Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dude, I Just Work Here – Days 6 - 7

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 13-14, 2011)

50/50 Day
Day 6 proved to be both a good and bad day. From a work perspective, my partner and I resolved every issue assigned to us. Achieving a 100% closure rate was very satisfying, especially when one of the fixes meant having to venture to the Central Office and resolve the issue there. It was literally an on-the-job training experience, and I admit it was as much luck as it was skill to fix the issue. Still, the end result from the eyes of the customer is the same.

Having had such great success with our efforts, my partner and I were eager to get out there on Day 7 and tackle some more trouble reports. The excitement of the moment was lost, however, when we returned back to the garage on Day 6 and were given the news additional non-union employees will be joining us this upcoming week. This was not received well by us since we’ve already established a rapport with our respective partners, and having to change all that up in the next couple of days will be quite disruptive.

Like communism, I guess I understand the concept on paper. If you take the number of teams going out to the customers and double them, the keystone being that no one can go out to a job site alone, then productivity should increase. However, to have other management employees accompany us – none of which are trained at all for installation and maintenance – will only serve to decrease productivity. It’s been a challenge for us this past week, as two-person teams, both trained in copper installation and maintenance, to figure out some of the problems we’ve been assigned. To ask us to tackle those same issues with someone who is there literally to just sit with us, I don’t see how that is designed to help our customers.

So whereas before the conflict us employees on assignment faced was with picketing union members, now it feels like we’re getting slammed from the other side by our executive management. I’ve always wondered about the force field that surrounds our headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. It’s a shield through which every day common sense does not penetrate. I guess this happens often in all large corporations, but it seems that rather than reach out to the garages and sample what’s actually happening, a decision is made unilaterally and applied as a one-size-fits-all solution to help.

I know the company is trying. I know they’re looking to help and protect those employees in the big cities having to deal with hellish behavior on a daily basis. I understand the intent is good. But speaking specifically for the garage to which I’m assigned, it’s going to suck. Not to mention that not everyone currently here is trained the same. My partner is not certified to work aloft (carry large ladders, climb a pole, etc.). Us being team together is perfect because I get to do that work while she’s either interfacing with the customer or communicating our information back to our dispatch center. Now that we’re being split up, I have no idea how that’s going to work.

Niagara Falls
From Kingston, New York, it’s about four and a half to five hours to Niagara Falls. On the evening of Day 6, I had Niagara on my face. For the first time since I’ve been here, being away from my family really got to me. Depressed, sad, lonely, angry, confused, anxious; it was a multitude of feelings that was overwhelming me all at once.

I’ve been away from my wife and my kids for a week before, but the circumstances surrounding this time apart are so very different. Before, there was a known end date. We all knew that come a certain date we’d see each other again. With this work stoppage assignment, there is no known end date. There is no telling if I’ll be here for a couple more days, for several weeks, or even for months.

I think it was the buildup of that great unknown that finally made me breakdown on Day 6. Come next week I will be missing soccer games as well as the back to school period for my kids. I will most social likely miss events to which I had originally committed to attend. It’s the not knowing how this is going to play out that just hit like a ton of bricks.

Learning from a Pro
On Day 7, It came to my attention the only thing worse than having to deal with an irate customer is trying to fix the problem of a former employee who used to do the work I am attempting to do now. It’s not an anger or attitude issue. Rather, it’s a matter of knowing if you do something wrong, that person will immediately know you’re doing something wrong. That was the situation that Sunday morning.

Our customer was a former engineer with Verizon who happened to work as a copper wire installer and repair person during the last strike, and I am sure he’s forgotten more about telephone support than I’ll ever know. During his time as a replacement worker, this customer reported to the same person who is now my current works stoppage supervisor. Armed with this information, we knew the problem was NOT going to be at the customer’s premise.

Our customer could not have been more cordial and friendly. From the moment we met him, he took charge in explaining the issue, where he thought the issue might be, and how we should go about fixing it. He even told us the location of the cross box that served the vicinity. After a couple of minutes of pleasantries, my partner and I made our way down to the cross box. We quickly found the customer’s line, but due to a mistake I was making in interpreting the information - I was reversing in my head the flow of service - we ended up troubleshooting the problem incorrectly and did not make any progress.

After about 45 minutes, our customer showed up at the cross box and once again took over the scene. I explained what we were trying to do, and he explained where it was I had erred in my analysis. We identified possible solutions and spelled out a game plan to get him back into service. We returned to his premise as the solution required me to climb the pole in front of his house and make some changes to the terminal. Once again our customer took over, helping me set up my ladder and giving me pointers on how to work with that specific terminal, etc.

Unfortunately, we were unable to resolve his issue that day. Per safety procedure, we’re required to check every pole we climb for the presence of high voltage. There’s a special tool we use to do that, and if the light goes red, we’re to climb down and report the issue to our supervisor. I desperately wanted to resolve this customer’s issue, and I knew we could do it given our game plan, but you don’t mess around with high voltage. My partner and I are keeping this order in our queue until the power company can clear the voltage issue on that pole. Once they do, we will be back out to the site to restore service for that customer.

Two Different Worlds
I spoke to a good friend of mine from Tampa who is also assigned to business continuity work. We exchanged stories about our experience with picketers, and it was clear to see our experiences are completely different. Whereas the union folks here have, for the most part, left us alone to do our jobs, the non-union employees in and around the major, metropolitan area continue to be berated and verbally assault. My friend told me horror story after horror story, and apparently the union is supposed to ‘step it up’ on Day 8 of the strike. Add the scent of the fresh meat that is the escorts and I am sure the morning of Day 8 is going to be interesting.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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