Summer Jobs on a Floating Factory Processor – Profile
Kevin Williams spent a summer working aboard a floating processor as an engineering assistant.
I applied for the job after seeing an ad in the local paper. The interview was pretty easy; they seemed mostly concerned that I understood what conditions
on the processor were like and that I would stay for the entire seafood worker contract. After being checked out by a doctor and a dentist, I signed a form stating that I was in good shape and wasn’t hiding any medical problems. We set up the contract, specifying the exact dates I was going to start and finish, and the hourly rate I was to receive.
Two of us served as engineer’s assistants, which meant that we oiled machines, read gauges, and kept track of other mechanical things. I also worked part of the time keeping track of everyone’s time cards, entering the information into a computer, and other clerical stuff. When I first interviewed I told them that I didn’t want to work on the fish line, and I ended up getting this position that enabled me to pretty much set my own hours and work as long as I wanted. Whereas the fish line workers had to work six hours on, six hours off, we could work sixteen hours straight, take a nap, and work another ten hours if we wanted. I was glad that I didn’t have to handle fish, but I think I got pretty lucky getting the job I did. Usually you have to have some experience or connections before you can get jobs off the line.
We were paid by the hour, and if we harvested over a certain number of metric tons we got a certain amount for each ton of fish harvested. The bonus amount didn’t come to much, but we got paid overtime for every hour we worked over eight hours per day or forty hours per week. I worked between eighty and ninety hours a week, and once I even worked 120 hours in one week, so overtime pay was actually a majority of our earnings. I managed to save over $7,000 in the two months I was there, but that was more than most of the line workers, because they didn’t work as many hours as we did.
I was really scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the amount of work up there, since I’d never really had an intense job before, but it really wasn’t too bad. Even the guys working on the fillet line handling fish all day didn’t really complain about the work, since it always went at a reasonable pace. The only difficult thing about the job was the isolation from the rest of the world. Even the long hours aren’t that bad; I mean, what else are you going to do, play with your gameboy and listen to your walkman?
The fish slime line wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. I imagined fish guts everywhere and people working like crazy, but actually it was pretty clean and the pace always looked reasonable. Some of the workers don’t have to touch the fish at all or wear fish gear, since they just work on freezer crew or handle boxes. Line workers wanted to work twelve-hour shifts, but the company said productivity was much better on a six -hour shift. Still, they allowed line workers to work three consecutive shifts when the line was really busy. The managers seemed really nice and never really hassled the workers. Even if you didn’t show up to your shift they just came to your room and said “Hey, it’s time to go to work.”
We did have a recreation lounge with a big-screen TV and movies, but I didn’t go there too often. Our rooms were small with four beds (two bunks). The boat we were on was kind of kooky because it never once moved anywhere. We were anchored in this inlet and there was land all around us, but we never once went ashore. Sometimes during our time off we would go up on deck and watch the foxes hunt on the shoreline or the sea lions playing around the boat.
The best part of the job was, number one, the pay, and number two, you really have no worries at all. Your laundry is taken care of – all you have to do is put your dirty laundry outside your door and people clean it and return it to your door. You don’t have any bills at all, and the food they serve is great. In fact it’s the best I’ve eaten since I lived at home. The cooks are really professional and they order their own food that’s flown in fresh to the boat. They even caught salmon off the side of the boat and cooked it up for us, until one day some inspectors came on board and found them. The boat was fined $1,500 because we didn’t have a license to have salmon on board. To sum it up, life outside our work was really easy because we basically didn’t have any responsibilities other than to get up and do our jobs.