Friday, August 12, 2011

Dude, I Just Work Here - Days 4 - 5

The following is a recap of my adventures and experiences while out on business continuity assignment for my employer. In brief summary, there is currently a work stoppage on the part of union employees in the Northeast region. As a result, I’ve been assigned to travel to the upstate New York and perform some of the duties of the striking employees.
My goal is to make this a running blog and post as often as possible.

(August 11 - 12, 2011)

Change of Pace
What a difference 72 hours makes. Whereas the general attitude on Day 1 amongst the non-union employees assigned work stoppage duty was one of concern and fear, Day 4 for us was calm and cool. For the first time this week, we were not followed by any union workers. Having had a positive experience with our ‘fan club’ on Day 3, I wasn’t overly concerned about being followed on Day 4. Still, there was a giant sense of relief – almost a sense of normalcy – to be able to drive out to our job site without having to worry about a trail car.

It’s About the Customers
There are many cons and very few pros about this assignment. I really hate being away from my kids. I miss my wife greatly. There’s also the fun, silly and ridiculous little things I’m missing, too. I’d been working for weeks to get my pool at home back to perfect in terms of water clarity. I spent part of the Saturday before I left treating the pool, cleaning the filter, etc. My wife tells me it’s now crystal clear, and I’m all the way up here unable to enjoy it. Also, my mother-in-law lives with us, and it’s truly a blessing to have her around. Yet, it does result in the hindrance to ‘spontaneous romantic moments’ between my wife and me. My mother-in-law is going out of town for a couple of days. In a million ways, having to be on work stoppage duty really sucks.

Still, there are moments when being here is truly rewarding. On Day 4, we drove out to a customer site. The trouble ticket read the customer did not have dial tone, was an elderly customer, and it was also flagged as being a critical issue given the customer’s age and their inability to dial 911 in the event of an emergency. When we arrived to the customer’s site, we were greeted by a handsome, elderly gentleman who was very happy to see us. The look on his face was one of joyous relief.

I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the man. He was well dressed (unfortunately on his way to a funeral), elegant, and had a ‘Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams’ type of appeal to him. I explained how we were prepared to troubleshoot his service, and I pledged to myself at that moment I was going to get his service restored. My partner and I worked our way from the premise back to the box that connects the customers’ lines to the Verizon central office (cross box). Along the way we noticed the aerial terminal for our customer was just dangling from the span. We set up the ladder, climbed up, cleared up the branches and debris that cluttered the terminal, and re-hung it from the span. Unfortunately, the problem was not there. What was cool is that our customer passed us on the way out, and his wife lowered her window, thanked us for looking into the problem, and said, “I hope this strike ends soon.” She was so loving in her delivery and it made us both feel deeply appreciated.

Once we were done with the aerial terminal, we headed to the cross box. Turns out the simple piece of copper wire that connects one end of the phone circuit to the other was disconnected. We connected the line to the respective posts in the cross box and confirmed dial tone on the line. We doubled back to the customer’s house and confirmed dial tone there as well. We even called the customer’s number and could hear the phone ringing in the house.

The sense of satisfaction is hard to describe. There’s just something very cool about being able to resolve a customer’s issue. It’s just one of those things where someone asks you for help and you’re able to deliver. It’s so much more than a company helping a paying customer. It’s creating goodness with your time and skills for another person. It’s awesomeness.

I Don’t Get It
On Day 5 my partner and I had another similar experience with a customer. She was reporting a bad hum on her line. The problem was with the drop wire coming from the telephone pole to her property. It had fallen and come undone from her two-story house. My partner and I re-attached the line, made sure it was not only correctly connected but also aesthetically pleasing, and finished the job which resulted in another satisfied customer.

In both of the cases above, the root cause of the issue has me baffled. Customer lines don’t simply become disconnected at a cross box. In the case of the drop wire, what I thought was caused by a fallen limb, etc. seemed to be a result of manual intervention. Both cases left me deeply suspicious that they were a result of a deliberate attempt to disrupt service to our customers, and the more jobs I work, the more it seems there’s a weird pattern to the issues being reported.

Let me be clear. I am not making accusations. My suspicion could simply be a matter of me not having done this type of work before, and it’s possible these things happen with more frequency than I am aware. Still, when you read news reports of deliberate sabotage on the part of the union and you couple that with the open hostility that’s been displayed in the large cities by striking employees, it’s only natural to think many of these issues to which we’re responding are an elaborate way for the union to simply fuck with us.

Assuming that is the case, I just don’t get it. These are people who make a living in providing service to customers. So the solution to resolve a dispute between them and their employer is to disrupt the very customers they’ve been servicing for years? If anything, one would assume it would be the opposite. Why bite the hand that feeds you? Why try to anger your customer base to a point where they’d no longer want to be your customer and leave for a competitor? If that were to happen, what job would be left once all the customers are gone? It’s the antithesis of self preservation, and I just don’t get it at all.

I pray every day this dispute is resolved quickly. As I’ve said before, this is not my fight, yet for some reason I’m here caught in the middle of it. I’m missing my daughter’s soccer matches. I miss playing video games with my son. I’m missing waking up each morning with my wife. I miss being able to hang out with my friends and neighbors at home. I’d like to say the resolve of the union is waning (it sure feels like it is here at my location). In fact, the only time I was called a scab on Day 5 was by one of the managers in our garage. He was doing it in jest as he happened to be standing outside the garage as we were pulling into the building. It was funny and I think even the two or three union people who were still there got a chuckle out of it. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite as chipper in places like New York City, New Jersey, and Boston. My peers in those cities are the ones that really need this whole fiasco to come to a speedy conclusion. And from what I’ve been hearing, they need a stiff drink, too. Here’s hoping we all get to go home very soon.

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