Champion Paper Company

Discussion in 'Jobs I Have Had' started by Ken Anderson, Feb 19, 2015.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    After I had been with Horner-Waldorf for six years, the company was taken over by Champion Paper Company. A much larger corporation, Champion came in and changed everything.

    No longer were we on salary, but we were paid hourly. They instituted production quotas. Machine operators were expected to produce a specified amount of product each day, and were subject to reprimands and further action if their productivity fell below these levels. Worse, it didn't matter that the machine operator had no control over it. Every machine was scheduled to be run on first and second shift, so if a machine operator reporting for work found that his machine had broken down during the previous shift, he was going to be unable to meet his quota, and would automatically be reprimanded. As a non-union plant, these reprimands could be used to deny later promotions.

    Regardless of what may have occurred, machine operators were expected to have machines back up and running within one hour of any breakdown. Despite the fact that we had several spare machines on third shift, we could no longer utilize them as we had. If someone was assigned to run Sack Machine #2 and it was not operable, that machine operator would be assigned to some other task until his assigned machine was operable again, rather than letting him operate Sack Machine #3 instead, even through they made the exact same type of bag.

    Operators were no longer allowed to help out other operators, as we had on third shift. One man, one machine. In the past machine adjusters would train machine operators who were interested in being promoted to the adjuster level by letting them do some of their own repairs, or by allowing them to assist with a repair but, under Champion, we couldn't do that anymore.

    Even when everything was running well, everyone had to look busy at all times, so there was a lot of make-work involved.

    Most parts of the building were prohibited to certain types of employees. For example, everyone had to go around rather than taking the shortest route to the lunch room, which was through the warehouse part of the building. I could understand that one, but still it was an irritant to a lot of people, especially on third shift; as we only had one warehouse employee, we could be quite sure that he wasn't going to run us over with a forklift while he was sitting in the lunch room.

    They issued badges, and hired a guard. No one was allowed in the plant earlier than seven minutes prior to the start of their shift, and everyone had to sign in at the guard's desk. In the past, machine adjusters, and even some of the more conscientious machine operators, would come in early to get an idea of how their machines were going to be running, and if there were machines down, we might be put to work early.

    We had to leave immediately after our shift was over, whereas previously, if one of my machines crashed near the end of my shift, I would feel obligated to stick around and get it running, rather than sticking the next shift with it. Under Champion, we couldn't do that anymore.

    The first time a union vote came up, under the Champion regime, it was voted in. Although I voted against it, I ran for a position as shop steward the second year because the idiots who held the positions the first years were just adding to the drama. I was elected, became chief shop steward the third year, as well as vice president of our Union Local, which included Champion's box plant, as well.

    Under a union contract, we were paid a lot more money, and had more days off and vacation time than I knew what to do with. I think I'll make a separate post, later, about some of the union stuff.

    Eventually, things got better with Champion, although it never became the comfortable place to work that Hoerner-Waldorf had been. The guard relaxed, and would often be sleeping when we reported to work. To demonstrate how much we didn't need a guard, we began signing in as "Donald Duck," Mickey Mouse" and "Goofy," since Champion moved our plant from Fullerton to Anaheim. I changed the wording on my company badge to replace my name with a couple of not-so-nice words that began with an "f" and ended with a "u" and no one noticed.

    Under a new plant manager, they did away with the company badges and the guard, and allowed machine adjusters to come in as early, or stay as late as we pleased, and even paid us overtime for it, as long as there was something that needed to be done.

    As kind of a fun thing, our union contract stipulated that an employee couldn't be required to work overtime as long as another employee capable of doing the job was willing to work it so, sometimes when they were requiring a stacker on our shift to work over, and he didn't want to, I would volunteer to do it. Of course, stacker being an entry-level job, paid a lot less than I was earning as a senior machine adjuster so, rather than paying me time and a half (double time after twelve hours), they'd usually find a way to do without the stacker who didn't want to work over.

    Under Hoerner-Waldorf, everyone was on a profit-sharing plan, collectible on retirement or termination. When the union was voted in, Champion announced that it would be ending the profit-sharing program. I was surprised to learn that, after twelve six more years, they had continued it for those of us who had previously been invested, which amounted for several thousand dollars that I didn't expect to see, on top of my severance pay, when they closed the plant down.

     
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  2. Richard Paradon

    Richard Paradon Well-Known Member
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    That sounds like a horrible place to work, Ken, but you did it. I don't think I would have remained there once Champion took over.
     
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  3. Ken Anderson

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    There were advantages. The pay was great. I have never since earned as much money as I was paid by Champion, and before they closed the plant, i was getting 6 weeks vacation a year, plus something like 32 holidays.

    Before I left there, I was the senior machine adjuster and, by contract, I could choose whatever shift I wanted to work.

    Plus, a lot of the initial annoyances were later relaxed. It just never became comfortable in the way that Hoerner-Waldorf was.
     
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  4. Ken Anderson

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    Something that @Ike Willis said in one of his threads reminded me of this. I was going to post it in his thread, but thought I'd move it here instead.

    When I worked for Champion Paper Company, we had a personnel manager, named Jerry, who wasn't well liked. After someone reported rats in the warehouse, he took it upon himself to rid the building of rats. The day shift supervisor told me that the first thing Jerry would do each morning was walk his trap line. He had a few traps set up behind the paper rolls in the warehouse.

    I was working the graveyard (11-7) shift as the machine adjuster and acting supervisor at the time. Since we only ran a skeleton crew on third shift, I wasn't overworked. Since we ran only a few machines, when something went wrong, I could simply move the operator to another machine that made the same kind of bags and take my time fixing the one that was malfunctioning. Since I would pay close attention to the machines we were running, I could usually hear a problem before we began to see it on the production side.

    One night I made up a dummy rat out of some burlap and used black strapping for whiskers, and put it in the trap that was in the darkest part of the building. My rat had a name tag that said, "Hi Jerry." A couple of days later, the day-shift supervisor told me that Jerry was conducting an investigation to see who had done that. He described a look of elation in Jerry's face when he saw what he thought was going to be a rat in his trap, and said he thought he was going to cry afterwards. He was probably exaggerating, but still.

    The rolls of paper that our machines use weighed a couple of tons. Since the first several layers of paper would be damaged by stones that they might have rolled over or from the forklift prongs, we would routinely strip the first layers of paper away before loading the roll onto the machine. A paper break could put a machine down for hours, so we didn't take any chances with that.

    Jerry came through the production area one day, probably hot on the trail of the rat faker, and saw some doodles on some of the paper rolls that were waiting to be loaded onto the machine. While behind the machine waiting for the current roll of paper to run down as close to the end as possible, machine operators might doodle on the roll that is lined up to be loaded, or they might do calculations to figure out their number of bags per hour, or whatever. It was no big deal. Being in personnel, Jerry had no idea of what anyone did in production so he didn't know that the first layers of paper would be stripped away and recycled, so he was worrying that these doodles would find their way onto a completed paper bag. The way the rolls were loaded, that would have been on the inside anyhow but, of course, he didn't know that either.

    He cut out squares of paper that had the doodles on them, and posted a notice on the bulletin board saying that he has sent them away for handwriting analysis. This was nonsense, of course, but he probably thought he had people worried.

    That night, I carefully unrolled a paper roll, marked the side of it so that I could align it back in the right place, and made some doodles on the outside layer of that paper roll, so that if Jerry were to cut the squares of paper away, the next layer would read, "Hi Jerry."

    To think, they were paying me more than a thousand dollars a week for this. Then again, they were paying Jerry even more and he didn't seem to have enough to do in his own job.

    I think I did make him cry at least once though.

    I took home from one to two thousand dollars a week, depending on overtime, and I could work as much overtime as I wanted. Mostly, I didn't keep track of my hours because I had no reason to believe that anyone was cheating me. Every couple of months, though, I would do the math just to be sure.

    One week, by my calculations, I had been shorted $1.04. Normally, I would assume that I had miscalculated something because math has never been my strong suit. But, since Jerry was acting up at the time, I went to him and told him that I was short $1.04.

    He told me that I had clocked in a minute or two late one day, so I wasn't paid for that time. Okay, that would be fair, except that I had already taken that into consideration before determining that my check was short.

    I didn't argue with him because I wanted to play it out. I figured out what had happened. Since I had worked overtime that day, as I usually did, he had deducted these minutes from my overtime rate rather than from my regular rate. But I was late for my regular shift, so it should have been deducted from my regular rate.

    Our contract defined overtime as any time that we worked more than eight hours a day, more than forty hours a week, or any time that we worked before or after our regular working hours. According to our contract then, I could have been seven hours late for an eight hour shift but if I worked after my regular quitting time, it would still be time and a half. That doesn't seem fair but that was the way that the contract read.

    Without explaining what I had determined to have been the cause of the error, I filed a grievance.

    First he denied it, saying that I hadn't followed the steps of the grievance procedure, which called for a verbal notice to my shift supervisor. Since I was the acting shift supervisor, I assured him that I had had a long conversation with myself about it.

    The next step was the written grievance, which I had already filed. After conceding that I had followed the proper steps, he denied my grievance with the explanation that I had been late.

    After that, the grievance procedure called for it to be forwarded to the plant manager, who would meet with the chief shop steward (me) and myself to see if we could work something out. Our plant manager was on vacation, so Jerry was the acting plant manager. We went through that step, much as the previous one, and I still didn't tell him where he had gone wrong, but simply asserted that I had been shorted $1.04.

    He denied it again. The next step in the grievance procedure called for the UPIU international representative to fly out to California from Ohio to meet with Champion's corporate labor relations manager, who was also based in Ohio, for the purpose of seeing if something could be worked out.

    Before this meeting however, our UPIU local would have to vote to forward the matter to arbitration. This meeting was a sort of pre-arbitration meeting, since arbitration would cost both the union and the company $700, plus the losing side would have to pay for all travel expenses.

    Of course, I had no intention of carrying it that far but I wanted to carry it as far as I could, without costing anyone any money. By then, the plant manager had returned from vacation but he had only Jerry's account of the grievance.

    Our UPIU local consisted of the members of Champion's bag plant, where I worked, and Champion's box plant, which was nearby. I was the vice president of our local, while the president was employed at the box plant. I met with him privately, explaining that I wanted to get a vote to take the matter to arbitration but that I wanted to drop it before it actually cost anyone any money.

    That was a hard sell because I couldn't let everyone know what was going on, since someone would be sure to let it out, and I didn't want the company to know that I intended to drop it before an arbitration date was set. They would realize their error and simply pay me the $1.04 without subjecting Jerry to the full measure of embarrassment, or they would call my bluff.

    The president of the local agreed to help me sell it, which he did by presenting it as a matter of principle. For me, it might be only $1.04 but if they were allowed to short me for being a minute or two late, it would cost others more money in the future.

    There were some angry people in that meeting, since it seemed crazy to spend $700 of union funds in order to gain just over a dollar on my paycheck. But the vote was in my favor.

    I called our international representative to let him know what it was about too. He called the company's labor representative, and they agreed to pay me the $1.04 without actually flying out to California.

    The next morning, the plant manager came into work early to talk to me. I told him that I had tried to work it out with Jerry but, for some reason, he was set on trying to cheat me out of the money. I explained to the plant manager how I believed the error had been made, but I made it appear that I had done the same for Jerry.

    Fortunately, Jerry came in to work shortly after I had spoken to the plant manager, so I asked him if he had my money.

    "We haven't even set an arbitration date on that yet," he said.

    I replied, "Oh, I'm sorry. They didn't tell you? It's already been settled. You were wrong, I was right, and you still owe me $1.04."

    He called the plant manager's office, and then asked me if it was okay if it was added to my next check. Of course, it was.

    The next week, he asked me if I had received my money. I told that I didn't know, because I didn't check. It was only a dollar and four cents, after all.

    I didn't vote for the union but as long as we had it, I had fun with it.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 26, 2015
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  5. Ken Anderson

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    One day, Champion bought a new paper bag machine. Our other machine were made by Davis, Potlatch, and R&D, the latter being a rip-off of the Potlatch machine, having been founded by members of the Research and Development department of Potlatch.

    Anyhow, the new machine was an American Newlong. Ironically, the American Newlong was the only machine we had not made in America. It was a Chinese machine, and it was all metric, whereas our other machines were standard.

    The company had a meeting of the machine adjusters and maintenance people, telling us about the new machine. They told us that we would each have to buy a set of metric tools. Although we were certainly being paid enough so that we could have done that, I argued that the company should buy us a set of metric tools, given that they decided to buy a metric machine. As the union rep, I was obligated to make sure we got all we could.

    At first, the plant manager refused, saying that were responsible for buying our own tools. I pointed out that most of us had started when the company was owned by Hoerner-Waldorf, and that the company had bought our tools, while we had been responsible for replacements.

    I then told him that I think I could get whatever done that needed to be done with either a hammer or a crescent wrench. Everyone laughed but I think he had visions of us taking our hammers to his new machine, and he agreed to buy us all a new set of metric tools.

    I never did like that American Newlong. While our other machines all worked on the same principles, the American Newlong was much different and hard to figure out.
     
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  6. Ken Anderson

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    While I was working for Champion, and UPIU chief shop steward and Vice President of our local, I was asked if I'd be interested in working for the United Paperworkers International Union. Champion was going to start up a new bag plant in Pasadena, Texas, and the UPIU wanted me to apply for a transfer. Some of our bag machines were being transferred to Texas. Champion was looking for experienced people to get the new plant up and running, and to train new employees.

    We didn't get far enough into the discussion to include actual salaries, but my impression was that I would be paid as if I were working full-time for the UPIU, as well as my regular paycheck from Champion, except that Champion wouldn't know that I was also employed by the union. My job for the union would have been to organize the new plant, enrolling its employees into the labor union.

    Had I done so, and were I able to do a good job of it, this could have led to a full-time career as a labor union organizer, which might have been fun. Or maybe they'd have just dumped me after I got the job done for them.

    However, I didn't even vote for the union when they voted it in at Champion. Still, I considered the job very strongly, since it not only might have been fun but being paid by two employers at the same time would have been very nice for my bank account.

    But, I was raising a son as a single parent at the time, and I didn't want to expose him to the uncertainties that a move to Pasadena might have brought. Plus, union organizing in a right-to-work state could have carried some dangers, particularly since I would be an outsider to the Pasadena community.

    Instead, I hid away a couple of copies of our union contract within the machines that were being transferred from our plant to Texas, knowing that the salaried supervisors weren't going to be the ones doing the unpacking. Apparently, that caused enough of a stir that it was the subject of a meeting called by our plant manager. The new Texas employees were being paid a whole lot less than we were, it seems.
     
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  7. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    At Champion, we made paper shopping bags for most of the grocery stores in the Southern California region, and others that I had never heard of. One of the stores we made bags for was Albertson's.

    Albertson's slogan at the time was: FIGHT INFLATION, SHOP ALBERTSON'S. That was printed on the face of the bag, while there were coupons on the back of the bag. Usually, our orders would be for several dozens of pallets of shopping bags. Before Christmas one year, we got an order for one bale of 250 bags that read: F**K INFLATION, SHOP ALBERTSON'S, except that the asterisks were filled in with a U and a C. The order was, of course, a joke order, intended to be distributed to top personnel in the company. Albertson's hired a security guard to make sure that no stray bags found their way into anyone else's hands. Someone at Albertson's had a sense of humor.
     
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  8. Don Alaska

    Don Alaska Very Well-Known Member
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    Ken, ironically, stores here are shifting back to paper bags from plastic. Years ago the environmentalists wanted a shift to plastic bags to save trees; now we are shifting back to paper as they are biodegradable.
     
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  9. Ken Anderson

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    As all but one or two of the paper bag manufacturers were going out of business, we thought that was short-sighted thinking too. Duro may be the only paper bag manufacturer still in business in the United States right now, while nearly every paper company had a bag division before plastics took over the market.
     
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  10. Ken Anderson

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    I think I have already told this story someone in the forum before but I couldn't find it on a search so I thought I'd tell it again. Working the graveyard shift, I was running a machine on the end of the line of machines. I was having electrical problems, as the baler was blowing fuses. Since the whole thing was automated, it was necessary that one bale is completed before the next one came along. I was near the end of an order and since I was running an order that printed on all four sides of the bag, I didn't want to have to set it up on another machine. I didn't want the machine operator to have to deal with it, so I put him on another machine, running the next order, which was a simpler one, and decided I'd finish that order off myself.

    The maintenance department usually took care of electrical problems but we didn't have a maintenance crew on the graveyard shift, so I got a couple of boxes of fuses from the parts room and kept a close eye on the baler. I could tell when a fuse blew because a light would go out, so I would quickly shut the power off to the baler, take the old fuse out, put a new one back in, and turn the power back on before the next bale was completed. It was a 440-volt system.

    It got so that it was blowing fuses more and more often, and I had had a couple of close calls, where I barely got the fuse replaced before the elevator brought the next bale up. After a couple of hours of that, I apparently forgot to turn the power off. I don't remember that part, though. I woke up lying on the floor a couple of feet from the machine, which had backed up and shut down. No one else had noticed because it was the graveyard shift and everyone else on duty had their own machines to run. As an acting supervisor, I was the only one who had the freedom to wander around.

    Before getting up, I did a self-assessment and decided that I felt okay. I got up, and I felt fine. Although it was about 4:00 in the morning, I was wide awake and remained wide awake the rest of the shift. Better living through electricity.

    I cleared the blockage, started the machine back up, and continued to do what I had been doing, only I ran the machine a little slower, and checked several times to be sure that the power was off. I finished the order, then set up the next print order, but took the machine offline until the electrician could fix the problem. I didn't mention the incident to anyone, as all that it would have accomplished would have been a safety violation on my record.

    That was the way it worked at Champion. We'd take chances in order to keep our production up and they'd write us up either for taking chances or for not keeping our production up.
     
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  11. Ken Anderson

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    I used to hate Alpha Beta stores. They were a large customer of ours, meaning we made a lot of grocery sacks for Alpha Beta. The problem with them was that they would about the company's complaint credit system. I wouldn't care so much that they cheated the company but they made more complaints than any other store we made bags for. Rather than asking them to send back everything that they claimed was bad, stores would send one bag back to represent whatever amount they claimed were bad, and everyone knew they exaggerated.

    Our machines were automated, and we'd produce thousands of bags a minute. At the conveyor, we could flip through stacks of 25 bags to find any obvious problems, and we'd pull a couple of stacks frequently to inspect them more thoroughly. Plus, the supervisor would open up a bale (250-500 bags) from each machine every hour to check on the quality. But there was no way that we could catch everything.

    There was no way that any machine was going to produce perfect bags every time and pretty much every store we dealt with wouldn't notice or care if there was a pinhole in a few bags out of a bale, if a stray drop of glue got in the wrong place, or if there was a crinkle where there wasn't supposed to be a crinkle, as long as the bags could be used for their intended purpose and they didn't look ugly.

    Alpha Beta would claim a bale of bad bags for every bag they found with a default. Our names were on the bottom of the bags and we'd be dinged for everything that the store claimed was bad, and that would work against our bonuses. So it wasn't fair to the people who ran the machines that produced the Alpha Beta orders.

    Another major pain in the butt was the GSA orders. The US Government Services Administration would place large orders once or twice a year. The way the GSA orders went was that we would complete the entire order and have it set aside in the warehouse. The government would send an inspector out. Out of an order that might be for fifty pallets of twenty-five bales of five hundred bags each, the inspector would pick maybe five bales at random, all from different pallets. Out of those bales, he would closely inspect all 2,500 bags, even measuring the diameters of the gussets, and if he found even one defect, the whole order might be rejected. If we lucked into an inspector who wasn't a total ass, he might ask for a sixth bale and discount the one he had found a defect in. Once rejected, these bags could only be sold into Mexico at something like half the price.

    So when we were running a GSA order, we ran the machines at half speed and instead of one person running the machine, four people were assigned to it. Bales were broken open and re-baled after replacing any bags that weren't perfect. I can only assume that the government paid a good price because we couldn't possibly make a profit out of it at the cost we'd charge anyone else.
     
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