Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Holiday Countdown is on!

The Holiday Countdown has begun! I decided last week that instead of giving gift cards, as we have done for the last couple of years and which left me feeling very unsatisfied, this year I'm knitting gifts for the family. So the rush is on to decide on patterns and yarn and get them knitted in time. Having emergency oral surgery which took most of my extra cash was an extra impetus. I resolved years ago not to go into debt giving gifts during the holidays, so I usually have cash stashed to buy gift cards, but the surgery, even after insurance, took most of that. So now I have a really good excuse to go back to knitting gifts, whee!

Both of my nieces are going to get fingerless mitts, the oldest one is getting Porphyria, a free pattern on Ravelry, and the youngest one is getting the mitts from Twilight's 'New Moon' movie, as she's in high school and her sister is in college. I'm taking the precaution of using washable yarn, as the oldest one, being a fashionista, is apt to just throw them in the washing machine. I am using some custom dyed yarn for Porphyria, dyed by my friend Stephania who owns Three Fates Knitting. My sister will get the other pair of Porphyria, as I knit her a set of mitts last Christmas in a different pattern.

For my SIL, I'll pick a lace pattern from a book and just knit it until I run out of the two skeins of yarn I bought several months ago. I talked with my brother about it on Thanksgiving and he thinks she'll use the scarf. I hope, anyway.

My Mom, being in an assisted living center, will get a jigsaw puzzle of no more than 500 pieces for her gift. We've found that as her Alzheimer's gets worse, her ability to handle large puzzles has diminished. So no more 1,000 piece puzzles for her, we don't want to spend hours trying to sort pieces from multiple puzzles out after she mixes them up trying to finish a puzzle. The staff wash her clothes for her and she still has knitted items I've made for her in years past, so the puzzles work fine at this time in her life.

For my DH, I've found a pattern for Thumb & Finger Mitts aka Nfld Gunner Mitts, which are mittens with a separate forefinger. The pattern calls for homespun yarn in dark and light colors and I just happen to have some of his handspun yarns left from his Norway cardigan and my White Corrie Aran vest that I can use for them. The pattern has stripes on the wrists, and fingers, with a diamond in square pattern for the back of the hand. The pattern calls for size 8 needles but based on my experience with these yarns I'll probably use size 5 needles and might run them through the washer one time before I gift them to do a little bit of felting to make them warmer.

Needless to say, my Allover cardigan is on hold until I get the gifts knit up and the next colors ordered for it. I am making progress on my Dream Coat, as I'm working on it at knitting get togethers so I don't have to focus so much on charts while I chat. Wednesday nights the place we go is not lit really well, so not having to try to see a chart makes for more enjoyable knitting. Yesterday we went to our usual place for Saturday afternoons but they closed early at 3 pm, just two hours after we arrived. We moved to a nearby Shari's, as Stephania had just arrived and we had committed to helping her sew together blocks for an Afghan for Afghans that she has been working on for two years. I spoke with the staff at Shari's and they would love to have us invade them on Saturday afternoons, as that is a slow time for them usually and they would love to have the business. So we're going to discuss moving our get togethers to a more hospitable locale. Last weekend the owner at the coffee shop complained about us moving tables together so we could sit together, after she had told us two months ago she had no problem with us doing that. So we're not feeling really welcome there anymore and have been discussing moving. Yesterday was a serendipitous happening for several reasons - we were 'encouraged' to find a different location to continue our get together when the first location closed early, we decided to (mostly) move to another location to sew the blocks together, and we found a very welcoming location with the room and the staff and the lighting and the food service to accommodate us.

Work is getting more hectic, since they haven't replaced any of the 15 people who retired at the end of October, long lines are to be expected at Post Offices for the holiday shipping season. I want to encourage folks to contact their senator and ask for more employees to be hired to work the windowlines. Headquarters waited so long to cut employee numbers that a recovery has started and now we don't have the staff to handle the increased business - how dumb is that?!?!? So please write, call, email or stop in at your senator's office and encourage them to put pressure on the PMG to hire more craft workers. We don't need more Executive Vice Presidents, we need more troops in the trenches to get the real work of moving the mail done. Okay, rant mode off now.

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, no matter which holiday you may celebrate - Christmas, Hannukah, Eid, Winter Solstice.

Happy knitting!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday thoughts

Morning, folks, I'm going to talk about something that some folks find hard to deal with - a hostile work environment. As some of you know, I work for the USPS as a windowline clerk and usually I love my job. But in the last couple of years things have been changing to the point that I realized last week my office has become a hostile work environment.

I'll give you a little history so you have an idea of what's going on. Two years ago July I came down with pneumonia on a Wednesday afternoon at about 3 pm. I know the time because all of a sudden I had to go to the bathroom a lot and since I was excreting liquid, I stepped up my intake as best I could. But then I started chilling and suspected the air conditioning at the office I had been loaned to for the week was on too high. I fill in at other offices in town when the Consolidation clerk is off sick or on vacation. I checked the air conditioning and it was still set at the right point and no one else was too cold. We were really busy so I put it out of my mind and kept working. But by Friday I was wearing my uniform knit top, my uniform long sleeve sweater, and a Norwegian sweater I had knit for myself and I was still freezing. I was so sick I didn't realize this was abnormal but I spent a good part of the day sitting at the desk in a fog. The other clerks also didn't realize just how sick I was and only called me to the line to relieve them for breaks. Saturday night I finally took my temperature and it was 103.6 - very high and potentially dangerous. I called the advice nurse and she told me to get to the hospital as fast as I could and not to drive. If there was no one at home to drive me I should call an ambulance. DH didn't think I was all that sick but I threatened to call 911 and he relented and drove me. When we got there and I told the triage nurse my history of the last couple of days, she marked me stat and the run was on. I had blood drawn, urine collected, x-rays taken, and an IV line put in. Shortly the ER doc came in and told me I had a serious case of pneumonia and she was keeping me in the ER to rehydrate me (despite my trying to push fluids I hadn't been able to drink enough to stay hydrated), pump two antibiotics in, give me Tylenol to break the fever, and monitor me. She was really concerned that I might have a stroke or seizure due to the high fever and wanted to get it down as fast as possible. About nine hours later, my fever was coming down, my fluid level was almost at normal, and I was actually piddling again. I was so sick I hadn't realized my output had drastically slowed down. I went home after about ten hours in the ER, only because I assured the ER doc my DH could care for me. Since he had gone home to sleep during the night and hadn't stayed with me, she was concerned whether he would actually care for me, but I know my DH's history with his previous wife's medical issues which led to her dying at home so I understood. We stopped on the way home to get my five prescriptions filled and to pick up some fruit, as the thought of regular food just didn't appeal to me right then. I took my meds, ate an orange, and slept for most of the day. When I woke up, I called my boss about 6 pm to give her a courtesy call that I would not be in to work the whole week, the ER doc having ordered me off work for at least 5 days, longer if the fever came back or I had other problems. I'm only required to notify work at least an hour before my start time for an absence, but since I was going to be out for the whole week I tried to give my boss more time so she could arrange coverage for the whole week.

I've given all this detail so you have a good picture for what I'm going to tell you next. Keep in mind that the doc almost admitted me because I was so sick, she wrote me five prescriptions for two antibiotics, two cough meds, and pain pills for the coughing that usually accompanies pneumonia. The diagnosis was pneumonia of the lower right lung and I had a copy of the x-ray that showed it, along with a doctor's note ordering me off work. I called Connie Sunday night at 6 pm so she could start thinking about coverage. Monday morning I'm lying on the couch, dozing after taking my meds and forcing some fruit down along with some water and my phone rings. You guessed it - my boss was calling wanting me to come in to work on Wednesday!!!!! I thought at first I was hallucinating and that my fever had spiked. But I had checked my temp a half hour earlier and written it down on my note pad, along with the time and what meds I had taken (having a grandmother, great aunt, and first MIL registered nurses of the old school I was trained to take notes when I or a family member is sick). I told her no, the doc had ordered me off work for at least 5 days, longer if the fever spiked or if I got sicker and had to be admitted to the hospital (which at that point I was kind of thinking might not have been a bad idea so I could tell her I was in the hospital). She asked again if I could come into work that week and I told her no. Now let me explain something about our personnel rules and the union contract. If we have called in sick following procedure and have documentation when it is required for an absence longer than three days, which I had and had done, our supervisors are forbidden to call us at home unless there is an emergency. Trying to badger me into coming back to work early was totally illegal and I should have filed a grievance and an unfair labor practice charge against her right then. But I was so sick I hung up and went back to sleep. I didn't take any action on her behavior and now it has come back to haunt me.

This past week another clerk called in sick for Monday and Tuesday. When she came back on Thursday, Wednesday being a holiday, Connie told her she needed medical documentation. NOT! After some discussion back and forth, Connie called our union president on Thursday and told him she was doing an investigative interview with my co-worker on Monday. As of the time we left work on Friday, she had not notified my co-worker of this either in person, by phone, or by email. So she has no official notification of the interview and we're not sure whether telling the union president constitutes proper notification or not. This is not the first time she has done this to one of my co-workers but the union president, who retired two years ago and will step down when his term is over in January, has decided that this will be the last time. He is going to instruct her on the contract, the Employer/Labor Relations Manual, the Personnel Handbook and is going to put her on official notice that if she does this again, it will automatically go to Step Three grievance procedure due to her past history of violating the rules and procedures. Our Postmaster has been missing in action for a couple of months now and no one knows what he's been doing. The Manager of Post Office Operations in Portland, our District headquarters, has been overseeing our offices with an iron thumb, demanding inhuman numbers and results.

Last week my co-worker and I talked about the history of our supervisor and her behavior in the local offices (she supervises five offices in town). It has finally come to the point that her behavior has risen to the level of creating a hostile work environment and we are going to take some action to try to relieve some of the stress we are under before someone has a heart attack from it. A year ago we had mandatory training for retail clerks at the beginning of the fiscal year and she actually spoke up in class, in front of the Postmaster, clerks and supervisors from other towns and said she does not help out in the lobby when we have a long line, she will not help us deal with customers who are causing problems, and her focus is doing her work in her office. A clerk from another town came up to me afterwards and asked if she had heard correctly, that Connie won't help us deal with troublesome customers, won't help when the line gets out the door, and isn't available to help with problems. I told her that, yes, she had heard correctly but we were a little surprised that Connie would admit that in front of the trainer and other clerks.

Now for some recent information about my reaction to all of this. Two weeks ago we had a mystery shop, or what they now call a Retail Customer Experience and we had a very bad score. Twenty five points were lost because the wait in line time was almost seventeen minutes. The shopper wrote that the clerks did not seem to be working with a sense of urgency! Understandable since the line had been out the door all day long and one's sense of urgency tends to get worn away under those conditions. We just keep our heads down, go through the detailed script management has given us with a bunch of questions we are required to go through with each customer, whether they are a regular whose needs we know and can handle quickly or not. Even with four out of five stations staffed, it still takes at least three to four minutes to go through the script with each customer and ask all the idiot questions. So if there are fourteen people in line ahead of the mystery shopper, you can see how long the wait will be, even if all five stations were staffed. I got a copy of the report this last Tuesday before I left work and worried about Connie's reaction all Wednesday, because she had threatened us that the next time we had a bad score on a mystery shop, the 'guilty' clerk would be accompanying her to Portland to talk with the MPOO about it. Thursday morning before I came to work it got so bad I had a panic attack at home, something I've never had to deal with before, and it was scary!

My co-worker and I talked about our feelings after Connie confronted her and told the union president about the investigative interview and discovered that we are both feeling that our office is now a hostile work place environment. We are both afraid to come to work, not because we fear our customers or co-workers, but because we fear our boss and her behavior. Our Postmaster, who is her immediate supervisor, is unavailable to us except by email, and since he hasn't been in the office, we don't know who is actually reading his emails. If he has delegated his authority to someone else in town, they have access to his emails for work and he may never know what is going on until something serious happens. I could try calling his Blackberry to speak with him personally, but I have decided that we need to go through official channels so there is a record of all of this.

Another illustration of my supervisor's management style - I sold my last money order a week ago Friday morning and told the acting supervisor at that point. Our office processes passport applications and most folks buy a money order to pay the Passport Processing Office at the State Department. So we sell a lot of money orders. I told the acting supervisor again on Monday, and on Tuesday. The acting supervisor does not have access to my regular supervisor's accountable paper items including money orders. Wednesday, while off work, I decided that if Connie didn't get me any money orders by close of business on Thursday, I was going to send my Postmaster an email and let him know what was going on. Fortunately, she issued me money orders part way through the morning. But keep in mind that the RCE requires me to offer money orders to my customers to get points - if I don't have them in my drawer, what good does it to do to offer them, and then have to send the customer to another clerk to buy one? They will just walk out.

Anyway, as I wrote above, I have realized that my office now qualifies as a hostile work environment and need to take steps to correct that, while at the same time protecting my health and my career. I have twenty three years in so far and need to work another ten years to reach retirement age. My supervisor has decided she is going to retire in 2011, wanting to pay off a car she had to buy after a drunk driver totaled hers out a few months ago. I can understand her reasoning and agree that paying off a large purchase while still working makes good sense. But taking her frustrations and bad attitude out on her employees is totally not acceptable and needs to be stopped immediately.

I'm posting this so folks have a glimpse inside the USPS and see some of what we have to deal with on a daily basis. We may get paid a good wage with good benefits, but we also have to put up with a lot more hassle and regulation than most other folks do. The good health insurance helps to pay for the damage to our health that the physical and mental environment causes. I don't know how many of you have worked on a machine at a job, but they are hot, dirty, noisy, with lots of repetitive stress injuries that management refuses to acknowledge without a long hard battle. I'm dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, capsulitis in both shoulders, loss of cartilage on the inside of my knee caps, breathing issues, and other problems because of spending sixteen years on the machines sorting letters at high speed. It doesn't bode well for a long healthy retirement, I can tell you. And now having to add a hostile work environment to the mix puts it over the top.

Thank God I have my knitting and my knitting friends to rely on and to give me something pleasant to think about at work and to look forward to when I get off work. Last weekend I decided to start the Dream Coat from 'Dazzling Knits' using my handspun yarns so I wouldn't have to be chained to a chart while at knitting group. It's modular knitting and the beautiful hand dyed rovings I got from Dicentra are going to make a stunning coat. I've got the first row of diamonds at the bottom done and have started the second row now. It's addicting and fun and I look forward to knitting group so I can get it out and add to the coat. Yesterday in just a couple of hours I got five diamonds knit and so last night I started the second row because I just couldn't put it down! It's looking great and I know I'm going to enjoy wearing it. I will be modifying it a bit because I don't like sewing seams and look for ways to avoid that while still having a well secured garment. The fun part at the end will be finding three stunning buttons to put on the front of the coat.

I also got my Fulmar cardigan out and worked on it Friday night and yesterday at home. I decided it was time to move the sleeve stitches from the circular needle to dpns and started looking for a set in the same size as the circular, thinking that the old steel needles would be the right size. But they were all too small and I kept looking. Fortunately, at the end of my search I found a set of Inox lace needles in the 2.5 mm size I need and I moved the stitches over. Now the sleeve is more comfortable to work on and I'm making progress I can see. Maybe tomorrow I'll get back to Erin, but today I'm going to put some time in on Fulmar to move her along. We're going to Portland to visit my Mom so I'll take the Dream Coat along with me to work on while we chat over pie and coffee.

Happy Sunday!