Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Piece Work

After a few more months of non-stop working; days spent becoming a “sheetrocker” and nights spent working at the Texaco station, I decided that the gas station job had to go. With only about 5 hours of sleep each night, I was worried about falling asleep on the freeway. (I had a couple of close calls)

Now I depended on my one job, plus Laurae’s job of course. She worked as a “Key punch Operator”, a job that is no longer available in today’s world. It was a very technical job at the time, punching that mysterious little rectangular hole into a cardboard card that would instruct a computer to do whatever computers did at the time.

And I also found out that construction work was not quite as dependable a profession as; let’s say, being a window washer/gasoline pumper/oil checker. The tradeoff was in the wages of course. If I continued to work as a sheetrocker, I would eventually make $5 an hour. That’s $40 a day and that would usually give you an annual salary of $9,600. The key word is “usually.” As I soon found out that there were weeks when we had no work at all. Not many, but enough to worry me.

And so I became interested in the “piece-work” jobs. Every week, during the regular work week, the lunch time conversations would usually involve a story about some future weekend project that was going to pay a great deal of money. All based on the amount of drywall installed. And the next week, the conversations included stories of how much money was made. Some of the guys were reporting $100+ days! But what did I know about this kind of work? Not much, but I did hear that an apprentice could hire himself out to a journeyman and do the nailing for a percentage of the money.

I decided to try it. I talked to a journeyman I knew well and asked if he needed someone to nail for him? He did, and the next weekend I was driving up to some apartments, early on a Saturday morning. The apartments had already been “lidded out”, the ceiling crew installing all of the ceiling drywall. Our job was to hang drywall on the walls only. And our other job was to watch out for the Carpenter’s Union Business Agents. Piece-work was not an allowable activity for a Union Carpenter, and we could be fined if we were caught.

That first day, I was quite nervous, wondering about every car that pulled up near the site. In fact, all work would cease when someone spotted what looked like a Business Agent’s car…was that one? And we all had escape routes planned. Out the windows and down the scaffolds! Don’t use the stairs…the Business Agent’s would have them covered.

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