A Peek Inside – What It’s Like To Work On The Line

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Article by Wendy McCance

*The following information is true and has not been enhanced for dramatic purposes.

I thought of doing a post, a sort of insiders look into a job that is heard about often, but not too many know what it is really like.  Today I will reminisce about what life was like working on the line at an auto plant.  I have always enjoyed reading what different jobs are really like from the perspective of someone who has worked in that particular situation.  I know that you will enjoy this peek inside as well.

First let me say that this is just a quick snippet.  After 7 years I have too many stories that would appall and amaze.  Working at an auto plant is like its own little city.  There are literally people from every walk of life working side by side.  I have known people 18-69 yrs. of age working on the line.  The type of people who would surround you would be high school drop-outs next to people in college next to people with Master’s Degrees and believe it or not some people who had their own company, all working side by side.

There were homeless people, people who lived in mobile homes, mid-sized homes and mansions and people who drove in each day from other states (I swear, I’m not kidding).  There were people who were straight, gay and transvestites, people in the middle of sex change operations and fights over what bathroom would be appropriate for some people to use.  The were alcoholics, drug addicts and extremely spiritual people who read bibles on the line and held small services at break time.  So you get it, it really was like a city.

Depending on the shift you worked, amounted to the fun you would have.  1st shift was strict and orderly.  All the big wigs were in the building and there was not much you could do other than your job.  Music was even frowned upon while working on the line.  2nd shift was much looser.  Usually the youngest set of people with the least amount of seniority were on this shift.  Big wigs went home and music was played LOUDLY.  The majority of woman came to work dressed for a night at the bar.  Everything was low-cut in one area and high-cut in the other.  The shift ended at 9:30pm so people would leave the plant and go straight to the bar in the clothes they chose to wear to work.  3rd shift was a virtual party.

People would roll up old gloves and throw them at each other.  Laptops were brought in to watch movies – seriously while working ON THE LINE.  Some people drank and did drugs while they were in the middle of working which was pretty scary.  Pranks were pulled and people found many reasons to shut down the line just to get a break.

The best time I had, was with a small group of people who would literally cook on the line.  We had a griddle and we would each take turns bringing in food.  We had pancakes, eggs and sausage.  Sometimes we would make burgers or hot dogs.  There was an area of the plant where on days where we had to stay for overtime, a grill was put out by the loading docks and we would have steaks.  The supervisor would bring in mixers and people would have drinks as well.

There were a lot of fun times for such a monotonous environment, but there was an incredible amount of stress.  The plant had an ugly side.  Sane people lost their minds and went crazy.  People lost their families from the crazy hours they had to work and just passing through their homes but never really seeing anyone.  They were paying the bills but had no life.

People were horribly injured and it was not uncommon to see the small ambulance that resided inside the building flying by with sirens on several times during a shift.  People had heart attacks and people dropped dead.

One man I knew lived in another state and would live in a VERY small trailer in the parking lot during the week and drive home each weekend to his family.  He ended up getting a divorce and became essentially homeless with a home attached to his car and nothing else to his name.

The job paid incredibly well before the auto companies went bankrupt.  It was completely possible to make $60,000 without much effort or over $100,000 if you grabbed at any overtime offered.  The benefits were amazingly good too.  This was when a pension was still a possibility and it would entitle you to 80% of the pay you had made while working at the plant.  All of your kids could have their college educations paid for as well.

All of that is gone now, as well as the plant I worked at.  The building was demolished.  The experience was like nothing else I had ever experienced in my life.  I do feel lucky though that the ride came to an end.  I don’t believe I would have made it much longer.  My health was a mess by the time I left.  I also couldn’t stand trying to come up with ways to pass the time after a while.

You spend so many hours doing the same movements over and over and you go nuts after a while from lack of using your brain.  I really craved being in a position to work my brain a bit and worked as an extra man for most of my time there.  (the position allows you to train people on jobs and fix problems that come up as the cars go down the line).

So this is a peek inside the life of a factory worker. What it’s like to work on the line.  I can assure you that time has changed life on the line dramatically.  The days of music, movies and cooking are gone.  The plants have done a much better job of tightening up the usage of drugs and alcohol.

Robots have taken over many of the jobs once performed by people and the pay is not half of what it was while I was working there.  Work is harder than ever before. What once was 3 different jobs, have been combined into one very fast paced job for someone to do.  The line moves so fast now that turning to get a swig of water is an incredible feat of quick handedness.

I feel for the people in these positions because they are working much harder than one could ever imagine and for pay that is so meager for what they do.  My memories of life on the line are not the realities of today.

Wendy McCance

Wendy McCance is a Michigan based freelance writer and social media consultant. Wendy has gained attention as the founder of the popular blog Searching for the Happiness which can be viewed in 9 local papers online, including the Oakland Press. The combination of writing skills and social media knowledge is what makes Wendy such a powerhouse to work with. Stay tuned for opportunities to advertise, guest post and as always, have your questions answered.

To contact Wendy McCance about a writing or social media assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: mccance.wendy@gmail.com

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10 thoughts on “A Peek Inside – What It’s Like To Work On The Line

  1. I was in a double interview at an auto plant with a friend. The Union steward said “which one of you is related?” My friend said, “Me, my dad works here.” The steward said to him, “get to work!” then looked at me and said “good luck if you still want to work here”. Needless to say that year, 2000, was hell for me, but the pay was ok. I think I would have been one of those people who would have gone crazy if I stayed, though.

  2. Hi Wendy, I tried to post a comment earlier but not sure it posted. I’m kinda new to the blogging world 🙂 I wanted to tell you that I read a handful of your posts and I must say they are wonderful. You can feel in your writing that you speak truly from the heart and I admire your bravery as I have always been quit private myself. Great job keep up the blogging I think your very talented.

  3. Yes,
    I’ve worked in such a place – a large Cummins Engine Plant in New York. When this place first opened up, it was the job to have. Everyone wanted to work there, and crews that assembled were generally related, since they hired mostly their relatives. (The employees did their own hiring.) I was an independent contractor there and would never have an opportunity to join the plant full-time, since I had no relatives working there.

    The pay to start was double that of any job in the area. You were to apply for work at the NY State Employment office. ONE MAN decided your job fate who sent apps up to the plant for consideration. It turns out he was sending all of his relatives up and these folks were hired. Now that the State was involved in the hiring process, scrutiny was used to ferret out this guy. What was being done as far as hiring early on within the plant could not be the same practice and this interviewer with the state lost his job there, but was only moved to another position to carry on his unethical ways.

    It got so bad here that men were leaving their wives who were making small paychecks elsewhere and they were hooking up with gals in the plant who were also making the huge pay. It became a virtual “Payton Place” to be sure. More than a few times guys and gals were found on the roof of the plant and they weren’t playing checkers or sunning themselves either. Enough said!. Cheers!

    Where eagles fly,
    Don (Greywolf)

    • Amazing how it sounds just like where I was. Same kind of hook-ups and relatives were rampant through the union. The only way to get a job was to know someone who already worked at the plant. Each person working there would receive one application to hand out to whoever they wanted to. People would pay for an application if you had no use for the one given to you.

      • Hi Wendy,
        You said: “People would pay for an application if you had no use for the one given to you.”
        A big WOW back at ya! Cheers, Don

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