PRINGLE, Pa. — The last light of day fades behind the mountain, but for Tom Tasco and his crew of five bridge workers, the day is just beginning.
Beneath portable work lights, the deafening chorus of gas-power demolition saws slicing cement splits the air. Their spinning blades throw dust and sparks as cars pass over the Route 309 bridge heading toward the Back Mountain.
Project superintendent Tom Tasco, a towering man with a kind smile, a scruffy white beard and 35 years as a bridge worker under his belt, eyes the highway, carefully watching cars merge into one lane as they approach his work site.
The bridge trembles as the cars pass just feet from the crew under his guard. The crew will remain on the job until 6 the next morning.
Third shift. Midnight shift. The graveyard shift. Clock-in and clock-out times vary.
These employees do the work that must be done at night.
While most sleep, 12 million workers in the U.S. head to work mostly unnoticed and often to do less-than-glamorous jobs. About 8 percent of the employed labor force work the night shift, according to 2004 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the most recent available.
The figures don’t include employees who work swing shifts or have flexible schedules. The bureau plans to update the information next year with the findings to be released in 2018.
“It is difficult to get people who don’t have a specific reason for working night shift to want to do that,” said Judy Oprisko, vice president of human resources for Allied Services Integrated Health System. “Things like child care reasons, or people going to school, especially people who have younger children, they like to be able to put their kids to bed, go to work and be there when they wake up.”
All of Allied’s nurse and nurse aide departments and also Allied Terrace personal care home require round-the-clock staffing. Some of Allied’s intellectual development programs also require a 24-hour staff, as well as its maintenance department. On any given night at Allied, 135 of its 2,700 workers are on the clock.
Allied has creative ways to entice workers to take those less-than-desirable shifts — programs like 12-hour shifts so some staff can work only three days a week. Often, workers take the night shift for personal reasons, then find that the schedule grows on them and stick with it even after they finish school or their kids are out of the house, Oprisko said.
On the North Cross Valley Expressway, Tasco and his crew are wrapping up a small portion of the season-long project that rerouted traffic.
The $9 million project awarded to Nyleve Bridge Corp. out of Emmaus includes bridge re-decking near the Wyoming Avenue exit. The contract also includes repairs to the Rutter Avenue bridge over the expressway to begin next year.
They are replacing heavy rubber seals called expansion dams that link pieces of bridge deck over Evans Street. The seals leaked rainwater onto the substructure — a flaw that could mean costly repairs if left alone through winter under a heavy barrage of road salt.
“Salt water on cement isn’t good,” Tasco said. “The ticket is to stop the leaking.”
Using heavy saws and sandblasters, his workers pry the worn material away to replace the silicone seal.
It’s like industrial-strength bathtub caulk, he said, elastic enough to flex with movement caused by traffic and freeze-thaw cycles.
By habit, when one worker hunched over a saw works his way toward the cone barrier, another worker stood in front of him to watch the road.
Nyleve is obligated contractually with the state Department of Transportation to work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. because they have to reduce traffic to one lane to replace the expansion dams on Route 309.
Working among the traffic doesn’t make Tasco anxious but still, he always watches the road.
“This is very dangerous work because of the traveling motorists,” he said. “It’s difficult to get them to slow down, even at night.”
It’s 3 a.m. at Gerrity’s on Keyser Avenue in Scranton.
Shelby Rabb, 24, ties on her apron and pulls her long braids through the back of a cap.
She fires up the oven and pastry proofing box before stopping in the break room to get a pot of coffee going.
She moved from the Bronx to Scranton in January with her 2-year-old son, Carter, to be with her boyfriend’s family. Gerrity’s was a part-time job to supplement her income, but she showed real promise, said her boss, bakery manager Susan Tassey.
Now Rabb is the head baker who makes sure the bread, cookies and other sweets are ready and fresh by the time the grocery store’s doors open at 7 a.m.
“You definitely have to change your schedule to go to bed early — I recommend eight hours,” she said with a grin Thursday.
A buzzer rings, calling her to the great oven where racks of bread loaves turn slowly behind a heavy glass window. A warm, savory cloud floats out as she opens the door to pull out the golden loaves.
Gerrity’s makes most of its bread and baked goods from scratch, and Ms. Rabb learned to do it all. She even accounts for fluctuations in the room temperature and humidity, which can affect how bread rises and bakes.
“It’s not easy,” she said, working cinnamon roll dough into tin trays. “It helps if you care how things look. It’ll look better.”
She is learning how to adjust for demand too, which can be elusive. A snow storm in the forecast or big holiday approaching, like Labor Day, could mean she doubles her daily production.
She enjoys her job, she said, probably because she always has been handy in the kitchen. It also gives her more time at home with her son.
However, no matter how early she goes to bed the night before, she still likes to take a nap first thing when she gets home.
Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/