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News :: Labor
Pro-nap group wants company to realize ‘sleep’ is not a four-letter word, fights for daily siestas.
by Chris Haire
Email: chris (nospam) freetheseed.com
25 May 2005
Pro-nap group wants company to realize ‘sleep’ is not a four-letter word
(Knight-Rider) Charlotte, N.C. -- It’s 1:30 in the afternoon at the North
American headquarters of Cobalt Precision Instruments. The computerized
assembly lines are running. The computers are humming. The phones are
ringing. In many ways, it’s a typical day at the factory. Except for one thing:
the hallways and offices are filled with people, but not a single one of them
is copying an expense report, dawdling around the water cooler or waiting
for a fax to go through. They are all asleep.
Some are nestling snuggly inside of sleeping bags. Others are lying on
exercise mats. A few are sprawled out on the worn carpet. Snores echo off
the thin office walls and the smell of sweaty bodies fills the air. The bodies
are so numerous that walking through the hallways is only slightly less
difficult than navigating a minefield without an African pouched rat leading
As for why Cobalt now bears more of resemblance to a day care center at
nap time than to a hustling and bustling work place, it comes to this: if the
workers at Cobalt aren’t allowed to cut a few hours out of the workday to
take a nap at home, then they are going to sleep on the job.
Some say it’s a biological necessity. Some say it’s a psychological need.
Others say it’s a political statement. For Marshall Field, the chairman of the
Siesta Party, it’s a little bit of all three. “The American worker is just plain
tired,” Field says. “They are overworked, and they need to sleep. And a
two-hour break during the day is a good place to start. That’s all that we’re
asking for. And until we get our rest we’re going to stay here and sleep.”
And for the past three weeks, the middle-managers and assembly workers
at Cobalt have been doing just that, at 12 o’clock sharp each and every
day. At 2 p.m., Field awakes them, and they return to their duties.
According to a recent study by the Somnambulist Institute, the average
American gets only 6.9 hours of sleep a night, significantly less than the
recommended eight to nine hours currently recommended by doctors.
“Why are Americans sleeping less? The answer is simple: We live in an
accelerated age with too many tasks and too many challenges,” says Dr.
Jay Hamilton, head researcher at SI, a division of Diversified Solutions Inc.
(This website is also a subsidiary of DSI.) “Companies expect their
employees to work longer days. Commutes are getting longer and longer.
The kids have their soccer games and dance recitals and Cub Scouts. And
then when it’s time to go to sleep, a person needs that downtime, so they
end up watching TV until they fall asleep. It’s not healthy.”
Field also blames the jet-propulsion, 24/7 lifestyle demanded of most
Americans. “You know that saying, early to bed, early to rise, makes a man
healthy, wealth and wise? With your average American today, they’ve
completely forgotten the first part. In fact, many of them don’t even go to
bed at all,” he says. “It’s rise, rise, rise, all the time. It’s like someone
slipped a Viagra into collective unconscious.”
Contrary to the opinions of most business leaders, Field believes it’s in a
business’ best interest to offer daily siestas. “A well rested worker is a
happier worker. They are more efficient. They make fewer mistakes,” Field
says. “And when you’re dealing with a factory like the one here at Cobalt,
with dozens of industrial presses, precision saws and the like, if your
employees are chronically sleep-deprived, the workplace can be as
dangerous as parading through the streets of Laramie, Wyoming, high on
crystal meth with a Superman ‘S’ on your chest and a wooden fence lashed
to your back, singing a medley of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,’ R.
Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and “The Rainbow Connection’ by Kermit the
Frog. You better hope that Lady Luck is bathing your balls in champagne
and sucking you off with two cough drops and a packet of Pop Rocks in her
mouth if you hope to make it out alive.”
For Jason Todd, the workplace was indeed a dangerous place. And he has
the war wounds to prove it. After a particularly long work day, during which
Todd pulled a triple, an accident with an industrial press severed two
fingers on his left hand. “I was working shift after shift after shift, and I was
pulling in some serious overtime because I really needed the money.
Christmas had set me back quite a bit,” Todd says. “I wish somebody had
just taken me aside and told me to take a nap instead of a handful of pills,
but that’s the breaks.”
Although Todd no longer works at Cobalt, but he counts himself one of the
opposed. He even traveled to Charlotte to be with his former co-workers.
“Look, if I hadn’t been so dog tired all the time, I’d still have my all five of my
fingers on my left hand. That accident completely changed my life,” Todd
says. In 2002, a jury awarded Todd a $4.5 million dollar settlement against
Cobalt. He has since retired to the Florida Keys.
Other Cobalt employees have not been as lucky as Todd. James
Cavendish suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a company team-
building exercise at a local ropes course. Alice Goldstein lost her sex drive
and her husband. Ron White, a receptionist, found himself unable to fill out
the daily crossword puzzle. Each one believes that being sleep-deprived
led to their troubles.
Dr. Hamilton agrees. “Let me tell you a curious fact about sleep
deprivation. If an individual stays up for too long, that person begins to
experience hallucinations, visual and auditory. They start to have waking
dreams, and more often than not, those dreams are nightmares,” the
Somnambulist Institute researcher says. “The point is, it doesn’t matter
whether these things happened or not. It doesn’t matter if these claims are
true. What’s important is that these individuals believe their lack of sleep
has negatively affected their lives.”
He adds, “For the sleep-deprived, the evidence of delusion is proof of the
disorder. We have no choice but to believe them.”
So far Cobalt executives are refusing to meet the demands of their
employees and the Siesta Party members. A spokesperson for Cobalt says
that the company has not ruled out widespread lay-offs, especially if the
Siesta Party’s intimidation tactics continue. Says Cham McMaster, the vice-
president of human resources, “These little naps ,we can forgive. We’ve
got more than enough Mexicans to take up the slack, at least for an hour
or two. But blocking exits with pillows, that’s a fire hazard. We have to stop
this before somebody gets hurt.”
However, the Siesta Party seems unwilling to give up the fight. “Lenin had it
all wrong. It’s not time for the workers of the world to rise up. It’s time for
them to lie down,” Field says. “If there is one thing I want to say to all the
tired men and women out there working their fingers to the bone, it’s this:
Wake up, America. The Siesta Party wants you to sleep.”
chris (at) freetheseed.com
This work is in the public domain