The "12 Hour Shift Blog"

One member's account of the 12 Hour Shift odyssey

by Chuck Whitt

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March 9, 2005

In just a few short days, on March 14th, 2005, Local 8-237 will switch from a southern swing to a compressed work week (12 hour) schedule. It's been many years in coming.

Since the Local 8-237 web page shows up when people do a web search on "12 hour shifts", and I get a lot of email asking about our experience, I thought I would chronicle the transition in a blog (gotta be modern here) so that others can share in our experiences. I'll still be happy to answer your emails, but read on to see it the answers may already be contained herein.

This blog will be infrequent in nature (I have a life besides this), but will try to capture what is good and bad about our flavor of "12's".

Let's start with a bit of history on how Local 8-237 came to be where we are today.

I'm not entirely sure where the idea came from, or when it exactly originated. I remember as far back as 1992 of the idea of a compressed work week being discussed in the mill. Back then Tim Showalter, Jim Winter and some others had come up with the idea of circulating a petition to gauge the interest in going to 12's. I don't recall it getting too far in the political process of the Local, but I do remember the heat it generated amongst the membership even then. 


I was against the idea, thinking it was absurd that anyone would want to work 12 hour shifts voluntarily. And besides, hadn't unions fought the long hard battle to get to an 8 hour work day? Wasn't this a huge step backward? Many agreed with me and it seemed that the idea of 12's just sort of went away (though the discussion didn't).

A couple of years later, in conjunction with talks with our sister local from the paper side, Local 8-586, the idea was resurrected. I don't recall the particulars in how it came about again, but I do clearly recall the ire it raised in those who were against it. 

In 1996 I became the President of Local 8-237 and the discussion was already in full swing. In the previous four years as Vice President, as I attended conferences and conventions, as I increased my contact with officials from other locals, I began to notice the loyal following that those who worked 12's had for their shifts. Whether they be the two days - two nights - four off variety we eventually adopted, or one of the many variants of 12's, those who worked them were so enthused with how they claimed it improved their lives that it became impossible to ignore. I soon found myself in the camp of those who wanted to give it a try. I mean, how could so many others be wrong?

I started to make a habit of asking those who worked 12's for their opinion. I sought out those for it and against it to try to make heads or tails of this new fangled shift setup. (I even asked those against them (they were hard to find with a general 85-90% approval rating everywhere) whether they would want to go back to 8 x 7's, as we work now. And the answers I got back only solidified my opinion that this was a life improving move we could make for our members - not one single person wanted to go back to working seven days in a row. Not one. (I did actually have one person tell me at one time that they would vote to go back to 8 x 7's, but after thinking about my question for a couple of hours, caught me later in a hallway and admitted that, no, he wouldn't want to go back to 8's in that type of a schedule.) 

But enough about how my opinion was formed, this was about the membership.

The members of Local 8-237 were pretty seriously divided on the issue, almost a 50-50 split, but slight on the yes side (very slightly). So as President of Local 8-237, and as allowed by the bylaws, I formed a committee to look at the feasibility of 12 hour shifts at the Simpson Tacoma Kraft mill. I chose those who had shown an interest in 12's, whether they were for them or against them. There was no need to railroad anything here, the members would be the best body to decide. So myself, Lenn Richter, Mike Arndt, Jim Winter and ??? [this is a first draft - give me time to fill in the blanks] constituted the 12 Hour Shift committee. We met several times, examined schedules and language from other mills and put together a scenario of how to get us there. The reports of the committee to the membership at the general meetings always produced a lively debate. To reiterate, this was one hot topic.

The politics of union meetings began to take over. At one meeting we would have a group of members for 12's attempt to move something forward; at another we would have a group against them trying to counter those motions. Back and forth we went, doing nothing more than arguing with and angering our most volatile members. It seemed we would get nowhere at all at the union hall. So the decision was made to have a mill wide vote to see where we go, in the time alley - everyone votes.

The first vote was simple - is there an interest in pursuing 12's? By a very slim majority (53%), our members said yes.

It was then back to the union meetings and the 12 Step Shuffle began anew. One group one meeting, another group the next. Over and over again.

Finally, when it became apparent to all that we were getting nowhere, a motion was made to reform the 12 hour shift committee by membership nomination and vote. The motion went on to stipulate that any vote for 12's would require a vote of the entire membership and require a 60% approval of votes cast to begin the schedule.

The new committee was voted in. It consisted of those both for and against 12's, with all but the top vote-getter tied in votes - further illustrating the divide within our local.

The committee met, formulated a serious proposal (based on the Wauna, Oregon plan) and made regular reports to the membership. It was decided that another vote would be taken to determine the shift schedule we would pursue (the Wauna schedule of 2-days/2-nights-4off, the 4-days/4-off/4-nights/4-off schedule, and one of varying days and nights that culminate in one period each month with 7-days off). The vote would kill two birds with one stone and gauge the members to see if there were still an interest in 12's. 

Another close vote of 53% and a clear choice for the Wauna schedule. Close, but the vote clearly showed that there was still a majority of members that wanted to try 12's.

The 12 Hour Shift committee refined the language and met with the Company to make the proposal. The Company indicated at that time that the close votes we had had were an issue to them, that they did not want to disrupt the workplace with such a close issue. They indicated that they would not discuss the issue with us if we had less than 85% approval. I reminded the Company of the legal obligation to meet and discuss this issue with us, and they relented on their opposition to talks. But it seemed as though we had a tough nut to crack in front of us. 

We had further meetings with the Company and began to see their position soften some, though they still wanted more than the 60% our own local thought was appropriate. But in reality, the talks languished in anticipation of the negotiations coming up in 2003. 

We bargain jointly with Local 8-586, who had overwhelming support for 12's on their side. So it was inevitable that 12's would be on our combined agenda for negotiations. Which they were.

The issue was brought up in negotiations, with both sides of the table recognizing the importance of the subject to many of our joint members, as well as the volatility of the issue within Local 8-237. It was decided that the issue of 12 hour shifts would be removed directly from the contract negotiations and relegated to a letter of understanding between the three parties. It still took over four days of discussion with the Company (quite often heated discussion within our own caucus) to come to an agreement. The end result is posted on this web site. The most controversial issue was readily apparent in the negotiations - the Company insisted that we have an 85% approval rating of those who will work the shifts. We spent a lot of time in caucus to resolve this, finally agreeing that 70% would be the magic number (we started at 60%, they started at 85%, I'd say that was a compromise in our favor). 

The final bone of contention was who would vote. 

The Company held to their position that they wanted to know that there was support for the shift among the shift workers, and insisted that only shift workers could vote. While continuing to argue against this seeming intrusiveness into our internal affairs, it became apparent the only way to come to agreement would be to accept language and let the members decide (I'll note here that every other mill did it the same way in their agreements, voting among those who work it). So the agreement was signed with that stipulation.

In presenting the entire negotiated agreement to the membership for approval, the letter of understanding on 12's took a back seat to the issues of wages and medical coverage. Though the president of Local 8-586, Tim Handy,  and I both presented the 12 hour shift agreement to our members, no one seemed too upset over the agreement we had made. But I knew better, the time would come when they would realize what it actually said.

Per the agreement, Local 8-586, the papermill, would start 12's first. If all went well, one year later our Local could ask the Company to put us on 12's under the same agreement (a mirror copy of the agreement our 12 hour shift committee had put together years earlier).

That year rolled around quickly.

In November of 2004, it became time to talk about our Local going to 12's. It seemed as though our members were surprised that the vote would exclude day workers, as though they had never read the agreement. 

Pandemonium erupted.

The day workers were rightfully upset that we had an agreement that excluded their vote. Heck, I was upset myself and was the last one in negotiations to argue that the Company should not be telling us how to conduct any vote. But it was the agreement we made and we're bound by. If our members didn't like it, they should have turned it down at contract time.

But the agreement didn't say we had to vote, and at that meeting in November I advised the concerned members from the chair that their options were to do it as agreed to, or not to do it at all. 

A motion was made to have the agreement renegotiated before we would vote on it, but I ruled that out of order as it would endanger our local of being in a position of bargaining in bad faith (what we usually accuse our companies of). A proper motion was made, seconded and passed to table the issue till we could have a more inclusive vote.

At the last meeting in December of 2004 the issue came up again (the expectation was that we would go into 12's as the papermill did, following the January 2005 mill wide R&M maintenance downtime). There was a desire to have the vote, but we all wanted every member to have a say. I suggested to the members in our discussion that we could have an all inclusive vote. It should be conducted to meet our criteria for going to 12's and allow all 8-237 members to vote. If we passed the required 70%, we could petition the Company to accept the results and move on to other issues. It was made clear to the members that due to the agreement the Company would not be obligated to accept the results, but because they showed a desire to move the entire mill to 12's it was possible they may well accept the vote. If they didn't accept the results, we would have to conduct the vote in the agreed upon way if we were to go to 12's. This allowed all our members to participate. If we were unable to garner the needed percentage in the first vote, then the issue was dead anyway. 100% of our members would have a say in that. Tod Meredith made such a motion and Mike Pichler seconded it. The motion passed overwhelmingly. The vote was on.

Just after the first of the year, the vote on 12's was conducted. It passed by 71%. The new union administration took the results to the Company but was unable to convince them to accept those results.

As this vote was held during the R&M, it was felt that time was running out if we were to go to 12's on the startup. In accordance with the bylaws, 31 members in good standing asked the Local president to call a special meeting to deal with 12's in a timely manner. But rather than call the meeting as required, the president unilaterally scheduled another vote that would meet the terms of the agreement. The president and vice president met with the Company to draw up a restrictive list of who could vote, excluding the day workers as well as many of the lower seniority members of our union. The was dissent in this too. The vote was held over a one week period to ensure everyone on the list was able to vote.

The second vote passed by 73%.

The president and vice president met with the Company to present the results. Unable to agree to a date of implementation on the startup, they agreed instead on March 14th, 2005 as the date Local 8-237 ( and the Operating Engineer's Local 286) would begin 12 hour shifts.


Just five days to go. Yeehaw.



March 13, 2005

C shift (my shift) just finished their last swing shift. Tomorrow morning we will be the first shift to work 12's, starting on our second day (by schedule) of Days. We'll get off at 7:30 tomorrow night, have 24 hours off, then do two night shifts from 7:30 P.M. to 7:30 A.M.. After that, it's four days off!


I asked some people in the time alley as we arrived for work if anyone was pissed off about getting short shifted? Not one of them had a problem with it, being only too happy to make that sacrifice to get on 12's. And the locker room on the way out tonight was absolutely giddy. There are some pretty happy people (though it's important to recognize there are some unhappy people too). There was no gloating, just joy at the thought of a better schedule.



March 14, 2005

C shift started 12 hour shifts in the pulp mill today, after having worked swing shift last night. We relieved B shift this morning at 7:30, who turned around and relieved us tonight at 7:30. B shift is doing their last night of 12's and then they start their 4 days off.


Today in the lime kiln was a bitch. A couple of nasty grate plugs and a chunky kiln had me tending the front end pretty close. But of course, the white liquor pressure filter (quite a distance away from the front end of the kiln) had to act up too. The two combined made for a couple hours of serious aerobics (not that I couldn't use it) and definitely contributed to some fatigue. But it didn't end there, I had to start up our secondary kiln with all the attendant difficulties associated with that P.O.S., fire up the seldom used south green liquor mix tank pump, and troubleshoot some titrator problems. This is in addition to all the normal duties of the job.


You don't have to be familiar with the operation of lime kilns to understand that it was a tough day, far out of the ordinary. It was one of those days we all discussed with foreboding when considering 12 hour shifts. We knew there would be tough days where 12 hours would be a struggle to complete. Well you know what? It wasn't that bad. In fact, days like this usually end up as 12's anyway. Hey, I know there will be worse days (goes with the territory), but they will be survivable, today showed me that.


One of the members against 12 hour shifts, who has announced that he will attempt to sabotage the crew coverage (in hopes the company will go back to 8's), called in sick today. But it really wasn't too difficult to cover him (an employee came in on his day off) and the day went on. We're on tomorrow night. Everyone is wondering if he'll call then too.



March 18, 2005

I'm on my second day off now, having survived the night shifts. The first night, for me, was the most difficult. After having learned how to sleep for graveyard over the last 28 years, I was now in a position of finding the right sleeping scenario for these new shifts. Following a rough day shift (which started with the 2nd Day shift, which was a short change-over from swing shift the night before) I was pretty tired. I went to bed at about 12:30 A.M. that night. I slept in till just about 10:00 A.M. the next morning. After puttering around the house for the day, I had to decide if I was going to get a nap before going in at 7:30 P.M.. I decided that I better get some sleep and laid down at around 5:00 P.M. for a short nap of just an hour. It was another tough night on the job, and by the time the morning rolled around 12 hours later, I was whooped. I had planned to stay up till 11 or so and sleep all the way through, but it just didn't work out that way - I was falling asleep on the couch before then. I did finally hit the sack around 9:30 A.M., slept till about 5:30 P.M., and was out the door for my last night shift at 6:15 P.M.. It was another busy night, but I felt good all through the night and into the morning. I went home, goofed around on the computer for an hour or so, then laid down at 10:00 A.M. for a couple hour nap before getting on with my day off.

I woke after a couple of hours, still pretty tired, and got on with my day (which was a 150 mile drive to the Portland area). I was tired the whole day, as I usually was following a graveyard shift. I finally went to bed at about 11:00 P.M. and slept through till about 10:00 A.M. this morning (nothing unusual here, I'm not a morning person). And at this time, I feel pretty good. I have a full day planned, so I'd better get to it.


Oh yeah, the employee that called in sick the first night made it in for both of the night shifts (unusual in that he hates nights). Maybe he didn't have the support he was looking for. I really do hope it works out OK for him. No one is wishing the worst on anyone - we just want to improve our lives.


April 11, 2005

Since my last post I've worked only one complete four day shift, and one curtailed three day shift (2-days, 1-night), with one 12 day vacation in the mix.

Again, after my last night of nights, I got a couple of hours sleep, drove for 2.5 hours down to Portland and got on with my day. And again, I was tired that whole day, as well as the next day. I see striking similarities to the first few years of my employment as a shift worker. I had to learn how to sleep then too. 

I worked one three day shift (2-days and 1-night) before leaving for Vegas for the merger convention. I got about four hours sleep this time before getting up and felt fine for the rest of that day as well as the next. One thing is obvious, there is no long term hold over from graveyard as there was with 7 day rotations. But I do have to admit that I was never as adversely effected as others reported they were, just a mild case of graveyard psychosis here.

There are some complaints brewing with our extra board employees of having to work too many hours. Anecdotally, there are reports of EB employees working a mixture of 8's and 12's that tend to rob them of their over time. The union administration is going to have to look into this, as we had an agreement with the company that, because of the compression factor, all hours need to be treated as straight time hours in computation of OT for EB employees when they work a mixture of shifts (this problem cropped up on a smaller scale in the Paper mill's trial). There are also some reports that EB employees are working five 12's a week rather than just four. Although it is recognized that EB employees will occassionally get stuck like that, it is supposed to be something the company tries to avoid. And if they're working five 12's, then the last 12 should be at book rate, time and one half (making an average of about a $500 day). If that's not the case, then the company is in violation of the agreement. Further, if they're working that extra day in lieu of a regular employee, then the regular employee should be recompensed for the time he or she lost.

It's clear that 12's are still in the evaluation and adjustment phase, but this is not unexpected. Most of the locals and individuals that I have talked to say they had serious doubts about whether they had made the right decision for a couple of months after implementation of their 12 hour shifts. Most say that by six months you should have a better idea if 12 are going to work for you or not. I do like those four days off, and that alone is enough reason to give it more time.


April 26, 2006

  Here it is a year since my last blog entry on 12 hour shifts. Let's see if I can catch up a bit.

  I was off shift from April to September last year doing union business, so there is a gap in my 12 hour experience. The psychology of 12 hour shifts accounts for the remainder of the gap in blogging.

  On 12 hour shifts, you're basically thinking about work and your days off. I think days off take on a greater importance than they did on 8's. When working, your focus is on your job for 14-15 hours per day (counting the 12's plus getting ready, commute, etc.). The other 9-10 hours are devoted to getting yourself physically prepared for your next shift (eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.). It's intense, no doubt. So you're thinking about your days off more often: what you're going to do, where you're going to go, and so on. 

  When researching 12 hour shifts, I heard many people say it was like being retired. I misunderstood what they were really saying. You know how so many retired employees say they never have enough time, that they're always busy? That's days off work! There's so much to do! Mow the lawn, go fishing, change the oil, go fishing, fix the boat, then take it fishing. ;-)

  (All that to make an excuse for not blogging.)


  We haven't had a second vote on 12's yet. Internally we're having a squabble about how the vote is to be conducted. That should tell you there is still some serious dissent among the members over 12's. But by and large, there have been a lot of converts. I recently had two employees who were dead set against 12's stop me and thank me for helping it happen. While that only happened that one time, many of our members have learned to appreciate the days off associated with our choice of shift. Quite often you'll see trailers, campers, and boats hooked to the rigs off our members who are on their last night of 12's. They're going to make the most of their days off.

  You get used to the 12 hour days. Most of it is knowing in advance how many hours you're going to work. The anticipation of waiting for your relief is no greater than it was with 8's, it's just another day. You have rough days, sure, but working 90 less days a year lowers your exposure to bad days, and makes those you do have not quite as horrible as it sounds. Besides, most of the rough days I've had, would have required me to work over after 8 hours anyway. It just makes it easier for me when I know I only have to work the 12 I'm already scheduled for.

  Overtime has definitely been reduced. I've been called in only three times on my days off. And even though I missed six months of shift work last year, my co-workers report about the same number of OT days. And with them paying so well, most people don't mind a few here or there. Those who rely quite a bit on OT will probably be disappointed with 12's, though I have not heard any complaints on that front yet.

  Our biggest problem with 12's at this point is how our extra board (relief) employees are being scheduled and paid. We compressed our wages to make 8 hours of straight time and 4 hours of overtime equal to 12 straight time hours. We agreed to work 48 straight time hours per tour with this formula. That's fine for those on a permanent schedule, we used to work 56 straight time hours per tour anyway. But extra board employees will quite frequently work a mixture of 12's and 8's in a week. The Company wants to count their 12 hour shift days as 8 straight time hours and 4 OT hours (which they are). This means they can work four 12's (32 hours straight time, 16 hours OT), and then another 8 hour day without the company having to pay them OT. We disagree. We contend that because we compressed our wages to equal 12 straight time hours per day, that those hours be counted as straight time hours when calculating OT for those employees that mix 8's and 12's. Seems simple enough to me..

  One final note. We opted to work 2-days, 2-nights, 4-off. I have to tell you, I love that 24 hour break between days and nights! It allows you to get some things done, or not. It's not a whole lot of time (most try to get a nap before going in on the first night.), but it's enough that it feels like a day off. So then starting nights seems like it was a whole tour ago, rather than just yesterday. That 24 hours off was an unexpected plus, no doubt.

  I'll try to keep this up more often, but no promises - fishing season is coming up.


May 17, 2009

  My how time flies when you're having fun!
Yeah, it's been a little over three years since my last post, but, really, not that much has changed. Although I've certainly worked a lot of 12's in that time (I'm no longer doing union business), I will try to bring you up to date with my experience and that of others.
The problem with the Extra Board employees still exists, and in my humble opinion, they're getting screwed by the Company. The Local Union has been in constant negotiations with the Company regarding the overtime issues with the Extra Board. There is a proposal on the table to pay the Extra Board OT when they work past 48 hours, but there is disagreement on how those 48 hours should be tabulated. I expect that this issue will not be resolved until we finish our contract negotiations with the Company (these take place later this year). It's my contention that we negotiated a shift, not a pay cut. If the Extra Board employees do not work a complete eight day tour (2-days, 2-nights, 4-off), then they should not be paid the compressed rate, but rather should be paid according to the contract (book rate). But that's just my opinion, and I can't find too many that want to push the issue. Sigh.
2008 and 2009 (so far) have seen much more overtime for those of us in the Recaust Department. Largely that is due to the fact that we have members that are out on medical leave, leaving us, at times, short handed (in fact, as I type this, I'm working my second day off on nights). Even so, it really hasn't been too bad for the majority of our members. Many report to me that they have only worked one or two days of OT since we started on this shift in April of 2005. Generally, those who want OT have been able to get it, and those who don't have been able to avoid it. Nor do I think the Company has abused the use of OT (it's not cheap for them - rather than pay eight hours of OT as they would be when working two people over four hours each, they're paying twelve hours of OT at book rate, time and a half to bring someone in on their days off). There was talk a year or two ago about having coverage issues in the Paper Mill (people would not come in when called - they were having to call Machine Tenders to come in as 5th Hands, for instance), but since I don't hear much about that any longer, I have to assume the problem has been solved.
There have been very few grievances filed in regards to 12 hour shifts. Most have centered around the Extra Board pay issues, but there have been a smattering of other grievances here and there. I currently have a grievance filed over the payment of double time when working a holiday on your day off, which I believe will be solved satifactorily. But these are mostly minor grievances that tend to adjust for where the language of our agreement was too vague to cover these issues.
Safety, I believe, has been neutrally affected by 12 hour shifts, we are neither more or less likely to get into accidents due to the extended hours. Really, when it comes down to it, we have all adjusted pretty successfully to working twelve hours - it just another day at work. And to the Company's credit, they won't hesitate to get you some help if you're having a bad day, thereby spreading the work loads that can tend to have a negative impact on your safe work habits were you to do it alone. I can certainly bitch about the Company's attitude toward safety in other areas, but when it comes to 12 hour shifts, it's a non-factor in our safety.
All in all, it's been a pretty OK experience. With very few exceptions, everyone loves 12's (or at least the days off). As would be expected, it's not going to be good for everyone, but I can really only think of two (out of about 250-300) employees that really don't like the compressed work week. One, surprisingly, was an early active supporter of 12's. It's just that he has been unable to adjust his sleeping pattern to 12's and therefore is tired all the time. I may have heard there's a relation to his medication, but I'm not sure of that - seems reasonable though that some are going to have trouble. I feel sorry for him, but you will never have a system that works for everyone. I suppose, that after four years, he has found a way to cope, otherwise he probably would have taken a day shift job (as did the only other disgruntled shift worker I know of). On the other hand, I can name many employees that were staunch opponents of 12's that now like them. So I guess you could argue that the experience has been largely positive for the vast majority of our employees (and the Company too). (If you're working on trying to implement 12's, I know those arguments will not publicly sway your opponents, but they may offer private solice to those who see the move to 12's as inevitable.)
If you are trying to get 12 hours shifts implemented in your work place, hang in there. You're going to have a lot of opposition in the debate, but it is my experience here, as well as sharing the experience with other mills, that you will have a whole lot of converts loving the shift after you try it for a few months. And it just gets better as the years go by. Give it a try, you'll love it!