Today I want to talk to you about a favorite subject of linemen, and that is the subject of overtime. Now this is going to be a little bit of a rant, because something happened to me this week. I heard somebody talking about overtime, and well it actually pissed me off in a way. That’s what I’m going to talk about today.
In my book, there’s three types of linemen when it comes to overtime. The first type is those that seek it out and that work anytime and anywhere. Number two is those that want some overtime, but they don’t want so much that it completely rules their life, and number three, those that only work overtime when they absolutely have to or are made to, or don’t have any way to get out of it. Nothing causes more jealousy from people who are not linemen and actually from linemen themselves than the amount of overtime that people are getting.
Over the years, I’ve heard more comments from people, and I’m talking about management and Bargaining Unit, about how much money people are making than any other subject that ever comes up. As a young journeyman, I used to take my share of criticism for the amount of OT and money I was making. I had a wife and two kids to support, so when the call came for trouble work, or scheduled overtime, I was there. All I knew is my family needed things, and I wasn’t scared to go out and work for it. For a couple years, I was the top overtime person in my district. I missed more weddings, parties, birthdays, funerals. If there was a chance of a thunderstorm or any kind of storm or anything, I used to tell my wife, “I’m going to work if they need me.”
I put a high priority on making that money. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I was a lightweight compared to a lot of people. My biggest years were in the 900 to a thousand hours of overtime range. My biggest paycheck, and I actually kept this paycheck, it’s from Hurricane Hugo, 159 hours overtime and 80 hours straight time for two weeks. Now, that sounds like a lot but when I was in Colorado at IP Safety Conference I was hearing from guys that were telling me they had people getting 12, 1300 hours in a year. That’s a lot. To work that kind of overtime, it takes dedication. People who are not Linemen, they think it’s just easy overtime. They don’t get to see the part where you’re getting up out of your bed at two a.m. because some drunk hit a pole. They don’t see the staggering around in the dark trying to find problems that keep taking out primary. They don’t see you climbing over fences, going to people’s back yards, opening 20 transformers to find a fault.
They only see or only think that it’s easy money. The problem gets worse when you get people who have never worked call-out or overtime in management positions. They start doing some stupid things. I had a manager call me into his office one time, and he’s asking me, “How are getting all this overtime?” Well, it pissed me off. What do you think I’ve been doing? I’m out here getting customers’ lights back on. You probably need more like me, willing to hustle and make money. I guess he had in his head that linemen are out there just screwing off. That’s just the kind of mentality that some people have. It’s not just managers, this can be other fellow linemen.
I lived out in a small town, and I was on the circuit that fed this town. I was a pretty well-known person in that town. If the lights blinked at my house, I knew there was a problem. If they went out customers would call my person phone. If my lights went out, that meant that the breaker was out and I would usually just get in my truck, call dispatch, tell them I’m on my way to the base yard to find the trouble. That was all good for a long time. But then things changed. Our district lines changed, so now we had people who lived 40 miles away and they would be called in to come and get the lights back on when that breaker was out in my town. One day the breaker went out and I called dispatch and he actually told me … He says, “You can’t come in. We gotta go by the call-out list, you cannot come in.”
That thing really got me aggravated. I would just get in my truck and I’d just go ride the line out and call the person who came in and tell them where the problem was, because for me it wasn’t about the money. It was about getting the lights back on for the customer. I could be there in 10 minutes. It would sometimes take other people an hour and a half before they would even show up. That didn’t happen a lot, but it did happen. This was all because people were jealous about other people getting overtime.
It’s not always easy working overtime. I can think of one time in my 30-something years at Lineman that I actually considering quitting. I was out on call-out, and there was overhead primary down. It was on a long line through some woods. It was really thick woods and it was raining so hard. We have a term down in the south called frog strangler, and that pretty much mean what it says. It’s raining so hard, even the frogs are going to drown. I was walking the line to find the problem, and it was raining so hard that my flashlight, literally the beam was hitting the rain and it wouldn’t go three feet. You couldn’t see because it was raining so hard. It’s hard to find problems when you can’t even see. I had a full rain suit on, and even though it was a fantastic rain suit, rain suits have a tendency to leak. I don’t know how it happens, but I was … Maybe it was just all the sweat, because down in the south it’s humid and you’ve got that plastic rain suit on, you’re going to sweat inside of it.
I was soaking wet and here I am out there, by myself trying to find this problem, and it was pretty damn miserable. I thought to myself, “What am I doing out here? I could be home with my beautiful wife and family, sitting at home listening to the rain hit the roof.” I actually walked back to the truck and sat there for a few minutes to wait for the rain to quit, because it was just useless to be out there trying to look for anything when it was raining like that. It took a couple hours and the rain finally did quit. By that time I had help, and we ended up shooting the line to try to find out where the fault is, and it turned out to be a bad insulator tracking over from all the rain. I think I heard the next day on the news, they said it had rained 11 inches I think in about two and half hours, which was pretty incredible. Have you ever had this experience? You even been out there when you’re thinking, “What am I doing out here?”
Most people, they don’t see the hard work and sacrifice it takes to work overtime. You’re missing things with your family. You don’t have any kind of hobbies because that’s ridiculous, you can’t have a hobby. When you’re a lineman working a lot of overtime, you can just forget it. People criticize you, but the only part they see is the payday. Then they’re going to criticize you because you’re making all this money. It’s ridiculous. After about 20 years of being a lineman, I started to roll back the overtime. You get burnt out on working like that all the time. It just seemed not to be much of a priority for me anymore. My family was older, and the good thing about working a lot of overtime, most things where paid for, so it wasn’t such a urgency. I would come in if I was needed to come in, and I always had this one rule that I would always tell my friends, because sometimes we could not get anybody to come in. On holidays and stuff like that, they couldn’t find anybody.
I used to tell them, “If you really need me, I’m not going to answer the call-out system, but if you really need me 100% you call me. I promise you if you call me, I will get there and come in and help you no matter what I’m doing.” I always would, I always did practice that. What do you get out of all this? If you’re a lineman and people are talking about you for all the overtime you’re getting, I say screw them. It’s usually the people who are jealous, and they don’t really want to work for it anyway. Maybe it’s some management person, they don’t have a clue what it’s like to get out of that bed at 11 p.m. right after you got in the bed and went to sleep, you end up working all night. You still have to work the normal shift the next day. Like I said, and I don’t have to tell you, linemen work. We don’t sit around at some desk and get to take breaks when they’re tired. Linework’s physical work. Most linemen are worth every penny that you pay them. I know there’s a couple slackers out there, but by and large that’s the exception.
Now, talking about overtime, one other quick thing I want to talk about is the guys who are really good at getting overtime. They learn how to play all the games. They got the system figured out, how it works. A couple of their methods … Maybe if you’re an overtime guy you can try this yourself. We had a call-out system, started sometime in the 90’s I think, or maybe at 2000, we had a call-out system instead of somebody actually calling you. What they did was they would rotate the list every week and put people on top. If dispatch needed somebody, they’d just hit the button and it would go down the list and it would call somebody. It would wait one or two minutes, and then it would go to the next person in line. You called in, you do what we call qualifying and then it gives you a slot.
Dispatch procedure basically was, “I need three men,” hit the button, and it would call until it got three me. What some of these high-overtime guys started to do was … You know how you can see a little blink? If you live in a bigger city, you can see a little blink and you know something’s going on in that city. What they would do was once they saw that little blink, they would start calling into the call-out system. Now, it would let you qualify even if it hadn’t called you yet. If you were on that list, you could qualify. But it might not have called you yet, because it could be six or seven minutes before it gets to you. What they would do is they see the little blip, they start calling in and they qualify. You go in the next day when you didn’t qualify and you ask, “Well, how did you come in? You were behind me on the list, how’d you end up qualifying to come in?” It didn’t make sense.
Or they’d get their friends who were higher up on the list, as soon as they got called and qualified, they would call their buddies and say, “Hey man, go over there and start calling in to qualify so you can come to work.” That went on for a little while, and there was enough complaints about it where finally management had to step in and say you couldn’t do that.
The other thing these high overtime guys used to do, they had friends in dispatch so at the end of the day shift, or the normal shift, they’d call down to dispatch and see what going on, see if they had any calls or anything. This is a big city I’m talking about, four different base yards, so we had service trucks that run 24 hours a day, and they would run all four base yards in this big city. What these guys would do is they had friends, they’d call dispatch and say, “Hey, you got anything? I’m available.”
They’d call an hour before they knocked off, so if something came in and the service trucks were tied up, dispatch would call these guys and they would work in the afternoons and work until 10, 11 o’clock every day. It was ridiculous what was going on. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends in dispatch, but after I figured out what they were doing, everybody started doing it. Again, the manager had to step in and stop it, because people would just abuse the system. That’s what happens when you have a call-out system.
I didn’t talk about the guys who never catch any kind of overtime, and I do have a funny story about that. They always got excuses why they can’t come in, “I was doing this. I was tied up.” Back in the day when people would actually call somebody to come in instead of having a call-out system, one of the dispatchers was telling me that he had called a certain lineman, this guy never came in for overtime ever. It was about three o’clock in the morning. He calls and the wife answers.
The dispatcher goes, “Hey, is Joe there? We need him to come to work.” She goes, “I’m sorry, Joe’s not here, he’s out fishing.” You gotta laugh at that. Three o’clock in the morning and she tells the dispatcher her husband’s out fishing. It’s ridiculous. What are you going do? Some people want to work, some people don’t want to work. I don’t know what to say. Going back to today, and this even started back when I was wrapping it up as being a lineman, there’s fewer and fewer people that actually want to come out anytime they’re needed. I understand you can get burned out from working a lot of overtime and hustling all those years. It’s a big trend now, not being able to find people to work either after hours, especially on holidays. That’s where you have the problem. You got bit trouble on a holiday, man. Sometimes you can’t get people. More people want to be with their families and they really don’t want to miss important things in life.
With all this, I think the way the companies are moving, and a lot of companies are already doing this, is they’re going towards more of a paid standby time. I talked to some guys that work with different utilities and that’s how things are going, the direction it’s moving. I actually think this is a win-win situation. Linemen can get compensated for being available, they can get compensated. You can’t drink. You got to stay fit for duty and that’s a sacrifice for some people. It’s a good way to ensure that utilities have men always available to deal with outages and what the customer needs. Most linemen I talk to like the paid standby system. I think it makes it fair for all lineman too, because that way everybody has to take overtime. You can’t really get out of it.
Sorry about that. That’s … I don’t want to say her name because it’s sitting right next to me, but it’s a little device here. If I say her name, she’s going to talk. She’s over here making some noise.
Like I said, most lineman like the paid standby system. I personally think it’s the way to go, the way of the future. The way to go.
The episode is going to come to an end. I appreciate you listening to my little rant. I just heard somebody make a comment and it ticked me off. Don’t complain about people making overtime. If they’re out there working, they’re getting the customer’s lights back on, don’t complain about it. It’s not always so easy to be out there. It’s not easy overtime, easy money. No such thing. You’re always missing something.
Appreciate you listening. Head to my website. My website is thelineman.life. That’s .life, it’s not .com. It’s lineman.life. I know it’s a little bit unusual, but head to my website. You can check out all my other podcasts, I think I’m up to … This is episode number 17, I believe. Check out all my other episodes.
You can send me a message. AYou can actually subscribe to the show, where every time I put out a new episode you can actually get it directly to your device as soon as it’s put out there. I also have a couple free resources on there that I haven’t talked about in a little while. I also had the lineman slang dictionary. Over 400 different terms about different lineman things linemen say. It’s collected from not just one resource, but all over from different people. Even now, people send me, if they have something that’s unusual, they send it to me. I actually add it to my lineman slang dictionary. You can go there and you can get that for free, pick that up for free on the website, thelineman.life. Until next episode, keep safe and remember you are your brother’s keeper. This is David Spooner saying aloha from the beautiful big island of Hawaii.
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