I picked orders in the perishable department for nearly 7 years. The company wasn't perfect, but it was a great company to work for in its heyday. Excellent pay and incredible benefits. This was a place where a blue collar worker could actually make a reasonable living for themselves and their family. As such, the newest warehouse employee had already been employed for 5 years, and the oldest had been with the company for over 40. Compared to other warehouses I've worked for, the turnover rate was incredibly low.
I was given the opportunity to learn how to drive, and become certified on, electric power jacks and forklifts. Valuable industry skills that I'll always be able to carry forward. There wasn't much, if any, advancement opportunity aside from winning a bid on a premium shift. And because everything went by seniority, that was next to impossible for anyone with less than 15 years of continuous service. With that said, job security was very high. You could always count on a 40 hour paycheck, and overtime was available.
A typical work day consisted of punching in, grabbing my gear/clothing from my locker, getting a pallet jack, signing on to the voice activated headset system, and picking until my shift's end. It was very physically demanding, and involved continuously lifting products between 5-95 pounds while under a time limit. Because of that difficulty, it required experience/knowledge of how to build orders correctly. The process was often compared to Tetris by warehouse employees in that we built up pallets by placing hundreds of different products together; trying to interlock them whenever possible. A finished pallet would be anywhere from 2-7 feet tall. It would then be wrapped and staged in the correct area to be loaded.
It was a true union job; so working with management could be difficult at times. But working with co-workers was a profoundly enjoyable experience. I felt like I was part of a very large family each day. If it hadn't been for my co-workers and the atmosphere we cultivated there together, I probably would have quit long before I hit my 6 year anniversary. There's a part of me that will always miss that brotherly environment.
Management, on the other hand, was often very inept and demanding. There were only a handful of decent supervisors. The rest of them habitually made mistakes and violated simple union contract by-laws. These individuals typically had very poor attitudes and weren't leadership material. I learned the hard way that, in a heartbeat, they were willing to throw subordinates under the bus in order to save their own skin. I also learned how to just smile wide and say "sure thing!" to avoid making any trouble for myself. Furthermore, if it hadn't been for the upper management, and all the bad business decisions they made, the company wouldn't have been forced to file chapter 11 in September 2014. This was a great company that was run into the ground by the greed and incompetence of the people in charge of it's direction and finances.
Ultimately, this company ceased operations around October 2014 when it was bought out by C&S Wholesale Grocers. Business remained unsteady and ultimately, in January 2015, I was laid off with about a dozen of my co-workers. In May, after 4 months, they issued a recall to the laid off employees. I declined to return for a variety of reasons. The long layoff forced me to consider new opportunities. In addition, I heard the new company had changed and altered the entire warehouse operation. Because of that, a considerably large amount of my former co-workers either quit or were terminated during the 4 months that I was laid off. My heart just wasn't in it to return. And after breaking my back for the company for so many years, I wanted to leave on my own terms. I suppose there's not much point in writing this since the AWI I knew no longer exists anywhere but within the memories of those who worked so hard to make it a fun and successful organization.
The best part of the job was my co-workers. They were some of the funniest and most interesting variety of individuals I've ever had the pleasure of working with. 98% of the warehouse personnel were friendly, helpful, and trustworthy. We were able to work through conflicts together without involving management. There's too many wonderful things that I can say about this part of my tenure there.
The worst part of the job was having direct supervisors whom I had no faith in or respect for. I distrusted some of them so much that I didn't even feel comfortable discussing anything even remotely personal in their presence. On more than one occasion I witnessed them bad mouthing fellow employees, the union, customers, and even AWI itself! Their verbal abuse had no limits. As stated before, aside from a small handful of people, they were generally difficult individuals to deal with. No more skilled or intelligent than anyone else in the warehouse area, yet always twice as pompous. Warehousemen weren't perfect, but we never polluted the company culture in the way that management did.
"God only knows what I'd be without you"