Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ethical Behavior and The American Dream.

The more time I spend thinking about terms like 'income inequality" the more I conclude that my fellow humans have ethics which are dependent upon their personal view of what constitutes the American Dream. For some, the American Dream is having enough for their needs and maybe a bit left over for a luxury or two. For others, it's having enough to fulfill their desire to own everything they want.

Here in the United States, and quite possibly other parts of the world, we've confused a person's worth as a human being with how much money they can spend to purchase the trappings of success. We don't ever look at how they earn that money, we simply idolize that person because they have it. It should matter to us that they might not have been entirely honest in their quest for success. We should see who they hurt while achieving their gold and ask ourselves if they're worthy of our loyalty because of it.

A case in point would be the owners of the company I work for. During conversations with all but one of them, they brag about what they own and never mention how they've amassed the money to buy it. They've done that by taking things away from their employees.

The company founder appreciated her employees. While she didn't do everything she should have done (more on that later), she paid half of the employees health insurance. She gave raises every year. Sometimes it was just a nickle per hour, but it was a raise and it was there every year. She gave a picnic at a local state park every summer and a Christmas party was held the Friday before Christmas at every office she had open around the state. She didn't give money at Christmas, but she bought gifts for every single employee. She also went to bat for every employee that ran afoul of a County case manager. If a client was unhappy with the employee, she'd change the employee on that case. If the County manager took a dislike to someone, they had to have proof or she'd tell them they couldn't interfere with the employees right to earn a living. If there was a death in the family of an employee, she'd send flowers and a sympathy card and the employee would get 3 days off with pay.

At the time we had long term employees. When I was hired in 1999 some of the employees had been working there right out of high school. In one case it was the only job she'd ever had. As the on-call at the time I could call any employee and ask them to cover a case and they would simply say "Where'm I going"? That became, "No, I'm sorry, I can't" and that was if you could get them to answer the phone at all.

She retired in 2001 and we have since lost every single bit of that evidence that we are appreciated for our efforts on behalf of the company. They've taken away the annual raise, and actually cut our pay. We no longer get Christmas gifts or a party, no summer picnic has been held in 10 years. As a matter of fact, when an employee was killed while driving to her next case, they didn't offer anything to her family except words. Which is how we found out that the company founder had been doing something wrong.

The aide that died in a car crash left a husband to raise a young family alone. Like many young people they had no life insurance and there was a funeral bill to pay that he couldn't afford. He asked for assistance from the company because it occurred on company time and got told no. It seems that the company felt that their time was only the time an employee is actually with a client and not while we were traveling between clients. The husband knew enough labor law to understand that his wife should have been paid travel time between clients because from the time you begin with the first client until the time you leave the last one, you are on company time. So, he got mad and reported it to the Labor Department.

The Labor Department agreed. Which was when "travel time" became something we were paid for. What we didn't know was that in addition to the new pay, the state slapped the company with a stiff fine. Said fine kicked in last year which is why we lost our Christmas party and gifts. In addition to the loss of party and gifts, they have cut our hourly wage and also closed our offices an hour early to cut the coordinators pay by that 5 hours. The time was added to the on-call's duties at no extra pay, of course. Then the owners complain that they can't find good help these days.

Long term employees are few with far too many of them lasting a mere 3 or 4 months. And according to the owners, it's laziness not a lack of appreciation that is the problem. "Nobody wants to work anymore".

From where I sit it seems to me that it wasn't the employees that violated labor laws, it was the company owners. I'm thinking they should be the ones paying the fine out of their own pockets rather than on the backs of their minimum wage employees. However, their American Dream requires a new kitchen remodel in 1 home and the lease is up on the "company vehicle" and a new one was necessary.

The company founder drove a luxury Lexus. Paid for out of her pocketbook from money she made as a salary for shepherding a company to a point where profit was made. She made that profit by appreciating her hard working employees. As a result, her employees thought long and hard about the affect their actions might have on the company. It's called company loyalty and it's really, really hard to find in a company that regularly takes actions which lead those employees to believe they aren't appreciated.

Ah well, I get to retire in 2.5 more years, or sooner if the company goes under.


  1. Sherry,
    Trust me, it ain't a US phenomenon, thinking a person's worth is measured in dollars. The New Zealand government just cut a deal with a Chinese airline to accelerate passengers' visa applications because the airline transports wealthier Chinese and, after all, New Zealand wants to encourage those wealthy folks to come here and spend money. And if they're wealthy, then their character must be above reproach, eh? Never mind how they accumulated that wealth, such as on the backs of workers at some of those sweatshops Mittb Romney seemed to find worthy of investment back when.

  2. This is called "maximizing profits." Thank you Ronald Reagan.

  3. This is incredibly frustrating, this "greed is good" mentality that is so prevalent these days.