One of the many reasons many of us leave the workforce and try work kamping jobs is because they are temporary by nature. We know when they will start and when they will finish, and there are no hard feelings if we decide not to return the following year. That being said there is an implied contract in these seasonal jobs that once taken you will have the job for the season. That is pretty important because not only do we rely on these work kamping jobs for revenue to fund or supplement our lifestyle, we also rely on them for a place to stay. Leaving a job also means finding another place to live, and as such is not something that we have ever done lightly.
Over the last three years we have worked for Portland General Electric in their parks division, and although it has been challenging we have always felt like we were part of their family. Even Lee, who tends to be very skeptical about work place relationships, softened towards this company and he really pushed for us to come back this year. About halfway through the year, I realized the seasonal work wasn’t really working for me. I made no secret about my feelings and to the contrary I was very open about my plans to try and find full time work after the end of the season.
To soften the blow (and yes I know everyone is replaceable but we hold a ton of institutional knowledge), I worked with our new boss to select a replacement. Once the person was selected I spent months teaching her absolutely everything I could to make the transition as smooth as possible. Lee was pretty nervous about this tactic. He said on numerous occasions that we were opening ourselves up to being “pushed out,” but I felt that there was plenty of work for everyone and stressed that I was committed to doing the right thing.
Well it turns out that Lee was right this time. The division that we work for got a new Vice President and almost immediately cost cutting measures were put in place. Since there was only one month left in the season the only possible cost cutting measure was labor, and in less than a week the mandates came down for cuts. I have seen this sort of thing many, many times in my corporate life and have always managed to avoid being on the list, but this time we were an easy choice. Not only had I been honest about our intent not to return but I had also trained my replacement. To be clear if I hadn’t trained her it is HIGHLY unlikely we would have been let go early since very few people knew how to do the stuff we knew how to do.
It wasn’t just us. The new manager picked all of the people that he either thought wouldn’t return next year or he didn’t want to return and that’s who made the cut. From a practical standpoint the list made total sense, but that didn’t make it easier. First of all we just lost five weeks of pay and at $295 day that is roughly $7300 worth of income. Since we are living on around $40K a year that is roughly 15% of our income, and not easily replaceable. It’s not easily replaceable because most work kamping jobs are a full summer commitment. Trying to find something last minute in September is not easy. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not easy. Not to mention the time it takes to find one of those last minute openings and then get there. So that money is just gone.
That’s why we were so surprised when it happened. Individual couples get let go sometimes, but large groups don’t. This change is impacting every single campground and many of those employees who weren’t let go found their hours reduced from 40 to 30. For the many people who use these jobs to supplement that may not be a big deal. For us, who live on this income, it is. Even worst we lost the benefits that we have. One of the reasons we like working for PGE is the benefits and we take full advantage of their dental and eye plans. Lee had a scheduled appointment to get a crown replaced, but now we have lost our dental insurance (and have to leave) so that’s not happening. Our dentist reads this blog and is a really great guy (as are all of his employees!) so now he knows why he wont be seeing us again. Lee also had to give up his next cardiologist appointment.
The absolute worst part is now we have to give up our plans to see our kids and other family members. When we were planning to leave in October we had a route to see our three daughters, Lee’s parents, and for Lee to meet his grandson around Thanksgiving. We have been looking forward to this all year, but now it is just not possible. The trip took us across the country to Minneapolis, Columbus, Maryland, and finally South Carolina. At the end we were going to hopefully have jobs in South Carolina and stay there for the winter. Now we need to leave and head directly down to Texas and try to get a gate guarding job as fast as possible because as of two days from now we’re no longer making money. It would be irresponsible to spend what money we have saved crossing the country and land in SC with no jobs lined up and still be 1300 miles from where we can make money. Although we know gate guarding jobs are not an automatic, we feel we have the best chance at getting decent paying work quickly. Plus we are lucky enough to have a free place to stay while we wait, and we don’t need to burn up money on a site.
So yes, I am angry, we both are, but I am not writing this blog completely out of anger. It was nice working for a large corporation these last couple of years, but I never would have signed up if I knew in advance being let go early was a possibility. I would rather sign up for a sure thing with less money and less benefits than run the risk and although you might think nothing is a complete sure thing, this type of behavior is HIGHLY unusual in the work kamping world. In five years we’ve never heard of it happening. If every campground thought they could get away with cutting people loose after the busy season they would But who would come back the following year?
Let’s say it is an anomaly though, and a one time thing. They certainly could have decided who left in a different way. They could have gone by seniority for example. They could have based it on contribution. After being told multiple times how “integral” we were to their having a successful season, we should have made that cut. Better yet they could have asked for volunteers based on who really didn’t need the money. There are some very nice people here who have social security and probably would have been willing to leave early to let someone who needed it stay. That wasn’t an option though. It wasn’t even discussed. Three years I have done my absolute best for these folks and they cut me loose without even an apology, and with only two days notice. The attitude was “It’s coming from corporate and there is no choice”. Well even corporations give people notice or severance before cutting them loose. We got nothing.
I’ve survived many, many layoffs in my corporate career. Actually I’ve never been laid off before this. Of course I never told my bosses in those situations I was looking for another job or I wouldn’t be coming back. I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that with kids in school and a mortgage. I thought work kamping was different. I thought this life would be different. I could be more honest and open in a work setting and not spend so much time protecting myself. I was wrong, and now we are paying for it.
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