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Labor Notes

[ 28 ] January 15, 2012 |

1. North Carolina call center workers are organizing with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Sitel treats their employees like early 20th century sweatshop workers, with the classic bathroom problem at the center of worker complaints. Like tenement sweatshops in 1910s New York, Sitel has vastly underprovided bathrooms for workers (1 bathroom for 200 women) and then punish workers for waiting in line to use it. Moreover, Sitel is threatening to fire workers involved in the union effort, leading to IBEW filings charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Classy company.

2. If you want to die on the job, I recommend working in Wyoming. Part of this has to do with the hard natural resource extraction jobs based in that state (oil, cattle) and part of it on the lack of a culture a safety or an enforcement regime for existing regulations.

3. After Indiana pushes through its new anti-union regulations (which progressives still aren’t paying any attention to. But hey, what did Romney say on Face the Nation? It’s very important!!!!! We need 4 million tweets about it!), Kentucky is almost certainly the next battleground, where workers will have a very hard time fighting back right to work a person to death laws.

4. Martin Luther King on right to work a person to death laws: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining… We demand this fraud be stopped.”

Comments (28)

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  1. Murc says:

    I’ve had a weird working arc over the past ten years, but I’ve done a lot of call center work at various levels, and anecdotally speaking it keeps getting worse and worse.

    Once upon a time, call center workers were considered to be office workers, kind of, sort of. I mean, we worked in an office building, right? They put on shirts and ties and answered phones. So we had cubes, and our own computers, and suchly. There was a certain amount of pride and respect.

    Nowadays, as that link at crooks and liars says, its turning into sweatshop labor. I’m surprised they don’t chip us.

    • Linnaeus says:

      I’m not really surprised to hear anecdotes like this. They fit in with the trend that started in blue-collar work 30+ years ago and has just continued. Kinda like how computer programming was supposed to be the job you should have because it wasn’t going to be outsourced or offshored. Oops.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        I was a Training Manager, and then when I stepped down from that, a Customer Service Trainer in NC for a large telecommunications company in the past decade.

        We started off ok, but as the decade progressed, it got worse and worse. I started off the decade telling people this was a good company to work for.

        But, that stopped being true by around 2005, when there started to be a culture of abuse and cruelty – where bathroom breaks were treated like employees being lazy (and the subtext, since many of the CSR’s were black – shiftless), and needed to be treated like disobedient and undisciplined children.
        So, the people started talking about bringing in a union.

        The corporate powers-that-be sent in some Legal Beagle from HQ to talk to management about how to prevent the people from unionizing.
        At the end of his 4-hour session, he asked if there were any questions, and I raised my hand.
        I asked him if either of his parents or grandparents were in unions?
        He said that both his father and grandfather had been in unions.
        So I asked this asshole if either one of them helped put him through college and law school.
        The guy glared at me. And finally said, “Yes,” and left the room.
        My life after that was not exactly a bed of roses, but I felt the point needed to be made – even if it was to other people in management.

        I quit a couple of years later because the company was most assuredly NOT a good place to work, and I was miserable.

        Unfortunately, I’ve been largely unemployed since then. Still, I really hated my job, and just couldn’t lie to people anymore. The company sucked.
        Their jobs sucked.
        And they didn’t give a shit about customer service, only that the phones got answered – which required bodies on the phones.
        What happened after the call was answered, no one gave a shit about, since the CSR’s weren’t empowered much, or given the tools or time to solve a customers issues on the first call. So, they kept calling back, requiring MORE bodies to man the phones. “First Call Resolution” was not ever going to be part of the culture.

        Now, I may be unemployed, with no prospects for meaningful work ever again, but I still have some dignity.

        And that was something I had to leave at home every morning I left for work.

        • Linnaeus says:

          I’ve never worked for a call center or a help desk, but a good friend of mine did on the “front lines” so to speak, and some of the stories reflected an experience similar to yours. He particularly despised the constant monitoring by management.

        • Murc says:

          My experience has been that the importance FCR receives as a metric is a big indicator of just how shitty your call center job is going to be.

          There are certain bare minimum standards of how well you treat your employees that HAVE to be met if FCR is your priority metric. Talk time falls by the wayside; as long as you’re following procedure you can take half an hour and management won’t say boo. You have to take steps to reduce employee churn, since veteran employees will be ones with the greatest institutional knowledge and hence best chance of resolving problems correctly the first time.

          But if the call center is concentrating on talk time, calls per hour, and especially time in-focus? You are fucked. You’re going to be providing bad customer service, you’re going to be yelled at for spending a couple extra minutes in the bathroom, and more important you cannot accrue knowledge and skills that make you valuable as an employee. That means it is impossible to secure any sort of job security based on acquired skills.

          And THAT means you are a cog. You can be replaced by any idiot off the streets. In fact, your company may have a policy that anyone who stays in your position long enough to get two annual raises should be fired, because you can be replaced by someone being paid new-hire rates.

          And this is just what I’ve experienced doing technical support, which actually requires more than just having soft skills and being able to do customer service over the phone. I can’t imagine how horrible it is at other places.

          • John Protevi says:

            Thanks for this first-hand testimony. Very valuable.

          • c u n d gulag says:

            Being a CSR is a thankless and bad enough job as it is – and that’s just dealing with the customers.

            But when all management cares about is making sure your ass is in the seat to answer the phone, and not FCR, then then it truly becomes a soul-killing experience.

            And managers need to realize that if the person who has the most ‘institutional memory’ on the floor is the kid you hired 6 months ago, then maybe you need to go up-the-chain and tell them that’s no way to run a business.
            But you can’t do that, because then YOU’D be fired, because all your bosses care about is call stats, and talk and answer time, and not on how good the customer service is. That’s how THEY move up, and what THEIR raises and bonuses are based on. Just those metrics – NOT customer service.

            Telecommunications is also a limited monopoly almost everywhere in the country, where ‘customers’ have a “choice” between a couple of giant corporations.
            You want phone?
            You want cable? You want the internet?
            Here are your choices – a, or b – and that’s it. Maybe, in some areas, c.
            And those giant corporations have taught us, trained US, as customers, that we should be thankful if the fucking phone is answered, and not to expect anything even vaguely resembling good customer service.

            It’s like living in a town where if you want to eat, you have a choice of McDonalds, Burger King. And id you don’t like them, the go starve to fucking death.
            And don’t go bitching about not having a choice of what to eat.

            If you want to eat – well, after all, you DO have a choice!
            Mickey D’s or Burger King.

            And we wonder why this country is going deeper and deeper into the shitter…

  2. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Not to pick nits, but the cattle industry in Wyoming is not “natural resource extraction.” To begin with, cattle are not a natural resource.

    • Linnaeus says:

      Maybe cattle aren’t themselves a natural resource, but in Wyoming, they probably depend on large expanses of grazing/foraging land. So it’s a natural resource extraction in that sense.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Linneaus is absolutely correct. Not to mention water resources and other natural resources that go into the raising of cattle.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Certainly agribusiness uses vast quantities of natural resources. But so does, e.g., automaking. But that doesn’t make the automobile industry an example of “natural resource extraction” (though, of course, it depends on it).

          • Linnaeus says:

            That’s a good point, and I thought of that a minute or so after I wrote my comment.

            One difference – and it may be a trivial one – is that while automaking is dependent on natural resources (as is any economic activity, ultimately), is that automaking is generally far removed from the site of primary resource extraction, both spatially and organizationally, i.e. via its complex supply chain. Cattle ranching, however, happens at the site of resource extraction and the relationship is both more immediate and more apparent.

            • Erik Loomis says:

              Right; cattle ranching quite literally pulls the grass from the soil at the point of production. Though we may be splitting hairs here.

            • ajay says:

              That sounds like a good distinction. Auto making uses a lot of natural resources, but it doesn’t extract them itself, it buys them from steel producers. The people who actually extract the resource from nature are the extractive industry.
              Which probably has all sorts of interesting implications economically. Most obviously, you’re tied to one spot: you can’t just say “oh well, taxes are too high to drill for oil in California, we’re moving this oil well to South Carolina!” because you need to be where the oil is.

          • DrDick says:

            Agriculture is normally classed as an extractive industry (especially by the government), along with mining, oil & gas, logging and the timber industry, and fishing. It may not be entirely accurate, but it is customary.

    • Hogan says:

      Why wouldn’t they be? Because they’re domesticated?

  3. DrDick says:

    Not to defend Wyoming (I do live in Montana, after all), but the extractive industries overall have the highest rates of occupational injury and death. When that is the foundation of your economy, with little else going on as there, your overall rates are going to be high. That cultural thing also plays a big role and is common all over the West.

  4. Bart says:

    This is indeed depressing. Eight or nine bucks per hour is no living wage. If a union gets in the company will probably go offshore, perhaps to one of our shiny new trading partners in South Korea, Colombia or Panama.

    When will it ever end?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      South Korea is way too high wage. Bangladesh.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Never mind Bangladesh.

        Corporations will want to open up North Korea – ASAP!!!

        A few grains of rice an hour is a wage low enough to tantalize any CEO.

        It would be hard to beat that when you explain to your shareholders why you’re off-shoring your operations there, in order to maximize their profits.

        • DrDick says:

          There are also the Chinese prison factories, where so many of the goods sold at Walmart are made.

          • c u n d gulag says:

            Yeah, but no one wants to try to sell prison labor on their shareholders, when you can more easily sell starving serfs willing to do anything not to die.

            “Look at this, dangle a grain of rice, and watch them dance! Kind of funny, no?”

  5. ChristianPinko says:

    Eric, I got the impression that right-to-be-worked-to-death was basically a done deal in Indiana. Is that true? Do you have any sense of what are the odds of stopping it in Kentucky?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I think it’s probably going to happen in both places. I’m surprised that Kentucky hasn’t taken it on yet. I think it could be fought back on in Indiana, a state with a strong enough union background to make politicians think twice, but progressives don’t seem to give a shit about it. It’s far more important to see what crazy thing Rick Perry is saying today.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      But to be more specific, Kentucky is more conservative than Indiana with less of a union presence. So if it’s going to happen in Indiana, seems unlikely it won’t in Kentucky.

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