I’d like to try and take you through a thought I have been having lately. It is mostly centred around work.
There is kind of two parts:
Part One: The Union
Everything at my work place is based on seniority. I knew this when I signed up, so please don’t take this as me whining about a situation I clearly knew about and signed up for, I am not going for that. I am commenting on a system I feel is flawed. Some things someone who hasn’t worked in a union might not know (obviously based on my union experience, maybe some unions are different):
1) It is almost impossible to fire a union member, even if they very much deserve it. In all of my time working at this mill (on and off since 2009) I have seen/heard of two people being “fired”. They were not actually fired. They deserved to be fired. The company tried to fire them, but the union kept getting them their job back in arbitration (the union is legally required to represent its members and fight for their jobs). Eventually the company offered them money to sign a paper saying they would never come back. I don’t know exactly how much each one got, but I heard it was in the ballpark of $30,000. So all this is to say, firing people is nearly impossible once they have made it past their thirty day probation period.
2) Everything is determined by seniority. If you want to be doing a particular job, you need to have the bid on that job. When jobs become available, they are put up for bid by the company. Employees have three days after a job is posted to put in a bid. When the posting has closed, the company goes through all the bids, puts them in order of seniority, and then offers the job to the person with the most seniority. If they refuse, they move down the list in order of seniority until someone accepts. If the company wants to run an overtime shift, they put up a sign up list. When everyone who wants to sign up has signed up, they take the list and choose the most senior operators to work the shift. If they need last minute overtime (eg. someone calls in sick and they need to call someone in) they have to call people in order of seniority. It gets a bit confusing sometimes, but basically all jobs are determined by seniority.
When these two factors combine what you are left with is a work environment with absolutely no incentive for work ethic. How hard you work literally has no bearing on your job or wage. All that matters is how many years you have been there. All you need to do is be good enough to not be fired, and, as we know, it is almost impossible to be fired. It is kind of infuriating; maybe it is my millennial showing, but it drives me absolutely nuts that my work quality has no influence on my work schedule, wage, or job. I know that the boomer generation was more inclined to be into the whole “you put in your time and pay your dues” thing and there are a lot of boomers at the mill. I also know that when you have spent thirty years working shit jobs to build up your seniority, you will not be into the idea of abolishing the whole seniority thing. But I think it makes for an unproductive work force. Everyone knows that extra effort, or even a normal amount of effort, is not rewarded or celebrated with anything other than a thank you from your supervisor, who is completely unable within this system to reward you for your hard work even if they wanted to.
It annoys me that I can’t work hard and progress to a better job. This winter I was pulled off of a job I was good at to sweep sawdust around the freezing sawmill basement because a guy with more seniority than me decided he would rather do my job. And because I do not have near enough seniority to have a bid on any job worth having, I get put in the worst jobs because I am near the bottom of the list. It is a weird and frustrating situation because I am used to being able to get what I want through working hard. In every other job I have had I have been able to get the things that I want from that job by being a nice person and working hard. It is so frustrating to know that I am good at my job, that my supervisors like having me on their shift, and that my coworkers like working with me but that if some shitty worker with more seniority decides he wants my job he just gets to take it and I will be back in that basement shovelling rotten sawdust and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Part Two: Being A Girl At The Mill
So a little while ago I wrote a post about how I am treated by men in male-dominated environments (if you missed it you can read it here). As I have mentioned to you before, I find that I am experiencing a wide range of feelings about my interactions with men at work and the way that I am treated by men, especially when I am one of so few women (if you are not Glynis and are unaware of my situation, there are about 150 employees who work production; I am one of about five women and am the only woman under forty).
A related anecdote: one of my closest friends is a soccer player. She has played in a bunch of different soccer leagues over the years. Recently she told me that she has joined an all-female league and that she is done playing co-ed sports. I don’t remember what she said exactly, but it was something like, “I’m sick of playing with guys. I am sick of having to continually prove that I am good enough to play with them. You spend the entire season trying to prove that you are good enough to pass to and by the time they actually start passing to you the season is over.” I play basketball with a bunch of guys here in town and it is the same thing. Every time a new guy shows up to play, he will not pass to me at all. It takes me a significant amount of time, often several weeks and sometimes months, to prove that I am good enough.
This feeling of having to prove myself to men is the same feeling that I have at the mill. Because I am a girl in what has traditionally been a man’s job, I feel like I need to prove that I am qualified to be there. I feel like the assumption is that I do not belong and it is my responsibility to prove that I do. Every time I have to work with a new coworker or for a new supervisor I feel like I need to prove myself, that I am starting at a disadvantage because I am female. That I have to work my way up to the level where the men begin and work harder in the same job than a man does. I feel like I need to constantly fight to prove that I am qualified to take up the same space as a man.
So these two areas of frustration are present in my life right now. But what they have really done recently is forced me to examine my own privilege. It is easy to be frustrated and to feel sorry for myself or feel very self-righteously wronged by these situations in which I feel that I am not being treated fairly. I have come to realize these things:
1) It is true that I am sometimes being treated unfairly, but this is so evident to me because I am treated so fairly in so many other aspects of my life. I have this super high bar for how I should be treated because I have been treated fairly in the past. I expect my bosses to treat me well and give me what I want when I do my job satisfactorily because that is what has happened in the past.
2) I am used to people assuming the best about me. I am used to starting on the same level as my friends, peers, coworkers, etc. I am angry that I have to work my way up to the level of the men at work. I have never been a position before where I started at a disadvantage.
3) It is exhausting to feel like you constantly have to prove that you are worthy of simply existing and taking up space to people who look down on you.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how exhausting it must be to be an actual minority. I can argue that being a female in the world today is kind of a minority. That it is harder to be a woman than a man. This is true. But I am a white woman living in Canada, so I still have it pretty damn good. But I think my experience at the mill is giving me just a small taste of what it might be like to be an actual minority. In no way do I want to say that I understand what people who belong to certain minority groups experience, because I don’t, but I think I maybe have just gotten a taste of how exhausting and infuriating it must be to feel like you began your life at a disadvantage. To spend your life fighting to get to the level that everyone else started at and to prove that you deserve to be there and that you are worthy of the taking up space. I get so frustrated that I am not getting what I want and that people are not treating me the way I feel I deserve to be treated.
But for me it is just a job. At any moment I could decide to never go back. To never see those men again and return to the life where everyone assumes the best of me and almost always gives me what I want if I work hard and ask nicely.