Category Archives: Workamping

Worker Beware

There’s an old saying that desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m here to tell you that my attempt to work for Liberty Tax Service in Palm Bay FL was a desperate measure. I did just fine in the tax preparation course but red flags started popping up towards the end of the class. All students were given a schedule of upcoming events. They included dates and times when we could go to one of the offices and practice on actual Liberty Tax software. At no point during the class did we use the actual software even though the computers were sitting right in front of us. Any time spent practicing in the office was unpaid, although the owner and managers did tell us we had to be there in business attire, just in case it got busy and we wanted to do actual returns. There were also 2 mandatory meetings for new and returning employees, totaling 11 hours. These meetings were NOT part of the preparation course but covered office procedures and policies. One person did ask if those meetings would be paid and the franchise owner (Ben Teaford) immediately responded NO since they were only training. All the new employees signed employment contracts at the end of the second meeting. These contracts stated our pay rate and bonus conditions. Mine stated that I would get 1% of the gross of my returns if I completed at least 75 paid returns and lasted the entire tax season. Later I discussed this with a returning employee and found out that last year the magic number was 50 returns but a few people got close to that so it was raised. The hours I was given at the beginning of the tax season were minimal, less than 10 hours per week. Due to problems with the owner and my second manager (the first manager moved to a new office), I quit during my first month. To be perfectly honest, I shouldn’t even have started with the red flags I saw but I’d been out of work over a year at that point. Think about that word ‘desperate’ again. Most of the new employees I saw were in the same boat so they put up with the crap just to get some income.

After quitting, I sent a separate email to Liberty corporate detailing the conditions in this franchise. They acknowledged the emailed and thanked me but I never heard anything else from them or the franchise owner. I  really thought getting paid for those training sessions would be a slam dunk after filing a complaint with the US Department of Labor. Boy was I mistaken! Since I’d filed a previous complaint with the DoL back in the 90s, I certainly didn’t expect to be so mistreated this time. The local worker assigned to my case seemed to attach a great deal of importance to the fact that I was the only one who complained. They finally sent me a letter stating that they were declining to prosecute the case but that I could pursue the matter in small claims court. Naturally I asked for a copy of my case file to take to court if I decided to go that route. Their response was that I would have to file a Freedom of Information Act Request to get a copy of my own case file!!!! So I did and got an emailed pdf file that included their documentation – a whopping 2 page form with acronyms and abbreviations that weren’t explained anywhere. So far, they’ve ignored 4 requests for a layman’s translation of their form. That’s our government in action folks. They should be very thankful that at least their jobs are secure, with our tax dollars.

Besides contacting Liberty Tax corporate and the DoL, I also contacted a local ambulance chaser (lawyer) and an investigative reporter. Both of them declined to take up the cause, without giving any reasons. I’m assuming that there wasn’t enough money in it for the lawyer and it wasn’t a big enough story for the reporter. I also contacted my US Senator, who sent a form letter to the DoL and has done nothing since. Apparently, the game is rigged so that if you only steal from the little guys, you can get away with it all day long.

For those of you who think I might be foolish in posting this rant and that I might be hurting future employment chances, I say ‘not a problem’. If a prospective employer is that worried about being held to his/her end of the bargain, that’s not someone I want to work for anyway. I stand ready to provide an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay but if you try to cheat me I’ll do everything I can to rectify the situation and expose you. In the end, you might get away with it, but not for lack of effort on my part.

Broken Ankle Update

I had a follow-up ortho appointment this morning for my ankle injury from MN. It’s healing nicely and I was given doctor approval to quit using crutches although I still need to wear that damn boot for another 4 weeks. While I was there, I asked the doctor if I should be doing some type of exercise at home since the ankle has been immobile for so long. He looks at me like I’d just grown a third eye and was amazed that nobody has addressed physical rehab yet. So, he writes a scrip for the nurse case manager to find me a physical therapist. The actual order was for range of motion, general strengthening, and proprioceptive exercises. Huh? I looked up proprioceptive at home and it means balance. This must be why our health care system is so expensive, all that time spent in a thesaurus looking for $5 words.

On the brighter side, I’m actually doing better financially because of the injury. Since I had another job lined up immediately following the harvest, Express Employment agreed to pay me lost wages. Not knowing how that worked exactly, I sent a spreadsheet of my Amazon wages from last year to the claims management company. Well, it turns out they didn’t need that. They need to base my payments on my average weekly wage where the accident occurred. Since my hourly wage was significantly higher at the sugar beet harvest, I’ll actually receive more in temporary total disability than if I’d been picking on schedule for Amazon. And it’s tax free! So, I certainly would NOT have chosen a broken ankle to get out of work but it seems to have worked out well.

 

A Much Needed Break

While the title of this post is entirely accurate, it’s also an unintentional pun. I’ve been working very hard here at the sugar beet harvest in Stephen MN. Right now it looks like the harvest is paused all through the Red River Valley of the North due to high daytime temperatures. There’s supposed to be an update today at noon but the weather forecast is now calling for thunderstorms (at least in my area) so the restart may be delayed another day or 2.

So, these days off would normally be unwelcome but the circumstances are a little different for me right now. 2 days ago I twisted my ankle and fell in some pretty nasty muck. I kept thinking it was just a bad sprain but some inner voice convinced me to go to the hospital a few hours after the fact. Well, the X-Rays showed a broken fibula, just above the ankle. I got a quick education in the bones of the lower leg and a walking boot. I can still hobble around with the boot but the big problem is driving my manual transmission truck. That boot is so big and clunky that it’s difficult to fully depress the clutch and still have access to the brake pedal. I’m thinking about a temporary modification to the clutch pedal to fix that problem. I tried driving without the boot and it’s just too painful. (Note to self: next truck should be an automatic transmission.)

In the meantime, the company has been very understanding and supportive. I obviously can’t perform my normal duties so they’ve offered me light duties so I can still qualify for the season bonus and stay in the campground. The current weather situation is giving me another day or 2 to let the healing process work its magic.

Full recovery will take 4-6 weeks so my next planned job, picker at Amazon warehouse, will not happen. Instead, I’ll head back down to Florida early and maybe find another job before Christmas.

Late edit on 10/13. 2 things have come to mind the last few days. First, this is only my second broken bone ever. The first was a toe. So, 2 possibilities come to mind. Am I working my way up the body for broken bones? Sure hope not! And I still haven’t required a cast for either bone. The toe was just taped, the fibula required a walking boot. Hmmmm.

Waiting for literary fame!

I’ve recently decided to exercise my mind as well as my body. Since I can claim some experience and knowledge of this lifestyle now, I wrote an ebook titled “Home is Where the Wheels Stop”. It should prove very useful for those who want to become RVers or those who’ve recently become RVers. Right now, it’s available on Amazon for Kindle readers here.

Amazon coming to an end

Somehow I’ve managed to survive the last few weeks and the end is in sight. Lots of blisters and sore feet and one stomach virus that fortunately happened on some days off. My last day was supposed to be Dec 22 but they just sent out another email changing that to Dec 21. So, looking at the calendar I only have 1.5 shifts left. I could practically do that walking on my hands so the bonus should be a ‘gimme’. Of course, the downside is losing more pay this period, especially the overtime. There’s been a lot of that this season. One week they cut our overtime shift entirely. Other days they would release us early to minimize the overtime for that week. I’m not sure if it’s because of the economy overall, whether people are shopping elsewhere or if it’s still Sandy-related problems. Now I’ll adjust my pre-departure a little and be on the road to nice, warm Florida this Saturday. That means I’ll be set up at the campground at Patrick AFB well before Christmas day and get to see my new granddaughter that much sooner.

Beet Harvest vs Amazon Comparison

So, now that I’ve been working here at Amazon for a few weeks, it’s time to compare 2 non-traditional workamping jobs.

At the sugar beet harvest, I was a piler operator. That paid at the high end of the range for the seasonal workers. It required a lot of concentration and attention to detail. The most physically demanding part of the job was standing for the entire shift. Being in the cab of a million dollar piling machine I was largely protected from the weather although it did still get cold in the cab. I was responsible for the machine itself, the ground crew and the trucks arriving to offload their beets.

Here at Amazon I’m a picker. I carry a hand-held scanner which tells me where to go and what product to pick out of a bin to put in my tote. As long as I follow the directions on the scanner and apply some common sense, I stay out of trouble. It’s a very fast paced environment. To meet the productivity goals I estimate I’m walking at a 6 mph pace between bins or different warehouse locations. When I power walk for exercise, my pace is usually between 3 and 4 mph for 1 or 2 hours. My shifts at Amazon are 10 hrs right now and will bump up to 12 hrs as we get closer to Christmas.

There are other, less mobile, jobs available at Amazon. The folks who take the product from the loading docks and put it in the bins don’t spend as much time walking. They take large stow carts to a location and work that location until the cart is empty. The packers are the ones who actually put your merchandise into mailing packages. They are stationary for the entire shift, but just standing on concrete can really break you down. I’m not sure if they’re allowed to have some type of cushioning mat to stand on.

As an added bonus for RVers, Amazon picks up the camping tab at nearby campgrounds. I’m at an RV park directly across the street from the warehouse so I can walk to and from work although others in the park elect to drive everyday. My guess is that it’s a half mile round trip from my site to the warehouse door. But working at Amazon is not for everyone. My first neighbors here in the RV park were a couple in their late 60s/early 70s. At the end of their first 5 hr conditioning shift, they quit. The next folks on the site, another couple considerably younger left sometime during their first week. I’m sure Amazon loses a lot of people that way

So far, I’m doing OK. I’ve had to make some adjustments to what I wear and some nights I hobble back up the hill to my RV. Hopefully I’ll be able to survive the next 4 weeks with all the overtime and qualify for the end of season bonus, then rest up a lot in sunny Florida.

 

Weather delay already

….and now we wait. 10 days ago there were rumors that we might start the main harvest 2 days early. Everyone was very excited about that since that would mean starting with weekend premium pay. Unfortunately, the weather changed and it will be a little too warm to pile sugar beets this weekend. Now we might start on Tuesday or Wednesday. Here’s hoping we’ll still get 2 weekends in before end of harvest – that’s where the big bucks are. Time and a half for Saturdays and double time for Sundays!!

Decisions, Decisions

So, I’m back in Stephen MN for the annual sugar beet harvest. They actually have 2 parts to the harvest. The pre-pile started in mid-August this year so I was able to get some work in before the main harvest, which starts on October 1 (or close to it). Pre-pile is sort of like spring training for the harvest. It allows new people to get training, work out equipment problems and check the current beet quality.

After the pre-pile at Stephen was complete, I was also able to work at a different site for a few days. Today I got a major surprise. I was approached about becoming a foreman next year. What a conondrum! On the positive side it would mean higher hourly salary and more hours each season. On the negative side, it would mean more hours each season and supervising temp employees. I’m supposed to find out next week what else the job would entail.

I’m really at a crossroads here. One of the reasons they asked me is because they have other plans for my current foreman, who happens to be a good boss. So, if I refuse, I could end up with an asshole for a new boss. This will definitely take some serious thought.

 

Another sugar beet harvest

I arrived in Stephen MN for (hopefully) another profitable sugar beet harvest. This year I elected to arrive early for the pre-pile. I guess pre-pile is sort of like training camp for athletes. Everyone from the farmers to truckers to piling station workers to yard processing folks get to make sure everything is working properly. The company also gets early looks at the beets for size and sugar content.

We don’t work as many hours as during the main harvest and there’s no weekend premium pay but it’s still money coming in and a free camp site. It was definitely strange working my first shift in a T-shirt. Last year I was layered everyday I went to work.

Speaking of weather, I definitely need to find someplace warmer to spend the summer of 2013.  The Tacoma WA area was just plain chilly and overcast most of the time I was there. The local newscasters referred to June as Junuary since it was so cold. And now here in the northern plains, the temps are getting into the 40s at night and I’ve already broken out and plugged in 1 space heater to take the chill off.

Working in Texas

Just thought I’d throw out a quick update. Found a very laid back campground job between Austin and Bastrop. I’m at the Oaks RV Park which was purchased by new owners last year after being abandoned by the previous owners. Possibly the best thing about this job is the city park with boat launch in Bastrop. It’s on the Colorado river. Unlike most Texas rivers, this one actually has water in it. As soon as the weather cooperates, I’ll finally be able to get the kayak in the water for the first time since Minnesota.