From Across The Pacific

By Gregory Lumban-Gaol

Debora Tampubolon with her dog Mocha.

Debora Tampubolon with her dog Mocha.

Author’s Note: Debora is my mother whom I decided to share one of her many stories to the world.

Across the Pacific Ocean stands the bustling city of Jakarta, Indonesia. One wouldn’t think a little girl from there would one day attend Chaffey College. Debora Tampubolon was born on August 12, 1966, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a wealthy businessman who owned a newspaper company and her mother was a housewife.

She and her siblings were spoiled. They had everything from servants, many cars, and a mansion. Everything was done for her. For little Debora life was easy.

Her father however, did not want her to have such a spoiled life. Despite having a rich life, her father taught her how to clean up the car, had her learn how to cook, clean up the house, and learn how to play music. She did all that without complaining. Eventually, when she was only fifteen, her father taught her how to drive and she was able to get her license as a freshman in high school. Of course, the law says you have to be seventeen to have a license, but at that time, law was not enforced in Indonesia and money was everything. Coming from a rich family, she was gifted with a new car.

After high school, her father sent her to the US for college, despite her protests in May 1985. For about a year, she stayed in a small house with her older sister and brother before they moved out. She struggled living by herself. It took her a year to become a decent English speaker, she had to clean everything by herself and shop for necessities.  Debora became independent bit by bit, shrugging off the spoiled child she used to be.

“You have to be tough, struggle to survive,” she said.

Debora became more confident. More outspoken. To have a steady stream of money, she worked as a piano teacher, at the Chaffey College Theater, and was a Teacher Assistant in Upland Jr. High.

At the time, the number of Indonesians living in Southern California was small and many of them knew each other. She made many friends among them, some of them even attending Chaffey College with her. Life was hard for her, being a foreigner, but she learned how to adapt and learned to love this new country.

In 1989, tragedy struck the family and her father passed away. On his death bed, she made a promise to him to complete her education.

His last words to her were, “Move on, do not give up. I am only a temporary father. The Lord in Heaven is your eternal father who is always watching. Do not worry.”

The man who changed her was gone, but out came a woman, determined to make her father proud. Debora eventually transferred from the Chaffey College, to the Claremont Colleges, and then graduated from Cal State San Bernardino with a Bachelors in Music in 1990.

Today, Debora is a music teacher. Married to an architect, she raised two beautiful children. Everywhere she goes, she brings her father’s scarf to remind her of the man that changed her.

“From those experiences, I learned a lot of things to survive. It wasn’t easy, but I realized life is like a roller coaster. I’m kind of surprised and proud of myself, I changed. I am married now and have two beautiful children. I am very thankful for my dad, because he changed me from the spoiled kid to an independent woman. He is the greatest man I knew. I love you dad.”


True Life: I Work In A Warehouse

Warehouse jobs hold a negative stigma in society. Amazon, one of the fastest growing companies in the world, has been under fire for employee treatment. Across the United States, Fulfillment Centers (FCs) employ well over 300,000 full time workers, which does not include the tens of thousands of seasonal workers hired for the holiday season. Some employees may convert to full time employees, and I happen to be one of the few in my current facility who converted from a seasonal to a permanent employee. As with most warehouse jobs, there is a high turnover rate.

But I took a leap of faith and applied anyway. I submitted my forms in October and started in November, the start of peak season for the holidays. In December, announcements from HR and management were made for seasonal employees to convert to permanent employees. I, along with 2,000 other seasonal workers applied, though most of us were denied. I went to HR to see why. The stipulations were ridiculous: no points (which is related to attendance) and no write ups. I had both and was unaware. I filed a dispute in order to reapply and get the offer.

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On the first official day, medical, dental and vision benefits are offered, along with the opportunity to contribute to your 401k and stock purchase opportunities. Amazon also gives its employees 50 hours of unpaid time (UPT), 20 hours of paid time off (PTO) and vacation time every quarter. All of this time can be used for any reason. However, if the associate exceeds the allotted time, they’re terminated. Associates are held to high standards. From pickers, to packers, to ICQA, and to Amnesty, all associates must make rate for the day to average out to 100% productivity for the week. If that is not met, it’s resulted in a write up. Meeting strict quotas daily was something all associates had to come to terms with if we wanted to keep our jobs.

In March, the building voted for a schedule change where shifts would be 10 hours a day, 4 days a week with 3 days off, calling it four-tens. Initially I was grateful, but became frustrated because I was written up for not making rate---even though I hadn’t changed anything. I brought my concerns to my other Associates and management.

An associate’s productivity may suffer for numerous reasons, so I requested to help fix the problems and barriers to productivity. There’s a whiteboard where employees can address their concerns publicly, and it’s where I addressed mine. I was approached by the senior operations manager of the building and was moved to another picker position where I excelled.

But something still wasn’t right. I still received write ups, so I opted to retrain to illustrate my work ethic. I was still terminated. Amazon allows any person who is terminated to either apply back in 90 days, if re-hirable, or submit an appeal within 7 days. I went for the appeal. After submitting my appeal paperwork, I never received an email for an appointment date despite me coming to the building every day for it. I was told I missed my appeal hearing and that I could not get my job back.

I felt duped and I immediately filed for unemployment. I reapplied after 90 days but I was denied again. I was confused because I was told I could reapply. At this point, I contacted my regional HR managers. Within a week, I was granted a panel appeal hearing where I was able to pick names from a box of peers that would most likely vote in my favor, which I found to be extremely fair. That same week I had an appointment booked and provided all of my evidence to show the panel. The panel’s vote was unanimous in my favor and I started working the very next week.

Many questioned why I wanted to go back after everything I had been through with Amazon, it’s a fair question but Amazon gives its employees a fair fighting chance, so I seized it and didn’t give up. There are a few Chaffey students like me who currently work at an FC that have the opportunity to secure a good career after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Maintaining any warehouse job requires hard work and a positive mindset, I discovered that the real reason there is such a high turnover rate: it’s because people stop showing up for work and simply get lazy here.