Monday, April 24, 2006

Time Cards

Back when I started working in animation, around the time Jerry Ford was our Commander in Chief, most of the artists in the studios punched a time clock.... There was a time shack at each entrance, and you took your rectangular punch card out of a metal rack and pushed it into the top of a gray box with a clock on it. Each time unit was six minutes and there was ten of them in each hour. So if you arrived seven minutes after start time, you'd register as being one unit late. After awhile, I hated the time card and the gray box it went into. I was usually a unit or two late. The whole thing seemed oppressive. Six years into my tenure, I asked Ed Hansen, the animation division's second in command, if I could go "off the clock." He leaned back in his chair and smiled at me. "You have to be overscale to be off clock, Steve." But Ed. I am overscale." (I was a whopping fifty bucks a week above minimum at the time.) "Ah. But you're not enough overscale." "How much would enough be?" "More than you are." I stomped out of his office. And up on the second floor, I ran into my boss Joe Hale, who was the producer of "The Black Cauldron," the animated feature then in production. He saw the sour look on my face and asked what the problem was. I told him I'd just asked Ed Hansen to take me off the time-clock and he had refused. "Ed told me I didn't make enough." "Let me see what I can do," Joe said. And he strode off down the hall. Twenty minutes later my phone rang. It was Ed Hansen, asking to see me in his office. I beelined down there. Ed was all smiles as I came through the door. "I've got good news, Steve. I've decided to take you off the clock." "Great, Ed. Thanks very much." "You're welcome." From that day twenty-five years ago to this one, I have never punched another time clock. Three or four years after I stopped running into the time shack and thrusting my little rectangular card into the gray box, the studio stopped having anyone punch one. At the time, I felt liberated. No more mechanical tyranny hanging over me. No more rushing from car to time shack, praying I wasn't a unit late. I could never understand how Vance Gerry, one of the best story artists at the studio, never asked to be taken off clock and in fact WANTED to punch one. He said he had no problem punching a time clock, that it made things easier for him. I never quite figured out why he was okay with the time card thing. He was an artist, godd*mnit, and he was supposed to love and savor freedom and being unfettered. But two decades further on I finally get it: Time cards and their clocks are a pain in the backside, it's true, but they keep everyone honest. Employees have to get to work sort of on time. Employers have a clear, unambiguous record of when people were there and when they weren't. It's easy to falsify a time card when all that's required is coming around to some poor wretch's cubicle and saying: "We're not authorizing any o.t. Write in 8 hours." But it's hard to falsify the time somebody put in at the job when the frigging time card is STAMPED. So I guess I've come around to Vance Gerry's way of thinking. Time cards are aggravating, but they help keep managers honest.


Anonymous said...

When I was a kid back at Disney many years ago, being off the clock was something to look forward to. You envied the old guys strolling in whenever they felt like it, and you thought, one day I'll be able to do that.

Now, nobody punches a clock. Another rite of passage removed from animation.

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