T.Lee’s Life Story – Chapter 5, My Contracting Life

This chapter begins that part of my life when I began “renting” myself out for hire on an hourly contract basis, usually for one year at a time. Doing this kind of work is called “contracting”. Due to the short-term nature of some of the contracts, I moved a lot when I was contracting. Every year or two, I would take a job (new contract) in a new location. My contracting jobs in this chapter took me to South Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey, Maine, and finally to Louisiana. So how does nuclear contracting work? Well, nuclear workers like myself have a unique set of skills that are developed over tens of years, and workers like us are NOT easy to find, so a special method for putting nuclear workers like me in touch with companies needing our services has developed over time. This is how it works.

When a utility (company that owns a nuclear power plant) needs some temporary workers (contract workers or contractors) for some fixed period of time, say one year, they tell another type of company called a headhunter (slang name) that they need warm bodies (skilled, qualified workers). The slang term “headhunter” comes from a historical reference regarding primitive, cannibalistic, native tribes that would collect their victims‘ heads, shrink them, and keep them on their belts or in their tents as trophies of their kills. We call these shrunken heads. These types of tribes, we call headhunters. Today we have companies that “collect heads” of contract workers and supply them to customers for hire. We call these companies headhunters too but in a kinder, gentler way. The headhunter and the customer agree on an hourly pay rate for the contract workers being sought. The headhunter posts job openings in newspapers or on the Internet. I see the job posting and send the headhunter a copy of my resume (aka CV) and tell them I am interested in working and available for contract work. In other words, I am a contractor available for working under contract.

The headhunter sends my resume and those of other contractors to the utility (aka the customer). The utility selects the contract workers whose qualifications they like the most. If I am selected, the headhunter and I sign a piece of paper called a contract that describes where I will work, what I will do, how long I must do it, and how much I will be paid. Once we sign the contract, the headhunter tells me where and when to report for work. It is up to me to travel to the new location and report to work. I work for the customer doing whatever they need me to do. Since they pay me for the “use of my body,” we contract workers sometimes call ourselves “nuclear whores” because we sell our bodies (labor services) to the highest bidder for money. The customer pays the headhunter a large amount of money per hour of my time, and the headhunter pays me a smaller amount of money per hour for my time and keeps the difference as their profit. When the contract is over, I am unemployed and have to go back home to wait for new work to turn up.

When I am ready to work again, I simply contact a headhunter and tell them I am available for hire as a contractor. I then turn into a couch potato and watch Netflix movies while waiting for the phone to ring. Nice arrangement, huh? Another nice thing about this arrangement is that once I have worked for a headhunter, and they have my resume in their database, the next time they are looking for workers, they will call me and ask me if I am interested in Job X at Company Y for a time period of Z. We discuss price and if we agree, I sign a new contract and go to work again. So, work finds me instead of me finding work!

As I said earlier, my contracting jobs took me from a South Carolina nuclear power plant (NPP) to a Tennessee NPP to a New Jersey NPP to a Maine NPP to a Louisiana NPP. This process took about four to five years. Finally, in Louisiana, at the end of my contract there, they wanted someone to work for them permanently (what we call “in-house”). Once I took that job, my contracting days were over for a while. I was now working for a nuclear utility as an in-house, permanent employee instead of as a temporary one. And I could stay there as long as I wanted to. There was no contract end date as a permanent employee.