Catch 22

Catch-22 also catch-22 n.

1. a. A situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions: “In the Catch-22 of a closed repertoire, only music that is already familiar is thought to deserve familiarity” (Joseph McLennan).
b. The rules or conditions that create such a situation.
2. A situation or predicament characterized by absurdity or senselessness.
Things at TDS have been steadily going down hill since the first of the year. Besides the fact that I’ve been unhappy with my hourly pay rate since I was hired, there have been countless equipment problems, defective materials, and terrible mistakes made by bonehead employees. In my opinion all of those mistakes could have been easily prevented. The end result for me has been an unnecessary high level of stress for months on end.
During the Christmas season they worked us to the bone. For the second year in a row I worked straight through the holiday plant closure to try and ship units as quickly as possible. At the end of December we barely met our production goal for the Government contract. After it was all over I looked forward to getting back to a more reasonable level of work in January and February. My hope for a less stressful couple of months was not to last long though. The first two weeks of January were a needed improvement, but by the third week our entire department in the Closed Area was under heavy fire due to a technicality.
Because we work on military contracts, we have to accurately record how we build and test every single unit. Our documented procedures have to be up to date and reflect how each operator performs a particular process. As each assembly or test process is completed the operator who did the work must sign off on a routing sheet, or as we call them “travelers.” A traveler is supplied with every lot of units we begin work on and stays with that lot until it ships out the door. In addition to signing off for job completion we have to fill in a revision letter that corresponds to the current revision of the documentation for each particular part of the process. These paperwork revisions come from engineering, I think. All of us are supposed to be aware of the latest versions of the procedures. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of them though. Too much confusion around the shop floor on a daily basis.
So what happened in the middle of January is a Quality Assurance Inspector noticed that we as a department were filling out the incorrect revision letters on our travelers for a few months. This triggered a company investigation and a management uproar. We all thought we were filling out our paperwork properly. But when we changed from Low Rate Initial Production phase 3 (LRIP3) to LRIP4-PEP all of our documentation on the shop floor should have been updated. Not much changed in the new phase of production. There were some minor physical changes in how the product looked, but electronically they were almost the same design. For the most part all of our written procedures were still appropriate and accurate, but because of this technicality that we were on a new phase of production all of our documentation was wrong.
Management was really freaked out. We were hassled, yelled at, and in my case interrogated at length by various managers and company brass. The worst incident was with my supervisor’s boss, Richard. He in particular went out of his way to make me feel real stupid. One afternoon after the management freak out began he came into my area while I was working and started asking me questions about the current job I was performing. At that moment I was running the ATP test set. It stands for “Acceptance Test Procedure” and it’s damn near a fully automated environmental chamber that can provide us with a variety of electrical and optical data.
Richard asked me if I had read the procedure for LRIP4-PEP ATP testing. I told him that I didn’t remember ever seeing one. Then he asked me in a stern sounding voice, “How can you test these units without having read the appropriate procedure?” I replied that I had been trained in the use of the ATP test set. With that, Richard said nothing more and left the room. A few days later Richard hand wrote a memo and jammed them into all of our in-boxes. Here’s what he wrote: “It is a policy in manufacturing that we operate to written procedures. The procedures must be an accurate statement of what the operator does. NO EXCEPTIONS. If the procedure is not correct the operator is to stop work until the procedure is corrected. The minimum correction is a red lined change approved by the team leader, Quality Engineering, or a product engineer and the manufacturing engineer. NO EXCEPTIONS. The procedure to be followed is the one listed on the traveler. NO EXCEPTIONS. A red line change is only valid for 30 days. It must be formally changed or at least resigned for an additional 30 days. NO EXCEPTIONS. Operators and their supervisors who allow these policies to be violated will be disciplined.”
No exceptions was the recurring theme in Richard’s diatribe. The thing was though, exceptions were being made on the production line all the time. In one case by Richard himself. This really irked me. I was being told to do one thing, observe something else at the same time, and I could be busted down for it whenever they felt like it. I mean, they wanted their parts and they wanted them yesterday regardless if the paperwork was correct or not. A few days after Richard’s memo came out we were all written up, including my boss. I was even more angry after that took place. So I decided to put Richard to the test. I found Richard in the hallway and I told him I stopped production in the Closed Area. I told him I didn’t have a current procedure for a test process and I shut the line down, just like he said to do. You know what he told me? “Go ahead and do the job.” Oh, OK. What about NO EXCEPTIONS, you asshole? I knew that if he wanted to he could turn around and bust me again.
I will not tolerate this kind of Catch 22 bullshit from management.
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~ by factorypeasant on December 25, 2004.

4 Responses to “Catch 22”

  1. I’m confused by the dates. End of December… Middle of January… what year?

  2. December 1995, January-February 1996. The blog begins in 1991 and the goal I have is to bring this up to present date and time. I didn’t want to simply begin the blog with no explanation about why I was writing about my employer… and I had many years of journals built up. I decided to begin the blog using my journals as the backbone and I chose 1991 as the lead-in because that was a very uncertain time for me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself, or where I was heading in life.

    My journals were and are incomplete in some areas so I’ve spent alot of time trying to remember approximately when some things took place and fit those stories back in where they belong. In those cases I’ve been writing off the cuff, so to speak. I always wanted to do something with my journals as far as publishing them so I’m kinda killing two birds with one stone here.

    To help me keep my sanity the main subjects I want to focus on are my tech-industry employer(s), and my father whom I despise. So far this project has been a positive thing for me. I’ve been able to get alot of stuff off my mind.

  3. Wow. Nice work. I imagined what I was reading was current. This provides even further dimension, to the stories themselves and also to your prodigious writing ability.

  4. Thanks.

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