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Thread: The warehouse of soul-crushing sadness

  1. #1
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    The warehouse of soul-crushing sadness

    The shit people have to put up with never ceases to amaze me.

    Technically, these workers are all temps. They're hired as temps by the warehouse company, which is contracted to handle temporary staffing by a logistics company. If they make it 90 days, they have the opportunity to become full-blown employees of the logistics company, which means benefits and an extra dollar an hour. It's been six months since the logistics company graduated someone here from temp to employee status. At one of the other locations Susie manages, no one has been hired as a real employee for two years. One of the workers in this warehouse has been a temp for a year and a half.

    After we walked past workers stuffing inflated plastic air pockets in boxes and a guy continuously taping shut the bottom of just-made boxes, we went to Susie's office. "Hold on, I gotta fire somebody real quick," she said, picking up the phone. She called a guy who'd been working for her for two months. She was sorry, she told him, but she had to let him go because one of the supervisors had caught him talking on the floor. The man, who she guessed is in his late 40s or early 50s, protested that he had only asked a new guy where he was from. That's just not the culture, Susie told him. You know the rules. The logistics company sets them, and she has no choice but to enforce them.

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    Taylorism yaaaaay

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    Somebody needs to set up a refugee program for people living in right-to-work states. Just get them out and set them up in a civilized state.

    edit: Whoops. Ohio isn't a right-to-work state. Still sucks.
    Last edited by RyanB; 07-13-2011 at 01:08 PM.

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    At some point, socialism starts to sound like a really good idea...

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    Given that I recently polished off The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, this sounds awfully familiar. What wonderful progress we've made over the last 100 years...

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    There are laws that forbid using contractors in the place of full time employees as a way to avoid paying benefits. At my first company, in my first management job, I had a technician working in the lab as a contractor. She did exactly what a full time technician did, and she had been doing it for months. She actually preferred being a contractor, for some convoluted reasons that never made sense to me, so my predecessor left her in that status. But even though she liked it that way, we had an audit by some OSHA or federal function, and the company was hit with a pretty big fine for using her as a full time employee but in a contractor role.

    I'm guessing that this company gets away with it by using the 90 day dodge, but if someone has been in that role for 1.5 years, someone needs to get the correct agencies on their ass.

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    That article is the best modern argument in favor of unions that I've ever read.

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    The no talking on the floor is such a bizarre thing... I don't even think the factory in China I worked at had that rule.

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    That is messed up. I hate how "temps" are treated in the work force. Worked as a temp/contractor once doing data storage overnight, and once the time passed for them to make me a full time worker passed, I left. Nowadays when I see friends going in as temps I'm always a little sad. Don't think I've ever really seen a temp go to full-hire.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffL View Post
    There are laws that forbid using contractors in the place of full time employees as a way to avoid paying benefits. At my first company, in my first management job, I had a technician working in the lab as a contractor. She did exactly what a full time technician did, and she had been doing it for months. She actually preferred being a contractor, for some convoluted reasons that never made sense to me, so my predecessor left her in that status. But even though she liked it that way, we had an audit by some OSHA or federal function, and the company was hit with a pretty big fine for using her as a full time employee but in a contractor role.
    I was a full-time contractor for years, as were most of the people I was working with. Interesting to see that not only were we getting screwed, but we were getting screwed illegally.

    They did eventually hire me full time though. And then eventually went out of business. So I don't begrudge it that much, since they apparently actually did need the money they weren't paying me.

  11. #11
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    The hell?

    Indeed, it does say in the new-temp handout that there is no talking allowed on the warehouse floor. Also, there are no cell phones allowed. Like a high school teacher, Susie had a pile of phones she'd confiscated in a plastic bowl on her desk. Two sick days are allotted per year, and they must be excused; after that, the temp is terminated, doctor's note or no. Every temp is allowed one 30-minute break per day, and it must be taken in the break room. Every temp is required to have an ID badge. The cost of this badge is deducted from the temp's first paycheck, and is more than an hour's worth of wages.
    This is insane.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Telefrog View Post
    This is insane.
    Taking away cell phones is standard practice at all sorts of companies. At ExxonMobil, I technically wasn't allowed to have a phone with a camera in it, which, when I went to get a new phone, would basically have been I can't have a phone. I just didn't make a big deal about it and, you know, didn't steal any company property, but incoming guests would probably have to dump theirs in a bowl.

    Breaks in the break room for a working factory floor isn't entirely unreasonable either. The work area is for working and the break area is for breaking. Which makes it sound like they should hold battle dancing competitions in there, but I imagine that also has to be a firing offense.

    The medical leave stuff is a little weird - I would have thought that it would violate the FMLA.

    The problem, though, is that there are still hella people who want these jobs. These terrible jobs are better than the alternative in that part of Ohio, apparently. This isn't a sign that unions need to exist - all that would happen if the employees formed a union is that the company would go hire some of the thousands of other people who would rather have a shitty job than no job at all. What it is a sign of is that the economics of existing in that particular part of the world right now are terrible, and it might be an indication that it would be a pretty good place to start sending government aid, if we were Franklin Roosevelt. Though, given the fact that this is Ohio that we're talking about, I kind of wonder if they'd take it, based on their general performance in the Republican primaries every year.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffL
    There are laws that forbid using contractors in the place of full time employees as a way to avoid paying benefits.
    Ain't nobody going to turn them in, because,

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Seiler
    The problem, though, is that there are still hella people who want these jobs. These terrible jobs are better than the alternative in that part of Ohio, apparently.

  14. #14
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    That sucks. It makes me think about what's going on behind the scenes with those Amazon.com super cheap prices.

    I mean I bought a 250lb power rack from Amazon with free shipping. How the hell can they afford to ship a 250lb box of steel to my house for free?

  15. #15
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    They can't. They amortize it over the millions of other packages they ship.

    But anyway, yeah, this is what happens when workers have no bargaining power, though admittedly I think it's an unusually extreme example.

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    World's End Supernova Telefrog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Seiler View Post
    Taking away cell phones is standard practice at all sorts of companies. At ExxonMobil, I technically wasn't allowed to have a phone with a camera in it, which, when I went to get a new phone, would basically have been I can't have a phone. I just didn't make a big deal about it and, you know, didn't steal any company property, but incoming guests would probably have to dump theirs in a bowl.
    The cell phone thing isn't too odd, although the place I worked at with a strict no-phone policy had lockers to put them in. If you got caught with one it was an immediate disciplinary action and you were told to go lock it up. Handing it over to the manager to put into a big box or bowl seems like a dumb policy. Aside from the real risk of theft, you'd have no way to dispute false claims of such. This place just sounds like they want to discourage phone calls and other distractions.

    I have no issue with the breakroom rule.

    The medical leave stinginess, no talking, and making people pay for their own badges sucks. Hard. The added "bonus" of never leaving temp status is a special brand of shitty.

    I know you take what you can get when you're desperate, but I'd think about moving before going to this hole.
    Last edited by Telefrog; 07-13-2011 at 09:10 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shorn Balzac View Post
    Ain't nobody going to turn them in, because,

    I'm surprised that people who are fired from that job don't file a complaint about the temp exploitation, if it is in fact illegal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AaronSofaer View Post
    I'm surprised that people who are fired from that job don't file a complaint about the temp exploitation, if it is in fact illegal.
    Lots of possible reasons why. They don't know it's illegal. They don't know how to file a complaint. They're too busy looking for more work. They're scared of potential bad references.

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    All of that is true, but how many complaints does it take for whatever agency is regulating it to take a look-see?

    And now that the article's been published, is that going to happen?

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    The actual law states that you cannot have a temp/contractor doing the same job that you have full time employees doing; the test is the job description. The loophole is that you can hire someone with a predefined short term limit on the job. So, I can't have a lab tech who is a contractor working side by side with another lab tech who is a full time employee, doing the same job, for any extended period of time. I CAN hire a contractor into the lab tech role if it is explicitly defined as temporary (and temporary can't be, e.g. a couple of years.) So, for example, if we need an extra tech to help us get through a one time high intensity project that requires a night shift, but know that the project will only last 3 months and then there will be no need for that job, we can hire a contractor. But we can't then keep her/him on for a year or some indefinite time as a contractor doing the same lab tech work as others who are full time. The one we got caught and punished for, she was in the lab, indistinguishable in her job as the full time lab techs, working full time, and had been there for a couple of year.

    There may be exceptions to the law that I am unaware of, but I know in my current role HR always grills us pretty hard when we do hire a contractor, in order to make sure we're on the right side of the law.

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    I think the issue is that the agencies are underfunded and understaffed - even if they are informed of a problem it can take a while for them to get to it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Seiler View Post
    The medical leave stuff is a little weird - I would have thought that it would violate the FMLA.
    iirc, you need to work someplace for 12 months/1200 some-odd hours for FMLA to kick in. In other words, 99% of temps won't get it.

    I honestly don't think there's much if anything actually illegal going at the company in question, but that the reporter is putting the information out there as perhaps something that should be legislated against to make it illegal. It sure as heck isn't ethical or fair for the workers, and I'd be completely behind a law banning the practice although I suspect such a law would have the unintended consequences of putting more people out of work.
    Last edited by Dan_Theman; 07-13-2011 at 10:34 AM. Reason: because math is hard

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffL View Post
    She actually preferred being a contractor, for some convoluted reasons that never made sense to me, so my predecessor left her in that status.
    I've worked with a number of contractors at my company (and was one myself before I went full time) - the reasons they typically want to stay as contractors are:

    - Contractors usually have higher take home pay then Full Time Employees, at the cost of having to get benefits on their own and not having paid vacations/sick days.
    - Not having to deal with company politics, performance reviews, etc.

    It doesn't make sense to me either. The contractors we're discussing are *vastly* different than what is talked about in the article though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Telefrog
    This is insane.
    The sick day thing sounds like the exact same policy I had to enforce when I was a supervisor at a call center. It sucked.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Seiler View Post
    The problem, though, is that there are still hella people who want these jobs. These terrible jobs are better than the alternative in that part of Ohio, apparently. This isn't a sign that unions need to exist - all that would happen if the employees formed a union is that the company would go hire some of the thousands of other people who would rather have a shitty job than no job at all.
    I don't think this is true. Under the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act), once a workplace is unionised, the employer simply can't terminate the unionised employees in favor of non-unionised employees. This is why employers fight so hard to resist unionisation drives- once the union is in, the employer can't unilaterally push the union out. The fact that the employer would prefer to hire lower-paid, non-unionised workers, and the fact that there are willing replacements for the unionised workers, is irrelevant.

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    It seems to me that this is what always happens anymore. The government implements rules to try to make corporations play fair and they bend the rules to the breaking point so that execs can pad their paychecks and bonuses a few more percent.

    Sometimes it feels like we're living in 1811 instead of 2011.

    At the same time, there are some really thorny problems here. Clearly there are a lot of IT contractors out there making six figures...they probably don't need the same protections as these warehouse workers.

    I want to say that the rules should be stricter the less you pay somebody but I'm sure that the Vice Presidents of Greed and Abuse at all these companies would find some loophole that had them paying you 100k but then charging you $200 bucks every time you used the bathroom with a mandatory minimum two pisses per day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlexB View Post
    the employer simply can't terminate the unionised employees in favor of non-unionised employees.
    This is true, but it is also immaterial. What the employer can (and probably should, if we're talking about the good of all, because this is the method by which costs are held down and people get to cast votes with their dollars - it's the business's job to try to find the best deal it can, and if they can find a better deal than the union is offering them, I don't think we can legitimately fault them for taking it) do is refuse to meet any of the union's demands. What are they going to do? Go on strike? Well, then I'll just hire these scabs who are just as happy to do the job for the terms that we set before. A union emerging in this case is helpful for nobody unless we make one of a few assumptions:

    1. The government forces the business to negotiate with the union (in which case I would argue that you're better off just setting and enforcing workplace standards);

    2. Every potential employee in the area decides to join the union (which, in debate terms, is an abuse of fiat, and in practical terms is pretty unlikely to happen spontaneously); or

    3. The union is allowed to forcibly bar their competitors in the labor market from doing business with the employer (which I personally consider morally abhorrent - if you're against Coke sending goons to the supermarket to club the Pepsi delivery guy to death, that's the same thing).

    The only case where the unionization scenario works is 2, and we're pretty obviously not at that point yet, or there wouldn't be thousands of people still trying to get jobs at that particular factory, unless there's some kind of massive disinformation campaign that's keeping all the people getting fired for stupid crap from there from grousing to the public at large about it.

    The reality of the situation is that that factory, shitty as it may be, is the best of all available options for all of the people that work there. I'm not worried about the factory - I'm worried about the fact that everything obviously sucks so much in the area that people are competing for the privilege to work at a place like this. That's not a problem you can solve by trying to make that specific factory better, because eventually you reach the point where it's worth the money to move your operations and then nobody has any jobs at all (you can try to fix it by affecting global working standards, and for something as regionally localized as shipping doing so on a national scale through OSHA regulation might work, but for a lot of stuff, and maybe even this shipping, the global market makes it a non-starter). It's a situation you fix by diverting aid to the affected area, such that the people who live there feel better able to tell this particular employer to go screw. Barring a new TVA-style government employment effort, though, I'm not sure how we do that.

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    The only case where the unionization scenario works is 2, and we're pretty obviously not at that point yet, or there wouldn't be thousands of people still trying to get jobs at that particular factory, unless there's some kind of massive disinformation campaign that's keeping all the people getting fired for stupid crap from there from grousing to the public at large about it.
    What if the unions for the companies that work with the factory decide that solidarity is the word of the day?

    For that matter, what makes your reasoning inapplicable to the Gilded Age when unions were first getting started? All of your statements apply just fine to those days...

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    The only case where the unionization scenario works is 2, and we're pretty obviously not at that point yet, or there wouldn't be thousands of people still trying to get jobs at that particular factory, unless there's some kind of massive disinformation campaign that's keeping all the people getting fired for stupid crap from there from grousing to the public at large about it.
    What if the unions for the companies that work with the factory decide that solidarity is the word of the day?

    For that matter, what makes your reasoning inapplicable to the Gilded Age when unions were first getting started? All of your statements apply just fine to those days...

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    There are thousands of jobs where people are treated in a similar manner across the country. I've written a little about how miserable canvassing is as a job -- at will firing, "part time", sub minimum wage, zero rights, termination if unionization is discussed (aha, illegal? so what, you think sub min wage people can afford to hire a lawyer and cause a stink? get real) work outdoors in _all_ weather conditions (below freezing, snow everywhere, we were door to door _anyway_, same with 100+ heat wave), benefits never.

    It's miserable, and has a lot to do with the way we provide healthcare in this country. Right now, giving someone benefits damn near doubles their cost to the company without providing a similar jump in remuneration to the employee. That shit is bonkers! It also gives employers an incentive to stick people into perma part time positions (where part time is defined as 35hrs or fewer a week, with full time a mere five hours more than that...) or utilize temp labor in ft positions.

    A single payer system would move a lot of the costs of employment onto the taxpayer and provide people with more freedom of movement and ability to ditch shitty employers without dying from lack of healthcare. Would also mean we could ditch most of the shitty work comp system and other parallel insurance mechanisms (old people insurance, poor people insurance, etc). Doesn't mean we need to ditch private insurance; France has private plans that add features to the public plan rather than an NHS system.

    A better labor complaint system would be nice, but the best way to deal with shit employers is providing people with free and accessible training, easy mobility and easily accessed unemployment (of reasonable duration) provided by a national rather than a state system, so that people can give a bad employer the finger and up sticks to elsewhere without much effort.

    That's how you get rid of poor treatment by employers, not by unionizing and creating a closed shop. That road leads to discrimination against young people of the sort seen in France, Spain, Greece, Portugal and many other countries.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Seiler View Post
    What it is a sign of is that the economics of existing in that particular part of the world right now are terrible, and it might be an indication that it would be a pretty good place to start sending government aid, if we were Franklin Roosevelt.
    No. This is a sign that we need to make it easier for people to move. Throwing money at benighted shitholes is a terrible plan. Instead of giving those people an opportunity to get on their feet, it locks them into employment with folks who are entirely dependent on government money to remain standing. Then the money gets wasted on silly stuff and the people get stuck in dead end jobs until the cash gets cut in the next round of budgetary freakout at which point their jobs disappear and they are worse off than before.

    Instead they should be offered training, assistance in selling their homes and moving, and easy access to government supported job registries or SBA advisers so that they can start their own company.

    Most of these programs already exists. The problem is the lack of funding and the lack of public awareness of said programs. The SBA was a fabulous resource with experienced advisers who helped me out a bunch when starting my own thing. When I was stuck in the unemployment cycle I was constantly stalking the state registry of jobs. I haven't taken advantage of gov't training, but I hear that they are great at getting people help with their resumes and interviews. Lack of funding is the big hurdle.

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    Couple of thoughts:

    1. It is troubling that jobs in the area of this place are so few that people are willing to put up with this crap. Ideally this would be a self regulating situation: people simply would choose not to work for these people under these circumstances, and they would be forced to change their ways or have no workers. While I am opposed to a lot of current union practices, this certainly is a situation in which a good union might make a difference.

    2. You don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, i.e. there is a useful function and place for good temp and contractor agencies and jobs.

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