In These Times has partnered with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) to amplify the stories and struggles of ordinary people, including workers in the United States. This piece, part of an ongoing biweekly series, originally appeared in the Journal of Ordinary Thought, published by NWA. Find more stories and voices at the NWA’s blog.
I loved to wake up and have a cigarette and a cup of coffee, do my everyday routine for the day. Go to work. Clock in at 4:00 p.m.; clock out at 12:25 a.m. I liked to work second shift because then I could do things in the daytime and still be able to sleep at night.
I was a sprayer. I loved to spray metal material. Edsals made cabinette lockers, desks, frames, etc. We sprayed a straight 30 minutes, then we would have a 30-minute break There were six sprayers, and three would spray at a time. We needed the break because we used toxic powder and you needed to get away from it. I liked the competition. I was the first lady sprayer in Department Eleven.
The machine would bend the metal and we would spray it as it went down the line. Really big pieces of metal would go through the tunnel and come out all different, real shiny. Then assembly workers would box it up.
You had to be in perfect health. They checked your hearing, your eyes, everything. We had an on-duty nurse on all three shifts. Since you were working with toxic powder you had to follow rules: wear a white suit, mask, steel-toed boots, glasses, and safety gloves. And you had to be alert. They trained you, and I learned pretty fast. It wasn’t an easy job and a lot of people wouldn’t have done it.
You had a lot of benefits when you worked in a factory: vacation pay, sick pay, insurance, paid off-days. I started at $5.20 an hour and got close to $7.00 an hour. You got two raises a year and lots of overtime pay. If you worked weekends you got double pay.
The job made me feel good because it’s very hard for a woman to get a position like that. I liked it because it meant taking a man’s position. I am looking forward to a position like that at another job, closer to home, but if there was somewhere I could work I would take it.
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