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Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

Dak was a blue-collar man with a white-collar mind.

He had tried, and spectacularly failed a number of times, to break free from what he considered his blue-collar prison. Still, he was good at his trade and it paid the bills, which was not not an insignificant consideration for this father of eight.

Thus is was he found himself employed as a "temp" by a large university hospital, in a role that easily matched his skills. The position was advertised as "temp-to-hire," meaning that if the need for his work might reasonably continue into the long term, and his performance warranted it, he'd be offered a permanent, benefits-eligible full-time position.

After more than a year as a "temp" he had continuously excelled in every aspect. But still, he remained a temporary employee, unable to access the benefits and future job security afforded to permanent employees.

During the course of that year, he learned that he was not alone. Perhaps a dozen or more of his fellows were in the same circumstance; a number of them had been "temporary" for 2 years or more.

Dak approached his supervisor on several occasions and asked when he might be offered permanency. The answer was consistent: next month perhaps, or maybe after the next fiscal quarter.

A large teaching hospital in a university system employees thousands of people and encompasses a facility of millions of square feet. Such a facility requires a large staff to maintain that hospital's infrastructure.

Blue-collar Dak was among those tasked with just that, but he was growingly aware that the organizational culture was not aligning with the stated values of its higher echelons of leadership. He was learning that there were unwritten rules: Keep your head down, don't make waves, don't ask questions, don't stick your neck out. You were to clock in, do your job, and clock out. Authority figures above his department's leadership were feared just a little less than deity, so by all means, don't bother or approach them, even when they contradict that directive and ask for open communication.

Dak's supervisor was a good person overall, but they shared a common trait - cowardice. Dak wanted a more satisfactory answer to the question of when he might receive full benefit of the work he was engaged in, and for months he considered going to the Vice President to whom his supervisor and department head reported. It was a satisfying fantasy, to imagine that conversation. He would, in his mind, have a frank and potentially revealing discussion with that executive, who, surprised that his managers were keeping numerous employees down, for the sole purpose of cooking the books to show lower costs, had violated the stated tenets of the organizations values and policies.

But thinking about doing something isn't the same as actually doing something, and his cowardice kept him from taking action. After all, the situation wasn't ideal, but it was steady work. He was getting a paycheck. As a temp, no one would really pay attention to his opinion anyway, he rationalized. It wasn't worth the risk. If he violated the unwritten rules, and acted without permission, there might be no opportunity to beg forgiveness.

One day, while in the cafeteria, a threshold was crossed and a decision was made. A coworker revealed that it was his third anniversary as a temp. For three years he had shown up and lived and worked in accordance with the unwritten rules. Yet after three years, forty hours per week, fifty-two weeks a year, with no vacation and no sick leave, he was still a "temporary" employee - a status that only remained in order to preserve his department head's budget shenanigans.

The decision was to send an email to the Vice President; to electronically approach the throne, as it were. He composed the email, read and re-read it, revised it. He included the email addresses of his supervisor and the department head. The cursor hovered over the send button and he felt faint. This was a risk. With a sweaty palm on the mouse, he pulled the trigger and clicked on send. The deed was done, for better or for worse. Courage found, but what might be the price?

Five minutes later his pager went off. It was a text message from his supervisor that said, "Please tell me you didn't just send that to Dan (VP) and John (Department Head). Come to my office immediately!"

He had violated the unwritten rules and was about to suffer the consequences. Feeling weak, he nevertheless went to his supervisor's office and sat facing her. She was furious and threatened not only his job, but the jobs of the dozen or so temps who might also be affected by this terrible breach. Then he was dismissed from her presence to return to his duties.

Ten minutes later, he was back at his task but with a greatly troubled mind. He was working in a very long and very public corridor, when he looked up and saw from some distance, the supervisor and department head walking toward him.

"Oh no," thought Dak, "here it comes."

To Dak's great surprise, however, the department head said, "I have no problem with anything you said, or with the fact that you said it."

He was lying of course, but it was immediately apparent that there were more rules -both written and unwritten - than Dak had realized, and he had exposed his department's violation of them. In point of fact, their jobs were suddenly more at risk than his.

The next day, a meeting was called, and all dozen or so of the hospitals temps were invited. When they were assembled, they were informed that each and every one was now a permanent, benefits-eligible employee and that status was retroactive to the beginning of their overall tenure.

Dak's fellows, knew what had brought that about - that he alone had been willing to risk begging forgiveness while forgoing permission. They knew it was he alone who had solidified their job security, pay and benefits.

Dak didn't buy his own lunch for a week.

October 17, 2021 01:37

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1 comment

Tricia Shulist
13:31 Oct 23, 2021

That was nice. I think that Dak’s fear is legit — ask anyone in a temp position. I like that the outcome was so positive. Thanks for this.


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