Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Little Things Mean a Lot
It's a lesson I learned pretty early in my working life: It doesn't take much to make employees feel valued--and it also doesn't take much to make them feel like serfs.

Story number one: When holidays like Christmas or July 4 fall on a Sunday, the official legal holiday is the following Monday. I once worked for a guy who made his receptionists work full eight-hour days on those legal holidays "just in case someone is working and they call." Even though the burden fell on just a couple of employees, it showed all of us how much the owner valued us as human beings.

Story number two: My wife's company is in the final stages of a computer system changeover that's been in the works for over two years. Lots of people are working lots of overtime these days, so the company has started buying takeout food for those laboring into the evening.

Little things mean a lot--one way or the other. Sometimes they're strictly local in nature. One business owner happens to be an ass, while another realizes that $75 worth of Chinese food now is a good investment for later. But sometimes, thanks to the circumstances, you can draw wider lessons from such incidents. The Center for American Progress reported yesterday (scroll down to the bottom after clicking) on Guest Services, Inc., the company that runs the cafeteria for the House of Representatives. The entire federal government shut down in memory of Ronald Reagan on June 11--but now Guest Services is requiring its employees to count that mandatory day off as either a vacation day or sick day. Dennis Kucinich and several House colleagues are pressuring the company to reverse its decision.

This story is not getting covered anywhere. A Google News search turns up nothing; the American Progress story links to a squib at Roll Call that's accessible only to paying subscribers. So we don't know why Guest Services is doing this, but we can guess. Because their hands are tied--we'd like to pay them, we really would, but we have a responsibility to our stockholders. Because it would be irresponsible to pay people for not working. Because corporations in America have all the power of medieval divine-right monarchs, and nobody lower than God can make a corporation do something it doesn't want to do.

How about this: They're doing it because they can. "This company is using this national day of mourning to extract compensation from its workforce," Kucinich says. "This is just a question of fairness. They are the lowest paid workers on Capitol Hill. . . . Why should they be punished?" Because they don't have the power to avoid it.

Little things mean a lot. And this story says a mouthful about the state of common human decency in America today.

Recommended Reading: Here's an online petition that seems worth the effort--a letter to the Iraqi people, to be published in various Arab newspapers on August 1, apologizing for the suffering that we've brought to their country. Signing it is the least any of us can do.

Status of mojo: A little rust, taillight broken, radio gets only one station, but gas mileage still OK.

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