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Posts Tagged ‘Corporations’

San Francisco Looks To Tax Tax-Dodging Tech Companies

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Dave JohnsonAll of us suffer consequences when corporations cheat. Silicon Valley’s tech companies make a lot of money, but many of them dodge paying taxes. San Francisco is going to try to do something about it. Three supervisors are proposing that the city tax tech companies to help pay the costs these companies impose on the city.

Silicon Valley housing costs have skyrocketed thanks to the high salaries and stock options tech companies pay to attract skilled workers. In San Francisco and much of the area, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $3,500. The median home sells for over $1 million. This has pushed many long-term residents to the edge of or even into, homelessness.

San Francisco is a mecca for young, affluent tech workers. In some areas of San Francisco the streets are lines with sidewalk restaurants, brewpubs, great shops, all the things that make an urban environment a fun place to be. In other parts of the city the streets are literally lined with homeless people, many pushed out by the lack of housing that people making only double or triple the national median income can afford.

The Tax

Three supervisors have proposed a ballot proposal to approve a 1.5 percent payroll tax on “tech companies” with more than one million dollars in gross revenue. This would raise around $115 million annually for the city, which would go to homelessness programs and affordable housing projects. Also in the proposal as many as 75,000 small businesses would have their business registration fee cut in half.

Thomas Fuller Reports in The New York Times, in “San Francisco Considers Tax on Tech Companies to Pay for Boom’s Downside“:

Eric Mar, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, announced the proposal last week for a 1.5 percent payroll tax that would serve as a form of indemnification for what he described as the downside of the technology boom.

Tech companies have been “a tremendous benefit to the city in many ways,” Mr. Mar said. “But I don’t think they’ve been paying their fair share.”

The proposal for what has become known as the tech tax comes as officials struggle to fill growing gaps in the city budget. Money from the tech tax would go toward paying for programs for the homeless and the housing “affordability crisis,” Mr. Mar said.

Opponents say it is hard to define what a “tech company” is. But according to SFGate’s Emily Green:

The measure identifies tech companies by the type of tax code they use under the Internal Revenue Service’s North American Industry Classification System. Companies classify themselves. They may face penalties if a government audit finds they are misidentifying themselves.

Community Groups Back Tax

The community groups backing the tax include:

Causa Justa/Just Cause, “a multiracial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents. … [W]e are a force for justice and unity among Black and Brown communities. … We provide tenant rights advocacy and information to tenants through our Housing Committee/Tenants’ Rights Clinic. We build our membership through recruitment in the tenants’ rights clinics and through neighborhood door knocking and outreach. We fight grassroots campaigns to win immigrant rights and housing rights and work toward building a larger movement for social transformation.

San Francisco Rising, which organizes “in African-American, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander communities in San Francisco. … [T]he members of SFR seek to build a new, community-based political infrastructure and to make lasting change on a broad set of issues impacting their communities.”

Jobs with Justice, which “believes that all workers should have collective bargaining rights, employment security and a decent standard of living within an economy that works for everyone. We bring together labor, community, student, and faith voices at the national and local levels to win improvements in people’s lives and shape the public discourse on workers’ rights and the economy.”

The Coalition on Homelessness “brings together homeless folks, front-line service providers, and their allies to build a San Francisco that everyone can call home. We are working every day to expand access to housing in one of the richest cities in the country, protect the rights of the poorest people on our streets, and to address the root causes of homelessness and poverty.”

Tax-Dodging And Extortion

Many of the giant tech companies use various schemes to dodge paying their taxes. Apple, for example, pretends that an Irish subsidiary owns the “intellectual property” behind the company’s products, and this subsidiary charges high fees, so Apple’s profits are in Ireland. This enables Apple to dodge paying U.S. taxes. Apple also pretends that it is based in a mailbox in Nevada to avoid paying corporate taxes in California. Google, for example, notoriously makes billions of dollars of profits in low-population Bermuda.

On top of tax dodging, tech (and other) companies often extort local tax breaks. Twitter, for example, extorted millions in tax breaks from San Francisco by threatening to leave the city. SFGate explains Twitter’s tax break, in “Companies avoid $34M in city taxes thanks to ‘Twitter tax break’,”

Businesses in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district skirted nearly $34 million in city payroll taxes last year thanks to a controversial incentive program known as the “Twitter tax break” intended to keep tech firms from fleeing for Silicon Valley.

That sum, published in a report released Monday by the San Francisco Controller’s Office, increased by about $30 million from 2013 and is five times greater than the amount of taxes companies avoided in the two previous years combined.

The aforementioned New York Times report explained what Twitter did to get this: “Twitter received the tax breaks after threatening to leave the city, creating resentment among tech companies in other parts of the city that did not get such incentives.”

Opponents are also using extortion to fight the proposed “tech tax,” calling it a “job-killer.” They say the small payroll tax will cause companies to pack up and leave the city so the city has to give in (a.k.a extortion). But the reality is these companies are desperate to bring in tech-skilled employees. So tech companies offer many perks to attract tech-trained employees. Aside from very high pay, employees get free lunches, snacks and beverages. At many companies even dinner is free. They get child care. They get stock options and generous benefit packages. Some even offer backrubs and yoga classes.

One of the biggest perks a tech company can offer is being located in San Francisco itself, instead of having to use their private bus network to bring employees from San Francisco.

Private bus networks? What? The February 2015 post, “Tax Scams, Google Buses Mean Silicon Valley Is #StuckInTraffic” explained:

The traffic in Silicon Valley is absolutely terrible. We the People sit in traffic, with few alternatives. The Caltrain line that runs between San Jose and San Francisco is standing room only during the hours people are trying to get to work. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system doesn’t go where it needs to go, and its parking lots are full where there are stations further north. Light rail is limited. The bus system is a few buses on a few of the main roads.

… But companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and others have built their own private bus lines. These are mostly shiny, white luxury buses that bring employees to work and take them home. Locally, we call them all “Google Buses.” There have even been protests because these buses bring affluent tech employees up to San Francisco neighborhoods, causing rents to soar.

There’s a relationship between those “Google Buses” and the rest of us sitting still, stuck in traffic.

Why can’t we afford to maintain our 1970s-level public transportation system? (Never mind bringing it into the 21st century.) Where did the money go? You’ve heard about companies like Apple using schemes and scams like the “Double-Irish With a Dutch Sandwich” to dodge paying taxes. Remember when an Apple executive said to The New York Times that these tax scams are just fine, because giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

Commuters sit in traffic jams because tax-dodging corporations are not helping pay for transportation options. Meanwhile those companies use their tax-dodger money for beautiful, modern private transportation “Google bus” systems for themselves. They extort tax breaks. They externalize problems onto communities and offer little help – because giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

Warning Shot

This proposal needs six of the eleven members of the Board of Supervisors to get on the November ballot, which is unlikely. The measure singles out “tech” companies and not others, and only those based in San Francisco. Giant companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and others are not based in San Francisco, but they deliver their high-paid employees to San Francisco’s housing market in their private bus networks.

This modest, local tax is not likely to pass, but should serve as a warning shot to giant companies – whether defined as tech companies or not – that people and communities are more than fed up with their tax dodging and their ducking responsibility for their practices.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on July 11, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

T-Mobile’s Dirty Secrets Exposed: Unfair Firings, Deceiving Customers and More

Thursday, March 10th, 2016


Last week, award-winning labor and business reporter Steven Greenhousepublished a comprehensive article on T-Mobile’s disgraceful labor and consumer practices.

T-Mobile is currently the golden child of the telecom industry, with a media-friendly CEO and high profits. But, as Greenhouse writes, the company faces allegations of the law in nearly every part of its operation:

On top of all of this, T-Mobile continues to be one of the most aggressively anti-union companies in the industry.

Joshua Coleman was one of the top performers at the T-Mobile call center in Wichita, Kansas—the company even awarded him a free vacation to Puerto Rico. But when they discovered Coleman was a union supporter, they not only canceled his vacation, but fired him. When the NLRB dinged them for unlawful dismissal, T-Mobile settled for $40,000 without admitting wrongdoing.

And if workers at any company need a union, it’s T-Mobile. In contrast to the company’s laid-back, “un-carrier” image, employees in T-Mobile call centers are subject to high-stakes metrics that take into account everything from number of seconds on a call to when they go to the bathroom. Severe anxiety and panic attacks are common.

Greenhouse interviewed former customer service rep Julia Crouse, who reported vomiting from stress before work and that her manager “often ordered employees who had the worst sales numbers or longest average call times to wear a dunce cap.”

Help might soon be on the way. The organization T-Mobile Workers United has brought together employees from all over the country to support each other and push to change T-Mobile’s policies. This week,TU became an organizing local with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), with none other than fired worker Joshua Coleman as one of its leaders.

This article originally appeared on aflcio.org on March 10, 2016.  Reprinted with permission

Doug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

Would raising the minimum wage help Walmart?

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Laura ClawsonWould a higher minimum wage be good for business at Walmart? Many experts say so—after all, a higher minimum wage would give many Walmart customers a little more disposable incometo spend at the store:

David Cooper, an economic analyst with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, agrees with Demos’s Ruetschlin that the sluggish economic recovery means a boost in the minimum wage could push low-income workers to spend more, and in many cases they’d spend that money at low-priced outlets like Walmart.“If suddenly all these low-wage workers have more income, they are likely to spend that money right away,” Cooper said. “If these retailers want strong, stable sustainable growth in the U.S. economy, then they should also want strong, stable increases in wages to their employees.” […]

The data linking an increase in wages to a rise in consumer spending — particularly at a specific retail outlet — is a bit thin, but there’s “very strong anecdotal evidence in support of that claim,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Walmart definitely knows that when its customers don’t have money, business suffers; the company’s chief financial officer recently said, to explain a drop in U.S. sales, that “The consumer doesn’t quite have the discretionary income, or they’re hesitant to spend what they do have.” And in fact, in the past, when the minimum wage has gotten too far below the poverty line, a Walmart CEO has explicitly said that was a problem: “The U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been raised in nearly a decade, and we believe it is out of date with the times … Our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks.”

A yacht store is unlikely to see much of a boost from an increase in the minimum wage, in other words, but Walmart, where people go for cheap, basic necessities, will do better. Walmart’s opposition to paying an actual living wage, one that doesn’t force workers to rely on food stamps and Medicaid, is well known. But if Congress doesn’t act and raise the minimum wage, we might get back to a point where Walmart admits it would benefit from an increase. Which would, more than anything, be a sign of how embarrassingly bad Congress is—can you imagine lagging behind Walmart on wage issues?

Join Making Change at Walmart and Daily Kos in telling Walmart and the Waltons to respect their employees and pay a real wage.

This article originally appeared on Daily Kos Labor on September 4, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:  Laura Clawson is the labor editor at Daily Kos

Strike in Colombia Highlights Free Trade Failure

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Dave JohnsonThere is a big strike in Colombia, and you probably don’t know about it. Farmers and others are protesting over a variety of grievances including the devastating effect of free-trade agreements, privatization and inequality-driven poverty. Corporate-owned American media is not covering it. These trade agreements make the really rich really richer while outsourcing jobs to places where people can’t object to the low pay and working conditions. This undercuts wages here. The end result is a race to the bottom.

The Strike

The BBC is reporting that 200,000 Colombian farmers are on strike in 11 of Colombia’s 32 provinces. They are blocking roads, cutting off the central province. The Economist reports that “Colombian miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers, public health-care workers, students and others” took to the streets on August 19.

Almost the only American outlet covering this strike is the Miami Herald. Last week the paper reported,

The agrarian strike, as it’s known, is broad-based and far-flung. Coffee, cacao, potato and rice farmers have joined ranks with cargo truckers, gold miners and others. Teachers and labor unions are also joining in. Their demands are equally ample, calling for reduced fuel and fertilizer prices, the cancellation of free trade agreements, increased subsidies and the end of a crackdown on informal mining operations, among others.

Reasons For Strike

Stone throwers clash with riot police as Colombian farmers demanding government subsidies and greater access to land block the road in La Calera, Cundinamarca department, on August 23. (EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the Herald report free-trade agreements are part of the reason for the strike. “Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera,” … “High fuel prices, expensive agrichemicals, government neglect of rural areas and free trade agreements — without adequate safeguards — have made it impossible for farmers to compete, he said.”

Miami Herald report the next day also says that the strikers are demanding an end to free-trade agreements.

Common Dreams has more, in Colombia Nationwide Strike Against ‘Free Trade,’ Privatization, Poverty. Common Dreams reports, (click through for links)

“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.

[. . .] Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.

Labor Murders In Colombia

Labor “strife” is not new to Colombia. In February, 2012 AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter asking President Obama to delay the implementation of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, because of continuing murders of labor activists.

The letter states that through January, one union member was killed by Colombian troops, a second was shot to death along with his wife, a third worker was “brutally murdered” and a fourth union member employed by the National Industry of Sodas (Coca-Cola) was “murdered by gunfire.”

Over 2,900 union members have been murdered in Colombia over the last 25 years…

The Common Dreams report drives this home,

Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.

Effect Of US-Colombia Agreement

The US-Colombia Trade Agreement went into effect May, 2012. A year later The Nation carried the story, The Horrific Costs of the US-Colombia Trade Agreement describing the consequences on Colombia’s poor and farmers. The new agreement forces Colombian farmers “to compete against heavily subsidized US products” and an Oxfam report estimates “that the average income of 1.8 million grossly under-protected small farmers will fall by 16 percent.” “The study concludes that 400,000 farmers who now live below the minimum wage will see their incomes drop by up to 70 percent and will thus be forced out of their livelihoods.”

And the threats and murders continue. According to a May Public Citizen report on the effects of the recent Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements,

In the year after the launch of the Labor Action Plan, union members in Colombia received 471 death threats – exactly the same number as the average annual level of death threats in the two years before the Plan. At least 20 Colombian unionists were assassinated in 2012 according to the data relied upon under the Labor Action Plan, while the International Trade Union Confederation reported the assassination of 35 unionists. … In addition, violent mass displacements of Colombians increased 83 percent in 2012 relative to 2011, when the U.S. Congress passed the FTA, adding to the five million Colombians who have been displaced in the world’s largest internal displacement crisis.

The Colombian trade agreement is hurting Colombia’s small farmers and they are reacting. They are pitted against America’s giant, industrialized, government-subsidized farms and losing the battle. And in America these giant, corporate farms largely only enrich the 1%, providing low wages for the rest and forcing smaller American farmers out of business as well.

Korea Free-Trade Agreement Already Costs 40,000 American Jobs

Our free-trade agreement with Colombia is not the only recent agreement that is not going so well for 99% of the people involved. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported in July that the US-Korea free trade agreement has already costs the US 40,000 jobs and increased our trade deficit by $5.8 billion. Already.

The tendency to distort trade model results was evident in the Obama administration’s insistence that increasing exports under KORUS would support 70,000 U.S. jobs. The administration neglected to consider jobs lost from the increasing imports and a growing bilateral trade deficit. In the year after KORUS took effect, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea increased by $5.8 billion, costing more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. Most of the 40,000 jobs lost were good jobs in manufacturing.

NAFTA Wiped Out Small Mexican Farmers, Sending Them North

This is similar to the after-effect of the NAFTA agreement that allowed US-subsidized corn into Mexican markets, wiping out many small farmers and sending them north desperately looking for work. NAFTA forced at least 4,000 pig farms under, losing 120,000 jobs. (China being the beneficiary, now buying American pork-producer Smithfield.) It helped increase rural poverty from 35% to 55%. Tobacco and coffee farmers also went under.

A Wilson Center report says NAFTA “Subsidized Inequality,” displacing “many hundreds of thousands of small-scale corn producers.” A McClatchy report estimates the number of Mexican corn-farming jobs lost at 2 million, worsening illegal migration.

Then U.S. corn imports crested like a rain-swollen river, increasing from 7 percent of Mexican consumption to around 34 percent, mostly for animal feed and for industrial uses as cornstarch.

Meanwhile NAFTA didn’t turn out so well for American workers, either. Estimates are that NAFTA has cost 700,000 American jobs, and a quick look at 1989?s Roger & Me shows what it did to cities and regions. Many of Detroit’s auto jobs have moved to Mexico, for example.

China Trade

The Alliance for American Manufacturing has a state-by-state map of jobs lost to China (don’t forget the more than 50,000 factories), with the introduction, “The growth of the U.S. trade deficit with China since that country entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 has had a devastating effect on U.S. workers and the domestic economy. Between 2001 and 2011, 2.7 million U.S. jobs were lost or displaced.”

Our trade deficit with China drained $26.9 billion from our economy just in the month of June. And that was actually down from 27.9 billion the month before.

No Jobs From Trade Deals

In No Jobs from Trade Pacts EPI’s Robert Scott explains that the appeal of these job-killing trade deals is the job killing nature of the deals,

FTAs and other trade agreements make it enormously profitable to outsource production to countries such as South Korea and China that use currency manipulation, dumping, and other unfair trade practices to undercut production and wages in the United States. U.S. MNCs, including Apple, Boeing, Dell, Ford, GE, GM, and Intel have also profited enormously from outsourcing to Mexico, China, and other low-wage trade partners under the protection of FTAs and the WTO. The end result is a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions for most members of these agreements.

These trade agreements make the really rich really richer. They outsource jobs to places where people can’t object to the low pay and working conditions. This undercuts wages here. The end result is a race to the bottom, while the 1% get richer and richer.

Promises, Promises

Free-trade proponents always promise jobs and prosperity, then later we get the bill. The promises sound great but the record is that only a wealthy few benefit at the expense of the rest of us.

The Korean and NAFTA free-trade deals and China’s entry into the WTO led to terrible job losses (and millions of Mexicans pressured to migrate north), our trade deficit accelerated, factories were closed and entire regions of our country were devastated. Just look at Detroit, Flint, and similar cities.

But the promises … In 2011 the Koch brothers’ Cato Institute promised, in Trade Agreement Would Promote U.S. Exports and Colombian Civil Society,

[T]he U.S.-Colombia trade agreement would eliminate barriers to billions of dollars of U.S. exports. Colombia is home to 45 million consumers and is one of the largest economies in Latin America, and a major market for U.S. exports in the Western Hemisphere. …

Anytime trade barriers can be lowered anywhere, at home or abroad, Americans benefit from greater competition and specialization. …

The Colombia trade agreement would extend investor protections and guarantees of equal treatment to service providers in a broad range of sectors. …

Gains in market access would be especially strong for the U.S. financial sector. …

Cato offered promises for Colombia as well,

The FTA with the United States would boost the Colombian economy and complement other important market reforms carried out in that country in the last decade. …

After a decade of substantial improvements in the areas of security and the economy, Colombia stands to benefit from a free-trade agreement with its most important partner. By approving this FTA, the United States would contribute significantly to Colombia’s economic development at a crucial point in the country’s history.

And so on. This is typical of the promises we hear every time a new free-trade deal is brought before the Congress for approval.

Last year the Heritage Foundation looked at our trade relationship with China (which has cost millions of jobs and drained trillions from the economy). Heritage explained why the loss of jobs and massive trade deficit are good for us, because this means prices are low, and the owners of American (and Duth and Korean) corporations make out like bandits, we go further into debt with them, and then they buy our companies and land,

Every day we buy things made in China, though they may be made there by American or Dutch or Korean corporations. China buys a lot of our government’s debt and lately it has been buying small pieces of American companies and land.

Heritage goes on to say that if our government did something about it, that would make us “less free” and “would pick winners and losers” and that “comparative advantage” means China should do this work. Because their “comparitive advantage” is that no democracy, no unions, no environmental protections means they can make things for less so giant corporations have higher profits.

This, by the way, is a different way of saying what I wrote above, “These trade agreements make the really rich really richer. They outsource jobs to places where people can’t object to the low pay and working conditions. This undercuts wages here. The end result is a race to the bottom, while the 1% get richer and richer.”


Yes, free-trade agreements can increase exports. Corn to Mexico, for example. Raw materials to China. But if they increase imports even more, it is still a net loss for jobs and the economy. (No, by “imports” I do not mean the mass migration north of desperate Mexican agricultural workers wiped out by giant, government-subsidized US agricultural corporations.)

huge new trade deal is coming up soon. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), called by some the “mother of all free-trade deals” and by others the “Corporate Deathstar.” It is a job-loss runaway train that is coming straght at us. The corporate lobbyists are asking Congress to give up their Constitutional duty to scrutinize and amend this agreement by passing “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority. Call your Senators and Representative today and tell them you oppose “Fast Track” — and tell everyone you know to do the same.

This article originally appeared OurFuture.org on August 26, 2013.   It can also be found on AFL-CIO NOW blog.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson is Dave Johnson  is a Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy.

The Consultants Have No Clothes

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerThis week’s blog should get me in a lot of trouble. But I think it’s time that someone points out that many of the biggest business consultants, authors and speakers run really crappy businesses of their own.

Okay, I’ve heard all the jokes about consultants. All go basically down the same path—a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and then tells you what time it is. But this is someone much worse. I’ve discovered that many of the biggest advisors to business run shops that are much more poorly managed than many of the corporations that pay them such lofty fees.

Ironic isn’t it?

Take consultant number one—I’ve confided the real names to my editor, but dear reader you’ll have to give me some slack here, because these guys are my colleagues, and in some cases my friends.

Consultant number one has had a series of best selling books, he commands top dollar on the speakers circuit and chances are that you’ve heard or seen him at one time during your career. He is so volatile that he is barely able to hold on to staff for more than a year. He says he’s a great listener, but his staff says to me that he yells far too much to ever hear a word they say. His office might as well have a revolving door on it.

Consultant number two is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But his company is remarkably dysfunctional. Its top leadership seems to change with the seasons. More than any other, this company almost seems to be dedicated to violating every principal that it espouses in its publications and presentations with its own people. It is a rudderless, often contradictory and cruel place that talks about sharing the credit but seldom does.

Consultant number three has built a company with some of the lowest morale anywhere. It’s hard to sort out where the battle lines are worse, in the executive suites or in the trenches. At one point I actually got to see some of the company’s internal survey results and couldn’t imagine that any of this company’s customers own results were that pathetic. Employees felt that management was more likely to knife them in the back then pat them on it. Although there was a lot of talk about values, the organization seems to only hold one value dear, and that is making the sale.

Woody Allen once said that those who can, do. And those who can’t, teach. Clearly those who really can’t do something become top-priced consultants.

So what can we do about this? I’m not suggesting that anyone throw out the baby with the bathwater. Each of these three people I referred to above has an important message and strategies to share. I just believe that corporations need to do a better job of due diligence with the messengers it picks before it starts ramming the fad of the week down its own people’s throats.

Look at each possible vendor as a little laboratory for their own principals. Ask for proof that they eat their own dog food and practice the very principals that they are foisting on you, and the rest of the business world.

Many of you are probably saying to yourself that this doesn’t really matter. It all goes back to the “Hawthorne Effect”, remember, that’s where a company turned up its lights and found that productive increased. Then when productivity stabilized they tried turning the lights down and found—like magic—that productivity magically increased again. The lesson, is that over the short haul almost anything you do can potentially increase productivity.

So Corporate America do your homework. Just because someone is a brand name, don’t assume that their principles work in the real world. That’s the bad news. The good news, is that the due diligence isn’t that hard to do. You just have to take the pulse of the employees who work for the company you are thinking about hiring. Ask to see recently survey results and staff turnover rates. I can guarantee that often you’ll be surprised by what you find.

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.

Cubicle Blues

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

You’d expect the “father” of the cubicle to be a proud parent. Heck, his invention multiplied faster than rabbits. But you’d be wrong.

Thirty years ago, Robert Probst was seeking to create the perfect place to work for the office furnishings company Herman Miller. In search of the “office of the future,” he designed the perfect environment for maximum satisfaction and productivity. He called his creation “the action office.”

Yep, the cubicle. At the time Probst was looking for something better than the open bullpen that was the norm for much of the last century. He wanted to create a space that would allow privacy, personalization and the maximum in flexibility. For example, his original creation had a variety of surfaces that you could work from each that was a different height.

So much for privacy, personalization and flexibility. Just before his death in 2000, Probst called his creation “monolithic insanity” in Fortune.

There are many reasons why the “action office” devolved in the cube. Soaring real estate prices, corporations trying to get more bang for the buck by packing employees in like sardines and even the tax code (corporations can write off cubicles much faster than they can write off their investment in walls in an office building).

There is a part of me that believes that the successor to the cube will be emptying out our huge office buildings in a massive wave of telecommuting. This makes sense for so many reasons—spiraling gas prices, increasing real estate costs and the fact that so many homes now have broadband access. The only problem with this picture is that we barely know how to manage the people we can see at work, so few of us have the foggiest idea of how to manage people we can’t see.

Which leads back to the “action office.” It’s clear that business is now 0 for 2. The bullpen didn’t work. The cubicle has spawned Dilbert and a massive amount of griping from most of the people who’ve worked in one.

So what is the answer? I think it involves combining the best of the future with the best of the past. The first part of the equation is really figuring out what jobs can be done by telecommuting. And what workers and managers are up to this challenge. Once these jobs are moved out of our buildings then we’ll actually have the room to turn the cube back into the “action office” that Probst originally envisioned. With fewer people they can be bigger and hopefully employees can have the ability to tailor them to their needs.

For all the talk of productivity, I’m surprised at how little of the conversation addresses the place where most of our work actually gets done. If more of us engage in this conversation, hopefully, we’ll be able to put the “action” back into the “action office.”

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. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

How to Date a Corporation: Dating Rules for a Post-Citizens United World

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

The Supreme Court recently determined that corporations are entitled to freedom of speech because they are legally persons. The ramifications of this decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, cannot be overstated: it introduces an entirely new and untapped population into the dating pool.

Chances are you’ve never dated a corporation before. But don’t be intimidated. This can be a fun and exciting opportunity… as long as you follow the corporation-dating rules.

1. Consider your options. There are a lot of corporations out there. Is this really the best corporation out there? Is this corporation “the one?” Or should you keep looking?
2. Don’t seem too eager to get involved. Remember, corporations are predatory by nature and enjoy a chase.
3. Do a background check. What kind of relationships has this corporation had in the past? What is the corporation’s history
4. Investigate the company the corporation keeps. Who is on its board of directors? Have any been indicted?
5. Check out the corporation’s assets and figures. How do they look? Are they appealing to you?
6. Say that you’re fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Corporations find this very sexy.
7. Make sure you wait before you give up any of your assets. Corporations lose interest when you give it up right away.
8. Don’t over invest. Nothing hurts more than giving without getting.
9. Resist the “urge to merge.” Mergers often look appealing but they tend to be messy and almost always hurt party.
10. Assume the worst. Corporations have a one track mind and they can’t wait to get their hands on your goods.
11. And last but not least…Protect yourself. Corporations can be very reckless and you never really know how many people this corporation has screwed.

*This post originally appeared in Working Life. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katie Harper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, a political comedy group, with whom she performs regularly at venues including Netroots Nation (the convention formerly known as Yearly Kos). Katie blogs for Huffington Post, TakePart, 23/6, Nerve, Culture Kitchen, and Campus Progress. Katie is also an Artistic Director and Comedy Curator at The Tank, a non-profit performing arts space for emerging artists. Her award winning documentary, La memoria es vaga, about historical memory in Spain, has been screened throughout Spain and the U.S. Katie is currently developing a one-woman show and a documentary film about her summer camp, Camp Kinderland, and their “peace Olympics” games. For more information, check out http:// katiehalper.com

How Things Really Get Done

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Image: Bob RosnerOne of the most creative bits of problem solving I’ve ever heard of came during Hurrican Katrina. In the French Quarter, Addie Hall and Zackery Bowen found an unusual way to make sure that police officers regularly patrolled their house. Ms. Hall, 28, a bartender, flashed her breasts at the police vehicles that passed by, ensuring a regular flow of traffic (from the New York Times).

I’m a fan of New Orleans. And let’s face it, if you had gone through the hell of hurricane Katrina, would you be able to draw on years of experience at Mardi Gras to get the police attention you needed? Ms. Hall, like so many residents of the Big Easy, has the most creative problem solving skills I’ve ever seen.

Ms. Hall also reminds us that there are the ways that things are supposed to get done and the ways that they actually get done. I’m not suggesting that flashing is a career enhancing move for most of us. But there are times at work, and in life, where creativity and bold action are not only called for, they’re a requirement.

This reminds me of a story that I heard as a graduate business student. Our professor told us that he wanted to talk to people who actually implemented programs in corporations. So he arranged a meeting with no consultants, authors or other hangers on. He only allowed corporate doers in the room. He asked them to tell success stories and he marveled at how the techniques for getting things done in the real world had little resemblance to what was being taught in MBA programs.

For example, there was the change agent who tried to get his program implemented for years with no success. He’d long since given up. Then one day he was having lunch with his friend, the company speechwriter. The topic of his failed program came up. He told the sad story of defeat after defeat on the corporate battlefield. Cut to the CEO two weeks later announcing his latest initiative, the change agent’s program. One conversation with the speechwriter breathed more life into his program than years of banging his head against the corporate hierarchy.

For every rule of how things should get done in organizations there are often at least two exceptions. That’s why it’s so important to get to know the network of doers in your organization. They’re in there, but chances are that they’re operating beneath the radar. So you’re going to have to go looking for them. Once you get their confidence, they’ll have many stories that will both surprise you and teach you new ways to get from point A to point B within your organization.

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.

The Commencement Speech You Didn’t Hear

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

In 1989 I gave my first Commencement Speech at the University of Puget Sound. Even though I wasn’t asked to speak to graduates this year, I decided to not let that hold me back. Actually the speech below is much less for the graduates and really directed at the corporations that seem to value these graduates so highly—much too highly. Without further ado…

Dear Graduates—after wandering the halls of academe for 16, or more years, congratulations. The good news, no more homework. The bad news, say goodbye to summer, your ten-month year is about to come to an end.

My undergraduate years were a valuable time for me. I learned how to do my own laundry, how to drink Jell-o shots, how to use a cafeteria tray as a sleigh, how to kiss with one leg on the floor, how to cram all night for a test and how to forget everything the moment that the test was over—all helpful skills to possess.

Okay, I did learn a few things along the way. Unfortunately none immediately leap to mind. (Lest I seem like a total slacker, Dear Reader, what information do you remember from your college years?)

Which is exactly my point. I think that all graduates deserve congratulations. But this is not about you. I’m concerned that far too many corporations hold the lack of a college education against employees who want to get into management.

Just last week I talked to a woman who had run an office for two U.S. Senators, been a successful entrepreneur and was currently thriving in an entirely new career. She accomplished all of this without a college degree. Yet, there are many jobs that she cannot apply for.

This isn’t coming from a place of envy. I not only have a B.S. degree (a perfect description of my undergraduate years). But I also have a Masters of Business Administration (and isn’t that what the business world needs today, more administrators?). And I’ve served as an Adjunct Professor to MBA students on four separate occasions (in case you are wondering, “Adjunct” is Latin for “poorly paid”). 

So my criticism comes from a person who has “paid his dues.” I’ve got the degrees. And I think college is a totally B.S. test for how you’ll perform in today’s workplace. There is nothing wrong with a college education. To use a dessert analogy, the degree is the icing, the cake is the person’s other experiences, expertise and insight.

That does leave us with a problem. If we are going to level the playing field in terms of those with, and those without a college education, how will we decide who is the better person to hire? We’ll have to look at the person and not use a convenient, and inappropriate, yardstick.

A few considerations: What has the person accomplished at work? How do the people they’ve worked with feel about their contributions? Has the person traveled abroad? Have they done volunteer work? Do they speak another language? Do they know what’s going on in the world? Do they understand your industry and its competitors? I would argue that all of these are more reliable measures of what a person can contribute to your organization than a tired, old piece of sheepskin.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a beef with college. I just believe that the life experiences and minds of many who have not graced the hallowed halls of academia is a terrible thing to waste. So enjoy your degree. Just don’t look down on people who don’t have one. Heck, you just might be able to learn something from them. 

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.

Why I am Pro-Corporate

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I am pro-corporate. I’ll go a step further with that and proclaim that I believe that there are no bad corporations, and that I haven’t seen any corporations do anything wrong.

I see the way you are looking at me. I’d better explain.

The reason I say there are no “bad” corporations is because corporations are not sentient beings that can “do” things or that can be good or bad. They can’t make decisions. Corporations are just a bundle of contracts that allow groups of people to more easily raise capital and amass resources. Corporations are things, like chairs, and things do not make decisions, any more than a chair does. Corporations are tools and tools are neither good nor bad.

When I say I am pro-corporate, this is what I mean: The things that the corporate legal structure enables people to do are good for society. This is why We, the People decided to enact the laws that created corporations. If we want to be able to accomplish things on a large scale, like build a railroad or airports and airplanes or skyscrapers – or solar power plants to replace coal power plants – we want to enable people to more easily raise the necessary capital and amass the resources needed to get the job done. The legal structure of the corporate form of a business accomplishes this.

Corporations, a bundle of contracts, don’t “do” anything, people do. And that is why this discussion is important right now. We are looking here at how to restructure our economy, but before we can do that, we have to correctly identify what went wrong. We have to understand who the good and bad actors were.

So what are some of the things that companies have been doing that we as progressives think should change? Let’s use the highly-publicized example of Wal-Mart and their low wages and benefits and Chinese imports. Wal-Mart always complained about being cast as the bad-actor. They said that if Wal-Mart raised wages and benefits and their competitor Target didn’t, then they would be at a competitive disadvantage and Target would take over the business. And, by extension, any company that tries to “do the right thing” is immediately at a disadvantage to a company that does not.

Looked at this way, if we make Wal-Mart raise wages and Target doesn’t, then not only is Wal-Mart in trouble as a company but now we’re starting all over again trying to get Target to raise wages. And if THEY do so, then along comes K-Mart or Costco or a new company X-Co to pay the low wages, charge lower prices and take away the business. This feels like it is going around in a circle, trying to fix a problem in one place and the pressures of the system immediately make the problem appear somewhere else.

I think blaming companies for the things they “do” also places a lot of stress on people inside of them who might agree with us, and even can alienate them from otherwise supporting progressives. People in the corporate world often feel trapped because the rules of the game require them to engage in what we think of as bad behavior. These are good people who would be very helpful to us in making the correct changes but they feel forced by the system to do the things they do. They are pulled two ways. Executives at Wal-Mart on the one hand can be want to raise wages, and on the other hand have a responsibility to compete with Target.

So what am I getting at here? The companies are not the problem, the rules we set up for them are. Companies operate on a playing field on which the rules of the game are supposed to be decided by US. We, the People are supposed to set up the ground rules and then the companies are supposed to follow those rules. Wal-Mart followed those rules. If we didn’t like the wages and benefits that companies pay, why don’t we change the rules and tell them they all have to pay higher wages and provide better benefits?

Now we’re getting somewhere. Many progressives have been trying to get companies to “behave” in better ways, and haven’t been getting much done — I think due to not correctly identifying the problem. The real problem is that we haven’t set up the rules of the playing field to require these companies – all of them – to provide good wages and benefits, etc. It is our job to regulate what these corporations do. So why didn’t we, through our government, change the rules for all the companies, so they all had a level playing field and clear rules? Identifying why we have not fixed the rules is the path to fixing the larger problem.

What has been happening is that a few people in the bigger companies have been using the resources of those big corporations to influence our system and set the rules of that playing field to give an edge to their companies. They do this so they can personally gain.

This is where we need to focus to fix the corporate system. There should be no way for people in companies to have any say whatsoever in how the playing field on which they operate is set up. How to accomplish this is a subject for future posts.

As I said above, corporations are just a tool, like a hammer. But a hammer can do a lot of damage if a person hits you upside the head with it. That is what we have to stop: a few people using corporate resources and hitting us upside the head.

Oh, and for the record, I am pro-chair, too, though my wife will probably insist I am a pro-couch partisan.

Dave Johnson:Dave is at Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and a Fellow at the Commonwealth Institute.

This article originally appeared at Blog for Our Future and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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