The House Of Pain -flashback Friday – August 6, 2021

The House of Pain is what my fellow UPS’ers and I called the hub (central terminal) in which we worked. The pain came from the aching muscles from individually moving tons of parcels and freight over a four-hour shift. You might think that the lower back, chest, and arms would ache considerably, and they did. But walking on steel grates, dropping into lowered fishbelly truck holds, and moving long sections of rollers in and out of trailers also beat the body.
After my initial six months, “I took the tie” and became the sup at a group of “doors” at which trailers got loaded for Connecticut cities and towns. Being the sup and no longer a Teamster was a strange role change. I now worked physically just as hard as everyone else, but I loaded less and cleared jams of packages from conveyor belts and chutes more. I was also the cheerleader. Being the cheerleader may sound like I was the beat keeper on a galley, but it was the role of encourager, emotional support, and safety advisor. It was critical to know when to pull someone before they injured themselves through fatigue and put them into a less demanding role while they rested. Oh no, we couldn’t call a halt except at designated break times. But, only a foolish supervisor worked the team to fatigue-fueled injuries. And I knew more than a few fools.
Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I often worked alongside my Teamster colleagues. So it was that or get “buried in the load.”
Packages move about the hub on long conveyor belts. Where necessary, the process is interrupted by sorting isles that divide the flow into more defined destinations. The long line of packages made the trip from the Primary ( where trailers got unloaded) to my loading doors by a roundabout route. Most had been sorted twice, shoved around curves by powered arms, called diverters, and then “picked” by a trained sorter who sent the packages tumbling down chutes to the correct trailer. Then the deluge was on us.
We hustled, but there were many tons more to get moved than there were workers, and there arrived a spot in many shifts when the packages’ ratio to loaders became favorable to the packages. Then our work area looked more like the after-effects of a parcel hurricane.
At that time, half the rest of the hub could start hearing us, singing, telling wild stories, running through weird work chants that we made up on the spot—doing impromptu dances around heaps of packages. We had a reputation for being crazy in a workplace that was crazy.
A motto seen frequently at UPS was the truism that ” when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” For my crew, our variation was, “when work gets weird, we get weirder.”
What can I say? It got us through the tough times.

Sammi Cox

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