Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘reasonable’

Fired Hostess Worker Becomes One-Man ‘Truth Squad’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Bruce VailJust 12 short weeks ago, Mike Hummell found himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile union fights of 2012: the nationwide strike against Hostess Brands. As a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Hummell hit the picket lines in early November in support of the union’s desperate showdown with the company famous for making Wonder Bread and Twinkies. But for Hummell the strike would become more than an angry protest against Hostess’ assault on his livelihood. It would be the beginning of a journey through the electronic media in search of fairness for himself and his coworkers.

“It was incredible to see the strike portrayed in the media as the union forcing the company out of business,” says Hummell, a receiving clerk at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kan. With 14 years on the job, Hummell was dismayed that media portrayals of the struggle showed little or no understanding of the workers’ viewpoint. Adding insult to injury, many news outlets blithely repeated Hostess’ assertions that the company would be destroyed by BCTGM’s refusal to make “reasonable” compromises, he says.

The facts, as Hummell knew from his years at the bakery, were quite different. Workers had already made broad concessions to help save the company, and the goal of the strike was to the hold the line against Hostess managers intent on busting the unions and dismembering the company. While some press accounts seemed biased or misinformed, equally troubling was that the main newspaper in the area, Kansas City Star, was ignoring the story. Hummel’s wife sent in a complaint and a reporter soon contacted him.

“I got into an argument with them. I have to admit I was a little surprised when the the story came out and it was pretty accurate. They even quoted me by name,” he recounts.

Hummell then decided to make his own leap into personal journalism. Long a reader of the Daily Kos blog, he composed his first-ever post for the site. On November 18, Hummell—using the screen name Bluebarnstormer—blasted Hostess in a lengthy post titled “Inside the Hostess Bankery.”

“Wow, it just took off,” Hummell says. The post went viral, logging 261,723 page views in the following days. Indeed, it was so popular that Hummell’s work finished in second place in Daily Kos’ 2012 annual calculation of the site’s most popular reader posts. It was instant fame, of sorts. He was contacted by a news reporter for CNNMoney, and his comments received wide distribution. Hummell then received a call from a producer of the CNBC television network, asking that he represent the workers on a cable program with national distribution. He made two appearances on CNBC, during which he ably fielded hostile questions from both hosts and guests.

“The funniest thing about CNBC was the second time I was on, it was like they felt they had to have a whole crew of so-called ‘experts’ to prove I was wrong,” Hummell says. “Well, none of them seemed to know anything about Hostess.” He says he received a lot of encouragement from his co-workers in his efforts to spread accurate information about the strike, as well as from officers of BCTGM Local 218, which represents Hostess workers in the Kansas City area.

His campaign was not successful, however, in deterring Hostess owners from their plan to close the company, dismiss all the workers, and sell off all the assets to the highest bidder. Currently, Hostess is seeking final approvals from a federal bankruptcy court for an auction of the company’s bakeries and other property.

But Hummel is not finished in his quest. He recently completed work on a 27-minute video, which he videotaped (with a help of a close friend) at a union meeting for fired workers. He hopes that a continued campaign to inform the public will aid Hostess workers in what he regards as a gross miscarriage of justice in Hostess’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“It is absolutely a crime what has happened,” Hummell charges. “The owners of Hostess have lied again and again, and there has been no accountability” from Judge Robert Drain, who oversees the court case.

Judge Drain, he says, has been complicit in the abuse of the bankruptcy court process and should be called to account. Hummell hopes that full public exposure of Hostess managers and of Judge Drain can insure that some of the cash generated by the sale of Hostess will flow to the workers.

As for his journey into the world of media, Hummell says he plans to go further. His public stand on behalf of the BCTGM members has led to an invitation to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association, he says. His experience over the last 12 weeks has convinced him that it is possible for rank-and-file workers to make a difference, he tells Working In These Times.

You can contact Mike at bluebarnstormer <at> yahoo <dot> com.

This article was written by Bruce Vail at Working In These Times on February 2, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Favoritism at Work: How to Respond When Unequal Treatment Impacts Your Productivity and Satisfaction

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

We all grew up watching the teacher’s pet get the most attention. In the workplace we see people compete to warm up to the boss at an Olympic level. Favoritism in the office not only impacts our sense of fairness, it creates inequality in responsibility. Worse, it can breed resentment and lead to serious consequences. What should an employee do when someone else seems to be the favorite?

To understand the best way to handle this kind of situation, we need to gain some perspective on the culture of work. An office, a school, or other facility is filled with social relationships, but these connections are not the reason the place exists. The primary purpose of a business or a non-profit is to advance the mission of the organization. Although we do want people to get along, we don’t want our workplace relationships to become so overwhelming that derail the company.

While this may sound obvious, it’s completely unlike the rest of our lives. We pick our friends and partners based on mutual interests and compatibilities. We choose our neighborhoods and our preferred form of entertainment based on our own culture and experience. If you meet a group of friends at a party, you are all there because you like each other. But if you join a group of colleagues at work, you are not necessarily friends. You are not a “family.” You are a team whose members have been carefully selected to have the right skills and the right attitude to make the organization a success.

Why Favoritism Happens

It might seem like having close relationships at the office is inescapable. In fact, the Gallup organization includes a question about having a “best friend at work” as one of their key factors for predicting highly productive workgroups. We are social creatures, and we like to make connections. Part of having friendships in our personal lives is helping people, doing favors, and listening when the need our support. These are all positive aspects of healthy relationships.

However, friendships formed at the workplace can spill over into workplace responsibilities. We start to cover for people who are struggling, or we expect special treatment in the office in exchange for the personal relationship we have at home. This problem becomes even more challenging when the relationship is between a boss and an employee. This is when favoritism is most pronounced and most frustrating to other people.

Institutional Protocols and Practical Advice

If you have the authority to help define procedures for work, you can help to limit favoritism. Some companies have standing rules against relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Others try to standardize work items so that it’s clear everyone is contributing appropriately. Other organizations simply rotate employees to different departments on a regular basis, which helps to foster new ideas as well as limit favoritism.

However, if you’re just the unwitting victim of favoritism, these suggestions don’t offer much help. What do you do if a fellow coworker is the one who is getting all the attention and none of the responsibility? How do you deal with the lack of workplace fairness in this all-too-common situation?

First: resist the urge to gossip about the problem. Telling others that you are frustrated will only make the existing relationships more tense and create more challenges. Likewise, don’t approach either the employee or the manager involved in the unfair exchange. These conversations will only make you appear ungrateful and distracted.

Second: restructure your work to be more transparent. If others know what you are working on, they will want to do the same. A great technique is to list your current projects and accomplishments on a whiteboard, or to keep a log in a public places of your success.

Third: change more of your workplace conversations to be about work. If you treat every workplace conversation as one about the tasks that are being done and the challenges ahead, you’ll limit problems with workplace fairness. For example, when the office favorite tries to engage you in a long conversation about their personal life, politely excuse yourself by stating the projects you need pursue back at your desk.

Favoritism at the office can degrade morale and motivation. When other people get special, unfair treatment, overall productivity drops. Eventually, the best decision for any reasonable employee is to find work elsewhere. Push back against favoritism by focusing on what matters most at work: the work itself.

About the Author: Robby Slaughter is a business consultant with AccelaWork. He focuses on helping to improve employee engagement and productivity.

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