Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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"Wal-Mart is Not a Feudal Manor"

Friday, November 30th, 2012

The manager at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky., might have figured he’d quashed the protest at his store.

After all, he made James Vetato and three other OUR Walmart picketers leave from near the front door.

The quartet retreated, but to regroup at the entrance road to the busy shopping center the Walmart store anchors.

They redeployed under a big blue and white Walmart sign and held up hand-lettered placards reading, “ON STRIKE FOR THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT,” “RESPECT ASSOCIATES DON’T SILENCE ASSOCIATES,” “ULP [unfair labor practice] STRIKE” and “WALMART STOP BULLYING ASSOCIATES WHO SPEAK OUT.”

Vetato, his wife, Trina, Rick Thompson and Amber Frazee were among many members of Organization United For Respect at Walmart — “OUR Walmart” for short — who struck and walked picket lines at stores in a reported 100 cities and towns in 46 states on Thanksgiving night and on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

The group, which numbers thousands of current and past Walmart employees across the country, wanted to focus national attention on Walmart’s abuse of its workers, Vetato said.

The world’s richest retailer, Walmart is known for paying low wages to its employees, called “associates.” In addition, Walmart is fiercely anti-union.

Said Trina Vetato:

“People honked and waved to show their support, and they slowed down to read the signs. Some people stopped and told us they supported what we were doing.”

Vetato works at the Southside store. Her husband did, too, until he said management drove him to quit.

Frazee is employed at another Walmart in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. She and Vetato expect retaliation from Walmart management.

“They said that there will be consequences,” Vetato said. “I’ll probably get fired or put on suspension or something. But it’s well worth it to me.”

Frazee agreed. “All we want is respect,” she said.

The Vetatos, Frazee and Thompson handed out leaflets explaining, “We are the life-blood of Walmart, yet we are not always treated with respect.”

Some of the literature outlined a “Declaration of Respect,” which nearly 100 OUR Walmart members, including James Vetato, delivered to Walmart’s top management at company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

The declaration calls on Wal-Mart management to

— Listen to associates.

— Respect associates and recognize their right to free association and free speech.

— Allow associates to challenge working conditions without fear of retribution.

— Pay a minimum of $13 an hour and make full-time jobs available for associates who want them.

— Create dependable and predictable work schedules.

— Provide affordable health care.

— Furnish each associate a policy manual that ensures “equal enforcement of policy and no discrimination” and affords every employee an “equal opportunity to succeed and advance in his or her career.”

The four Paducah protestors brought a cardboard box filled with OUR Walmart literature. They said management tried to keep it out of the store. Shoppers helped get it in.

“On Thanksgiving night, a community member took one of the fliers and taped it to the front of his shirt and walked through the store to get the word out to everybody,” Trina Vetato said.

Thompson, a Pittsburgh union activist, came to Paducah to join the picket line. When a member of management tried to stop him from handing out leaflets, another customer came to his aid.

Explained Thompson, a member of Vacaville, Calif.-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245:

“The manager started bullying me for peacefully disseminating information, which I had the right to do. When the customer saw the manager walk away, she said ‘Give me a stack of those. I’ll take them in for you and pass them out.'”

Thompson said OUR Walmart is not trying to drive Walmart out of business. “We are not asking a single customer to turn away. We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.

“We want employees to have a chance to form their own association and have their own concerted actions without retaliation and unfair treatment. Walmart is not a feudal manor. The associates are not serfs. Walmart does not own every aspect of their lives.”

This post was originally posted on November 24, 2012 at Union Review. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. His articles can also be featured on AFL-CIO NOW.

No Job is Better Than a Bad Job

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerA study out of Australia found that people in poor quality jobs (those with high demands, low control over decision making, high job insecurity and an effort-reward imbalance) had more adverse effects on mental health than being unemployed.

Yep, a crappy job can be harder than no job at all. Holy Fosters.

“The researchers analyzed seven years of data from more than 7,000 respondents of an Australian labor survey for their Occupational and Environmental Medicine study in which they wrote: As hypothesized, we found that those respondents who were unemployed had significantly poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality. The current results therefore suggest that employment strategies seeking to promote positive outcomes for unemployed individuals need to also take account of job design and workplace policy.”

Okay, some of you will take the gratuitous Fosters reference and the Australian sample for the study and blow this off. But you’ll do this to your own detriment.

I believe that this part of “down under” applies perfectly to “up and over” (or whatever words you choose to describe the opposite of “down under”).

Leaving out one important fact, a crummy job allows you to pay your bills in a way that no job usually doesn’t, I’m still reticent to toss this finding into the round file.

I’m not tossing it for one main reason, there is a major belief out there that it is always better to look for a job when you have a job. Because you’ve got both the economic and emotional security to come across better in an interview.

But this finding does cast a shadow on that concept. Because a crummy job can actually deplete your energy to the point that you can’t get hired.

I’m not sure that I’d ever suggest to someone to leave their job to increase the chances they’ll get a new one. But it does suggest that everyone who is unemployed should realize that there are certain advantages that go with the turf. And lord knows, it’s important for anyone who doesn’t have a job to grab every advantage that they can.

Thankfully the researchers didn’t limit their findings to just out of work people. They added a comment directed at employers too. Perhaps employers could be persuaded to be more mindful of the mental health of their workers — happier employees are a benefit to their employers. “The erosion of work conditions,” the researchers noted, “may incur a health cost, which over the longer term will be both economically and socially counterproductive.”

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winningworkplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Wal-Mart Warehouse Workers File Class Action Wage Theft Lawsuit

Friday, March 4th, 2011

kari-lydersenCHICAGO—After three months of working in a Wal-Mart warehouse in the Chicago suburbs last fall, Robert Hines was fed up with getting paid much less than he had been promised by the company Reliable Staffing, which hired temporary workers to unload containers.

But the final straw came when he wasn’t paid at all for seven 10-12 hour days he’d worked shortly before Thanksgiving, he says. His calls to the agency weren’t returned, and when he went in person to demand his money, he said a manager claimed he and his work partner, Leo Williamson, had never worked those days at all.

So Hines and Williamson are among eight named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed today in federal court charging Reliable Staffing, its owner Daniel Gallagher and Schneider Logistics, which runs the Wal-Mart warehouse in Elwood, Ill., with violating state and federal labor laws.

When former Reliable Staffing workers marched into the agency last Monday demanding pay and billing records (as is their right under the Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act), they were not given any records and, they say, were greeted with hostility by Gallagher.

Deathrice Jimerson and Demetrie Collins allege they were cheated out of hundreds of dollars in wages at a Wal-Mart warehouse.   (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Deathrice Jimerson and Demetrie Collins allege they were cheated out of hundreds of dollars in wages at a Wal-Mart warehouse. (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Under the Illinois day labor act, considered one of the nation’s strongest such laws, the workers have the right to see what Reliable Staffing billed Schneider for their work, and what it paid them. If the hours and/or piece rates reported to Schneider and reported to the workers themselves don’t add up, it could show Reliable Staffing was intentionally not paying workers for their labor.

The plaintiffs think that was standard practice at the company.

“The lady looked me in the face and said I have no recollection of you working,” said Hines, 37. “I got vulgar comments, a snazzy attitude from them. And I was breaking my back for peanuts, or to not even be paid at all.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the aforementioned Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act, along with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. Allegations include unpaid overtime, failure to pay state and federal minimum wage and failure to pay at least four hours’ wages when workers were called in to work, as mandated by the day labor services act.

The lawsuit says that plaintiffs who worked for Reliable Staffing from 2006 on were promised $10 an hour, plus a piece rate for unloading trucks, including a higher “premium” piece rate for heavier goods. It alleges they were not paid the piece rate as promised, and that in fact workers were often paid less than state and federal minimum wage along with not being paying overtime.

Hines said that at the rate promised, his paychecks for working often from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. should have been at least $300 a week – not counting overtime, which he also should have been due. But he was usually paid $239.

The suit also alleges workers were not paid for mandatory waiting time, adding up to multiple hours per week. It says that when one defendant wrote his arrival time on a sign-in sheet, a supervisor actually tore the sheet up.

“Reliable Staffing actually did not keep track of people’s hours,” said attorney Chris Williams. “That’s illegal. Even if you are paying a piece rate, under federal law you need to show that adds up to at least minimum wage.”

And the suit alleges Reliable Staffing violated state laws by failing to provide workers with documentation of where and for which third party they would be working, the nature of the work and how much they would be paid. The suit basically alleges that workers were paid the $10 piece rate only – often divided between two or three workers, workers say – and then the employer simply made up the number of hours the worker supposedly worked by dividing the piece rate by 10.

“The check stub is a fiction—their check stub could show they worked 36 hours when they really worked 72 hours,” said Williams. That’s why, Williams said, it’s so important the workers are able to demand their billing records under the state day labor services act.

“The workers are supposed to be able to go into the office and get this information themselves,” Williams said. “But unfortunately the law isn’t working. That’s why we had to take this to federal court.”

The suit says:

In fact, Defendants Reliable and Gallagher provided Plaintiffs and similarly situated laborers with check stubs that contained false information, showing the final gross compensation to the laborer divided by $10.00, thereby showing a number of hours worked on the check stub that bears no relationship to the actual number of hours worked…

Rather than provide Plaintiffs and the Class with the actual hours worked, Defendants Reliable and Gallagher provided Plaintiffs and the Class with a fictional number of hours worked and a fictional pay rate as described in paragraph.

The lawsuit adds that failing to provide workers documentation of their employment terms makes it easier for employers to cheat workers, saying:

The Illinois legislature found that such at-risk workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse of their labor rights, including unpaid wages, failure to pay for all hours worked, minimum wage and overtime violations, and unlawful deduction from pay for meals, transportation, equipment and other items.

The workers’ want unpaid wages, going back up to three years. The lawsuit also asks for statutory damages on some counts, attorneys’ fees, and that the company be blocked from violating these laws in the future. The suit notes that under the day labor services act, third party companies like Schneider that hire staffing companies are liable and legally responsible for any unpaid wages by the staffing company.

Depending on how the law is interpreted, it’s possible Wal-Mart itself could be liable.

“Hopefully this lawsuit will trickle down and help not just us but other people,” said Hines. “Maybe they’ll wake up and see that they have to treat people fairly if they want to get more out of us. Now they’re sitting there high on the hog, eating nice food, while we’re on the dollar menu at McDonald’s.”

This blog originally was posted on http://www.inthesetimes.com/on February 28, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.


Mob Rule? At Work?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Image: Bob RosnerOkay, this is yet another article about the current wave of protests in the Middle East and the implications for the rest of us (in the case of this blog, for the workplace).
A strained metaphor? Undoubtedly. Annoying? Hopefully not. Important? Well, what do you think I’m going to say after spending the past two hours working on this blog?
There is one phrase that really struck me over the past few weeks as the tumult seemed to spread from creepy dictator to creepy dictator. “No leaders.” Political parties, yes they existed. But few seemed to gain much traction over the swarm of people protesting throughout Egypt. Opposition leaders? Yes, there were multiple waves of them arriving triumphantly at Tahrir Square. Mostly, according to new reports, to a response that catapulted exactly no one into the exalted title of the opposition leader.
Overthrow an entrenched dictator without a plan? Without violence? Without the Internet? This isn’t politics, it sounds like a fantasy.
Given that most business organizations in the United States don’t believe that they can produce a widget without a strategic plan, four consultants and an executive dining room full of middle managers.
Cynical, a bit. But more true than most of us want to accept.
Which all reminds me of my first real job. It was at a restaurant cooperative in Philadelphia. There were twenty one employees with no boss. There was a boss at the very inception of the restaurant, but Marcus was a true hippie in the best sense of the word. He believed that more minds beat one mind. So his first act as boss was to make everyone the boss.
Sure there were times where consensus decision making made me want to take an ice pick to my eyeballs. But mostly it was a grand experiment in collection action. But rather than a select group of leaders, everyone took a turn at leadership when the situation favored their particular experience or expertise.
When no one is the anointed leader you can get an out-of-control mob, but you can also get a situation where leadership is assumed and exercised and handed off to the next leader.
I wasn’t in Egypt. But I was in the Eatery and I saw first hand that collective action can work.
I’ve also been an adjunct professor to MBA students, so I’ve been around people who preach the importance of short leashes. And for most of the past twenty years I’ve been arguing that leashes should be longer. But reflecting on the past few weeks and my own first job, I’m starting to wonder if leashlessness is indeed the best, and most overlooked option.
About the Author: Rob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Poor Leaders Can Decrease Worker Productivity By Up to 40 Percent

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Mark Harkebe

As Newswise reports, based on employee engagement research by Florida State University business school professor Wayne Hochwarter,

recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

This plays out in behaviors that Hochwarter’s team classified using the biblical Seven Deadly Sins as a framework.  While the percentages attached to each of those “behavioral sins,” based on feedback from more than 700 mid-level workers, is interesting, what appears further down in Newswise’s article caught my attention more from a productive workplace standpoint: FSU found that employees with leaders who committed any of these “sins” said they cut back on their contributions by 40%.  Notably, they were also:

  • 66% less likely to make creative suggestions, and
  • 75% more likely to pursue other job opportunities.

Hochwarter’s findings tell me that workplace qualities that some leaders might consider as soft (or at least far down on the totem pole of what they need to worry about day to day), such as trust, respect, and fairness, are not just “nice to do’s” – they have a real impact on product/service delivery and quality, and company spending on recruiting and retraining.

This is one of the reasons that Winning Workplaces revised our Top Small Company Workplaces award application for 2011 to take a more in-depth look at how things like rewards/recognition and employee leadership development strategies impact business results.  Year after year of our small workplace award program, we see that happier, more highly engaged employees lead to better outcomes, while the opposite lead to a path of lower profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

This post is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces Blog.

About The Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplace. He helps write and edit Winning Workplaces’ e-newsletter, IDEAS, and provides graphic design and marketing support. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.

Will we ever get a real working class hero?

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerIs there anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater’s profanity filled tirade and exit down the emergency chute carrying beer?

From the Asian animation of his battle with the passenger, 140,000 Facebook fans and T-Shirts, we finally have an authentic working class hero who symbolizes all the frustrations of trying to survive the surly attitudes so common in today’s recession. Or do we?

Turns out that no passengers actually saw the altercation with the passenger that resulted in a gash on Slater’s forehead. In fact, one of the first passengers on the flight claims that Slater had the gash before any passengers boarded the plane.

He was mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore.

But was his anger based on something that really happened, or did it just happen in his own mind? Maybe this doesn’t matter to you, but if we’re all going to nominate this guy to hero status, I’d like his story to align with other people who were on the flight.

Okay, I saw the movie Red Eye. When Jodie Foster’s kid disappeared on a plane in flight. So the woman who slugged him could have gone all Hollywood and disappeared. But the fact that no one corroborated his story and how he got that nasty gash on his forehead does trouble me.

Earlier in the year we had Conan. Remember when Coco was bounced from his Tonight Show perch. Sure NBC didn’t handle this very gracefully. But he did get many millions of dollars. And ratings have improved dramatically for his replacement, Jay Leno. Oops another working class hero who is hard to relate to.

Can’t a guy get an authentic working class hero anymore? Is that too much to ask?

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

The following is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces blog. I thought it was appropriate for Today’s Workplace’s focus on taking back Labor Day. After all, this holiday should offer pause not just for workers, but for company leaders to reflect on how they can do more with less in this difficult economic environment. Enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment below.
– MH

According to two new, independent employer studies – this one and this one – while more than half of employers are planning to hire full-time employees over the next year, over half also don’t offer paid maternity leave (and those that do provide only around 50% pay, on average).

This recruiting/retention picture doesn’t add up for me.  Companies that believe they’re seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel should focus on pleasing their current workforce and getting employees engaged – especially if they’ve had to make some wage or other concessions since the beginning of the recession.  This is all part of sharing the recovery as well as the pain with workers.

This is not to say that companies that see more demand shouldn’t hire more talent to meet it.  But while they make plans to do so, they should use this time as an opportunity to ramp up their benefit packages and other methods for improving productivity and commitment so their existing knowledge base is fully on board for the increased workload – and so they can serve as better ambassadors to acclimate new hires to the organizational culture.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that the above-mentioned studies represent conflicting human capital strategies?

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

Meaningful Work, The Ultimate Oxymoron?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

It’s a question that I probably am asked more than the average person. And given my line avocation, workplace advice columnist, it shouldn’t be surprising.

“What is the key to a satisfying career?”

For most of my work life, I would have really struggled to answer that question. It would be as close to an imponderable question as why laundry detergent companies continue to call the little scoop that comes inside their box a “free” scoop, like you could use it after all the detergent is gone to serve soup when company comes to visit. Okay, maybe it’s time for me to get a real job and stop contemplating such questions.

The obvious way to tackle the satisfying career question is to not answer it. To decide that everyone is different and therefore must find their own answer.

But after a decade of writing this column I’ve decided that this question is too important to be left to answers such as, “I can handle the commute,” “My boss mostly leaves me alone,” or “If work were satisfying, why would they call it a job.”

Dear readers, I wish I was creative enough to come up with those answers on my own. But I’ve actually had people write those exact words to me through the years.

Outside of a few artists or entrepreneurs, most people seem to approach work as something not to be enjoyed, but to be tolerated. In fact, there was one guy who really got in my face at a speech a few years ago. “Work sucks, and if you think differently about it you are only going to be disappointed.”

This is where I must disagree. The “S” word of work doesn’t have to rhyme with stuck. Work can provide a sense of meaning, contribution and joy in your life…I’ll give a minute’s pause to allow most of you to stop laughing at that last sentence before I continue.

Work can provide meaning, contribution and joy AND a lot more. But it takes the blood, sweat and tears to find the right job for you. Which isn’t based just on your degree or boss or job title. It takes a good hard look in the mirror to sort out what you were really meant to do in your time here.

But that is just the first step in the journey. Just because you’ve found the right vocation doesn’t mean anything until you find the right place to practice your gift. The right company, the right team, the right boss and the right circumstances.

This is not science fiction. I’ve met people who’ve found the promised land at work. And I would count myself in this category.

As they say, a journey of a million miles begins with the first step. And I heard the best first step to a meaningful career in an interview with actor Peter O’Toole. He was asked about the best role he’d had in his amazing career. His response was simple, “The best role is always the next one.”

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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