As the Government Printing Office (GPO) steps up its plan to change from hot to cold type printing, employees are taking typing lessons to qualify for future jobs in the new printing program.
This week, 13 deaf printers completed an eight-week typing course at the graduate school of the Department or Agriculture. Yet despite their accomplishments, they said they feel they're fighting a losing battle.
According to GPO standards they are expected to type 40 words per minute on an electric typewriter to qualify for retraining on video display terminal machines. They are now typing 30 words per minute.
After another mine weeks of training on the typewriter-like but more intricate electronci machine they'll have to pass a 60 words per minute typing test on that machine to keep the job, they said. If they fail, they'll be given an additional month to increase their speed; otherwise they'll return to their old jobs which will be phased out in five years.
When the printers began the typing course, they said, it was with the understanding they would take the first typing test under civil service standards. Upon passing they would qualify for retraining and would keep their new jobs. However, they said Elmo Wood, superintendent of the electronic printing department (EPD), added the stipulation of the second, 60 words per minute typing test.
"They encouraged us, so we went to school," related Gallaudet College interpreter Amanda Patton as a printer communicated in sign language. "Now we feel we have no choice because they changed their program."
All of the students expressed resentment that the standards had been changed. They also felt it was unjust they they didn't have across to the new machines while taking the typing course.
"Where will we be five years from now?" asked another printer. "They never tell us where we'll be. They refuse to talk to the deaf workers about the future.
Most of the 13 employees have worked at GPO an average of 14 years. Some have been longer, but they said their seniority seems to make no difference in deciding their status in the program.
Dave Brown, special assistant to the public printer, refuted this. Trainees will be taken into the program on a seniority basis, he said. Prospective trainees may also take the initial typing test at their discretion. And if they flunk out of the trainee program, they can reapply at a later date. Yet Brown concedes long waiting lists may prevent some people from reentering the program.
The printers also expressed resentment that they weren't trained on the video display terminal machines (VDTs) instead of typewriters, initially. However they are all continuing their typing studies.
Danny Hunt, typographical union representative for Local 101 at GPO said the printers are to train on the machines twice a week. This is not enough time, he said. Hunt argues that training should be given five days a week because the printers will become confused by using the VDTs and other machines simultaneously.
Hunt added that while the deaf printers could qualify for other positions at the GPO, they are not being allowed to try out for these jobs.
Dave Brown said the VDT machines weren't used in the intial training because they are very expensive, and GPO did not have a surplus of machines or instructors. The program is also conducted on government time; therefore only a minimal number of people could be taken away from their jobs. Management also believed, said Brown, that the printers could adapt from the electric typewriters to the photo composition machines easily.
Martha George Boxley, instructor for the class, said the contrary is more likely to happen.
"If they can master one keyboard, it doesn't mean it will be easier of them to master a similar keyboard," she explained. "The more types of things you learn that are similar, the more apt you are to become confused. That's with anybody. It's like learning two different shorthand systems."