While bush hogging through some heavy brush the front of the tractor ran into a limb and broke a weld on the radiator guard. The brush guard frame is inch and a quarter angle iron with perforated steel making the actual guard. This is probably the second or third time the weld has broke. The […]
This is another one of my welding sucks articles. If you do not want to read about how bad it is to work in a fabrication shop in southeast Texas, just move along.
When I was growing up I was told that if you did a good job, your efforts would be recognized and you would be rewarded for your hard work.
I now know that is a lie.
The lie of “work hard in the hopes your employer gives you a raise” is a wage slave mentality. By working hard you set aside your own standards and adopt the standards someone else has set for you. Do you want to live life the way you want, or the way someone else wants?
“If I weld that nozzle and don’t bust an x-ray, then I will get a raise”,,, is a slave mindset. If I just do this, or if I just do that, then the owner of the company will be happy, and I will get some scraps from his table. Sounds more like the life of a dog rather then the life of a free man.
When I was working in the various welding shops around southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, I would look at my pay check in disgust. I busted my ass, did a good job, and was rewarded with barely above poverty wages on 40 hours a week. How is someone supposed to buy a home, buy a car, have kids,,, on less then $25k a year? To listen to the weld shop owners, the employees should be proud to work in dangerous and dirty conditions of barely above poverty wages.
I got a wild hair and decided to do a google search heat exchanger fitters. I was wondering what kind of job openings were out there, benefits and what the salary was.
One of the first results is a good example of why I left the welding field. The job opening was through a temporary agency, which was advertised as a temp to permanent position.
Why use a temp agency? The company has so many problems keeping people, they decide to go through a temp agency. The temp agency does the interviewing, drug test, screening, then sends the person to the welding shop.
No salary and no benefits were listed in the job opening.
Why should people stay in a field where the companies have problems retaining employees, and employees are not offered benefits?
If this was a good job, people would be lining up at the door.
Fab shops offer terrible benefits, lousy pay, and then they complain when they can not find skilled workers.
Why are kids going to college and leaving the manual labor jobs behind? Because kids can make 2 and 3 times working in computer then they can make welding.
Back in the late 1980s and into the 1990s weldshop foremans were worried about the number of young people going into welding. Instead of offering improved benefits, just hire employees through a temp agency.
A little about my work history; in 1986 I went to work for S&T Fabrication (they were in Woodville Texas at the time), in 1987 I went to work for Ohmstede at their Sulphur Louisiana shop. I worked at Ohmstede from 1987 to 1991.
Between 1991 – 1996 I bounced around between the various welding shops in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
In 1996 I landed a job at Allied Fabrication in Rose City Texas. Allied was one of the better companies I worked for.
The other companies that will remain nameless can kiss my ass. The sorry ass companies that exploit their employees, pay terrible and provide no benefits will not be mentioned by name.
Its not that I regret working in the welding field, I regret allowing myself to be exploited. Why should someone have to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week to be able to live?
While I was working at Ohmstede my supervisor (Bill Scott) told me that it was either feast or famine. Either you worked the overtime and had a good paycheck, or you worked 40 hours a week and starved.
In other words, sacrifice time with your family on the alter of money.
I spent 15 years in the welding field, was an ASME certified welder, built ASME certified pressure vessels and heat exchangers. The fab shops I worked at are across southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. Places like Creole Steel, Allied Fabrication, Ohmstede, Fabricon,,,, only to name a few.
From 1986 – 1999 I saw wages eroded by inflation and greed by the employer.
One employer never gave raises, what you hired on at is what you made. After you were there for 3 months you “might” get a 25 cent raise, but never anything after that.
Another employer, their idea of a raise was 25 cents a year. That 25 cents was easily eaten up by inflation.
Today (2012), I would have to make between $66,000 – $67,000 to have the same standard of living that I had in 1990 when I was 22 years old. That $66,000 – $67,000 is just to maintain that standard of living, and not to improve it.
Welding shops in the area are not paying anywhere near that much these days. The last welding shop I worked at, I made around $45,000 a year.
Its not just a matter of low-skill jobs being associated with low wages, wages for skilled craftsmen have not kept with with inflation or minimum wage.
In 1987 I went to work for a certain company, at that time their top pay was 3.35X minimum wage.
Today, top pay at that same company is around 2X minimum wage.
As I was reading through an article on Toms Hardware about the greatest video cards of all time, I caught myself looking at the dates on the video cards, and then comparing those dates to things that were happening in my life.
Between 1996 – late 1999 were a great time in my life. My third son had been born in 1994, my daughter had been born in 1996, I had a steady job with good benefits, a little overtime here and there.
Then there were the video games such as Diablo, Quake, Red Alert, and the camping trips into Orangefield Texas in the mid 1990s.
The early Quakecons were a blast. Driving to Dallas, staying with my buddy “Acid Breath” and his wife for the weekend, those were good times.
Around August 1999 all of that fell apart when I was laid off from Allied Fabrication in Rose City. The company had recently lost a lot of money, I had missed time due to my drinking. When it came time to reduce cost, I and a couple of other people were let go.
In all honesty, I loved working at Allied Fabrication. They were a great group of people that I really liked working for.
Regardless of how much I liked the job, all good things must come to an end.
When I decided to write this article I was having problems picking a title. Lately I have been doing some thinking. What promoted this was a comment posted on one of my post. The comment was in reference to some of my post sounding bitter.
I want to be honest with my readers, my poor life choices have led me on the path of bitterness.
Who is to blame for my life choices? I am.
Working in the welding field
In 1986 when I graduated high school I decided to enter the workforce instead of going to college. My wifes grandfather helped get me a job at a local welding shop. I should have known something was wrong when the company did not offer and kind of benefits, such as health insurance, or retirement.
In 1987 I got a job at another welding shop, but this job had lots of overtime and some benefits.
My name is Kevin Felts and I have 15 years experience in the welding field. In June 1986 I took a job in a welding shop.
From 1986 – 1999 I worked in various welding shops between southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
Around August 1999 I was laid off from a welding shop. When I was laid off from that welding shop, I decided to go into the computer field.
Between 2003 – 2004 I went back into the welding field for 12 months.
This past weekend my wife and I were passing through the Beaumont Texas area. While we were around Beaumont, I showed her some of the welding shops I used to work at.
Seeing those welding shops brought back bad memories. I realized that all of the shops we looked at had common traits. Some of those common traits were poorly trained supervisors and poor quality pay.
One welding shop I worked at in in the Beaumont Texas area, my supervisor (lets call him dumbass) and I had worked together at another welding shop a few years earlier. At this other shop, my wifes grandfather was the foreman. When work got low, the workforce had to be reduced, so a few people were laid off. Dumbass happened to be one of the people laid off. This was in 1987.
For around 15 years I working in various welding shops in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. There were a lot of reasons why I left the welding field – lack of benefits, lack of decent pay and being treated like a second class citizen.
One time my wife called the I was working at and asked to speak to me. Welding shops do not like for employees to take phone calls unless its an emergency. Some dumbass engineer told my wife the shop employees were not allowed to receive phone calls and hung up.
My wife called back again and this time asked to speak to my supervisor. My boss called me to the office and let me take the call.
When my told me what had happened on the fist call, I was so pissed I was ready to whip that engineers ass. How dare he tell me wife should could not talk to me. My supervisor said he will talk to the engineer about personal phone calls.
That is a good example of how people who work in the fab shops across southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana are treated like second class citizens.
My first wife and I had 4 children, which were born between 1987 and 1996. I often what kind of nation we are leaving our children.
The U.S. government is broke, and still continues to spend money like kids in a candy store. Illegal immigrants can get a free education, and now with the policies obama put into place, the illegals do not have to worry about being deported.
In 20 – 30 years will anyone have national pride? What is a nation without citizen and borders?
Then there is the free trade issue. As our factories move overseas, what are your children and grandchildren supposed to do for jobs?
1 – go to college, get massive debt and hope you land a good job.
2 – go into retail.
3 – start your own business. If you had a rich uncle leave you a couple hundred thousand, maybe you can buy a franchise.
4 – learn a skill and got to work in a refinery, welding shop, land drilling rig or off shore drilling rig.
In my career across various fab shops in the southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas between 1986 – 1999 and 2003 – 2004, I worked at all different types of companies. Some companies treated employees well, some places treated the employees like crap.
There are a lot of things that set companies apart from each other. Two of the most important have to be management and benefits. Working conditions are also important, as well as safety. But if you dread going to work because your supervisor is an asshole, it makes for a bad work situation.
I have worked for my share of assholes, and I have worked for my share of great people.
Its going on 8 years since I left the welding field. In all, I spent close to 15 years building ASME certified pressure vessels and heat exchangers. I worked on everything from cyanide to water service heat exchangers and vessels.
There is something about working with your hands. At the end of the day you can look at the pressure vessel or heat exchanger and say “I built that.”
The two companies I miss working at, Allied Fabrication in Rose City Texas and Industrial Equipment & Engineering in Sulphur Louisiana.
[Related Article – Welding shops in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana]
What happens when an entire industry exploits its workers? Leave and find another job? Then have to wait months for their health insurance to kick in, lose whatever vacation time they have,,, and for what, to be exploited again? Well, some of the companies I worked for did not provide health insurance or vacation time, so leaving those companies would not have been a big deal.
I feel that most of the welding (fabrication) shops in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana exploit their employees. What are the welders, fitters and helpers supposed to do about it?
From 1986 – 1999 I worked in various fabrication shops in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. In 2003 I went back into the welding field, in January 2004 I left the welding field again, and hopefully will never go back.
During this article I am going to re-frame from listing company names. I fear that if I list a company name, I might get sued because the company is butt hurt that a former employee is speaking out. A lot of the welding companies tell their employees, “if you do not like it, leave.” In the 1980s and 1990s I did not have a way to speak out, but now I do. I feel that I have been out of the field long enough that I can finally speak out.
Why did I wait so long before posting this article? Maybe because I have taken a long time to come to grips with my life in the fabrication shops.
This article is based on my personal experiences in welding shops from 1986 – 1999, and in 2003 – 2004.
If you do not know what a heat exchanger is, they are like radiators for chemical and oil refineries. “Radiator” is not a good term, because heat exchangers can heat or cool, depending on what needs to be done.
It was around August of 1987, I left a hell hole of a company where the owner exploited and ass raped the employees every chance he got, to a company that worked its employees into the ground.
I do not want to name names, as I do not want to get sued for saying stuff the company may not like.
Heat exchanger companies are there to serve the petrochemical industry. If some oil company needs an exchanger striped and retubed, the human cattle work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week until the job is finished.
I worked so many hours, there were times when I had to ask people what day it was. Time just blurred together.
I saw my kids maybe 2 or 3 hours a day,,, if that. When I was working night shift, I would wake up around 12 noon, or 1 pm, eat lunch, then have to leave at 2:30 to be at the job by 3:30pm. Good thing my kids were little and not in school. If they were in school, I would not have seen them for 4 – 6 weeks at a time.
The shift rotation was absolutely terrible. 2 weeks on days, 2 weeks on nights, 2 weeks on days,,,,. If we were working 7 / 12s, the shift rotation was suspended and you just stayed on whatever shift you were on.
The dumb-asses in management could not arrange the shift rotation on the weekends off. There were times when people had to leave at 8pm or 10 pm, and be back at work at 5am.
For some reason we could not work shifts like police do and get a 7 day break on our rotation. It was like the upper management loved to ass rape the employees every chance they got.
While writing the article why do we miss the past, I kept thinking about the time and effort people put into working at the welding shops in southeast Texas. The more I thought about the working conditions, the lack of proper benefits and how the workers were exploited, the more irritated I became.
There was once a time when working in a welding shop equaled a good living. There was once a time the hard work was recognized, appreciated and rewarded. But those times are long gone.
You think its hot outside in July and August? Try crawling inside a piece of pipe that has been heated to 350 – 400 degrees so you can weld on it. Certain types of metal, such as chrome, require the metal to be preheated before you can weld on it. If the metal is not heated to a certain temperature before you weld on it, the weld can crack.
You think the dust in your house makes you sneeze? How would you like to blow your nose, and the rag be black? The dust from the grinding and gouging collects in your nose. Just think what its doing to your lungs.
Some companies act like worker safety plays second place to production. There were places I worked where we did not have fans to blow fresh air into sections of pipe we were working inside of. There were times when my lungs felt like they were being choked from the welding fumes. Times when the grinding dust made my lungs hurt for days.
I grew up in a little town in southeast Texas called Bridge City. My parents moved to Bridge City sometime around 1976. After I graduated high school I got married and bought a home.
Fast forward 14 years, my wife and I divorced and I moved to the Conroe / Montgomery area for a few years.
In 2003 my new wife and I moved back the Bridge City area.
After I finished high school I went to work for a welding shop. Between 1986 – 1999 and 2003 – 2004 I collected around 15 years experience in the fabrication of ASME certified pressure vessels and heat exchangers.
During that 15 years I learned a lot (not all) of the welding shops in southeast Texas take joy in paying low wages and exploiting workers. The low pay was one reason why I had to leave the Bridge City area. To those fab shop owners that get some kind of sick kick out of exploiting their employees, screw you. There is a special place in hell for greedy bastards like you.
Even with 15 years experience working in various welding shops for around 15 years, the wage I was earning did not allow my wife and I to buy a home. The home prices were so inflated that the average middle income wage earner could not afford to buy. In the end the lack of decent wages and bloated housing market drove my wife and I out of the Bridge City area.