Duro Bag Company

Discussion in 'Jobs I Have Had' started by Ken Anderson, May 8, 2015.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    When Champion decided to close its five bag plants, they promised all of their bag plant employees that they would either find them a job earning similar wages or transfer them to one of their paper mills or other facilities, at the same pay grade, and they made good on their promise.

    I was hired as a machine adjuster/supervisor by Duro Bag Company in Brownsville, Texas. Champion paid my moving costs. My last day at Champion, in Anaheim, California, was on a Friday, and I began work at Duro the following Monday, so there was no gap in my employment. Actually, Duro offered to give me a week to get settled but due to a problem with the wire transfer of my bank account from California to Texas, I was broke and needed to get to work.

    Interestingly, Duro bought the paper machines from Champion, so I would be working with the same machines that I had worked with for nine years.

    Unfortunately, Duro was very impatient to get them going and never did give me a chance to get them running right before they were put into production and, since the machine operators were under a quota, my job was to keep them staggering along, although they weren't running at nearly the speeds they should have been running, or making the kind of bag they should have been making. Plus, machines that were supposed to be fully automated weren't set up properly, and required someone to perform tasks that the machine was supposed to do automatically.

    Whatever my misgivings, it worked for Duro because they are still in business, which is more than can be said for pretty much ever other paper bag company in the United States. Rather than closing down due to competition with plastic, they began making plastic bags as well.

    On the downside, Brownsville is right on the Texas-Mexico border and I didn't speak Spanish. Although I later learned that most of the people I worked with spoke English, pretty much only the other supervisors would speak English to me.

    I was working with Champion when they hired their first female employee, and she was held to the same standards as everyone else, and we had a few who could hold their own just fine.

    At Duro, they had female employees in the entry-level stacker positions, but none had been promoted to machine operator or any higher positions. In other words, they weren't allowed to climb the ladder.

    Since most of the people who I was supposed to be supervising wouldn't speak English to me, I couldn't train them to operate a machine until I was able to learn to speak passable Spanish, a fact that the company was fully aware of when they hired me.

    I worked the third shift, from 11pm to 7am. One week, I found that I had an opening for a new machine operator so I promoted a female stacker to machine operator, as she was one of the few who would speak English to me, and because she seemed capable of learning to do the job.

    Although the other two supervisors on the third shift warned me that it was a bad idea, she learned quickly and was capable of learning to be a good machine operator.

    Every couple of weeks, I had to come back in during the afternoon for a supervisor's meeting, and at the next meeting it was suggested that she was a poor choice as a machine operator. This was 1983, not the 1950s, so no one wanted to say that it had to do with her sex. They told me that another of my stackers had seniority, and would have been a better choice. I answered that we weren't a union plant and I could point out several other cases where promotions had been made outside of the line of seniority, and that I felt that she was the better choice.

    Since promotions were the choice of the supervisor, no one would tell me that I had to change it. However, I soon learned that some of the other people in my department were upset with the promotion and, interestingly, a couple of other female employers were the most upset. Still, she was doing well in the job.

    One Monday, I reported to work to find that she had been transferred to another shift and demoted. The only positive result, on my end, was that a few of the others suddenly learned to speak English.

    When I was being interviewed for the job, the plant manager kept asking me to call him by his first name. When I went to work there, I found that no one called him by his first name. Everyone was afraid of him. I kept calling him by his first name, and he did not seem to resent it in the least.

    At that time, all three of the supervisors from the third shift had to come in at 2pm once a week for a supervisor's meeting. These were the regular working hours for the first-shift supervisors and second-shift supervisors only had to come in an hour early, but it was pretty tough on those of us on the third shift.

    I mentioned to the other to supervisors on my shift that perhaps we could ask if only one of us could be come in, representing the supervisors on the third shift. Any communication could be relayed to the others and we'd only be put out every third week.

    "Oh no," they said. "Mr. Kennedy would never go for that."

    After the next supervisor's meeting, I brought it up to him. Before I even finished, he suggested it. "Why don't you guys just alternate. There's no reason why all three of you need to be here."

    I was about ten minutes late for a meeting one week. When I walked in, the plant manager said, in a sarcastic way, "Well, I am so glad that you are able to join us, Ken."

    I replied, "Well, I'm glad to be here."

    He didn't seem to mind. After the meeting, a couple of the other supervisors told me that they couldn't believe that I spoke to him that way. Apparently, another supervisor had come in late, but before me, and the plant manager had been very upset. I don't know but I had breakfast with him a few days later, and he never hinted that he was upset with me.

    In time, I learned that everyone was paid however much they required in order to get them there. Since I was coming from a union plant in California, my wages were very high, as compared to others. Another supervisor on my shift thought that he was doing well, although his pay was less than half mine. I was glad that I never mentioned my own salary because he better at his job than I was. He had been there for thirteen years and, being bilingual, he could more easily work with anyone there, and he was a fine machine adjuster.

    Although, as I said, whatever they were doing worked for them since they're still in business, I didn't enjoy working for Duro as much as I had Champion, and enjoyed working for Hoerner-Waldorf more than I did Champion.

    Plus, I had trouble getting used to the heat. The plant was at the Port of Brownsville, the heat was stifling, and I was barely able to walk sometimes because of the rash that I was getting. Later, I learned that the problem was that I had air conditioning at home. Once I moved to a house without air conditioning, my body acclimated to the heat.

    I didn't like living in Brownsville though, so I rented a house in Los Fresnos, a much smaller town about seven miles to the north. While there, I was recruited by their volunteer ambulance service, and went to school to become an EMT and then a paramedic, which led to a new career.

    At about the same time that I was hired to run the ambulance company in Los Fresnos, I also began teaching emergency medical technology programs through Texas Southmost College, mostly off-campus.
     
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  2. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    Another discussion in the forum reminded me of this, so I thought I'd post it here rather than sidetracking another thread.

    At Duro, machine operators had to meet a quota for the number of bags produced each shift. Failing to do so could negatively impact promotions or even mean the loss of the job if it continued, so people were pressured to meet their quotas.

    As a machine adjuster/supervisor, whenever I had to shut someone's machine down to correct a problem, the operator would be concerned about how long it was down because that might make the difference between whether or not he met his quotas. For that reason, operators wouldn't always tell me when they had a quality problem. I'd have to go from machine to machine checking their quality throughout the shift.

    The system was that whenever a machine operator completed a pallet of bags, he would mark it down in his report form. For the purpose of checks and balances, forklift drivers were supposed to keep a tally of every pallet of bags that they took from each machine. These would have to balance at the end of the shift. If they didn't balance, neither the operator or the forklift driver could go home until they figured it out.

    In practice, what would happen sometimes, especially on the night shifts where there wasn't a lot of supervisory staff, is that the forklift drivers would check with the operators before the end of the shift, and they would adjust their tallies to match one another, regardless of accuracy.

    Concerned with meeting quotas, machine operators would be tempted to claim to have produced more bags than they had actually produced, and the forklift driver would adjust his tally to match the operator's, thinking perhaps that he had forgotten to mark one or two of them down before taking them away.

    Although the tallies matched at the end of the shift, they weren't necessarily accurate.

    At one of our weekly supervisor meetings, the plant manager announced that someone had been stealing product from the warehouse, and he assumed that it was being done during the graveyard shift because there were too many people around during the day and there was only just the one warehouseman at night.

    He wanted us to keep an eye on the warehouse during our shift, which was difficult to do because we had only one dedicated supervisor during the graveyard shift, the other two of us being machine adjuster/supervisors, meaning that we were also responsible for quality control, repairs, and order changes for a bank of machines.

    A couple of months later, the "thefts" had continued, and the plant manager announced that they were installing camera systems throughout the plant. By then, I thought I had figured out what was actually happening. I advanced my theory that nothing was actually being stolen, but that our production wasn't actually as high as the records indicated. Every pallet of bags that an operator falsely claimed to have made was viewed as having been stolen when it was never truly produced to begin with.

    No one wanted to accept that. Of course, the forklift drivers wouldn't admit to not keeping an accurate tally of the pallets they took away, the machine operators weren't about to admit that they had lied about the number of bags they produced, and the supervisors of either of these departments didn't want to concede that they had let something slip past them, not that they could have easily kept up with it.

    Instead, we got an expensive surveillance system throughout the plant, taking video that no one ever looked at. We didn't hear anything more about stolen product.

    The problem was solved. They believed that because they installed the expensive surveillance system, people quit stealing. I believed that because they installed the system, people quit cheating.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
  3. Bill Boggs

    Bill Boggs Veteran Member
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    That's a good story, a people story. Reminds of some of the jobs I have held, only mine not so interesting. I almost went to work for a bag company years ago in Lubbock. I'm sure it was fortunately for them I didn't.
     
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  4. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    Thanks, Bill. I know Mayfield had a paper plant in Lubbock, and maybe a bag plant too, as a lot of the paper companies once had their own bag facilities.
     
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  5. Bill Boggs

    Bill Boggs Veteran Member
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    I can't remember the name of the bag plant, the one I'm referring to was eventually bought out but when I didn't get the job safter applying, I wemt to work for Mayfield Paper Company and worked several months before they had a layoff. I was one of them.

    I can measure my life by the jobs I've had, maybe we all can.
     
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  6. Don Alaska

    Don Alaska Very Well-Known Member
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    It seems a bit ironic that many of the places that switched to plastic to save trees are now upset that the plastic is not very biodegradable and are now switching back to paper or reusable bags--that need to be washed to avoid cross-contamination.
     
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  7. Bill Boggs

    Bill Boggs Veteran Member
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    I read just this week, I think on the BBC, all the bottled water test around the globe, contained micro bits of plastic and even some of our tap water. That's amazing to me. The stuff gets around.
     
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  8. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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