FedEx Ground

I started at FedEx five years ago, as a seasonal employee, and was then retained after the holdays because I was reliable. That’s the biggest thing they look for when deciding who to keep, if there are openings.

Initially I unloaded trailers. Then I helped distribute incompatibles, ICs for short, which are packages that are too large, heavy or hazardous to travel the main conveyor system. After a while, I became the primary person for handling ICs, unloading less of the time, and helped with wrap up. That’s when packages that went to the wrong line are brought to the right place, “smalls” are distributed, packages that needed attention from QA are distributed, and packages that belong to another terminal go to QA to be processed. I did a stint stacking home delivery packages, and sometimes helped with that when others had the position and were busy. I covered a little in the sort tower, but the less said about that the better, except when I teamed up with one of the other guys, we were the perfect team.

That guy ended up in our Nantucket area, at the end of one of the lines. On the other lines, the same area would have been home delivery. Nantucket is distinct from the rest of the package handling, in that the packages go onto pallets, then onto a trailer that is picked up by a contractor, taken on the ferry to the island, and dropped at a mini-teminal there. He hated it. Because he hated it, he wasn’t good at it. The management was about ready to get rid of him when I clued them in to what was going on.

As a result of that, I did Nantucket for a week, then one of my colleagues did it for the following week, when I would not be available. Afterward, I was willing to take it for the summer, because my wife’s schedule was changing to allow that, but once summer was over, I would have to leave earlier. As it stood then, whoever did Nantucket was usually the last non-management person to leave. My colleague ended up with the assignment, but it is so heavy in the late spring through summer, I generally spent half or more of the shift helping her and organizing the load to fit on the truck.

It was during that summer that I came up with the idea of having the unloaders deliver ICs to an area on the dock near the bay door where we loaded the truck, across the building from where we built pallets. What was happening was people bringing ICs to our corner of the building, from which we would turn around and bring them back almost to the same place later on. Those packages would go between or on top of the pallets of regular packages, or in the remaining space at the rear of the trailer. It crowded things, made more work, and made injuries or damages more likely. Instead, the person scanning Nantucket packages would bring the scanner to the packages before they were loaded.

You could compare it to a different subroutine to make things more efficient. One thing that always fascinated me was the degree to which FedEx reminded me of a computer program given physical manifestation. It’s input going into a big sort routine. Packages sort to one of the belts that have vans along them. On each belt, packages are sorted into the vans. Runbacks involve error handling routines.

After that summer when I helped with Nantucket, we started getting a lot of inbound packages for a new customer that would become our largest. Their outbound packages went onto trailers right at their warehouse, then taken straight to our regional hub. Returns and other packages came through the terminal. A couple times each year, their stores would ship seasonal returns back to the distribution center. That could mean anywhere from a few percent to 100% added to our volume each day for a few weeks. Those packages didn’t go on vans. They went on pallets to go onto trailers to go to the customer.

I helped figure out the fact that we had to do them in the Nantucket area, and could not split them directly into 53′ trailers where people would scan, stack, stretch-wrap, and move the pallets into place. I figured out how best to stack them and how to organize things, with input from other people over the course of time to refine it.

After that started, Nantucket changed hands, then promptly changed hands again, to me. With the promise I could leave when I needed, since they knew I couldn’t stay late as I’d done in the summer. Less of an issue in the off-peak time, but still. That involved being the person responsible for the normal incoming volume for that largest customer, as well as for everything going to Nantucket. Plus for catching runbacks, making sure nothing got erroneously sent to the island, which creates an abnormally long delay in delivery, and helping with supplemental home delivery routes handled in that area during the Christmas season.

When we peak, I do a certain amount of inherent training and supervising of people, and organizing of the work.

I also work more than some people there with QA, as far as watching for and catching packages that need to be intercepted for various reasons. Generally there is a customer service flag that the new scanner brings to my attention automatically. Sometimes there are packages not actually flagged, so I have to watch for them. That’s besides the normal keeping an eye out for damages, PO boxes, and packages that don’t belong in our terminal and need to be processed outbound to the hub.

Last but not least, for nearly four years I have been on the safety committee. Originally this was the purview of a part-time manager, who in turn reported to the terminal manager. For two years or so we have worked directly with the terminal manager, which added an operations angle not strictly connected to safety, as well as clearer and more direct feedback on safety issues. During that time, we went a record 380 days injury-free, and have otherwise had a relatively limited number of injuries. Those of us on the safety committee do observations of other employees, giving them feedback on what they are doing safely or could improve. Each month, we recognize one individual who works consistently safely.

It is no secret that I love this job, this terminal, and the people there. I have worked with amazing people in a tech environment, many of whom I would gladly hire. The same is true of my experience at FedEx, despite it being an entirely different type of job and environment. The trouble is, the hours, the part time nature of it, and the fact that as well paid as it is for part time, it is not close to what I could and should make for other types of work. It was what it needed to be, for the time necessary, but it is time to move on. Worst case, it is time to supplement it with something well enough paid to work for me.

I have often wished I had worked the FedEx job, or one just like it, while I was with XTreme Computing “full time.” I was on call, and it wasn’t “full time” in the normal sense. There were few times I couldn’t have avoided doing work for XTreme between 2:00 and 8:00 AM. I could have worked the part time job, which would have paid my rent and some at the time, padding and supplementing unpredictability, then more or less gone straight to the office, where, in a pinch, I could nap if needed and if work allowed. Yet I still would be right there, available. It would have helped keep me in shape. I’ll miss that about the job.

As I noted, I was advised not to leave an employment gap on my resume, and even without the odd bits of self-employment, this does that. It just isn’t in “the field.” It’s not without merit, though. I used my ability to be accurate, reliability, organizing skill, training, a bit of supervising, and probably some I am missing.

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