I am an Electrical Foreman and have been working in the construction field for the last eleven years. I’m a member of a union with over 5000 members working in King County. When I started as an apprentice electrician I was paid $14.25 an hour. After five years of apprenticeship and multiple negotiated contract raises, I am currently paid $55.63 an hour.
In my trade, hours worked can vary incredibly. Typically, I work 40 hours per week, but quite often scheduling pressures to complete a project escalate and can force employers to pick up the pace. When this happens, I have to work an eight-hour Saturday. In some cases the schedule can become so compressed that we have to work ten-hour weekdays, plus an eight-hour Saturday and Sunday, and these schedules can be extended for two, three, or even six months. Fortunately, I am an hourly worker who is paid overtime under conditions that are protected by a collective bargaining agreement.
The overtime schedules are considered "voluntary," but the reality is that turning down overtime is the fastest way to be put on the short list of employees to be terminated at the next lay off.
When an employer asks you to work overtime, they are asking you to put your life on hold to meet their need. If you are an employee who is unwilling to pause their life and give the employer what they are asking for, then you will be considered "less than supportive." This list might not be written down anywhere, but everyone knows that it exists.
Only on rare occasions is a job clearly defined as having "mandatory overtime." Usually our employers rely on peer pressure, employee greed, and fear of losing employment to get employees to work the overtime hours. Those who are still in the apprenticeship are more likely to take on overtime work because it offers greater financial relief and keeps them off the short list to be let go first.
Overtime requests are almost never given ahead of time. They usually happen the day of, and, if you’re lucky, by lunch the day prior. These types of requests are more easily handled by workers without a family, but those of us with kids face childcare difficulties in trying to accommodate short notice overtime requests. As the father of young teenagers, I try to limit working overtime hours to when it will least impact my family life.
Working overtime comes at a cost. There is less time to recover from the physical demands of work and added stress of not being able to take care of day-to-day issues. I am 43 years old and my body is definitely feeling the last eleven years of working in construction. I imagine that working ten-hour days and many weeks without a day off have contributed to the decline of my physical health. I am currently experiencing joint issues in my hands and knees, which slow me down.
Working overtime has affected my ability to help my kids with homework, attend sporting activities, and generally be there when they need me. This last Fourth of July, for example, I was exhausted so I went to sleep early instead of supervising activities with my kids. I relied on neighborhood parents to look out for my children. Unfortunately, my daughter got burned — not too severe — and I don't know if it would have turned out differently if I had been there. Because I was exhausted from working long hours, I chose to sleep, rather than supervise my kids. Granted, other parents tried to fill in for me, but I should have been there. Thankfully, at this point in my career there are limited overtime expectations for me, so I don’t always have to choose between work and my family.
— Jim, Foreman for an Electrical Contractor