Amazon is Valued at One Trillion Dollars

Shipping containers piled 5 high.
Photo by Michael Highland. Licensed as CC BY-SA 2.0.

Amazon is the second largest retailer in the world. It recently became the second company in history to reach a market capitalization of one trillion dollars. Apple was the first. Apple and Amazon have faced charges of achieving their success by overworking and mistreating their employees.

The New York times expose detailed employee abuse of both white collar and warehouse workers alike. Because of these media reports I never applied to work at Amazon.

In the spring of 2018 Amazon built an 860,000 square foot fulfillment center in Kansas City, Kansas. I just learned last night that my friend’s wife took a job there. She’s working three 12 hour shifts a week. She works nights. He says that she is an order taker. Glassdoor says that Amazon warehouse associates make $10 to $12 an hour. However, my friend says his wife makes $15 an hour. He may be exaggerating what she makes.  He also said that at the end of her first year she gets a share of stock.

He went on to boast,”That’s worth about $3000.”  Amazon stock (AMZN) closed at $1,952 today. Glassdoor says that Amazon offers employees stock options, not stocks.

Factory and warehouse jobs will always have an air of productivity hysteria. Unproductive seconds of hundreds of workers can add up quickly. Unfortunately, the majority of these types of companies are still using the old, “do it or else” motivation techniques.

Instead of a finger point to the door as motivation, companies should provide bonuses and time-off incentives. Wouldn’t it be great if an employee meets specific goals they could go home early with full pay for the shift? That way the boss can point you to the exit door with a smile instead of a frown.

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It’s Labor Day and Correctional Institutions aren’t Celebrating

Shane Bauer detailed his experiences as an underpaid security guard for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The investigative piece ran in the July/August 2016 Issue of Mother Jones News.  The article had enormous impact. It caused CCA to change it’s name to GEO Group. It may have influenced President Obama’s decision to end the use of private correctional facilities. Later, President Trump reversed the ruling.

On April 15, 2018 violence broke out at the Lee Correctional Institute in South Carolina. The guards just watched as prisoners killed and injured other prisoners.  In the end, seven prisoners were dead and dozens more were injured. Shane Bauer detailed similar practices at the prison he worked as an undercover reporter. I am not certain if the Lee Correctional Institute is a privately run facility., but I suggest that the main contributor to the riot is prisoner overpopulation.

In response to the riot, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) and other advocacy groups organized a strike to begin on August 21 and continue to September 9th 2018. The dates are significant. On August 21, 1971 George Jackson, who had ties with the Black Panthers, was killed during a skirmish that led to the deaths of prisoners and guards at San Quentin State Prison. On September 9, 1971 prisoners took over Attica Correctional Facility.

Amani Sawari has become a spokesperson for JLS and  she has a website that list the demands of the prisoners in federal state and immigration detention centers around the US.

One of the 10 demands call for an end to prison slavery as allowed by a clause in the 13th amendment of the constitution. Another calls for an end to prisoners being sentenced to die in prison. 

Wenting LI. analysis of the strike in the blog, The Marshal Project, concludes that the demands may be effective at changing America’s perception of what  prison conditions are like.

Department of Corrections Work Release Program and Unions

Me: a Claire McCaskill volunteer. Go figure.

Every day, I strive to do something that scares me just a little bit. So, yesterday I did some volunteer door to door canvassing for the Democratic Party and the drive to vote “No” on Proposition A. Just as I was finishing my assignment, a next-door neighbor texted and asked what I was doing. I replied that I’m out supporting the drive to vote  “No” on Proposition A.

To my dismay, he said that he’s against unions. He knew someone who had a business in Kansas. He didn’t tell me the name of the businessman or even the company he owned. So, I’ll call him Mr. Businessman, and his business Widgets Galore.

My neighbor said that Mr. Businessman told him that he would either close down Widgets Galore or move it if his workers voted to be represented by the union. He went on to glorify Mr. Businessman because of his deal with the Department of Corrections and their work release program. Trustees with drug charges would work at Widgets Galore with an apparent mutual benefit to both Mr. Businessman and the trusty.

Neither my neighbor nor the Shawnee County Kansas Department of Corrections gave any information on what wages the trusty would earn. But my neighbor stressed that it didn’t matter.

“It’s better than sitting in a three by five cell all day,” my neighbor said.

When he asked,”Why shouldn’t Mr, Businessman take advantage of the prisoners who are willing to work?”

“Take advantage?” I asked. Don’t you mean exploit a vulnerable person?

We both agreed that when the person finished their sentence, Widgets Galore was probably the only place the ex-con could find work. It sounds a little bit like Jim Crow era slavery dressed up in different clothes.

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Words Ring True Today: Right to Work is a “False Slogan”

My Experiences

“It is a dishonest twisting of words with the aim of making a vicious law sound like a good law” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Construction Worker

.     When I was flying the line as a commuter pilot, I didn’t know anything about a Right to Work law. It was a union airline, but I choose not to be a member. More on that sometime later. Federal law requires unions contracts to cover all the workers in a similar job category. I was not only receiving representation without taxation, but the union was needed to represent me if I faced disciplinary action.

So, you can imagine how perplexed I was when the Proposition A got on the ballot. Isn’t Missouri already a pro-business state because there aren’t any businesses that require workers to join a union. Since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, no state can require a worker to join a union. In response, Unions made agreements with their employers to charge “Representation Fees” to their workers.

Missouri’s Proposition A would make it illegal for such Representation Fees to exist. It would weaken the ability of unions to convince new-hires and current non-union workers to become union workers. So, the reason I wasn’t paying any dues stemmed from the fact that there was no agreement with the company to collect dues from non-union members.

Couldn’t it be said that this proposition has no business tilting the scales of regular negotiations between unions and their employers? For decades Missouri lawmakers saw no reason to interfere in the formation of union contracts in the private sector. Some say that “Right to Work” produces more jobs.

Those who say that unemployment is lower in “Right to Work” states. One could also point to tax cuts, subsidized payrolls, and other acts that business-friendly states provide. Aa 3 percent “representation fee” isn’t enough to tip the employment scales.

Food Service Industry and Sexual Aggression

Sexual harassment is common in the foodservice industry.

A poll by National Partnership for Women and Families  states that two out of five women think that grouping, leering, pinching, and lewd comments are part of the job. The Nation magazine ran a piece by Bryce Covert called When Harassment Is the Price of a Job which gave numerous first-person accounts by waitresses and bartenders that endured unwanted and inappropriate touching and comments.

Covert listed some changes that will help women signal for intervention from others as a way to empower women when they feel they are a vulnerable situation. Thanks to the union Unite Here Local 1 Chicago has a law that requires a panic button in hotel rooms where maids are working alone.

Safe Bars trains bar staff on how to intervene when the staff and patrons are targets of sexual aggression.

As reported in The Nation Magazine, Caroline Richter formed a coalition of “restaurant owners front-of-house staff, back-of-house employees.” The grassroots organization is named Medusa.

Medusa will offer training about rights, disclosure, and how to intervene when someone is being harassed. After the training, Medusa will certify the establishment. The organization will conduct regular “wellness checks” to ensure that restaurants are complying with its code of conduct, and those that aren’t and fail to make changes will lose their certification. Medusa also wants to serve as a third party where employees can report harassment and be connected with resources.

The problem isn’t as bad in states that prohibit using tips to supplement a less than minimum wage. Women who rely on tips to get at least minimum wage are much more vulnerable to harassment. Governor Cuomo of, New York, plans to instigate hearings on eliminating the state law allowing a tipped minimum wage.

 

Whoa, I’m Not an Independent Contractor.

The company that is the sole provider of my income is not my employer. I may divulge the name of my client (not employer) at a later date, but for now, I’ll call them “ACME Gasoline Reclaimers.” For the past seven years, I have filed as Self-Employed to the IRS. I classified myself as an independent contractor.

I signed a contract that designated me as an independent contractor. I further believed that I was an independent contractor because ACME Gasoline Reclaimers withheld nothing from the check (not paycheck) that I got in the mail each week for the past seven years.

According to the IRS fact sheet: Independent Contractor (Self-Employed) or Employee? I am an employee because of the level of control ACME has over my work.

Behavioral Control:

ACME Gasoline Reclaimers has national contracts with leading rental car companies. ACME Gasoline Reclaimers insist that the contractor does not have the right to suspend services with the rental car companies on their own. Therefore ACME Gasoline Reclaimers tells the contractors where to work.

I have seen emails from ACME that state that the rental car companies decide when I work. Because of this ACME dictates when I work. ACME insist that I work during inclement weather conditions.

All of the tools to do the work are provided by ACME.

ACME lays out a quota for what productivity they expect from their contractors.

ACME trained me for two days on how to do the job.

Financial Control

The normal wear and tear on equipment and depletion of supplies are directly replaced or reimbursed by ACME. The only items that are unreimbursed are gloves, office supplies, postage, and cell phone service,

I have no chance of operating at a loss. ACME provides me with a minimum weekly wage which they carefully called a truck allowance. This truck allowance is to described as reimbursement for fuel and wear and tear on my truck. ACME owns the trailer my truck pulls.

My truck allowance seems to go up with longevity, even though the gas prices have gone down.

If I were self-employed, I would be providing ACME with my Invoice for payment; however, I give the rental car companies ACME supplied invoices. ACME determines my pay by the cumulative total fo revenue listed on the invoices that I issue to the rental car companies.

My contract does not allow me to seek work with other clients without letting ACME having a cut of the revenue. It even contains a non-compete clause that says I can’t find other jobs in the same field after leaving ACME

Permanence of the relationship

Just because I have a contract stating that I’m independent contractor doesn’t classify me as one. According to the IRS fact sheet: Small Business and Self Employed | Type of Relationship

The IRS is not required to follow a contract stating that the worker is an independent contractor, responsible for paying his or her own self-employment tax.

There is no end to my work. Contractors work on projects that are incidental to the business paying the contractor.

  1. I’m regularly paid each week,
  2. I’m told when and where to work.
  3. I can’t take in my clients
  4. I can’t take a loss
  5. ACME provides all my equipment supplies and parts.

I’m an employee.

Working for ACME

 

Employment Arbitrators are Another Violation of an Individual Rights to Due Process

The amount of employer abuse of workers and unwanted sexual advances or grouping by supervisors is more extensive than the continuing trend of public accusations reveals. That is because of the continuing trend of employers to require arbitration to settle these cases. Some arbitration agreements don’t allow the employee to voice their complaint publicly. In other cases of sexual assault, the assaulter will offer a settlement in civil court that will include a gag order and agreement not to file a complaint in any other court of law.

The Economist Magazine quoted Gretchen Carlson, a celebrity attorney, when she called arbitration, “a harasser’s best friend.” She managed to bypass her mandatory arbitration clause with a lawsuit that named the person, Roger Ailes, instead of the company, Fox News.

The University of Missouri website says, “…the cost of the arbitrator’s fees is placed on the employer since it is the employer that has raised arbitration as a condition of employment.” The article goes on to say that the employee may have to pay for some of the costs of discovery and a transcriber.

With arbitration, there is no jury. Very similar to a small claims court where a judge decides who prevails, a lone arbitrator is a judge and jury. Victoria Pynchon told The Economist Magazine, “individual arbitrators are more likely to encounter the employer than the employee in future cases.” She also stated that many times the employer picks the arbitrator.

An arbitrator code of ethics says that there should be no bias even when one of the parties involved in the case is paying for the procedure.

Is this another example of the individuals losing more of their constitutional rights. What happened to due process? Sure the job applicant signed away that power, but it was a form of coercion. Most companies insist on mandatory arbitration. Just as the equal voting rights act has been watered down by ID requirements and confusing voter registration laws, mediation takes away an individual’s right to a fair playing field.

When The Boss Has You in the Crosshairs

During a time I was flying the line at a small regional airline, I cheated on a written test. I got caught.

In preparation for winter operations, we were required to take a multiple-guess analysis of crewmembers knowledge on things like deicing procedures, interpreting Runway Condition Reports, and types of in-flight icing. It was one of those open-book tests that we were expected to take during the unpaid time we had between flights.

The Chief Pilot expected Line pilots to turn-in our answers about a week after he gave us the test booklet. Like many other pilots, I kept a copy of my answer sheet from the previous year. It always came in handy in answering the questions of a test that didn’t change year-after-year. Shortly after I turned my answers in the Chief Pilot called me into his office.

The Cheat

“I’d like to congratulate you on passing you winter operations test,” he smirked.

Cautiously, I thanked him.

“DId you notice that the question booklet that I assigned to you had a couple of pages ripped out of it?”

Oops, I thought to myself.

“Still, you answered the missing questions anyway.”

“Oh yeah,  I meant to tell you about that. I borrowed somebody’s question book to complete the test.”

The “Corrective Action”

My explanation wasn’t convincing enough. No worries though. The Chief Pilot just made me retake it immediately in the break room. He even offered to fly my next out-and-back for me. I was still going to get paid for the flight he was flying for me. So, in a way, I was finally getting paid for the time that I spent taking the test.

The crewmembers in the crosshairs

It didn’t work-out so good for some fellow pilots. A notorious crew of two was in the crosshairs of management because one of them was a woman who had filed an EEOC suit against the company. The two were reportedly exchanging answers to the test in the break room. They said that they were working on the test together: something that is condoned by management.

In my case, the evidence was clear that I had cheated. Is using the answers that I created myself from the previous year cheating? In their case, it was their word against one witness. Still, management attempted but failed to fire them.

In this case, one employee is barely reprimanded while another employee is almost terminated for a similar infraction of the rules. Some companies believe in retaliation as a method to coerce an undesirable into resigning.

Female Nurses Earn 91 Cents For Every Dollar a Male Nurse Earns

Why do male nurses earn more than female nurses? According to a Census Bureau press release (2013, Feb 25), male nurses are becoming more commonplace

Line chart depicts the percentage of male nurses by year
The percentage of male nurses is growing

. The irony is striking. Why is the new guy in a profession dominated by women getting paid more? The gender gap isn’t as wide as it is in all other occupations. Across all occupations, women make 77 cents for every dollar a male makes.

 

Would women make more if they were better negotiators?

Are women less likely to ask for a higher wage? Studies on the subject don’t agree. Nurses like other professions base their pay on seniority. Did the survey take into account the tenure each nurse had with the healthcare facility? Are men more likely to stay with the same facility than women  In our society, does the wife normally follow the husband in a job-related move? Might this burden on women cause them to have a longer and spottier employment history.

It would seem that a well-paid wife would be less likely to follow her husband just to keep the family together. Unless female nurses are more likely to marry well. They are more likely to find a mate that makes significantly more money than they do.  Are people today just as likely to require the wife to make more sacrifices than the husband for the sake of the family?

Are Women still an exploited segment of our society?

Since women are more likely to take custody of the children in a divorce, they are more likely to accept a job for a lower wage as a single mother. She might not have the luxury of taking more time in the job search to find a higher paying position.

So, the nursing profession gender gap is just based on societal norms that affect women in every profession.

Some Highly Productive Workers may Exhibit Toxic Behaviour

Woman working sipping coffee at her laptop in office setting
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Sexual harassment is included in all the year-in-review articles that I’ve been reading lately. Time magazine named all the women who reported sexual misdeeds of supervisors as the “Person of the Year” for 2017. Two publications quoted a Harvard Working Paper (Houseman & Minor 2015). Though the paper profiled what the traits of a toxic worker are, it wasn’t about sexual misconduct in the workplace. The articles focused on the documents exciting way of comparing the productivity advantages of having a toxic superstar to its adverse effect on fellow workers.

Paper Outlines Methods of Identifying and managing toxic worders

One of the authors of the paper, Michael Houseman, is a consultant with Cornerstone OnDemand. The company has written an application testing software that is expected to identify a toxic worker by the way he or she answers questions. According to an article that portrayed the study by Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post  (2015, Dec 15), Toxic workers are usually highly productive workers that lack empathy or the ability to be a team player. The study stated that the adverse effects of having average workers leave the company to avoid a toxic coworker outweighs the positive gains of high productivity of the one worker. The cost to the company to find and train one new worker costs twice as much as the increased productivity of the superstar.

In addition to the revolving door cost, there is the litigation costs if sexual harassment is one of the toxic elements of the worker. Productivity can suffer due to low marale that a toxic worker causes.

The best way to manage a toxic worker is to keep him or her from other toxic workers. Toxic workers can also corrupt other workers into mimicking his or her toxic ways. .