another source of ill-will, another vehicle for their incessant heckling. It was the fact that I was a girl. And I say girl here because that's what I was to them, despite the fact that I consider myself a woman. My co-workers enjoyed watching me struggle with heavy loads, had a good laugh at me ex pense as I tried to reach things just out of grasp of my short arms, and generally amused themselves with cracks about my inadequacies due to my gender-impairment.

But the final straw had yet to come. It was in the end, what I have come to call ``The Forklift Incident,'' which was to bring about the swift and unforeseen conclusion to my employment.

I'll admit, I was sick of sweeping floors for eight hour shifts, tired of lifting glass for seemingly endless hours, exhausted from the intense heat of marking marred glass. I was looking for any out. In this state of mind, I noticed a rather cushy-looking post held by several of my fellow tempers: forklift dri ver. Basically, you got to drive all over the warehouse, picking up and delivering glass. Not only were you not lifting, but you were actually sitting, and the safety gear required was notably less restrictive. So I asked my supervisor if I could drive th e lift. He said it was fine with him and he'd see to it that I was trained.

The anticipation of the new placement lifted my spirits, and propelled me through several days of glass-packing boredom. But with each passing day, I was not trained to drive, whereas even more of the other temps were gleefully speeding by on their n ew equipment.

After a week, I approached some of the guys and asked why I hadn't been trained, to which I received in answer, this stunning bit of information: ``The only thing a woman can drive is a broom.'' Hearty laughter ensued all around, with myself as the notable exception, picking my lower jaw up off the ground.

I returned to the line, having no other choice for this evening's work. Were they serious? I looked around, and realized that forklift drivers were indeed only men. I went to a personnel director, asked about it, and was told that forklift privileges went to those who had been on the job the longest. This, I replied, was utter bullshit. I had been there a week longer than one of the current drivers, two weeks longer than another. There was no reason either of them, or any of the drivers at all, for that matter, should be driving while I shouldn't, with the e xception duly noted that the only thing I, as a woman, could drive, was a broom, not a forklift.

I quit the next night. The personnel director told me that I had to give them at least two weeks notice. I told her- yes her- that she should see if she could drive a forklift sometime.

A week or so later I received a menacing envelope wit the QGI seal in the mail. It was a notice of ``termination of employment'' on the grounds of ``voluntary resignation without proper notification.'' I had been fired for not telling them soon enough that I had quit. My hammer privileges had been permanently and unceremoniously revoked. With some small sense of satisfaction, I framed my pink slip under some non-QGI glass.