Get Back to Work

Let’s talk about work and the pandemic a bit more. Friday, word came down from on high that the guaranteed hours are going away. This was not unexpected. Most everything is reopening and everyone seems to want to get back to business as usual and the normal routines of life. Sure, the pandemic isn’t over, but it’s summer and nobody wants to be cooped up in the house. But that is neither here nor there. This is about me, work, and all those guaranteed hours.

What I’m wondering is, what with all my fiscal pondering last week, how did I make out on this deal? Doing the math, I come up with a total of 225 hours of guaranteed time that were made available to help during the pandemic shutdown. I went through my timecards and calculated up how much of that I took advantage of and how much PTO/vacation time I used to cover the difference. The numbers are interesting, to me anyway. Anything in my 40-hour week that wasn’t PTO or administrative would by simple deduction have to be actual time working. So how did I do?

Of the 225 hours offered up I took advantage of less than a third of the available hours, 70.75 to be exact. I was out working and earning money for the company the rest of the time. So, what does that work out to, like 31-32%. I think they made out okay and I certainly don’t have to feel like I took advantage of their generosity. But how much did I pay myself during that same time period?

Since my PTO started being impacted 3-weeks before the guaranteed hours, I’m going to calculate the possible hours for this period at 520. You take those 225 guaranteed hours away and you’re left with 295 that I was left to fill with paying client hours. What with all the closures, stay away orders, and emergencies only clients, I came up short. I used 133.5 hours of PTO to round out my timecard during this time. Some weeks there was more work than others, but on average I was using 10.25 hours of PTO a week.

The long and the short of it is that during this pandemic, which impacted my hours for the past 13-weeks. I took advantage of a third of their generosity and spent 56% of my vacation time. They’re telling me it’s over and I hope they’re right, but I’m pretty sure they’re not. I’ve still got appointment only clients, call first clients, and half my banks are still closed. But maybe that’ll change next week. Only time will tell. Later.

Am I Doing This Right?

I want to vent a bit. I have a good job. My employer has done right by us, in my opinion, during this whole pandemic. They couldn’t lay us off, because that would most likely void their contracts with the clients who want maintenance services to be available when they need them. When something breaks, someone has to fix it, whether that building is open or not. So, while I may not be working, I’m always oncall for those clients. Even during the pandemic.

As I finalized my timecard for last week, I realized that I have reached a point where Covid-19 has taken up 2/3 of my available paid time off. All of that has gone to round out my timecard to the 40-hour mark. The pandemic started cutting into my workload on March 17th. I have managed to get some hours in each of the subsequent weeks, but I’ve only had one 40-hour week since then and that was only because of the Memorial Day holiday.

I used four days of vacation before the 20-hour guarantee was implemented by my employer, but still had to use 2.5 days of PTO to round that out to my 40-hour weekly paycheck. And even with the increase of that guarantee to 25-hours, I’m still using 15-hours a week of PTO to keep the lights on around here. My intention is not to whine or complain, but I’m just a bit frustrated.

That frustration comes, not from the fact that I’m not getting a 40-hour guarantee, but because I’m getting enough work to basically negate the “free” money implicit in that guarantee. I am working enough that they don’t have to give me any of that guaranteed money and I still need to use my PTO hours. The clients are benefiting. The company is benefiting. I’m getting screwed.

Sure, I’ve got lots of time off. But that time isn’t really mine. I mean, I’m using vacation time, but I’m most definitely not on vacation. Because all day long I’m basically waiting for the next call to come in and send me off with the van. And with the current state of things, those calls are mostly ‘urgent’ and ‘emergency’ issues that need to be responded to the same day. Even on the days that I don’t get calls, which is most of them, I’m still not out from under the shadow of work. Gotta be ready to go. Essentially, the worst of both worlds.

I’m glad to have the income. I’m glad to have a job. I’m very fortunate. But I also have other feels… like I’m screwing myself out of free money that another person would just sit home and soak in the benefit… like when I do get a call, emergency or not, I should go do that work as I’m getting paid to make money for the company… like there will be no short days, sick days, or vacations for the next six months…

I think things are getting busier and that we’re getting closer to business as usual. In the next week or two I imagine that a 40-hour week will once again be the norm. From that vantage I’ll be able to look back at the vacation I could have had with all that used PTO and free money and wonder, what was I thinking and why did I do things the way I did.

There you have it. Just venting my thoughts and feelings. Again, I think I’m coming out of this mess in great shape and wish that was the case for everyone. Still. I’m frustrated. Later.

Out of Work

Well, it was bound to happen. I may be considered an essential worker, but most all of my customers have instructed that I should only respond to emergency work orders, and there haven’t been any of those in a while. Today, two things happened. The first, was that I finished up the last three outstanding work orders that I had for the only customer who hasn’t imposed any restrictions on site visits. And the second thing was, the only customer who hadn’t imposed any restrictions on site visits imposed site visit restrictions. I’m both out of work and out of customers.

What does that mean? No answers for that, just yet. At this point they still want us to be available for emergencies, so layoffs are kinda out of the question, but paying us to stay home and do nothing but wait, is not a thing. I’ve done all my training courses, so that’s not an option. Until I hear otherwise I’ll be doing the worst kind of vacation. You know, the kind where you use your PTO hours while still making yourself completely available to go on a call.

I’ve got a good bit of PTO, so I’ll be okay for about 4-weeks. But then there will be no other days off for the rest of the year, the family vacation will get missed, and I’ll have to not get sick. It’s better than getting laid off, at least this way I keep my benefits. Oh well. Like I said, not ideal. But still, better than a lot of folks.

I’ll be very glad when this is over.

Covid-19

The pandemic finally hit home for me and my family. In her last semester of college, face-to-face classes at GRCC have been canceled into April, the campus labs have been closed, and as a result, Lady Ronn, no longer has a job. Which I’m sure will in a small way impact our financial situation, the amount of spending that we do, and as a result a small prick into the area economy. You can almost see the ripple effect going from local to state to federal to the world. Will this be the event that tips the balance and topples everything into a global depression? Let’s hope not.

The wife went shopping yesterday and got pulled into the hoarding panic that seems to be gripping so many of you. She had intended to just pick up the usual things, but seeing the empty shelves and the carts piled high tipped her into the, “I better get it now or it won’t be available” mentality. And she ended up coming home with far more stuff than the two of us have any need for. I’m not going to lie, I was annoyed.

I don’t deny that this is something that we’ve not seen in my lifetime. Or at least the reaction to it is something that we’ve not seen. I don’t think we yet know how serious this will be, and won’t know until after it’s over. Caution is warranted but this verges on panic and hysteria.

I have seen estimates that say as much as 70% of the population will contract this virus, but at this point there’s only 12 recorded cases in all of Michigan. And while I admit the lethality of this virus seems to be greater than that of the flu… it’s not a death sentence.

The advice seems pretty consistent. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Apply social distancing whenever possible. Probably, don’t lick the sneeze guard at the buffet or try to tongue kiss everyone you meet. Use a little common sense.

There seems to be some expectation, or possibly just a desire for a break from work, that everything should close down and that we should all lock ourselves in our homes. I get it. I too would like to not have to go to work. But, that seems like it will just make things worse, differently.

I mean, the government seems pretty worried about the effects on the economy so we should all probably keep working.

Who exactly has the luxury of staying home during this covid-19 pandemic? I would guess that, in the vast majority, it’s those in the upper 50% of the workforce. Anybody making less than $15 or $20 an hour probably doesn’t have the luxury of taking 2-weeks or a month out of work, and certainly won’t be getting paid for it.

Just like during cold and flu season, most people don’t have the luxury of staying home if they have a slight fever and a cough. They’ve got bills to pay and responsibilities to take care of. So, whether it be at a restaurant, the gas station, the grocery store, or the pharmacy these people are going to go to work.

In this group, I include pretty much everyone that is in the service industry. My work has made no mention of us taking any time off, because building maintenance doesn’t care whether or not people are sick, things just need to get fixed. I’m just traveling around West Michigan like a carrier vector.

It’s certainly hope that this is all being overblown but, again, we won’t know until it’s all over and we look back on the numbers. I feel pretty confident that this is not a modern day black plague.

Take care of yourself. Stay healthy. Pay attention to what the WHO and CDC are advising. We’ll get through this. Later.

Idle Hands

The last two days at work have been excruciatingly boring. I have a client that requires me to be an observer for their HVAC preventive maintenances. This means that I show up and I watch someone else work, make a few notes, take a few pictures, and try to explain why I’m there. That last one is the worst, because I have no idea why I’m there. I assume there is a story behind this procedure.

The story, as I tell it to myself, is that this client had a previous vendor doing their HVAC preventative maintenance work. That vendor didn’t actually do anything, probably did nothing while claiming to have done the work for years. And then things started to break. A completely different vendor came in to make repairs and said to this client. “You really need to maintain this equipment. And then the client realized how badly it was being screwed. Now they have an independent second vendor witness the work being done. Sure, it’s expensive but it’s worth the piece of mind. That’s what I think happened, but it’s just a story I tell myself.

What this means is that I spend hours standing around trying to look official while doing nothing. Which sounds like a great gig, but which is actually the absolutely the most boring way to spend a day ever. It reminds me of way back when I was a security guard. That was a terribly boring job as well. But at least as a security guard I was required to do my rounds. There is no such relief doing this. Just watching.

Wait. It’s actually worse than that. These pieces of equipment are located above the drop ceiling, so what I’m watching is a pair of legs on a ladder. Maybe somebody’s ass. It ain’t great. And I had to do this two days in a row this week. Tomorrow I’m going to take the van in for service… I don’t imagine that will be a quick appointment. Probably, it will result in another wasted, nonproductive day.

EPA 608 Replacement Card

I realized last week that I had lost my certification card for EPA 608. I haven’t needed it for years. I thought I was already registered with all the wholesalers that I visit regularly, apparently not. Grainger must have updated their registry in some way, because I wasn’t listed in their system today when I went to pick up some R-410A.

If you’re unfamiliar, Section 608 of the Federal Clean Air Act requires that all persons who maintain, service, repair or dispose of appliances that contain regulated substances be certified in proper refrigerant handling techniques.

I spent some time digging through my truck, digging through my files at home, digging through my various junk drawers, and generally scrambling around to find where this thing might have been left. It’s pretty easy to misplace a credit card size piece of cardstock.

I was completely unable to find it, but I did find an earlier card, from the middle 90s, that listed me as having passed Type 1. I must have gotten this while I still worked for my uncle at Nichols Heating, because that’s about the same time they started requiring this certificate. Anyway, I found that card and that’s sufficient to buy what I needed to buy.

My actual point to this post, is that I went to the ESCO Institute website an entered my name and social security number and it pulled up all of my certifications. Which is great. The part that’s not so great is that it cost $20 to get a replacement card.

So if you have a card, make sure you keep it some place where it’s secure and you can find it. But know that if you do lose it, and you happen to have taken your certification through ESCO, they have you on record and you can get a replacement card from them. It’ll just cost you 20 bucks.

That’s all for now. Later.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

I came home to a surprise on Thursday. For all the years I’ve lived in my house there has been a broken pipe for the water shutoff in my front yard. It was kind of a jagged thing that I was pretty sure the neighbor kids, or myself, would fall on it and become grievously injured. Seems the city has been out and put a nice little cap on it… oh, and they dug up my neighbors yard and moved his. So, probably, mine was just something they noticed while they were here. But it’s a win. I’ll take that.

I had to crop that picture down to avoid you seeing the swath of yellow straw that is my lawn.

I’ve been thinking about wrapping my van with one of those vinyl wraps. Yes, I know, I’m doing that thing again. I can’t help myself.

I don’t have all my ducks in a row, and this is certainly premature. But it’s a thing I spent some time on this morning. Too much time. I couldn’t find any good templates online, so I had to build my own in Corel PaintShop Pro. It’s not perfect, but I think I could certainly use it to get the idea across to a designer.

It’s not quite what I imagined. I like the extreme/racing style patterns and there are a ton of them on shutterstock, but I don’t have an account to  access their catalog of graphic patterns, templates, and what not. So, I came up with my own. What do you think? 

Spring Break is Project Time

Yesterday was the last day of school for the week, which means that today is the first day of spring break for me and for GRCC. As a little extra something-something, I’ve taken the week off from work. So the idea is to get some serious work done on that bathroom project that has been hanging over my head since last summer. Wish me luck.

Traverse City

I took a little work-related, overnight road trip to Traverse City. It took me three hours to get there, three hours to get home, and I’m still going to have to go back because I didn’t get everything done. So, that’s a thing.
It was 48 degrees there on Thursday. Friday had a high of 20, which was just after midnight… it got cold fast. I went there to do a LED retrofit on some displays for one of my clients, but between driving, meetings, and lunch, it was 1:00 pm before I even walked into the store on Thursday. Then I had to figure out what they’d sent me to do and how to do it. I managed to get one display done and that took me 4-hours.Then I got a hotel room, grabbed a haircut, ate some Mexican food, read some of my electrical textbook, and proceeded to get a terrible nights sleep before going back to the mall to start again.
Friday, I started late (by JLL standards), the store doesn’t open until 10 am. But I did get my time down to 2-hrs for each display. This really should be a two person thing to make it time efficient; there is a lot of unpacking, moving things about, and clean-up that goes into this project. I may have skipped lunch, but I managed to get three of these things done in six-hours. So, I’ve done 4 of the 7 fixtures. Just three more fixtures and 48 pods to go. But it’s a long MLKjr weekend, so I’m headed home.
I ended up giving the company 2-hours of travel time on the house, but I’m just glad to be home and not spending another night in that hotel. I’ll come back on Tuesday. Early start should get me there by open and I can work late on a Tuesday and not worry about pushing into overtime.
So, that was a thing. Later.

The Union and I

According according to Facebook the union that I’m in has turned one hundred and twenty one years old today. That’s a pretty long time. Of course, I haven’t been in that long. I’ve only been in it for 9 years, maybe 10, really kind of depends on how you count it.
Being in this union has actually been pretty great for me. The benefits are good. The wages are good. The work is good. And the union dues are minimal. I don’t have anything to complain about on any of those fronts. Communication. Information. Representation. Now those are things that need some work.
How much of that I can attribute to the union, versus how much I can contribute to the company I work for, that’s a calculaton and a distinction I don’t much bother with. It was a good job before we went union. And it’s become a great job since going union. I’m basing that on higher wages and cheaper benefits.
I have been in a few unions throughout my life, but this is the first one that seems to actually benefit me. Previously, the union seniority was a source of problems amongst the members. The benefts and wages didn’t seem particularly better than non-union jobs. And I always felt like the union dues were exorbitant. But these were mostly unions of unskilled workers; beverage distribution,  warehouse workers, grocery.
So either this is a better union, or I actually now have a skill set that has some value. I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. Either way, I’m in a good spot and things are good.  Lets hope it stays that way.
We’re having a meeting/conference call  Monday evening with our union representative to discuss the negotiations for the next contract. These things usually are a klusterfuk;  they last far too long, too many preposterous things are said and asked for, guys get dumb, and most of it is just ridiculous. So I have that to look forward to. Hopefully we can at least get to the point where we vote. I’m usually in the minority, because I think I’m reasonable, and we rarely get the things that are asked for that I didn’t agree with.
So happy birthday to the operators union that I don’t understand why I’m part of. I am not a stationary engineer. I am not an equipment operator. None of the stuff in our quarterly magazine seems to apply to me.
It just seems like there should be a different union, maybe HVAC or Plumbing, that I should be part of. But I didn’t set this thing up and I really don’t have anything to complain about. Things look pretty good from here.