Wednesday, February 27, 2008

E-The melting pot and the deep fat fryer

If all goes according to plan, which it rarely does around here, we should be finished digging our tunnel before the end of the weekend. Although it will take a couple of months to finish cleaning up our site and another year and a half to finish all of the cement work and the laying of the tracks, the biggest part of our project will soon be over. It has been an interesting experience to say the least.

SNC Lavalin, a Canadian company, won the contract to build the whole Canada line from the airport to Waterfront Station. They then subcontracted different sections to firms with various specialties. The section of which I am a part of, running north from 6th and Ash under downtown to the terminus, was subcontracted to SELI, an international tunnel boring company based out of Italy. Most of the engineers and managers are Italians, with a few Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese thrown into the mix. These guys have their own distinct laisez-faire way of doing things. It seems kind of "fly by the seat of their pants" for such a technical operation, but somehow things manage to get done. When I left Europe almost three years ago, I thought the rest of my working life would be spent beside a Mike or Doug or something. Instead I have come to work every day to say Hi to the likes of Miguel Rosinha, Guiseppe Imbesi, Roberto Ginaneschi, Gabriele Dell'Ava, Leorardo Pia, Larry Campanas, Joe Biason and Andrea Ciamei. We also have Ardalan Hamidi from Iran, Brendan Henry from the UK, Bing Mu from China and a whole team of surveyors from the Philippines.

The crew that does the physical labour is actually a more diverse group than in the office. We have our share of Europeans including Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Greeks and Romanians. We also have Chinese, Indians, Burmese and Filipinos. The majority of our workers though come from South America. Almost without exception the Colombians and Costa Ricans spoke no English when they arrived here 2 years ago. Although many still do not (they don't need it on our site- but it does make first aid issues a challenge at times), there a few guys who have picked it up pretty well. I think it's because a couple would like to stay in Canada and the others have met girl friends. It's amazing what a little motivation will do. Some of the people I will remember are Christian Calderon, David Bonilla, Jose Barboza, Joseph Hu, Ariel Palma, Cayetano Alincastra, Hector Sanchez, Rojelios Cortes, and Sandro Lachima.

Although we have had more come and go, there are currently only three Canadians working here if you don't include our first aid/emergency response crew. As one might imagine, our human resources manager Chris Wates has had a difficult job. The other two Canadians, Randy and Jim, work out in the yard. Jim, 48, has had to use my phone numerous times over the last couple of days trying to arrange a place to stay. The problem is that he has no money for a hotel or security deposit on a new rental unit after his last place burnt down earlier this week. Before you feel too sorry for him, what follows is the "cleaned up" version of the story he told me. "I had popped a couple of pills while I was deep frying some fries on the burner. Next thing I woke up and half my apartment is on fire". And to think people are saying that it's hard to find quality workers around here these days!

The guys on our site work long and hard. Usually the operation runs 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, meaning that each crew is working 9 hour shifts every day but Sunday. Often times the managers work 70 hours or more per week. Although the boring machine, trains, cranes, forklifts and bobcats do most of the heavy work, there is still a lot of difficult manoeuvring that requires strength, stamina and mental alertness. Amazingly, given the stressful conditions and incredible diversity of backgrounds, there have been surprisingly few negative incidents between the workers. Seeing these guys, so far away from home and family, working hard every day and doing what's asked of them without complaint, really makes you shake your head at the numerous beggars lining Broadway, less than 2 blocks away. And when you compare like this.....Jim, you're not doing too least you're trying.

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