Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oh, Boy: You've Got To Be Kidding.

Okay, so here's the story. I got a job with Super Duper Mini Corp, a wholly-owned business of Super Duper Mega Giant Corp, a company with a long legacy arising from involvement of paper production, internationally speaking.

Now, the guy that hired me is one heck of a salesman. Big, booming voice, gregarious character - totally old-school. I was charmed. The pay was $20K less than a competing bid from another Mega Super Duper Pharma Corp for more work, less responsibility and no title other than "operator."

Let me say that I walked in with my eyes open. I discussed this extensively with my very smart and practical girlfriend and she helped me sort through the operation of my internal Ouija Board until I decided to go with these presumably fine folks in Eastern NJ. She wisely didn't express her opinion except to help me feedback on my own thoughts, mind you, so she bears no blame whatsoever. Damn.

My plan was to hold out until the last possible second and give Mega Super Duper Pharma Corp a shot for three days so that they could evaluate me and me them. The pay, as I mentioned before, was much better and the political safety of the work was much greater. It was also an "in" the the pharma market in which I already had a toe-hold through a previous gig. The one huge drawback was the travel distance - smack dab in the middle of New Jersey, about an hour and a half from me without traffic. Might have been bearable considering that it was on the second shift.

The manager of the East Jersey job pressured me to start ASAP. I was worried about losing that gig, so I cancelled with the Pharma Corp. Ooops.

I started, toute de suite, under the false impression that I might have a little status based on my sterling background in workflows, packaging for high-end products and high-end retouching work. After all, I made Mel Karmazin look good! Well, I was wrong.

The factor I truly despise in any work environment is politics. Hate it, hate it, hate it. There's enough to do without having to fend off bullies right off the bat. In this particular situation, there is a closely-knit group of cronies, and that is the word, who didn't want new staff because it would dilute their overtime.

I was jibed for being a spy, for being a little slow (in the head), for being the New Guy Forever and for being the Quiet Man, which was a movie with John Wayne if I recollect this correctly. Okay, a joke's a joke, but as a professional, recognized on three or four continents, that kinda hurts. Okay - I know I came in as a heavyweight - not my fault, I didn't hire me. I also know my shit and it was clear to me that these people simply did not. They guessed. At everything.

I did the right thing. I kept my big trap shut, watched and waited. I was treated to silence and exclusion all of the time. One day, the crew was bantering that it would be great to have some iced coffee and who should go for the coffee run? I said, "Hey, I'll go. I'm not even here yet and it's on me!" I went through the staff and, one by one, they declined. WTF?

Okay - so these were pod people. I tried to humanize myself by mentioning personal things. Silence, as if I had never uttered a word. I had been moved to the night shift - contrary to my hiring agreement - with no information ever available as to when that would end. The production supervisor dunned me for taking two breaks since I got there when I should have only taking one per shift. Is that legal, I thought? Wait a minute - why allow me to walk into that trap in the first place. Either the manager was willfully negligent or incompetent by not making policy clear where the industry standard is two ten-minute breaks and forty-five minutes for lunch. Here, they neither paid for breaks or lunch and looking back into my acceptance letter, the manager was quite incorrect. Anyway, WTF?

Prior to that, I was dunned for being two minutes, three minutes and one minute late punching in (which I had never had to do in my life, by the way) on three separate dates. "We have a no tolerance policy for lateness," I was told most sternly, so much so that I felt that I had been caught with my hand in the till, "and if it happens again, you will be suspended pending review." "When you say 'again', do you mean this month, three months, over what period?" "Ever. If you are ever late again during your employment, you will be suspended." "Um, okay." These people are unhinged, better not rock their tiny little boat. I signed a paper that acknowledged the error of my ways and we were done.

By this time, I was getting the sneaking suspicion that these folks were seriously dysfunctional. I started to see the massive cracks between what was real and what the Boss had as information. The production managers controlled the shop force and there was an implicit deal to maintain the status quot - that is, eliminate new hires, keep the OT up and the ops would keep being nice to the production managers by not slowing down the work. My aha moment began to turn into a nightmare.

Mind you, I could have been making more money with no stress, or less bullshit stress, anyway, and I didn't have to have my balls squeezed (a med exam was required to be hired - why? the heaviest thing I was going to lift was a mouse.) to get it. Now, I had to figure out how to keep my job. I did what made sense to me - worked hard, was diplomatic and cheery, and said nearly nothing for eight hours a day. It was fantastically monastic.

My trainer clearly hated me. The chill was so strong that my daily greeting's reply from him produced frost on my glasses. I was the submissive dog in this alpha pack, but they were determined to oust me. Or, was I being paranoid?

Turns out I was dead on. In mid-June, the HR person showed up and had a talk with me about derogatory language. I listen and agreed that the workplace was no place for off-color language, exclusion-ism or sexism, or for discriminatory behavior of any kind. I mentioned that when I owned my own business, we took great pains to provide a professional workplace for our people and such behavior was noted and censured. So, I understood that what she was talking about was more or less common sense. She repeated herself in another way and I agreed again. Then, she pointed out that I had been overheard making derogatory remarks against Latin people. My immediate reaction was to joke, "You mean ancient Romans?" Like so many horrid bureaucrats, there is only The Way, e.g., I was only following orders, mein Herr. Therefore, she was not amused. Didn't even bother to intake what I had said. I could have said "Looks like rain." Wouldn't have mattered.

She went on to point out that the policy forbids this. I said, "What policy is that?" She looked at me like I was insane. "You can't make remarks like that to your co-workers, and, by the way, it was confirmed." Okay, hold on now. I made a remark that was derogatory against Spanish people? Lady, what are you talking about. I don't SPEAK at work and no one SPEAKS to me. How do I handle this? I'm a new hire. It's clear that they've already been untruthful to me about when I would be working and with whom. Now I'm slurring my co-workers? I'd have to be insane.

Which I am not. I may be clever, or funny, but I don't poke a bear in the ribs and ask him if he wants a piece of me because I already know what his order is - Man Tare Tare. So, I say, as obliquely and diplomatically as possible, "I'm sure I would never say anything derogatory against anyone. I have a spotless work history and countless recommendations. Perhaps the crew was bantering as they do whilst excluding me and may have mis-heard or are attributing this to me out of context. When did this happen? What was the nature of the supposed conversation? Who overheard this? What was said? What words exactly were used? These questions are valid and reasonable, don't you think?" I could see the steam blowing cartoon-like from her ears. "Look, it was confirmed, okay? Now let's talk about something else." Very, very strange and, by the way, very juvenile and unprofessional.

What I would have done, at least to show my due diligence as an employer, is have the accusing employee make a formal grievance in writing, specifically indicating exactly what was said. I would ask the accused person to respond, in writing, and then I would bring both together and give them a good fucking talking too. As employees, they would have cost me time and money to acquire and any strife is bad for the company in terms of production. If it's untrue, I would want to know what the employee's motivation was for making a false or misleading accusation. No one is without the possibility of agenda in such situations, and it needs to be looked at. Further, the complaining employee, in my experience in hiring, firing and managed hundreds of people over twenty years, is usually the problem. It means that they lack the interpersonal skills to play well with others and rather than try to mediate their dislike of their co-worker, they cry to mama. An employee like that is a diva and will never not be a problem because they require management resources to maintain.

I signed nothing, I was given nothing written to review or acknowledge, there were no specifics. There was no warning, or discipline. The air was never cleared. In short, it was mismanaged.

In the meantime, there was constant talk of how terrible the company is and how the money sucked (it was about average for the area, actually, with good benefits with plenty of overtime for the "old boy" network ensconced within, how the managers never got "written up" and how there was no training or support. Okay, everybody gripes, but big alarm bells went off in my head here. It's so terrible that you've been here on average ten years? Makes no sense. You're trying to tell me something, aren't you. Naw, I'm being paranoid, right? Wrong.

Now, let's take a brief foray into speech in general. There's hurtful speech, that is, language that makes a person feel reasonably threatened for their safety or well-being and then there's speech that the person doesn't like. There's plenty of speech I don't like. Hate speech. Off-color racial or religious jokes make me uncomfortable. But I don't feel threatened. If I did, by case law, it would not be reasonable fear. But, who thinks along those lines? Mostly no one. We employ common sense. Now, add to that some facts.

My ex is from Central America. My daughter is bi-racial, as a product of that marriage. Never, in my fifteen years with her had I ever been anything but an advocate for the understanding of how race should be viewed, namely, that it shouldn't. Why - because my daughter is half me and half my wife - any other position would mean that I'm a racist against my own daughter. My lovely, sweet, innocent daughter, who loves her dad very much, I might add. Further, I am of Jewish background. Half of my ancestors on my father's side were GASSED TO DEATH because they were of "inferior race" as arbitrarily determined by a bunch of old-boy bureaucrats. My parents ran away from Poland just in the nick of time since, although my mother was a Catholic, she would have been shot on the spot for collaborating with a Jew. So, I'd be just about the least likely candidate for hate speech. I mean, boy oh boy, really, come on.

Nevertheless, the same said person accused me yet again. And this time, they fired me for it. No warning, No due process, no substantiation. Nothing. It's one thing to fire someone. Employment is at-will unless there's a contract (which is why unions are clearly necessary, but that's another topic.) But to accuse, not show the basic courtesy that would otherwise be demanded by the U.S. Constitution to provide a venue to confront the accuser and make a defence, but done so unprofessionally as to not even document what was said, or whether I acknowledged it? Oh, boy (and this is the offending word, by the way, without context) am I ever surprised. Oh, boy, was it humid today. Oh, boy, you've got to be kidding.

My girlfriend (the Rock of New Jersey) has said that things happen for a reason. Sometimes, it seems too obvious to mention but, in this case, I get it. I really get it.

Sacred Heart of Jesus,
have mercy on us.
St. Jude, worker of miracles,
pray for us.
St. Jude, help of the hopeless,
pray for us.

—Novena to St. Jude