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It's midnight saturday morning and your "Screaming Meanie" alarm goes off. Not that you'd been sleeping all that well- your neighbors with normal jobs are just getting to bed, and the folks in the apartment next door still have the TV blaring. You check your cell phone for messages... Mom who works at the bakery 250 miles away says the bread was baked late, they ran out of an ingredient again and the bakery comptroller had to dig up some cash to pay for the it. Your dad, who drives one of the big transport tractor-trailer rigs that haul the bread from the bakeries to the local depot and thrift stores, has texted that his run got out of the bakery only two hours late, but the transport your bread is on still hadn't left. You put on your worn out uniform, grab a quick instant coffee and a pop tart, and start your 50 mile commute to the depot you got transferred too when the nearby one closed.

As you're waking up, the drunks are hitting the road, making the driving dicy. If the transport comes in as scheduled at 2 a.m., you'll at least have a couple hours of relaxed driving on empty streets. You park in the back of the depot lot at 1:30 a.m. and walk through the darkness into the office. All the other drivers are there, but all there is to do is check the load sheets and handheld to see how badly they screwed up your order. Let's see... They cancelled the salt free bread the nursing home needs, and doubled your order of those $4 a loaf premium breads that don't sell worth a darn anyways. 2 a.m. comes and no transport truck full of bread, just as everyone expected. You debate running down the street to the all night diner for some real breakfast, but you've done that before and had the transport roll by just after you ordered. So you try to nap in your car, but by now the coffee has taken effect and you toss fitfully. After fifteen minutes you go back in the depot and down some more coffee, searching unsuccessfully for a leftover Hostess cake or roll to go with it.

At 4 a.m. the transport rolls in, the old Freightliner cabover smoking like a steam train on anthracite, punctuated by the whap-whap of a flat tire on one of the duals. In 10 minutes you and a dozen other drivers have the transport unloaded, now starts the hard work of skillfully loading your old route truck, systematicly locating each variety of bread in the most convenient order for unloading later. You used to have loaders who did this for you, but the company laid them off a while back... Heck, back then you didn't have to start until 4 a.m.. After jump starting another drivers truck, you finally drive out of the depot and hit the streets at 5:30 a.m.. Your first stops are the nursing home and restaurants that are staffed all night, but it's by now breakfast rush and they're not so happy to see you. On to the C-Stores, driving right past a couple big supermarkets that used to be on your route... Until they put them on the transport and took your commission for those profitable stops with it. So you're left with twenty odd C-stores and small supermarket stops, and almost all of them take at least 15 minutes to serve, even though they only take a tray or two of bread.

A couple stops have fast food, so you grab a biscuit for breakfast and a burger for lunch. At these twenty odd stops you often meet the other Hostess Brands drivers- the Hostess Cake driver from your depot, the Holsum Bread driver from their own depot just across town from yours, and the Dolly Madison Cake driver who runs out of a garage in the rental storage place. Yup, Hostess Brands has four delivery trucks and drivers delivering to essentially the same places, as over a decade after merging Continental and Interstate Baking they still haven't consolidated operations. The company claims union work rules won't let them consolidate, but you know that's BS- you've been through "dovetailing" by seniority before, and had a year long layoff to prove it. You and the other drivers suspect they keep the operations separate to avoid laying off all the multiple managers, who seem to often to be related to each other.

It's early afternoon and you walk out of your last stop, noting that the truck seems lower on one side. Now the truck is thirty odd years old, and the maker disavows any knowledge of it's existence- you once went into a Ford dealer with the VIN to get a part and they told you your truck was a 1982 Econoline with a six cylinder gas engine. But under the hood of that boxy old step van is a smoky old four cylinder  diesel that's been rebuilt more times than it should have. Used to be that every depot had a mechanic who'd come out and change the tire, but they've laid so many off that it seems like they've got only one mechanic left to cover half the state. The spare tire disappeared long ago, so you run over to the auto parts place a block away and buy a plug kit and battery powered air compressor. You save the receipt, but fat chance you'll get reimbursed. After fifteen slow minutes the air compressor has made the offending tire round enough to limp to the nearest free gas station air hose to finish the inflation. As the snow begins, you begin the fifty mile drive back to the depot... But at the first stoplight, the Hostess Cake driver flags you down, dead battery again. No jumper cables on either truck, so you push start his truck and follow him for the snowy drive back to the depot.

Your truck is scary enough to drive on dry pavement, what with a half million miles of wear giving it grabby brakes and "road grader steering". After a white knuckle drive you pull into the depot 13 hours after you began your workday... and you still have to unload the stale bread and empty trays from your truck and do your paperwork. On the drive home you keep yourself awake figuring out your pay for the week... Let's see, they cut the commission to seven percent, and the gross sales for the week look like they'll only be about $8000. Then there's the increased deduction for health care that the Hostess Brands stuck you with in the last round of concessions. And then there's the mystery "promotional" deductions they just started... Wonder how much they'll take out for that. Yup, for a 60+ hour work week you'll be lucky to gross $500, barely minimum wage. The only reason you haven't quit is the pension, and you've got at least a decade more before you'll be eligible for even early retirement. Exhausted, you park your car, grab your mail on the way to the apartment, and read it while you grab a bite to eat before bed. It's a notice from the pension plan- Due to deadbeat Hostess Brands failure to make their contractually required payments to the plan, there will be no further pension credit accrual nor early retirement options until further notice. They even suspended the disability pension... No way can your battered knees and back survive another twenty years of this job! But you"re too tired to be angry, and as your friends head out for a saturday night on the town you hit the hay.

Overpaid? That's what Hostess Brands insists their drivers and bakers are in their bankruptcy filings. Since when was a barely minimum wage job at odd hours that's bad if not down right hazardous to your health overpaid?  

Originally posted to RuralRoute on Fri Jan 27, 2012 at 07:05 PM PST.

Also republished by Income Inequality Kos, Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors, Retail And Workplace Pragmatists - General, and Jobs Wages and Community Investment Working Group.

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