Featured in McClatchy Newspapers articles, Phil Richards, Joe Arredondo, and Lisa Weber are being pushed to their human limits while their employers use technology to measure every minute of their work in a “relentless push for efficiency.” (“A Tougher World: As employers push efficiency, the daily grind wears down workers,” and “Tracking workers’ every move raises stress along with productivity.” Business Section of the Sunday, April 14, Times-Call, page C6.)
The technology may be new, but the management strategy is quite old: Use threats and fear to maximize productivity. I saw it working summers in a sweatshirt factory where “efficiency engineers” used the technology of that era, stopwatches, to pressure workers to attain 200 percent of the going piece rate. We called those timers “Khrushchev” behind their backs; the Soviet premier at that time was feared by all blue-collar workers. Cutting wages to the bone and fighting off unions was the norm in the textile industry’s greedy, profit-seeking course as owners moved their factories from England, to New England, to the American South, to out of the United States.
I worked in a Florida sweatshop writing multiple-choice questions for a greedy man who joked as he gave me 25-cent-an-hour raise after a year. “Here’s some motivation,” he said sarcastically. The perks? We all got a turkey for Thanksgiving and a pound of venison sausage from his hunting trips for Christmas. The man flaunted his wealth and was always chipping away at working conditions, making life miserable. It worked. No one stayed long.
In my last part-time job working for a health food store, I was called into the office and given the choice of running to restock shelves faster or quitting. That was my last day.
My wife’s experience more closely mirrors that of many of today’s workers. In her HMO job, she gradually assumed the duties of exiting co-workers without any raises. Her company perk was a grand Christmas party. At her last one, the retiring CEO thanked everyone for helping him build a mansion on a Caribbean island. He said that? Really.
After we moved to Longmont, my wife started as a temp and again gradually took on duties of co-workers who either quit or left in downsizing efficiency moves. After two years she “earned” a 1 percent raise.
The American “business model” is dangerously flawed. Under the guise of a sacrosanct profit motive, and raising productivity to compete in the global economy, government and business leaders, stitched at the hips of special interests, have left out American workers. Just three decades ago Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis and author of “Up the Organization,” set an example by paying his management team members more than he got. Today that strategy has vanished. Multimillions go to the top while arguments to raise the minimum wage for average workers is fought as a job killer. It is absurd.
Today it is a rare event when a smart and conscientious executive like Harold Dominguez, Longmont’s city manager, shares bonus pay with a team of workers. Or, Don Haddad, superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District, rejects raises four years running.
In a negative paradigm shift, corporations continue to cry wolf about government regulation stifling business. But their lobbyists and congressional representatives, bought with campaign contributions, have manipulated the tax code to create deductions that virtually avoid their paying a fair share of taxes. Worse, many top earning corporations do not pay any taxes. According to the Corporate Tax Dodgers Report, a joint project of Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, for years 2009 and 2010 General Electric made a profit of $10.46 billion and paid no taxes. GE actually got a refund, with a tax rate of minus 45 percent.
My wife and I paid more taxes for 2012 than GE did in 2009 and 2010.
In plain English, the untouchable profit motive has been used successfully in “getting government off the backs of businesses” and unleashing obscene greed. Workers have been pummeled with dehumanizing pressure so the big bucks can stay at the top. The middle class is threatened with unconscionable cuts to entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security while lobbyists and politicians rant against raising taxes for the wealthy elite and protect tax deductions that allow mega corporations to avoid paying taxes.