T.Lee’s Life Story – Chapter 6, Working In-House at a Utility

A temporary employee works indirectly for a company usually through another company, such as a recruiter, headhunter, or service company, whereas a permanent employee works directly for the company that employs him and receives all the perks and benefits thereof (pension plan, 401K, health and life insurance, etc.).

When a person works for a company, he can work as a contractor (sometimes called a temporary employee) or as an in-house employee (sometimes called a “permanent” employee).

Recall that a utility is a company that owns a nuclear plant. Headhunters do NOT own nuclear plants. As a contractor, I worked for headhunters. In this chapter, I will take a job as a permanent employee working directly for a utility at their nuclear plant. Nuclear plants are easily recognizable by the tall, dome-shaped buildings. The nuclear reactors are inside these buildings, which are called containment buildings.

At the end of the previous chapter of my life, I had been at my latest contracting job (in that chapter) for about a year. The job was at a nuclear plant called Maine Yankee. One day my utility supervisor called me in, told me he loved my work, and that he intended to keep me doing contract work for him for years to come. I was pleased. Ironically, the next day he called me in and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this but our corporate headquarters called us this morning and said they’re shutting down this nuclear plant immediately. That means I have to let you go.” That meant my contract was canceled, terminated, finished, and I was out of a job that minute. I was not pleased but neither was I surprised. That is the nature of the contracting business. You work on a contract until the contract is ended by time or by customer choice.

This is when I decided to go “in-house” for a while as a utility employee. So I went to Louisiana and worked for a utility at a nuclear plant there. It was a nice job and the utility was a nice company, and I worked there for about two years. Then one day I heard that there was a nuclear plant in Florida that was hiring some additional instructors. Since my wife’s mother lived in Florida, we wanted to get back to Florida to live, so I quit my in-house job in Louisiana and took a new job in Florida doing the same kind of work but in a different location and for a different utility. Within the first few days, I could see that the utility in Florida was not as employee-friendly as the one in Louisiana that I had just left.

Working in the nuclear field is very demanding work. I had to get up very early every day. The work was very regimented because everything had to be done by strict procedures to comply with federal laws to ensure the health and safety of the general public. Some utilities are NOT employee-friendly companies. Such was Florida Power and Light, the utility I joined in Florida. They treated everyone like a number. I had been a training instructor there for a year when they decided to re-assign me from my normal training instructor duties to do another kind of work called outage support. They made me do very boring work in a hot, stuffy, humid environment for 72 hours a week against my will. I protested but they didn’t care. This was a utility that did not tolerate “no” for an answer. They expected you to work your butt off, suffer, be miserable, and like it! I watched the second hand slowly move around the clock. I did this work for a few weeks until I began getting physically sick and emotionally drained, and I asked to be allowed to go back to my training job. The first year they let me go back, the next two years I escaped the outage work by being on important training projects, but the fourth year I was yanked back into the outage work.

After a few weeks, I began getting sick and feeling drained again. This time when I asked to go back to my training job, they told me “Too bad. So sad.”

So I lasted four years with this utility, feeling increasing dissatisfaction every year at how they treated their employees, and in particular, how they treated me. I told them that my health was more important to me than being worked like a slave for a paycheck. I knew what the consequences would be if I refused to do the outage work.

And I didn’t care, and neither did the utility. On one particularly miserable outage work day, a manager called me into his office and told me I was fired for refusing to do outage work, though I was there doing said miserable outage work. They called security and escorted me offsite. I was unemployed again.

So this closes the door (pun intended) on my chapter about my work with utilities – one good experience in Louisiana and one bad experience in Florida. I have NOT worked for a utility since leaving that Florida utility in 2003 due to their tendency to treat employees like slaves rather than respected employees and fellow human beings.

I had decided to give the non-nuclear world a try and see if they appreciated workers more than utilities did.