Good money, yes, but assembly line work can be monotonous, risky
Nancy Heiner Austin
Kathaleen Fritzler works 10 hours a day on an assembly line. It's a lot as you might imagine.
Fritzler said the room she works in is "almost as big as a football field."
She works a 10-hour shift, with 15-minute breaks every two hours and a half-hour lunch.
"Oh, it's so monotonous. Standing in one spot, that's my pet peeve of my job."
"If we had my say, we'd have an hour lunch. Hour. But we don't have my say," she said.
About 200 people work in that large room at Gossner Foods.
Fritzler's team of 15 takes cheese out of huge boxes, slices it, make sure it weighs correctly, then packages it.
"Oh, it's so monotonous. Standing in one spot, that's my pet peeve of my job," said Fritzler.
She also doesn't like how the repetitive motions make her arms hurt and how she sometimes feels dizzy at work.
Fritzler is 23. She's working while her husband studies business information systems at USU.
"We have loans hanging over us and it's like, as soon as those loans are payable, where are we gonna get the money? So we're starting to pay them off now."
She has worked there for 11 months and doesn't plan on staying long term.
"Actually, that's a lot of people's plan there," she said. "One lady wanted to work six months and she's been there eight years."
"I hate moving. I like being constant. That's kind of why I haven't changed jobs."
For Fritzler, the thing that breaks up the monotony of her work is talking to co-workers.
"My boss tells me not to talk to people, because I talk with my hands. But if I don't talk, I think, is there a point to even being here?"
Fritzler speaks to the Hispanic workers at the factory in Spanish. She learned it on an LDS mission to Venezuela. She can't talk much to the 60-year-old woman from Jordan who works on the line with her. Once a deaf man worked at Gossner and Kathaleen used the sign language alphabet to communicate with him. Fritzler's husband James used to work there too.
"Of course, it gets monotonous, but if there's people there to talk to it's all right. If the people you work with there won't talk to you, it's so boring," he said.
Fritzler said the immigrants who work there think "working at a factory is easy money."
She agrees that the checks are healthy, sometimes up to $1,000, and that the benefits are good.
Pay on the assembly line starts at $7 an hour and goes up to $10. "When you hit five years there are no more pay raises unless the pay scale goes up."
Fritzler likes the "Full-time hours, you don't have to work odd shifts unless you want to, medical and dental insurace, 401K."
But Fritzler doesn't consider the work easy money.
Doing the same motion for two hours straight makes her afraid that she'll damage her back.
The workers also do heavy lifting, putting the cheese in boxes and stacking it on palettes.
"We learn how to avoid back injuries. This is part of our training. We watch these training movies."
Some people still get back injuries, Fritzler sid it's often from "messing around" and picking things up incorrectly.
The job makes the workers prone to other injuries as well.
"My boss lost two fingers on two different occasions, " said Fritzler.
Each time he caught the tip of one of his fingers in a moving belt.
"It's OK. They found his fingers, but they couldn't reattach them. Too many slices."
Fritzler said she and her co-workers often tease him, "Mike, you cut the wrong finger."
If a worker loses his thumb and pointer finger, "You get paid the same amount as if you had died."
Another problem with the work is how stressful it is.
Fritzler's husband said that when she gets home from work, she needs time to wind down.
Fritzler plays video games or watches television to relax. She said some of her co-workers do yoga or other exercises.
"One woman vigorously cleans her house as soon as she gets home as a destressing activity," she said.
After Fritzler has relaxed she likes to work on a project for a few hours before it's time for bed. Her apartment is hung with realistic pastels of flowers and outdoor scenes that she drew.
Right now she's working on a lap quilt.
"I'm giving this to a lady at work who's retiring because she's really old and tired and stuff. She can suddenly have her days free, see her grandkids, do whatever."
Creative activities help alleviate stress for Fritzler and her coworkers, but assembly line jobs can still be harmful.
The Institute for Work and Health has found that factory work tasks can affect soft-tissue injury rates more than smoking, obesity, and low physical activity combined.
The problems, said the institute, are both physical and psychosocial. Physical factors are workstation design, weight of objects lifted and frequency of lifting, and how fast the tasks are performed.
Fritzler worked as a temp at another cheese factory, and there they switched tasks every 20 minutes instead of every two hours.
Switching tasks, reported the institute, is helpful.
Psychosocial factors involve support from coworkers and supervisors. Fritzler gets along with her coworkers, but thinks that some of them are too competitive and have a "better then you" attitude. They comment when someone is working slower than usual.
As for her supervisors, Kathaleen said she worries about calling in sick if she just has cramps or a headache, because the workers can be fired "on the spot," and a replacement found quickly.
"They can get someone off the street in five minutes to do my job, and that's a depressing thought, that really is," she said.