Blog Archive - December 2012
Writing in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson reports on strategies and tactics being used by unions and often by non-union low wage workers. Workers at Walmart and other large, low-wage corporations are fighting back. They are attacking, as one labor leader put it, by coming at employers “from every angle.”
Traditional unions are often hindered by NLRB rules. Those rules don’t apply to workers who are kept out of unions. While they have no protection from the government, non-union workers can be more creative in their quest for workplace justice and fair pay. Hopefully, as Clawson suggests, the labor movement in the U.S. will be reborn from the bottom up.
In a recent post, I described a client who is being laid off because of a trend to make employees buy their trucks and routes. We could debate this managerial strategy. As I wrote, I’m not a fan of making employees carry most of the risk. However, my client faced a different, more immediate problem. He needed a job.
My client assumed that that all trucking companies were following the same model. Maybe more are, but not all. We quickly identified four companies that pay drivers as employees and do not require that they own their trucks. I also talked to him about other ways he could use his skill as a driver to earn a living.
My client’s initial problem was that he faced a career roadblock without thinking about alternatives, ways to work around a problem. In the face of job loss, most of us go through a similar type of despair or denial.
What should you do if you or a friend are facing a career roadblock? First, analyze the situation calmly and rationally. Ask this question: What kind of employers need my skills? Make a detailed list of your professional skills and start thinking about what kind of industries and companies employee people with those skills
Another good way to get around road blocks is to talk with people you’ve worked with in the past, especially supervisors or managers who appreciated your work. Don’t ask them to help you get a job. That’s a big turn off. Instead, ask them for advice. What skills do they see as your strongest? Where do they think you should look for work? Do they have any insight about how you might change careers? Humans love to give advice (especially bloggers). Take advantage of that resource.
There are other ways around career roadblocks, too many to list here. The key is to recognize that you are stuck and find a way to move forward. Keep a positive attitude and stay open to new ideas. For many successful professionals, a career roadblock offers an opportunity to find a new, better job. The first step is always to believe in yourself and know that you can move forward.
I was listening to Ed Schultz’s radio show today, which included an interview with the great union leader Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers, who asked this question: Why do CEOs and executives get the security of contracts? A small faction of unionized employees have such security, but that piece of the labor pie gets smaller every day. The best paid employees – the executives – are also the most secure.
Corporations now specialize in transferring risk from the company and executives to workers. I met with a client today who drives a small truck. His company is being put out of business by competitors that require drivers to purchase their trucks and routes, which is a method FedEx uses for some of its vehicles. When the company is no longer responsible for the vehicle, it can cut its price while increasing its profit. The company wins, so does it customer. Who loses? The employee who now has to own the truck, maintain the vehicle, and eventually replace it.
This example is just one way that workers are carrying the burden of “productivity.” The more a company can ask of its workers: own the vehicle, own your tools, pay for your entire pension, pay for most of your health care; the more it can take as profit. Those who believe in the “free market” will argue that these business models would be impossible if workers did not accept the terms. I think a more accurate way of describing this situation would be that desperate people will make bad choices. Those bad choices will cause all of us to suffer. First we will pay more to support social programs accessed by low wage workers. The next step will be much worse. What happens when wages fall so low that the shrinking middle class can’t subsidize the system that pushes money up? Our lives will be very ugly.
We need a system that offers real security as well as the opportunity for reasonable profit. Our current system is out of balance, asking the least of those who have the most, setting up a system where those who are most secure are getting even more security.
I often deal with difficult subjects in this blog and sometimes fall victim to pessimism. Since Christmas and New Year's Day are times of hope, I want to express this wish: May next year bring us all good work that we love and the opportunity to improve the skills that we want to use.
Happy holiday and best wishes for 2013.
[On Sundays, this blogs looks beyond the work world in “Sabbath.”]
Simplicity and Lies
Everyone was shocked a little over a week ago when one man with a gun killed 26 people at a school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. We can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing, which is logical since such actions betray any definition of reason. The President and other officials weighed in on the event, and quickly the subject turned to how to prevent such event in the future. That’s where it gets messy.
From Revolutionary War heroes to Civil War heroes to cowboys to tough guy detectives, America has always told stories of heroes that use guns. Today’s action movie posters frequently show a well-known star holding a weapon he or she would never touch in real life. We are also a culture of hunters and sports shooters, law-abiding citizens who use guns to pursue happiness. None of these examples are meant to knock guns or their owners, just to show how pervasive guns our in our cultural.
What can we do about gun violence? I don’t know. But I do know what we should do: Stop talking to each other like adults talking to young children. Last week, the NRA and its allies claimed that armed guards or teachers could have stopped the killer. There logic is that it takes “good people with guns to stop bad people with guns.” Such a claim simplifies reality, and it is a lie. The organization’s real goal is to prevent any kind of restriction on guns sales. Rather than address that question, it turns to pseudo-moral language that clouds policy issues.
On the day of the shooting I was listening to political talk radio. A caller said that we shouldn’t have any kind of gun control because the real problem is evil. That kind of thinking is also a dangerous simplification through a false moral rhetoric. If we say a problem is rooted in “human nature,” it cannot be changed. The classic way of framing this claim is “Guns don’t kill people. “People kill people.” However, if they are doing the killing with a gun, if they kill more people at one time with guns, it’s nonsensical to dismiss the role of the gun in the murders. In recent decades both Australia and England changed gun laws after mass killings, and the number of mass killings has greatly decreased in both countries. My point is not to argue for any type of law. It’s about language and how we talk to each other about solving a problem.
If we speak to each other in language that simplifies reality, we will never change. In fact, we will move backward to a time where fear ruled over reason. Do adults have the right to own any kind of weapon? If not, what are the restrictions? Should we have national laws, or should the laws vary from state to state? This kind of question brings us to a place where we can debate specific actions. White hat and black hat language is an excuse for inaction. People who really care about the deaths of the children and teachers in Sandy Hook should honor their memory with honest language about the tragedy and its aftermath.
In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Sandra Guy tells the story of a young man who chose to take part-time jobs over the past four years. He did this to write a book. Now he’s found that he’s not able to save or put money aside for retirement. Sadly, this story does not stop with people who have chosen part-time work. Many Americans are stuck in part-time jobs that offer no chance to save for proverbial rainy day.
Even many full-time employees have faced several years of small raises or no raises at all. One of my clients is married to a corporate lawyer. Her husband has not had a raise in 5 years. His company stopped contributing to 401K savings. This example shows that even accomplished professionals are facing an ever tightening noose of insecurity.
What will we do? Too many people are asking that question.
Workers often end up in situations where they feel forced to make an instant decision: a job offer, salary negotiation, performance reviews, or signing a disciplinary document. One of my clients is involved in a negotiation that might not go his way. I gave him this advice: If you feel yourself getting angry or tongue-tied, ask for 24 hours to think about the situation. Taking a day will let you make a clear decision and express yourself more clearly.
Some employers will demand instant action. In those cases, do not assume good will. Ask what the consequence will be if you do not make an immediate decision. Or ask why the employer will not give you a day to think about your decision. Asking such questions will at least give you a few minutes to think about your action. They might even change the employer’s mind.
If you are forced to act immediately, know that you have the right not to accept what the employer is offering. It might cost you a job, but, in the long run, that could be a good thing. Bully employers will keep asking for more and more. Don’t give in to such people.
Huffington Post reports that a McDonald’s employee in Wales was fired for putting too many sprinkles on an ice cream dessert. She was an experienced worker with good evaluations. She sued and settled with McDonald’s for £3,000 (about $5,000). The moral of the story is to fight back. Workers in Wisconsin and Michigan may not win today, but they will if they keep fighting – as teachers did in Chicago, and as did a worker who was fired for using too may sprinkles. The Staple Singers said it best: “Respect yourself.”
I just got good news from a client who wants to work in pro baseball. My client went to the winter meetings, interviewed with 8 teams, and accepted an internship with the Tampa Bay Rays. Was he lucky? To a degree. What's more important is the work he did to get lucky. Beyond his achievements as a player and coach, he studied how people get jobs in baseball. Then he had the courage to risk rejection and failure. He could have gotten no interviews or no offers. Instead, he took the chance and now has an opportunity.
Failure is easy: do nothing and make excuses. Success is hard because you can work hard and still not achieve your goal. However, most people who know their target and how to hit it end up in the right place. It's never easy to find the job you want, but with a little faith and a lot of work, most people get to the right place. Don't stop believing in yourself. Keep working!
I recently asked a client what MS Office programs she used at work. My client asked me, “Won’t they know that? Everybody uses Office now.” There are two problems with her statement. First, not everyone knows the software or uses the same program. The second problem is that it ignores the employer’s message. I’d estimate that more than 50% of job postings ask for specific examples of software. If we as job seekers don’t include a list of software, the employer is likely to assume that we don’t know software needed to do the job. Don’t let your assumptions lead employers to make incorrect assumptions about you. Know what the employer needs and spell out your qualifications.