Monday, October 30, 2006


No Jobs Left Behind

The brilliant article at the link below describes how offshore outsourcing is obliterating the lives and the futures of American workers. While economists and journalists who are either incompetent or corrupt attempt to sell the fiction of the "new economy" to the American people, all jobs worth anything to our continued productivity as a nation are being shipped overseas. The number of jobs created in the United States has grown two million in the last five years - but has not kept pace, by a gap of seven million, with the actual growth in population. Yet this is labeled by our dullard president as "growth". We have been increasingly told that only the dirty work will be shipped overseas, and that "knowledge workers" will flourish in America. In fact, the opposite is the case. Starting salaries for computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering grads have dropped 12.7 percent, 12 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively, in the last five years. Duplicitous spin set into motion by apologists of the Bush regime holds that the ranks of "software engineers" have grown dramatically, but that is simply because more computer programmers are called "software engineers" these days. This specious change in nomenclature disguises the fact that the total number of both computer programmers and "software engineers" has remained almost completely stagnant since 2001. Starting salaries for marketing specialists has dropped 6.5 percent in the same period, and business administration and accounting salaries have dropped by 5.7 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. Even stockbrokers are being replaced by overseas labor. Moreover, an ever-growing proportion of those who still work at so-called "professional" corporate jobs in the United States are, in fact, foreign workers brought here on H1B visas.

Corporate "leaders" and their venal henchmen in the media and the academy have tried to convince Americans that offshore outsourcing will result in job growth - for, indeed, "better" jobs for Americans. However, while the number of engineers, financial specialists and software designers soars abroad, the only occupations whose ranks are increasing in the United States are low end service jobs, such as bartender, waitress, receptionist, sales shill, janitor, and the like. Offshore outsourcing amplifies only the mindless servitude of native-born Americans. The article concludes with these words - "The United States is the first country in history to destroy the prospects and living standards of its labor force. It is amazing to watch freedom-loving libertarians and free-market economists serve as apologists for the dismantling of the ladders of upward mobility that made the America of old an opportunity society. America is seeing a widening polarization into rich and poor. The resulting political instability and social strife will be terrible." Amen, I say. Let the bushwhacking of the billionaires begin!

"As Jobs Leave America's Shores...The New Face of Class War" from CounterPunch

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Toppling The American Dream...

According to a report drawn from data made available by the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Federal Reserve, the American middle class is less prepared for a financial emergency now than at any time in the last thirty years.

The report studied the middle 60 percent of American households, those earning between $18,000 and $88,000 a year. As of 2004, only 28.8 percent of the households in this group could sustain themselves over a three month period of unemployment, only 22.3 percent could handle the average $3,013 cost of a "minor" medical emergency, and just 18.3 percent had accumulated savings equivalent to three months of income. The corresponding figures for 2001 were 39.2 percent, 35 percent, and 29 percent, respectively. There has clearly been a considerable drop over just three years.

The authors of the study attribute this decline in emergency preparedness to stagnant wages, soaring costs for housing, college and health care, and rising consumer debt. Consumer debt has, in fact, increased $5.2 trillion since 2001. In June 2006, American middle class households took on consumer debt equal to 129 percent of their disposable incomes, as opposed to 96 percent just five years before.

Read the article at the link below for more details. There are lots of other goodies at this link, including online tools such as a "Debt Evaluator", strategies for "saving more and spending less" and, inevitably, the so-called "readers' comments", which run the gamut from the sympatico to the shrill.

"Middle class living on the edge?" from

Friday, October 27, 2006


A Low Sperm Count For The Masters Of The Universe?

It's been the image of junior executive virility for a decade now - a strapping young man in a suit, with a cell phone clasped to his ear. Clearly, here is a mover and a shaker, one who can not only hire and fire, but squire the loveliest ladies and move like a panther across the basketball court. Now it appears that men who use cell phones may be shooting blanks. According to a recent study conducted at Case Western Reserve, men who use cell phones four or more hours a day show a 30 percent drop in sperm motility in comparison with men who don't use cell phones at all. Even men who use cell phones for lesser periods experience increased infertility. Men who use cell phones for more than four hours show a median of 50 million sperm per milliliter, men who use them between two and four hours have a sperm count of 59 million per milliliter, those who use them less than two hours have a sperm count of 69 million, and those who don't use them at all have a sperm count of 86 million per milliliter. There have been rumors about the damage cell phones can do to one's health before. Some years ago, it was thought that cell phone use might be linked to brain cancer, but that has since been discounted. Some scientists are puzzled why a device held to one's head would affect the contents of one's gonads, and suggest that other factors are to blame. For instance, men who use cell phones excessively may spend longer periods in automobiles, exposing themselves to engine heat, that they may be under greater work stress, or that they are more sedentary, and therefore more overweight. Heat, stress and obesity can all affect sperm count either directly, or by lowering a man's testosterone level.

On the other hand, it may be that men who are attracted to the self-important culture of excessive cell phone use are naturally less fertile. You know what they say about guys who like sports cars, after all. (I recently saw a bright red vintage Corvette with a vanity plate that read "XTENDR".) Maybe the movers and shakers of the corporate world are as much overcompensators as they are go-getters.

"Warning to male mobile phone users: chatting too long may cut sperm count" from the Guardian-Observer (UK)

Thursday, October 26, 2006


This Is How The Germans See Us

Self-important corporate kingmen who congratulate themselves for squeezing profit out of shriveled companies should pay attention to how their, ahem, "achievements" are perceived overseas. Here is a link to an article by a top editor at Der Speigel about America's self-engineered decline. The author is clearly not anti-American - indeed, his long preamble focuses on what America used to be, and he praises that to the skies. But he does acknowledge that America has slipped as an economic superpower. Rampant outsourcing of both industrial production and labor have reduced America to a nation that imports far more than it exports. Our trade deficits with China, Japan and Europe in 2005 were $200 billion, $80 billion and $120 billion, respectively. Moreover, "the United States can't even achieve a surplus in its trade with less developed national economies like those of Ukraine and Russia. Everyday, container-laden ships arrive in the United States - and after they unload their wares at American ports, many return home empty." Perceptions like this should act as a corrective to the complacent delusion of modern CEOs that their firms are increasingly "profitable" just because they are able to produce the same as before, only for less money spent on labor. It should also chasten them for using capital gains only to enrich themselves and their major shareholders - rather than plowing that precious profit back into expanded production where it belongs.

The narcissistic self-enrichment strategies of America's CEOs not only shrivel real growth in production. They also shrivel the middle class, as the source of those fraudulently heralded "profits" is not increased production at all - but decreased overhead in the form of fewer workers and stagnant wages. At 300 million, we have more people in our nation than ever, but an ever larger proportion of those people are faring less well in comparison with their stingy and short-sighted masters. As the German article points out, the American middle class is increasingly "delinked" (an interesting German-English neologism meaning, I believe, "disenfranchised") from the so-called economic growth of their own country. The reason why, as the foreign perspective of this article makes clear, is because our "economic growth" is essentially an illusion.

"A Superpower In Decline: America's Middle Class Has Become Globalization's Loser" from Der Speigel

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Beware Anti-Union TV Ads

At the link below, you'll find an article about an anti-union organization called the Center for Union Facts. This group is funded by a lobbyist whose motivations are notoriously mercenary, and means not to enlighten the public about labor unions, but to destroy them on the behalf of pro-business Republicans. The Center for Union Facts has produced a TV ad that exploits the cuteness of little girls in much the same manner as that infamous anti-Goldwater TV ad of 1964, in which the image of a girl counting the petals of a flower morphs into the countdown for a nuclear blast. The current ad shows a little girl reading a report on how the satanic labor unions of America fund pro-worker political candidates with union dues. The teacher is depicted as horror-stricken - which is deeply ludicrous in view of the fact that teachers are themselves members of a union, and need union support as much as anyone else. So do nurses, firemen, and policemen. And yet any aid given to a candidate who supports the interests of such worthy citizens is portrayed as equivalent to helping round up Jews in Nazi Germany. That is what our pro-business Republican Congressmen are stooping to these days, in their desperation to retain a majority in an election year in which more and more American voters view President Bush and his pro-war, pro-business, anti-worker and anti-middle class policies with what one journalist has called "visceral disgust". Just thought you'd like to know...

"Worse Than Union Busting" from

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


You Tell 'Em, Barbara

After a series of news items and interviews written by other journalists about their new organization, Barbara Ehrenreich and Tamara Draut now tell the story behind the founding of United Professionals in their own words. And, I'll tell ya, they come out swinging. They remind us yet again that, despite the self-congratulatory Republican spin on the "knowledge economy", the position of the middle class is steadily eroding and beautiful white collar minds are being wasted, right and left. The spectres of downsizing lurk invisibly among us - the IT marketing expert turned janitor, the chemical engineer living in shelters, the cab driving media executive.

Here is a paragraph that says it all: "This is the new world of the middle class--haunted by debt, stalked by layoffs, pinched by vanishing pensions and health benefits, and forced into ever more contingent forms of work as 'real' jobs give way to benefit-free contract work. Far from being on an elite perch in the 'knowledge economy,' the middle class hovers just inches above the working poor. Since the average household today has negative savings, meaning positive debt, a sudden job loss for whatever reason can dislodge a family overnight. The downward spiral is accelerated by companies' strange aversion to hiring the unemployed, who have unsightly 'gaps' in their resumes. The jobless find themselves stigmatized by their condition, although they did nothing to incur it, as illustrated by the management consultant who advises corporate recruiters to avoid job fairs: 'Who goes to job fairs? People without jobs! All you get are worthless resumes and lots of germs.'"

That is what we are up against, and we have to take action.

Ehrenreich and Draut have a provisional agenda that includes:

1) Real networking and community building - This is important both to share information, and to provide moral support for those seeking work.

2) Advocacy on national issues - These include universal health care, improved unemployment insurance, fairness in lending, and legislative support for a "living wage".

3) Services, such as free legal advice and affordable health insurance.

I have mentioned United Professionals several times before in this blog, and I will mention it again. Go to and join up for just $36.50 a year. I pay dues to other white collar labor organizations, so I happen to know this is a bargain.

While you're reading the article at the link below, check out some of Barbara Ehrenreich's other publications in The Nation, including some extremely well-informed articles about American labor unions and their possible future strategies.

"Downsized but Not Out" from The Nation

Monday, October 23, 2006


White Collar Ambitions Are Flexible And Ever-Changing

A survey of 2,800 workers conducted by the American Business Collaboration found that goals differ across genders and age groups, suggesting that the ambitions of individual white collar workers are flexible, and will change over time.

For workers less that 30 years old, the most important criteria for job satisfaction are:

1) Advancement for salaried men
2) Meaningful work for salaried women
3) Job security for hourly paid men
4) Benefits for hourly paid women

For workers in their thirties, the criteria are:

1) Flexible work options for salaried men
2) Work/life balance for salaried women
3) Job security for hourly paid men
4) Benefits for hourly paid women

For workers in the forties, the criteria are:

1) Job security for salaried men
2) Opportunity to learn and grow for salaried women
3) Benefits for both hourly paid men and women

The survey also queried participants on their reasons for leaving a job. 49 percent of both sexes cited salary as the main factor, and 25 percent indicated that they are currently thinking about leaving their present jobs for other positions that pay more money.

20 percent would consider leaving their jobs to enhance their job security, and 41 percent would consider leaving their jobs to advance their careers.

Certain obvious inferences can be drawn from the results of this survey. Younger white collar workers are more hopeful, as evinced by the male desire for advancement and the female idealism about "meaningful work". The need for flexible work schedules and better work/life balance - which are, in essence, expressions of the same thing - predominate among white collar workers in their thirties because these are the prime child-rearing years. By their forties, most white collar men already appear to have given up their focus on striving. Like blue collar men in their twenties and thirties, they place "job security" above the need for advancement - which may express a growing alienation from the corporate hierarchy and their dwindling hope about finding a place within it. White collar women, however, still appear to be striving, apparently having resumed some of the idealism they had in their twenties. Judging from these trends, it would seem that both sexes would be more amenable to white collar unionization starting in their thirties - and that men, especially, would be most approachable for recruitment as they reach their forties and their main goals begin to coincide with the traditional goals of blue collar men.

"Study: Job Satisfaction Factors Change Over Decades" from

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Can CEOs Police Their Own?

Corporate scandals have occurred often enough that wise investors have learned all too well what damage they can cause on the stock market. This may be the only reason why billionaire investors as diverse as Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban have spoken out against such scandals, and have sworn to pillory the perps once they're caught.

Buffett recently issued a public warning to the managers at his huge company, Berkeley Hathaway, Inc., that questionable financial behavior will not be tolerated. Just because "everyone else is doing it" doesn't make it right, said Buffett. "You can lose a reputation that took 37 years to build in 37 seconds. And it might take more than 37 years to build it back." He should know - he's had to deal with corporate scandals before. He took over at investment giant Salomon Inc. after a bidding scandal erupted there in 1992, and fired executives at his subsidiary General Re Corp. in 2005 for their involvement in accounting fraud.

Mark Cuban, founder of and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, founded a website called which investigates public corporations. If Cuban's reporters discover evidence of financial fraud, corruption or any other sort of unethical or illegal activity, he will publish the scoop so that investors everywhere will be warned to stay away.

Imposing this kind of peer pressure on top executives may be the only way to get them to follow the straight and narrow. After all, who else will they listen to? They won't listen to me. They won't listen to you. Congress is certainly too elephantine to act in a timely fashion, if not too craven to take any action at all. It is only other CEOs who can exert power over their own, which they can do simply by withholding investment, causing the stock price to plummet. Fine, I say. That's the way it should be. Let the big bosses grapple like a pair of Claymation dinosaurs in King Kong or some such thing. Better yet, let them all expire from mutual intimidation and disappear from the earth, after which we warm-blooded little creatures will inherit what is left.

"Another memo on ethics from Buffett" from The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Buffett: Steer clear of corporate scandal" from (California)
"Buffett Warns Execs to Avoid Temptation" from The Washington Post" Digging up dirt on corporate America" from City Beat (Los Angeles)
ShareSleuth website

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Stats Mavens Duke It Out Over The Fate Of The Middle Class

There's been an interesting debate this week on the web pages of The American Prospect. One side pooh-poohs the notion of middle class decline and rising debt, explaining that non-employed seniors are suppressing the average wage picture and that most of the folks in their "working prime" are really pulling in the dough. Their message is, to paraphrase Robert Browning, "The CEO's in His Heaven, and all's right with the world." The other side, while agreeing that the overall circumstances of the middle class have improved in 1973, still emphasize that these improvements are not keeping pace with those for the rich, the improvement in whose circumstances (as if they needed any) has been phenomenal. They also stress that the decline in the rate of improvement, relative to the rich, is cause for alarm - and may prefigure a disturbing trend.

We may be in a cusp situation, in which the middle class is, in fact, experiencing its last hurrah, and that only real decline - not just a slowing of progress - lies in the future. The apologists of the status quo are accused of juggling figures, of focusing too exclusively on middle class prosperity while ignoring the young, the poor, the unemployed and the elderly, and of deliberately drawing statistics from notoriously unreliable sources. They also do not sufficiently acknowledge that debt really is increasing, real wages actually have been decreasing - not since 1973 perhaps, but certainly in the last five years - that health care and pensions are becoming less available rather than more, and that more middle class workers than ever have the threat of layoffs hanging over them like a freakin' sword of Damocles. This is an excellent debate full of statistics and other quotable quantitative tidbits too numerous to include in this blog entry.

Join the fray, or at least observe it, and visit the link below.

"Debating The Middle" from The American Prospect

Friday, October 20, 2006


Bad Medicine

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that you were this middle-aged white collar slob seeking private health insurance. Suppose, when you fill out your application form, you ignore your Prilosec and Caduet prescriptions, your diabetes, and the knee surgery you had last year for arthritis, and claim that your health is as pristine as it was when you were 25. Do you think you would get away with it? Do you think you should get away with it? Why, I tell you, my friend, once you showed up at the hospital with a life-threatening sequel to one of your many "pre-existing conditions", your health care provider would deny you coverage lickety-split, and you'd be thrown out on your ass in your hospital johnny.

Curiously, the top dogs at UnitedHealth - the second-largest health care provider in America - didn't even blink at back-dating the billions of dollars of stock options they'd given as compensation to their chief executives. You know what stock options are - if you get stock options, that means you can retroactively buy the stock at the price it had when the option was first issued, even if the real market price had risen since then. With back-dating, the price when it is first issued - the "strike" price, so to speak - is artificially set to a still earlier (and presumably lower) price that would yield even more of a deal to those who might want to exercise the option later on. As you can see, this is the exact same kind of cheating-by-time-machine game that you would play if you ignored your "pre-existing conditions" and turned the clock back to the bygone days of your healthy youth. It is also, dare I say it, "unethical". By giving the recipients of these stock options this unfair advantage, UnitedHealth jeopardized the interests of its other shareholders. Do you think they got away with it? Damn right, they did! Should they have gotten away with it? Read the article at the link below, and decide for yourself.

"UnitedHealth's Options Scandal Shows Familiar Symptoms" from The Washington Post

Thursday, October 19, 2006


National Boss Day Sampler

National Boss Day was Monday, so I'm a bit late on this - but what the hell. Better late than never, eh? Below is a sampling of recent links that celebrate the blessed event - which some in the Bush administration wish to elevate to the patriotic-slash-religious status of a Thanksgiving or a Christmas, or at least according to certain rumors I've heard. I have eschewed the more inane and obsequious articles for those that are merely helpful or amusing.

I learned some interesting tidbits - for instance, that a survey of 1 million workers said a bad boss is their Number One reason for leaving a job, and that more Americans (15 percent) would prefer to remain with their current boss than to work for any individual celebrity boss such as Bill Gates or Donald Trump, but that the largest plurality (38 percent) would prefer not to have a boss at all and to work for themselves.

Some of these articles approach the issue of boss-employee relations with a ponderous sincerity, urging employees to ask themselves whether or not they - and not their bosses - were the jerks in the equation, or to put themselves in the shoes of their bosses for a moment to understand how they feel. Empathy for the master is much encouraged here. The Star-Telegram article makes facetious suggestions on how to please notorious bosses from TV and the movies, but is most memorable for its title - "Time To Toady". Gotta love that one. Another article describes an online software program that allows web visitors to fabricate an ideal "virtual boss". I gather there's some kind of Frankenstein's Monster subtext underfoot in that one. Finally, from a university online news site, there is a checklist on how to suck up to The Man. It lists the usual suspect behaviors (e.g., "Be A Leader", "Be On Time", "Be Professional"), but is organized in such a way to be useful despite its fundamental banality.

"Boss Day: Real sorry I missed it" from Scripps News
"What celeb CEO would you like to work for?" from Work Life
"Got the bad-boss blues?" from Newsday
"DDI Builds the Ideal Boss" from Red Herring
"Boss, worker: Walk in others? shoes" from Corvallis Gazette-Times
"It's Time To Toady" from Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Brown-Nosing 101" from Echo Online (Eastern Michigan Univ.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Is Workplace Violence A Form Of Slave Rebellion?

Below is a link to an interview of author Mark Ames, whose book Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond analyzes violence in American workplaces and schools. Mr. Ames likens the condition of the American worker to that of a slave in pre-Civil War America, suggesting that eruptions of workplace violence are akin to slave rebellions. Don't think crazed day trader or disgruntled postal worker, he says - think Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. I, for one, think the comparison is a bit extreme, but provocative nonetheless.

Ames is right on the money when he claims that the self-mockery of the American wage slave, as it is expressed in Dilbert cartoons and countless TV ads, is very similar to American slave humor, which likewise put a wistful and creative twist on resignation. For the most part, slaves of any kind feel that there is little they can do to rectify their own situation and relieve their frustrations by joking about it. It is the rare few who rebel. Nor is the humor of cubicle drones and plantation slaves an isolated phenomenon. World War Two army grunts had exactly the same kind of humor, to judge by Bill Mauldin's cartoons in Stars and Stripes, and peasants the world over, from medieval England to modern Mexico, share (or shared) this approach as well.

Ames astutely points out that the slave rebellions of the 1800's, although hailed in retrospect as auguries of emancipation and a catalyst of the abolitionist movement, were viewed as inexplicable and aberrant outbursts at the time. We view violence at the workplace and in schools the same way now. He claims that such violence does not occur in a vacuum, and is an understandable response to real oppression. Most of the school violence was a reaction to severe bullying, and much of the workplace violence was a response to intolerable circumstances - draconian bosses, the garnishing of wages without the employee's permission, etc. He cites the morbidly amusing case of a man with long-standing anti-government opinions who shot a postal worker seven times so that he could be put in prison, where he would be provided finally with the medications he needed to survive - but which, as a private citizen, he could not afford.

Ames may have extreme opinions, but sometimes extreme opinions are necessary. I absolutely agree with him that injustice has prevailed at the workplace since the Reagan administration - in the form of thoughtless and unnecessary downsizing, the extortion of longer (and often unpaid) hours out of workers through the threat of dismissal, the deliberate stunting of career paths, the slashing of benefits and pensions - and that this injustice has received scant attention from the press and remains virtually unacknowledged for what it is. Anyone who even suggests that something is wrong is pilloried. As he himself says, "I hate to sound like a Clintonite here, but let's remember Hillary Clinton became the most hated human being alive because she tried to give most Americans the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives, while these same Americans adored goons like Sam Walton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump -- everyone who has dedicated their lives to transferring wealth, health and pleasure from the masses to a tiny elite. Liberals are hated in America precisely because they want to help people, which is seen as 'patronizing.'" In response let me say that I am proud to call myself a liberal.

"A Brief History of Rage, Murder and Rebellion" from AlterNet

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Solar Powered Office Park

Google's headquarters in Silicon Valley may be powered by sunlight in the not-too-distant future. The Internet company announced its plans to install a solar-powered generation system that will supply 30 percent of the electricity required by its one-million square foot office complex in Mountain View, California. This will make it the largest system of its type installed by any corporation, with the capacity to supply enough power for a thousand California homes.

The cost savings are obvious, but Google real estate VP David Radcliffe claims that the company is also thinking of the environment. "We wanted to dispel the myth that you can't be both Green and profitable."

Some, of course, may think Google is simply trying to one-up Microsoft, since everyone knows that there is as much sunlight to be had in the skies of Seattle as there is tuna in the Sahara. Hence, Bill Gates' behemoth is unlikely to emerge from the "dark side" anytime soon.

Utilizing sunlight to save on illumination costs is a corporate strategy as old as the hills. Henry Ford built the assembly plant for his Model T's with enormous windows designed to capitalize on the availability of natural light. Although one suspects that bringing solar power to Google won't entail adding more windows for its cubicle-bound minions, it'd be nice to have them bask a little more often in the sun as well, would it not?

I only wish that the folks at Google could become "enlightened" enough to give the White Collar Warrior a few more hits in their search engine. But what can ya do?

"Google plans largest U.S. solar-powered office" from Scientific American

Monday, October 16, 2006


Is The Office Becoming A Thing Of The Past?

Young white collar workers care more about what they do these days, rather than where they do it, according to the article at the link below. As one young Turk claims, "I have no psychological attachments to the status of an office. I measure my success on how my talents are used, and what I produce." Indeed, granted the modern prevalence of cellphones with advanced video transmission, wireless web access and text messaging capabilities, there is little need for the amenities of a stationary office. The dude quoted above, for instance, works out of his car. An advertising account executive, he initially envisioned working in a 15th floor office in downtown Chicago, with a view. Like most of us, he got stuck in a cubicle instead. Being in perpetual motion is surely preferable to that. Besides, plying his trade on a peripatetic basis allows him to avoid the pitfalls of office politics. "I like my independence and being able to use my talents in a way that I never have to watch my back," he says.

One fifth of the American workforce - some 30 million workers - spend "significant hours" (to re-quote an original USA Today source article that unfortunately I could not find) outside of the office. 85 percent of corporate management applaud this trend and hope that it accelerates. After all, workers willing to do the job outside of the office means the office can grow smaller, costing much less money in terms of real estate and office equipment. Instead of investing big bucks in vast and permanent installations of cubicles and corner offices, each dedicated to a particular employee (at least so long as he or she is employed), corporations may now invest in a far smaller number of visitors' offices and conference rooms that can be rotated amongst whoever happens to be on the premises at a particular time. Away with the Maginot Line of the old "fixed" office, and in with the Blitzkrieg of the office that is always rolling forward, literally and figuratively.

Once establishing the existence of this trend, the article segues into a discussion of the lingering desirability of a permanent office, waxing rhapsodic as it describes the "most enviable office in the state, a three-floor tower at the pinnacle of a castle". This Gothic aerie edifice belongs to the president of an Illinois university, and is appointed with "Victorian chairs and Persian rugs" - as well as a "humidifier-sized paper shredder (that) rests under the credenza". Ah, well. Sounds nice - and, of course, that is the rub. Most of us still idealize the big office, no matter how bravely we might rationalize otherwise. It is the symbol of success as it has long been portrayed on stage and screen. And it seems to be so common in that alternate universe as well. Even the sleaziest adulterer in a Lifetime TV tear-jerker gets to seat his slimy ass behind a mahogany table as broad as Iowa, with the skyline of Seattle or wherever spread out behind him. Who among us really has such an office today - except, perhaps, for the Hollywood producers who make such movies about scumbags with unaccountably plush workplace digs?

"Office status uncertain for young professionals" from The Daily Journal

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Can We Trust Corporate "Niceness"?

According to the article at the link below, "niceness" is gaining ground on the corporate scene. Frankly, I will believe this when I see it. Nonetheless, some companies and business authors are carving out a niche for themselves with this particular gimmick. Russ Edelman, one of the principals of Nice Guy Strategies, claims that corporations increasingly desire to "create an environment that supports a nicer mind-set. Organizations are asking, 'How can we create an environment that is friendly, welcoming, and warm, but also ensure that people in the company are held accountable and can achieve success?'" Robin Koval, author The Power Of Nice: How To Conquer The Business World With Kindness, graciously asserts that being nice does not preclude being strong, and that even nice people can be willing to stand up for themselves and their own agenda - er, "ideas". And so on, and so forth... Oh - gag me with a spoon, will you? Business folks have utilized "niceness" in the service of getting ahead since time immemorial. To those in the know, it has always been called "politics" or "persuasion" or just plain "schmoozing".

As for importing "niceness" into the office, that is all well and good. I, for one, prefer an atmosphere of cool and civil impersonality rather than abusive managers who cut to the quick and those braying and/or whining colleagues who together demonstrate the truth of those two old saws, "Familiarity breeds contempt" and "Misery loves company". That's my idea of niceness. Unfortunately, "niceness" is by and large an entirely surface phenomenon. The article goes on to describe how an employee supposedly can be laid off with "niceness", which belies the fatuity of the entire concept. There is nothing "nice" about being laid off.

Corporations that employ a higher grade of "niceness" while pursuing business as usual may make the office a little quieter, but the ultimate effect will be at best superficial and at worst completely hypocritical. Worst of all, corporations that aspire to "niceness" are more likely to impose "niceness" upon their employees as a standard of behavior than to embrace "niceness" as their own philosophy. As such, "niceness" will become yet another excuse for the draconian intolerance of personal idiosyncrasy that pervades all corporations. It isn't difficult to imagine some crisply dressed Stepford Wife (or Stepford Husband) of a manager firing you just for laughing too hard or for losing your temper (perhaps justifiably), all with a soft voice and a false smile - and having that pass as an example of "niceness".

"At work, 'nice' is on the rise" from The Christian Science Monitor

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Victims Of Layoffs Are Made To Feel Shame

Here is an article in an Ivy League college newspaper that focuses on journalist Larry Uchitelle, author of The Disposable American. I have discussed Uchitelle and his work before in this blog, but his message certainly bears repeating. He characterizes downsizing and layoffs as a routine strategy employed by American corporations to save costs - even when such corporations are successful and unthreatened by imminent failure. It is this routine quality that he deplores the most. The lives of American workers are destroyed no longer as a last resort or as a desperate measure by a floundering managerial class, but as an ordinary cost of doing business. Uchitelle emphasizes the psychological damage of downsizing and layoffs, which is acute for the individuals to whom these events happen no matter how "routine" they have become for their bosses. According to Uchitelle, "people laid off blame themselves" - not the corporations that cast them aside. The reluctance of the government and civil society at large to extend support or even sympathy to the victims of layoffs only makes them feel more guilty and ashamed. It was not always this way. "Job security was an important part of our industrial success starting in the late 1800's," he says. "Now we tell people that they don?t have value, that people who attach themselves to a company or skill suddenly are told they don't matter." And layoffs are scarcely something that happens to the other guy either. Uchitelle estimates that approximately 7 percent of the American work force is laid off every year. "We need more moral outrage," he says. "Especially from our unions and spiritual leaders."

If you have been reading this blog, you have heard all this before. If not, you are hearing it now. But I am a veteran, a person who has himself been laid off or downsized - and not once, but several times. Hence, I am a person of no value, and why should you listen to me? However, it is interesting that Uchitelle's message has been promulgated by a college newspaper. Maybe that is a good sign. Uchitelle may not be preaching entirely to the choir after all. The Ivy League young are viewed as the "promise of the future" in the eyes of all "forward-looking" corporations - and, indeed, hiring them provides much of the impetus for discarding those already employed. If we can induce sympathy for the downtrodden foot soldiers of American industry among this crowd, we can induce it anywhere.

Another irony here is the curious exclusion of downsized workers from the culture of victimhood that has pervaded our culture for decades now. It is most odd indeed that they are not widely counseled to project the blame for their own misfortune onto those who imposed it on them in the first place. We blame Daddy if he beats us or molests us, don't we? Why can't we blame him if he fires us for no reason at all - other than to satisfy his lust for greed? We castigate our racists and sexists and anti-Semites, and imprison our rapists and child molestors and gay bashers - don't we? Don't we? Then why are we allowing the greatest of all the violators of human dignity in our society to get off scotfree?

"Journalist Discovers Layoffs Cause Victims to Feel Guilty" from the Cornell Daily Sun

Friday, October 13, 2006


How Your Cubicle Can Make You Sick

The article at the link below is targeted at IT people, but can apply to anyone who works in a cubicle and uses phones or computer equpment. Between 5 to 20 percent of Americans catch the flu every year, and about 80 percent of those flu cases are contracted through an infected object. Phones, keyboards and mice are among the dirtiest objects in your vicinity, so watch out. Since a few numbers are worth a thousand words, and since morbid statistics are always such fun to quote anyway, here are some figures that will tell you how dirty these tools really are:

1) Phones - 26,127 germs per square inch
2) Desktop surface - 20,961 germs PSI
3) Keyboard - 3,295 germs PSI
4) Mouse - 1,676 germs PSI
5) Fax machine - 301 germs PSI
6) Copy machine - 69 germs PSI
7) Toilet seat - 49 germs PSI

Notice how clean toilet seats are compared to the contents of your cubicle. Phones, of course, come into contact with your face, your breath, your mouth and hands. It's no wonder that they're so dirty. In contrast, one of the major factors that contributes to the unsanitary conditions of desktops, keyboards and mice is that they come into contact with food and drink whenever you take coffee breaks, lunch, breakfast or even your supper at your desk. Why do you eat at your desk, do you think? You know the answer to that. It's because your whip-cracking work schedule won't give you the time you need to eat and drink in the lounge or the cafeteria. The oppressive time constraints imposed by your bosses are therefore directly responsible for putting your health at risk.

Barring a hygienic mutiny at your workplace anytime soon, you are stuck with this repellent bio-pollution of your own little micro-infrastructure. How can you protect yourself against it? The article suggests wiping down everything with disinfectant on a regular basis. It also describes a new family of office products that are covered with "silver ion" or "nano silver", a high tech coating with anti-microbial properties. Some of the makes and models of cellphones, keyboards and mice that utilize such coatings are listed at the end of the article.

"Why phones, keyboards and mice make me sick" from Computerworld

Thursday, October 12, 2006


In Japan They Call This "Karaoke"

Alan Thicke, Canadian comedian and erstwhile on-screen father of Kirk Cameron, star of the Left Behind movies admired by the Christian right, will soon host a reality TV series called The Singing Office. The gist of this new confection is that talent scouts will invade some wilderness of cubicles in middle America, hold "impromptu singing auditions", and whisk the top five contestants off to Hollywood for further grooming and competition. It is apparently not enough for Hollywood to manipulate the fantasies of the masses with American Idol. Now they must materialize those fantasies in the very places where they originate and flourish - the dreary world of the corporate drone. I mean, how psychologically invasive is that?

When crooning and corporate servitude mix, it is usually in the form of karaoke. Long the scourge of drunken office parties and Japanese business entertainment, karaoke involves singing along with a recorded vocalist rather than actually performing your own rendition. In short, it is all about imitation rather than originality. As such, it is the appropriate art of choice for white collar employees everywhere, for whom conformity is not just a mandate but the preferred model for even their rowdiest personal dreams. So too, no doubt, for The Singing Office...

"Alan Thicke To Host Reality Show 'The Singing Office'" from All Headline News

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


United Professionals Redux

The article at the link below is about Barbara Ehrenreich's new white collar organization "United Professionals". I have discussed United Professionals in several previous postings, and there is little to add here. The article did apparently entail a fresh interview of Ms. Ehrenreich, and some of its quotes are worth reiterating.

As she recounted in her book Bait And Switch - which I've read, and which you should read too - her efforts to find a PR job led Ehrenreich to various networking groups that turned out to be "fronts for expensive career classes and sometimes even Christian evangelism." She says, "People...really want to come together, but when they do so often it ends up being some sort of very exploitative or useless situation."

Her original intention was not to create a labor union per se. Part of her rationale for this choice was that white collar workers are engaged in many different occupations across multiple industries, while her perception of a union was that it only served practitioners of a particular trade - such as auto workers, mine workers or teamsters. That isn't necessarily true - the AFL-CIO, for instance, is not limited to just one trade or industry. Nonetheless, United Professionals began as an "organization", not a "union", and that is probably what it will remain. Ehrenreich envisions the eventual power of UP to reside in a general political influence rather than conventional union tactics such as strikes and negotiations with specific employers. That may be a far too idealistic approach.

UP's three main immediate goals are universal health care, unemployment insurance reform, and "fairness in lending" legislation to aid white collar workers who fall into debt between jobs. Later on, UP hopes to address the issue of corporate accountability, "so that (corporations) can't just lay off people or suspend pension and health benefits without some kind of review, some kind of public process." Ultimately, Ehrenreich hopes that UP can form the nucleus of a movement among American voters. As she says, "The insecurity and instability of the middle class is part of the picture and we want those middle-class people to see that things like universal health insurance and a better safety net are in their immediate self-interest. I think we can build a majority movement for economic justice in this country."

The article is trailed by several threads of comments, and many of these are in themselves enlightening to read. A few criticize Ehrenreich's reluctance to embrace the conventional trade union model, decrying her apparent inability to acknowledge the unrivaled potency of collective bargaining, whereby workers can hit management where it lives by actually threatening to strike. They also claim that her reluctance expresses a certain level of snobbery. One respondent goes as far as to accuse white collar workers of being complicit in the oppression of blue collar workers, implying that they deserve a taste of their own medicine. Other postings are generally supportive of Ehrenreich's goals.

"White-Collar Workers Unite!" from AlterNet

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


CEOs Victims Of Child Abuse?

Spanking, the first recourse of child abusers and the cornerstone of S&M sexuality, appears to be something that most CEOs have in their past. An informal survey conducted by USA Today revealed that many of our top captains of industry were "paddled, belted, switched or swatted" as children. At least one CEO admits that his dad was "a mean drunk" and several female execs fess up to having been spanked by their daddies as well. Although "child psychologists wince at such a finding", the pro-business spin is that the practice transformed these damaged individuals into paragons of discipline, detail-orientation and self-reliance.

Be that as it may. The line between corporal punishment and child abuse is a thin one, and the latter is known to retard achievement rather than promote it. Abused children often grow up to be abusers themselves, ranging from garden variety wife beaters to serial killers. Extreme physical abuse during one's formative years also cripples empathy - which would come as no surprise to the countless recent victims of ruthless downsizing and corporate greed.

Some have attempted to rationalize the experience of CEOs as typical of the child-rearing practices of the Baby Boomer era - a weak argument, considering that so many mothers raised their children according to the dictates of the notoriously permissive Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Read the articles at the links below and draw your own conclusions - or else. Only kidding... It is food for thought though, is it not? That the "achievements" of corporate tyrants and the "pathology" of violent criminals might actually have the same source?

"One thing CEOs have in common: they were spanked as kids " from AZCentral
"CEOs often were spanked as children" from Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon)

Monday, October 09, 2006


Bad Bosses Scare Off Young Workers

Here are the results of yet another survey from the UK, which nonetheless should prove applicable to the United States. Research conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management across a broad sample of British workers aged 18 to 24 yielded the following results.

11 percent feel their manager is holding them back.

27 percent say they would leave their employer if they were badly managed.

28 percent of those who have had a bad experience with their bosses would never want to be a boss themselves, as opposed to only 14 percent of those with positive experiences.

25 percent believed they could do a better job than their current managers.

60 percent most dislike a manager who unfairly places blame on others.

86 percent say "approachability" is the most important trait in a manager, while 66 percent most value an ability to delegate, and 47 percent each valued managers with a team spirit and managers who play a "consultative" role.

Despite their misgivings about the quality of management in British business, 61 percent expect to learn from their managers, and 40 percent of these young workers say they would like to be managers themselves in the next five years.

These results should be a word to the wise to managers worldwide, not just in the UK. Today's managers are prone to write off workers over forty as dead meat with virtually no interest in what those cynical old birds think of them, but often take it for granted that younger workers will follow their lead with all the stereotypical zeal (and gullibility) of youth. This survey demonstrates that young workers have grown precocious in their cynicism and can no longer be fooled or exploited with immunity like the youth of yesterday.

"Bad bosses deter young talent: study" from Globe and Mail
"Bad bosses curb young ambition" from Online Recruitment
"Bad managers driving away talent" from Management-Issues

Sunday, October 08, 2006


How You Can Help Stop Global Warming

The brief article at the link below reminds white collar workers everywhere to shut down their PCs or laptops when they leave work for the day. According to a study conducted in the UK, one in five office workers leave their computer on overnight at least three times a week. This involves 2 million computers in the UK, and results in the wastage of 100 million pounds (or 187 million dollars) worth of electricity. 87 percent of workers had never been instructed to power down their computers, nor had they been informed of the general importance of conserving energy. Leaving TV sets on in the home, and keeping cellphone chargers activated even after the cellphone has long since been recharged, also contribute to the waste of energy.

We can only assume that the situation in the United States is just as bad.

"Technology on standby significant contributor to global warming" from TechDigest

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Turning A Blind Eye To Corporate Crime

Below is a link to a small item published last month. It states that, although the number of SEC agents investigating financial malfeasance has increased from 981 to 1,232 from 2001 to 2005, the prosecution of white collar crimes has actually decreased 28 percent. The number of FBI agents investigating such crimes has also decreased - from 2,385 in 2000 to 1,882 in 2004.

Most agree that white collar prosecutions have declined because of the shift in focus to the War on Terror since 9/11. The prosecution of terrorism cases has risen, and the prosecution of immigration violations in general has soared dramatically, to more than 30,000 cases a year. Some experts believe that the Justice Department is "turning a blind eye" to white collar crime, and imply that we need to watch for it especially closely because it is much easier to steal vast sums of money than it is to commit violent acts.

Bush's War on Terror may be good for America, but it is particularly good for American businessmen without scruples.

"White Collar Crime Ignored? from Free Market News Network

Friday, October 06, 2006


Field Hospitals For Cubicle Combatants

I've long known that the corporate world was a primal battleground, red in tooth and claw. Dodging from one bad boss to the next, it's taken all the courage and agility at my disposal to escape the careening shrapnel of an impending cerebral hemorrhage. But now, maybe there is hope that I might survive to retirement after all...

Although on-site medical care has been available at factories and other blue collar workplaces for generations, white collar workers have traditionally needed to find their doctors elsewhere. That is rapidly changing. To reduce health care costs - as well as to cut down on employee absences due to doctor's office visits - about 22 percent of major corporations have in-house clinics, and another 5 percent intend to establish such clinics by next year. These clinics make their services available to employees at little or no extra cost, but they are not intended to replace health insurance - just supplement it in a fashion that will result in savings for all concerned.

One corporation, Discovery Communications, Inc., established and outfitted its own clinic at a cost of $200,000, but that initial outlay has generated $500,000 in savings annually. Because the clinic's doctors can utilize facilities provided by the corporation, their overhead is far less than it would be otherwise, and they can charge just $153 for a physical rather than the going rate of $243.

The ultimate savings, according to Discovery's executives, are both "definable and intangible". By making visits to the doctor so affordable and convenient, employees go more often, resulting in earlier detection and more effective treatment of medical conditions. That spells better health all around, which reduces sick days and increases productivity, not to mention heading off heavy-duty health insurance claims incurred by ignoring symptoms until disaster strikes.

In addition to physical exams, corporate clinics can provide gynecological exams, blood tests, nutritional counseling and emergency first aid. The host corporation does not employ the doctors and nurses who work at their clinics, but instead outsources them from other corporations that specialize in clinic services - such as Whole Health Management and CHD Meridian Healthcare.

This sounds like a great idea - the rare positive offshoot of the perennial corporate impulse to save on bucks. My only qualm is that employees would have little choice in the staff employed by the clinic. Then, too, there is that age-old skepticism about the quality of captive medicos. Remember what they used to say about ships' doctors?

"Doctor in the cubicle" from HeraldNet

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Congress Considers CEO Pay Reforms (Maybe)

Forget about Representative Foley and his probable Internet habits. He's not likely to be the only Congressman with his eye focused on porn. Congress is (at long last) peering into the obscene world of executive compensation, and assorted high muckety-mucks are bellowing like wounded buffalos over the injustice of it all. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa called the latest stock option backdating scandal "disgusting and repulsive", and Senator Max Baucus of Montana shook his head over the Grand-Canyonesque wage divide between executives and workers, crying out, "The gap is too large. It's starting to affect employee morale." Well, duh... It remains to be seen whether this sudden interest in the spectacle of corporate greed is just the election year ploy it appears to be, or if it will really result in any lasting change. Certainly, it is a good sign that Congress finally understands that condemning corporate malfeasance means playing to the crowd.

The Senate Finance Committee is investigating the compensation behavior of at least 100 companies from the entire spectrum of American business, many (if not most) of them major players. A 1993 modification to Section 162(m) of the tax code was enacted to prevent corporations from deducting more than $1 million in CEO compensation - but the law left a gaping loophole. Additional compensation could be deducted as well, so long it was "performance-based". As we all know, "performance" is conceptual Silly Putty in most corporate boardrooms, where even abysmal failure can be likened to the purr of a Rolls-Royce engine at full throttle. At any rate, this change initiated the practice of awarding vast quantities of stock options to executives in lieu of cash, and that practice itself has since mutated into highly questionable activities such as backdating - in which stock options are made available at a price different from the one it had when the options were actually awarded. There is also something else called "springloading", which I've never heard of, but seems to involve a variation of insider trading.

According to Forbes, even if Congress amended the tax code to close up the stock option loophole, that might have little effect on executive compensation. Recent laws requiring more open disclosure of imminent stock option awards and other corporate actions have turned many companies away from the practice. The heyday of the stock options craze was the boom-boom nineties anyway, and that era has long passed. Most companies will probably continue to award ever greater compensation to their executives even if they can't deduct the excess from their tax bills.

The most interesting aspect of this entire imbroglio is the very public indignation of Congress, and what it says about our leaders' changing perception of the public mood.

"U.S. Lawmakers Eye Potential Stock Option Reforms" from Information Week
"Options On The Hill" from Forbes
"Senate Finance Committee Looks At Executive Compensation Increases" from OMB Watch
"Law on executive pay may have backfired" from The Seattle Times

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


More Tales Of The Corporate Penny-Pinchers...

Slate reporter Daniel Gross got so many responses from readers to his recent article on corporate penny-pinching that he decided to publish an update. It turns out that vast hordes of white collar folks heartily second Gross's condemnation of how CEO tightwads reap minimal savings by skimping on office necessities. According to him, "The message to corporate bean counters is loud and clear: Whatever you do, don't stint on office supplies (especially paper clips) and caffeine."

The anecdotes of his correspondents are rife with comic indignation. They cite instances where their employer refused to pay for Post-It pads, where pens and Post-Its were locked away from those who needed them, and where their company refused even to buy office supplies any more - thus forcing the cubicle rats to purchase their own. The preservation of paper clips was a particular issue for many of these vastly wealthy mega-firms. A Bear Stearns veteran recalls being handed a bag of paper clips, explaining that Bear Stearns no longer bought the items and that these were all he would ever get. "This was on the direction of [legendary gazillionaire CEO] Ace Greenberg, and the company seemed almost proud of this inane cost-cutting measure." Another firm insisted on using paper clips rather than staples because the former could be recycled, and still another firm kept "a listing of each clip we used, and the reason for the use!" A box of 100 paper clips goes for about 49 cents by the way, not even half a cent apiece.

Similar campaigns to capitalize on the Lilliputian gains of saving on coffee and other beverages also resulted in some rather ridiculous stories. One restaurant chain charged employees two bucks a paycheck for the soda they drank (or did not drink) while at work. WorldCom cut free coffee. A major ad firm expressly forbade its employees to use the communal milk for cereal, and some companies eschew milk and cream entirely for the powdered stuff. I myself once worked for a company that charged 25 cents for every pathetic little cup of java we drank, even if we did have to brew it up ourselves.

We agree with Mr. Gross that depriving office workers of office supplies and decent morning coffee is not only humiliating and quintessentially Scrooge-like - it's counterproductive. Anyone who's ever worked in an office knows they need these commodities just to get through the day. Keeping them from your workers exhibits a denial not just of their humanity - but even of that small part of their humanity that must be engaged to get the job done. Corporations should care about Homo faber even if they don't give a damn about Homo sapiens.

"More Idiotic Corporate Penny-Pinching Measures" from Slate

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The Jekyll And Hyde Of Management

"Respect is a two-way street", says Ruth Hagg, author of Hiring and Firing. Managers who don't treat their employees with respect will never be respected in return.

As an example of dispectful managerial behavior, Hagg cited a recent "cyberfiring" at RadioShack, in which 400 employees were laid off via e-mail. The text of this e-mail was "The workplace reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one of those that has been eliminated." RadioShack nonetheless insisted that it had notified its workforce in advance that the layoffs, which occurred August 29th, would be conducted through e-mail for reasons of privacy. Hagg implies that a face-to-face conference behind closed doors would have been more appropriate, and would have met the need for "privacy" at least as well as any impersonal e-mail.

Hagg describes such callous methods of dismissal as "rookie mistake(s)" that not only demoralize the remaining employees but could scare away future job applicants.

Hagg claims that managers tend in come in three flavors, each with its own unpleasant aftertaste. Here is her typology - with my own remarks and annotations.

1) Sensitive managers - This type is so reluctant to handle employees with the required firmness that they are not taken seriously. Consequently, when they do fire an employee, the employee is often traumatized by the suddenness of their actions.

2) Belligerent managers - These guys tend to act now, and think later. This lack of restraint may result in a need to retract their actions later on, which makes them appear unpredictable and inconsistent and may also cause them not to be taken seriously. Sometimes they may even fire employees without due consideration, and not be able to take their actions back.

3) Regal managers - Here we have a type that is at once remote and controlling. They need to have approval over every aspect of an operation, but at the same time may not be available to make the kind of quick decisions required of a true hands-on manager. This can hobble the responsiveness of any team, and make its performance extremely inefficient. These managers fire employees from a bureaucratic perspective, without an accurate understanding of what is actually going on in the trenches.

All of these types, so far as I can see, could resort to "cyberfirings" - each for his or her own reasons. The "sensitive" ones out of timidity, the "belligerent" ones out of rashness, and the "regal" ones out of hauteur. Damn them all to hell.

Hagg counsels us that the "sensitive" ones should be more assertive, the "belligerent" assholes should look before they leap, and the "regal" dudes should come out of their corner offices and check out the world beyond themselves. These are all common sense decisions, but even Hagg admits that one's basic personality is a very hard thing to change.

According to Hagg, the bottom line in corporate layoffs is information. Managers should warn employees in advance of possible layoffs, provide an adequate justification of those layoffs, keep them informed of all changes during the process, and render as much support as they can with outplacement and re-education.

"Hiring and firing with respect" from IT World

Monday, October 02, 2006


Surveillance Nation

The Washington Post weighs in on workplace surveillance. The recent e-mail "pretexting" scandal at HP supplies the occasion for this article, but one can't help thinking that the 800-pound-gorilla-like presence of the Pentagon and the C.I.A. may predispose D.C.-centered journalists towards pondering the ubiquity of spying. The article twitches watchfully in the direction of the usual suspects - web visit and keystroke monitoring, e-mail scanning, background checks, etc. All of which may well go on simultaneously wherever you work, and no matter who you are.

"Technology has provided a capability that we never had before to check up on employees like never before," HR honcho Manny Avramidis gleefully (if somewhat ungrammatically) boasts. "It's within an organization's right to monitor anything you do during work time using work tools."

And now for the fun part - the stats. 76 percent of firms monitor website connections. 36 percent track ingoing and outgoing attachments, keystrokes and even the overall time spent clicking on the keys. 55 percent review e-mail. And keep in mind this is no idle voyeurism. 26 percent of the firms surveyed have fired employees for Internet abuse, and 25 percent have fired them for e-mail abuse.

The article even fingers (er, names) a corporation that develops software to conduct such surveillance - Websense, Inc. Although Websense is unquestionably more a part of the problem than the solution, it has compiled its own array of interesting stats. 70 percent of companies use some kind of web filtering, and the market for such products is growing 17 percent a year. There is as great a demand for keeping the secrets of a company as for violating the secrets of its employees. Websense's latest creation is a tool that prevents data from leaving companies, rather than just coming in.

Rather surprisingly, a few corporate executives acknowledge that some personal e-mails sent at work are okay, even inevitable. Says one, " today's complex world where we blend personal and corporate lives, it is acceptable to use e-mail and Internet for some personal use." Yeah, like selling one's Mercedes SUV through eBay, if you are in the right income bracket.

The use of background checks is also expanding. Customarily utilized to screen job applicants, background checks are now being performed on some individuals throughout the entire duration of their employment. These checks catch such things as pre-hire criminal convictions that escaped the first round of screening. If work stress induces one to rack up a DUI conviction, or knock the heads off parking meters, Cool Hand Luke-style, the neverending background checks will catch those as well.

Even those key cards so many of us depend on to get in and out of the building don't just unlock doors. They can be used, like homing tags stapled into the ears of polar bears, to track our comings and goings in the cold, cold world of modern commerce. Corporations that employ these tracking devices are able to tell whether or not we are at work at a particular hour, how much time we spend in the company cafeteria - even how many times we go to the toilet. I wonder - are telecommuters required to carry these devices with them so that Big Brother will know when they leave the house to take the kids to school or buy groceries? All I can say in response to this latest development is to quote an audio file that was circulating on PC desktops some years ago, an outtake from The Treasure of Sierra Madre to the effect that, "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges..."

"Every Move You Make" from The Washington Post

Sunday, October 01, 2006


White Collar Workers In Canada Move To Unionize

Here are some news items from the last few weeks about a drive to unionize salaried workers at Stelco, a Canadian steel company. The Steelworkers Union itself is leading the campaign. There are more than 700 salaried Stelco employees in their sights. According to the Canadian press, the drive is "not at all surprising", considering the recent slings and arrows of benefits and vacation cuts that Stelco workers have had to endure, and some see irony in the fact that white collar workers in the steel industry had so vehemently opposed unionization in the past, siding almost reflexively with management. Now things are changing.

The move is highly unusual in the Canadian steel industry. Only at Algoma Steel of Sault St. Marie have salaried workers organized in a similar fashion, when 570 employees - including supervisors, planners and college-educated metallurgists - formed a separate union in 1995. The Steelworkers Union at Stelco will offer its white collar members some autonomy, providing them separate office space and the opportunity to appoint their own leaders.

There is hope in the Great White North. Let us pray that someday it will come south...

"White-collar union drive at Stelco 'not common'" from The Hamilton Spectator
"Ironic that Stelco's salaried workers must follow lead of unionized steelworkers to protect rights" from The Hamilton Spectator
"Salaried Stelco workers ponder unionizing" from AM900 CHML (Canadian radio)

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