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Feb. 15th, 2017

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I've been loading the trucks for nearly a month now. My first week was tough, physically and psychologically. But things got better, especially as I got to know the other truck loaders in our area. We would talk, joke, curse, and commiserate about having to heave thirty pound boxes over our heads, with fifty pound boxes falling off the sides of the belt, burying us. I don't think I am giving a good picture of what this is like --some day I will put more effort into describing the scene and the experience. The other folks know how hard it is, dealing with nothing but giant boxes, some of which are bursting open. They know how bad it is when the management sends someone to help, but the newcomer can't build decent walls, and it ends up being a mess. So when any of us finish up in the truck we're covering, we go over and help. In any case, it felt good to be part of the team, and it still does. There's a strong sense of camaraderie among us physical workers.

But my mood had been shifting again last week. It started when the tendon attached to my left bicep began to hurt. Then, my wrists began to hurt. Then my feet really began to ache. I didn't feel like I was recovering -- by Thursday, the end of the week, I'd feel kind of spent at the opening of the shift. Throughout my time working here, on Friday, my first day off, I'd go through the day fending off tiredness, and dealing with various aches and pains. But after I hurt my arm a bit, Tuesday felt like Thursday, and Wednesday -- a work day -- felt like Friday. One arm not working all that well had an impact on how well I could move the rest of my body, and somehow my general stamina. Acetaminophen, Menthol Salicylate cream, constant Gatorade mediated rehydration, and nine to ten hours of sleep could only do too much. I went to Walmart and spend around sixty dollars: neoprene wrist supports, elbow sleeve, shoe inserts.

Last week, one of the guys--let's call him Dennis--quit at the end of a shift. He had really been struggling physically, and asked me how the hell I was still okay. He had broken his toe on his second day of work, when a certain, very reckless worker pushed the roller wheels over his foot. He hadn't invested in steel-toed boots, a requirement for the job. So he just put up with the pain and didn't tell the management, because he was afraid that he would get fired for not wearing the appropriate clothing. Fortunately, he has a day job working in a physical therapy clinic, so he knew what to do with his toe. He was still in pain. The toughest part was that while the lot of us earn a humble $10.50 an hour, he got to do the same hard physical labor for $4. The rest went to child support.

In the back of the truck, he looked at me from across the rollers and said, "I'm raising a son. I'd rather get fired than quit."

But the next day, Dennis was gone. He quit at the end of that shift.

People in this world put up with a lot of pain to get things done in their lives. Many of the people I work with here come to do this low-wage hard labor after working their day jobs. Just to get a little more money for their families. Just to have a bit more money to help out their kids, like one of the guys who was recently able to find a good school for his autistic son.

Since Dennis left, the mood has been more glum when we talk during the ten minute break, or as we're wrapping up the shift. It's not the only thing. We know other people are leaving. There's talk that corporate is circling around, looking to fire the least efficient people in each area.

A veteran hourly worker, who has been at the company for 24 years, told me quietly, "They're trying to flow through the same amount of stuff as the end of Christmas, with half the number of people. They're trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of us."

It's pretty typical corporate capitalism. He told me before that the warehouse workers at Amazon have it worse, being under more scrutiny, with no union protection.

And here, I have respect for most of our immediate supervisors. They started out where we are. They know what it's like to load a nightmare-heavy load. When it gets heavy, they try to help as much as possible. They come and load with us. They climb up and help sort packages.

So, it's disheartening to hear them getting chewed out by the district manager or some safety supervisor for the truck load quality being inefficient, or for there being too many packages that have fallen off the chute. We are all hauling ass, and we are all tired and at our wits' ends with these crazy loads. We are getting crushed. When I'm tired, I have trouble thinking clearly, and more trouble getting packages overhead.

I have this subjective metric: what I call my Not gonna deal with this shit no more meter. When the meter hitting 100% means I am completely fed up. It means I'm ready to walk the hell out, at least for the day. And maybe for good.

Usually, once I feel the end of the sort is really in sight, my meter mellows out. When we make it to end of the night, I might be bitching and cursing, I feel a sense of relief the day is over. Marlon and instinctively talk about the events of the day, an I think that helps a lot.

Yesterday, while loading a mixture of 45lb boxes of industrial parts and boxes of flowers, topped out at 85%. We started work half an hour earlier, and got out half an hour to midnight -- seven hours for what is typically a 4.5 hour shift. At the end, I chatted with the guys, and then with Marlon on the way home, and laughed it off.

Today, even though it was a shorter shift, the meter peaked at 95%. A box tipped over and hit me in the throat. A supervisor (not one I usually work with) came in and helped me load, but the wall he built was unstable and had a huge gap on the top. The aisles were filled with packages, many have, some torn open. I was getting ready to just give up on the truck and walk out. In a few minutes, I mellowed out a bit, and decided that at the end of the night, I'd pull my supervisor aside and give him notice that I'd be quitting in three weeks at the latest.

But the night wrapped up. The belt finally stopped, and we managed to fit the remaining stuff into the almost-full truck. There was chatter and joking and complaining. Lou, our best loader by far, talked about his wife's health issues, which is why he's been out for the last few days. I couldn't bring myself to announce my departure. I didn't want to hurt people's spirits just as we were all sharing some relief of climbing out of that hell.

But I am ready to move on. I postponed making my move for a while. Through December and January, I felt too tired to work on opening up other opportunities. This small job takes a lot of energy. I sleep nine, ten hours, and don't feel like I'm recovering completely day-to-day. But I don't have any other sources of immediate income, nothing saved up. Recently, my wages have been getting garnished to pay debts -- though nothing as bad as what Dennis was paying in child support.

But Marlon and I keep telling ourselves, if we can stand this crazy-ass work, we can overcome almost anything. If I can make it through a shift after shift feeling like I'm just one more 45lb box of t-shirts away from walking out on the spot, I can get my stuff in order in my spare time. I can overcome the physical and logistical and social and financial hurdles.

I don't want to dampen their spirits. But if I don't apply this same hard work to improving my situation, I feel like I'd be letting down my comrades even more.

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