Saturday, November 28, 2015

What could have been my most menial job; subtle racial discrimination continues in the workplace


I found a label on the advertising supplement of the Washington Post the day after Black Friday, that reminded me of one of the most “menial” interim jobs I might have taken during my post-layoff period, delivering newspapers, from one’s own car, probably getting up at 2 AM every day.

 Thankfully, not.

Let’s turn to race in the workplace, “Race and Reality in America”, a CNN series with an article “Working while Brown: What discrimination looks like now”, link here.

I was involved tangentially in a racial discrimination case in the workplace in the mid 1990s when I took the place of someone who had been dismissed, and who later sued claiming racial discrimination.  An interesting feature of the case had been that the person claimed he had been promised a promotion, something that I, for my own reasons, would never have wanted.
 
In 1998, Deborah Watts self-published a book “101 Ways to Know Your ‘Black’ in Corporate America”, which she presented in a lunchtime forum at work at ReliaStar in the summer of 1998.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

Retail workers still can't plan personal lives, while tech gets better at family leave


Retail workers find it hard to lead personal lives, and plan travel (which usually requires non-redundable deposits and reservations in advance) because of the short-term nature of retail work schedules, as Think Progress notes in an article about Kmart on Black Friday weekend.  I note, writing this post, the protests in Chicago on Black Friday in the ritzy retail districts, on both wage issues and police profiling. "Profit out of our misery."

No doubt, not only is the opening of stores on Thanksgiving an issue, but the idea of starting work at midnight or 5 AM is something a lot of “bourgeois” people (me) would rather not have to deal with.
 
But, of course, in my own world of IT, the 24x7 nature of the job is more critical today than it was during the peak of my working years.  In mainframe shops, online access (through CICS with customer service reps by phone) tended to be available mostly in the day time.  Night was for running batch cycles.  Of course, you could be on-call.  But for much of the time this was not an issue, and you tended to get better at it as the years went by – and most systems were quite stable in production.
 
They had to be so (or you didn’t keep your job).

Today, of course, end-users as “ordinary people” are more critical, meaning that high tech companies have to keep engineers working round the clock, much as operations (and to some extent systems programmers) did in the 70s through the 90s, during my heyday.

That reality of modern computing may have one  indirect beneficial effect: making the most prosperous tech companies more generous with paid leave, including family leave, as Mark Zuckerberg’s own recent fatherhood demonstrates very publicly now.  But, this tends to help only the more highly skilled professionals.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Xfinity ships new modem-router boxes, as usual require some practice and experience to "get it right"; one little glitch with Windows 10? with Kaspersky?


I did install the new Xfinity “Internet/Voice” modem-router combination, offering 2.4 and 5 gig rates.
 
As usual, there were a few glitches in installing. The splitter end on my existing service had a longer needle than the new cords shipped, but after some difficulty I got it to screw on.

The device powered up fairly quickly.  Use the exact router name and use full password pasted on the machine (not the pin).   You have to go through "www.comcast.com/activate", which will connect even though the computer shows No Internet on the icon (and gives the name of the router pasted on the device).  I found that if I didn’t completely turn off power to the old router, the computer would keep going back to it, disrupting activation.  Also, the activation step did work when I logged on with my “Comcast.net” email username and password, but simply using the account and phone somehow didn’t work.  (The second time around you use the names and pw you created, not the one taped on the box; you don't need this with Ethernet, which almost no one has now.)  After “activation” the service prompts creation of a new name for the router and new password.  Even with a long password, it rated by strength as average.” Finally, it accepted website access.
 
Kaspersky warns me that the connection may not be secure, but Windows 10 says it is secure.
 
After installation, the first restart of a HP Envy Windows 10 crashed immediately.  I had left the printer and one camera connected.  A push-button restart worked.   The Windows event log says “user data access 84639e service not available”.  The problem has not recurred.  It may be something that fails “the first time” because of some kind of caching.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Windows 10 goes to a new "build", requiring a one-hour update


This evening, Windows 10 invited me to load the next build, as explained here.   It is called “windows 10 Home, version 1511, 10586”.

The update started with two downloads and updates (10 minutes), and then a full configuration step (to 100%), then up to three restarts, to copy files, copy drivers and features, and reconfigure the registry.  The entire process took about one full hour (HP Envy).

But I had not been aware of what upgrading to a new build means.  Kaspersky had to be restarted manually.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A short tale about customer service


About a week ago I went to a matinee movie on a weekday at an older suburban theater, one with older concession concepts.  Even with a low crowd, the attendant had trouble finishing a customer before me.  She apologized and said this was her second day on the job. Then, when I asked for a coffee, it had to be brewed.  Then she told me that the machine did not brew coffee without cream, which a coworker backed up.  I’ve never heard of a coffee machine that won’t brew without additives.  The machine looked like the kind that serves free coffee at car dealerships.
 
Yet, it would not be pleasant for me to take a minimum wage job, work under regimentation, and not stumble.  Ask Barbara Ehrenreich when she wrote “Nickel and Dimed” in 2001.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Offhand train conversation raises a question about employee background checks


‘Whenever I take Amtrak or fly, I usually overhear a lot of workplace conversations.  No, I’m not the NSA.  People just talk rather loudly.  It seems a lot of people are furiously finishing spreadsheets for meetings on the airbooks.  Some are talking about their “negotiating positions”.  It seems that this world out there is awfully competitive. 

I heard a guy talking about his background investigation, and a concern that his name isn’t on a girl friend’s lease where he was living.   
  
I thought, what might have happened from 2003 on when I came back “home” to look after mother, but my name wasn’t on any lease or title.  Maybe I could have been denied a job or a clearance.  I wondered. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Worker told to stay home without pay after admitting her apartment has bedbugs


Karla L. Miller of the Washington Post reports (in “@WorkAdvice”) that a worker in a family-owned firm (apparently in Maryland) was told to stay home unpaid after she asked for two days off to help her landlord clean her apartment of bedbugs, until she could certify that he home was free of infestation!  I’ve never heard of a workplace incident like this!  The employer was worried about downstream liability if she brought bedbugs to work in her clothes.  The employer had once paid a lot of money to rid the establishment of a prior infestation.  The link is here.

The lawyers say this was perfectly legal under employment at will.

So this sounds like “don’t ask don’t tell”.  Again, it reminds me of EDS house interviews in the 1960s.


Monday, November 02, 2015

Should employers pretend their workers are like "family"?


Does it make sense for employers to talk about treating associates as “family”, or is that just an insult to what it takes to have and raise a family?  Laura Vanderkam explores the issue in Fortune, on Oct. 30, 2015, here.  The company at issue is Barry-Wehmiller, as discussed by CEO in a book “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family” (with Raj Sisodia, published by Portfolio).  Is this what Facebook and Google (but not Amazon) employment is like?
 
Maybe these ideas comport with those of Anne-Marie Slaughter (Sept 20 here), in her calling for a caring culture (and lots of paid family leave), and attacking the traditional “toxic workplace” in her own book “Unfinished Business” (book blog, Oct. 24).
 
That’s a little hard to see in companies obsessed with the short-term bottom line, and pressured by mergers (New York Times editorial Sunday, “How mergers damage the economy”, link here) .  The editorial reminds me of the rhetoric against hostile takeovers in the late 1980s.  In my experience, many employees actually benefitted from mergers (as I did when ReliaStar took over USLICO in the 1990s, enabling me to move away from a potential conflict of interest).  My eventual layoff from ING at the end of 2001 was partly merger related, but there is plenty of evidence  (including an HR comment I heard at the final exit interview when all of my rather ample severance and retirement was set up) I would have stayed working there longer had 9/11 not taken place.