Gordon College News Service
January 26, 2010
(This article appeared in the February 9 edition of The Gloucester Times and in its online publication and in the February 15 edition of The Salem News.)
Lobster fishermen have it tough on even the sunniest days. But for those who head out to sea in the dark early morning hours—when the light is tricky and the sea unpredictable—the job can be grueling.
“We’ve been through hell but we’ve survived,” said Captain Bob Morris of Rockport, MA, who’s worked as a fisherman most of his life. “This job is not comfortable. It’s hard.”
Morris and others on Boston’s North Shore who work when the rest of us are sleeping don’t necessarily choose the hours because they want to. For most nocturnal workers, they take the night shift, 11p.m.-7a.m., or the really early morning hours, because they need to. They say the pay (or in Morris’s case, the catch) is usually better, and with the recent economic dive, their families need the money.
“For my situation, I don’t have a choice working late because money is a key factor,” said Stephen Meola, security supervisor at Beverly Hospital. “Each shift has a differential that’s paid in addition to your pay. It’s $4 an hour more on the overnights for me and even more on the weekends so I work opposite hours of my wife to manage child care.”
A few nighttime employees take the graveyard shift because they’re passionate about what they do. “A lot happens behind the scenes, so nobody knows our names,” said Jeff O’Brien, an on-call Firefighter and Lieutenant Emergency Medical Technician from Hamilton, MA. “We do it because we love to do it and to use the skills and training we’ve learned.”
Still, despite O’Brien’s love for his job and its necessary income, he knows it’s taking a toll on his health. “I do need the income and I do enjoy helping people,” said O’Brien. “But as I get older and older, it gets harder and harder because of sleep deprivation.”
These late night hours are a sacrifice nighttime workers say they must make to survive. “You get the feeling you’re taking years off your life,” said Beverly Police Sergeant John Vitale. “You’re constantly a little bit tired, but you deal with it.”
Although the routine is uncomfortable, some night shift employees have found creative ways to take the edge off, seeking out certain environments because they offer bits of camaraderie. Registered Nurse Kirsten Ellis of Beverly Hospital insists there’s greater trust and better efficiency in their work because of the collaboration they’ve created.
“There’s more autonomy and teamwork during the night shift,” said Ellis. “We’re more close-knit than the day or evening staff.”
Matt Kersker works from 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. as a bartender at The Farm in Essex, MA, and says he also doesn’t mind his shift because of the camaraderie he has with his boss, who is also his best friend. He says their long-term trust eases the tensions from the late night hours and also provides some fun.
“I’m lucky because I get to hang out with my best friend while I’m working,” said Kersker. “But in the end, it’s still work.”
Some on the late shift say they plan on continuing their midnight madness, while others hope to see daylight soon. Ellis, though, is committed and plans on continuing as a night shift RN. “I’m not married to the night shift, but we (her team of RN’s) won’t stop until retirement do us part,” she said.
Meola hopes his career as a night shift security supervisor will soon end because he is taking classes to become a registered nurse. “I don’t plan on continuing on the nightshift once I get hired in the profession I choose (nursing),” said Meola. But he says that in this economy, “I could still be working during nights.”
They are a certain type of people, these nocturnal workers, dedicated to their work for the community and their families during obscure hours. And like most day workers, they want and need to do their jobs right in order to survive.
“I’m blessed because people don’t often get a chance to get a job in what they love to do,” said lobsterman Morris. “I cannot picture myself doing any other job, because there’s freedom on the water.” Even in the dark.