Maintaining testicular fortitude: a referential reminder for heroes on the verge of giving up

To Whom It May Concern, Heroes, and Otherwise:

Illustration by Jon Keegan

Illustration by Jon Keegan

Tyranny. My beloved F12’s word bible widget defines that as “cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control.” Sometimes, when we fear something for so long, we just accept it. That doesn’t work for me. Tyranny has no success rate, so why bother?

With the heaviest of hearts and knowing I’d be forever blacklisted, I begged you to examine the plight of one laid off employee: a worker who performed her duties to the extreme satisfaction of the “shareholders,” someone who willingly worked incredibly long hours at a severely reduced rate in comparison to that of her male counterparts, someone who was two months away from being vested in her pension, a full time worker who was replaced by a less skilled junior employee who was hired to work part time hours. On a personal level, I noted the laid off employee faced grave financial prospects should she, her three children, and husband, who is a stay-at-home parent, be forced into foreclosure — something totally avoidable should the employee receive entitled benefits and payment from vacation time earned. 

It was overwhelming. 

“I am so angry, so affected by this decision. It seems like a vindictive step backward. It is not supposed to be like this,” I told you right before I broke down and cried out of desperation and frustration and panic at the reality of what the company in question had executed. 

I believe you were sincere when you said: “In life, things don’t always happen the ways they should or the ways we would like for them to be, but that’s just how it is,” but I disagree. A lot. Here’s why:

I belong to a labor union, and what you’re placating violates every basic tenet of unionism. My brain is wired to instantly alert me to this kind of weird, Montgomery Burns, corporate bullshit because it would never fly with any decent union representative. Laying off good employees in order to fulfill personal vendettas is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Or drowning kittens because they’re too cute. Or something like that. It just doesn’t add up to anything logical, and therein lies my concern.

tyrannyjef

It shouldn’t have to be like that, and it won’t, so I gave you my Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., soapbox speech. As everybody who is not living under a rock in a remote cave knows, King believed in and preached “character rather than color” during a volatile time in American history when people were afraid to speak against racist tyranny. Maybe that’s why he had a Nobel Peace Prize under his belt by the time he was my age. I am willing to bet both arms that MLK was sick of hearing people tell him that “things weren’t the way they should be, but that’s just how it is.” Imagine how fucked up this country would be today if he hadn’t been born with that set of steel cojones. 

In 1920, how many women were heckled as they waited in voting lines to practice their newly acquired 19th Amendment Right?

tyrannyvote

Oppressed by the gender-based tyranny of some, these women bravely fought and died in more than a handful of instances so that I could waltz into the voting booth like it was MINE  (and with my daughter by my side). This didn’t happen forever ago, might I remind you. When my grandmother was born, she wasn’t eligible to vote by default of that nasty double X chromosome problem, which apparently was believed to hinder one’s ability to mark a ballot. These days, my daughter regards stories about women’s suffrage as if they’re cast from the bowels of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The prior discrimination is that unbelievably wrong. All the same, I’m sure someone must have mentioned at one point before that 19th Amendment passed that “it wasn’t supposed to be like that, but that’s just how it is, ladies.”

Yeah.

Tyrannical witness

witness

One of the worst examples of passive acceptance to tyranny was when the United States along with the United Nations stood by as an estimated one million Tutsis were killed in Rwanda by their Hutu rivals, whose sole intent was nothing short of genocide. As if that wasn’t enough, the Hutus raped an estimated 500,000 women and girls routinely as part of an encouraged, public war ritual as they emerged from schools, churches, etc. This wasn’t 500 years ago; it happened in the last decade, people. When did we step forward to answer their repeated pleas for help? When it was too late, that’s when. You know why? Because what was going on over in Rwanda “wasn’t the way it should be, but that’s just how it was.” Furthermore, when the RUF rose to power in Sierra Leone shortly thereafter, did we take heed? Nah, we bought African blood diamonds in record numbers and felt sorry for the terrible situation going on over there, far away on the African continent. We knew it shouldn’t have been that way, but “that was just the way it was.” Luckily, courageous souls came forth and reminded the world, again, that it shouldn’t have to be like that and won’t. It’s not enough — not yet, but is it worth the trouble? It is. Everyday.

I hope your diamond was worth it.

I hope your diamond was worth it.

More candidates for “Shouldn’t Have Been Like That and Aren’t Anymore”:  Salem, Massachusetts; the Holocaust; Integration in Little Rock; American child labor; slavery; lead paint; my marriage. Heh.

Look, all I’m saying is that in the grand scheme of things, refuting the specifics of this layoff? Giving in to what’s right vs. what’s easy? Pfft, small beans in comparison to everything else others before you have been brave enough to battle. Don’t let the insignificance of tyranny drag the genre down for us all. There is a way, but you’ll have to will it. 

It shouldn’t be this way. And it won’t.

 

With respect, support and much optimism, 

Kristan

 

 


FedEx and the Real Price of Those Socks You Bought at WalMart

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With the recent barrage of corporate cutbacks and layoffs nationwide, a new mantra has emerged amongst those of us still employed or suffering from reduced pay cuts: “Well, at least I have a job.”

Oh, gosh. What is the logic in being grateful for the gross financial negligence of upper management? What kind of slave-driving, corporate brainwashing crap is it that we’re buying? We should be mad. And angry. And fed up.

Fred Smith, FedEx’s CEO, recently announced an across-the-board reduction in pay for his workforce. To make it seem fair, Fred’s gonna suffer with the masses through these hard times by slicing his own pay by twenty percent. Man, he sounds like an alright guy, right? Let’s see what Forbes has to add.

According to Forbes’ statistics, which placed Fred Smith as the 51st most-compensated CEO, the esteemed patriarch of the “FedEx family” makes an annual salary of 1.39 million. Well, make that 1.12 million after his humble reduction. I’ll be honest: The guy deserves to make a lot of money. After all, Fred founded FedEx and has spent nearly four decades overseeing it. Being the labor rights advocate that I am, I’d be willing to go as far as to claim Fred’s salary would be an example of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” Of course, that’s only his salary.

Last year, in the midst of an obvious economic state of emergency, Fred accepted some chump change from the company. Forbes categorized it as: bonus (1.4 mil), other — my favorite (4.34 mil), and stock gains (only 25.07 million). Calculator, please? All in all, Smith made $32,210,000.00.

His drivers, whose pay averages between 20,000 and 51,000 depending on location, are reciting the new mantra, happy they at least have a job. On FedEx’s “Citizenship Blog,” [vomit] a worker wrote this comment in response to Monsieur Smith’s announcement:

Thank you Mr. Smith. I am proud to take the 5% paycut. I’ve only been here 10 years and the main thing I’ve learned is that we (FedEx) is a FAMILY!!! I would rather have paycuts rather than a few of our “family” members losing their jobs. If this decision had come from anyone other than Mr. Smith himself, I’d be worried. I trust Mr. Smith and know that he is looking out for us and our families. To all of you whining about your 5% loss – you’d better thank God you still have a job and thank God we have someone like Mr. Smith watching out for YOUR job. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my FedEx family! [sic]

Smith made roughly 850 times more than the hull of his delivery folks last year. What kind of Kool-Aid are they putting in the water jug up there? When a CEO takes a pay cut, it’s generally not a sacrifice; it’s PR bizwax. PR like this is a good thing when just year before last Fred Smith’s FedEx corporate homeboys were slapped with an official court order by the government to discontinue their labor violations against drivers in California. Don’t take my word for it; see what the National Labor Relations Board had to say.

It’s not just FedEx or Fred Smith’s Empire of Seemingly Corporate Evil. It’s everybody — me, too. We’re cheap and arrogant and possibly ignorant. Combine that with a few incredibly misguided political labor decisions and BAM! Look at where we are now — just happy to “have a job.”

The American labor market is a whole other ball of wax from its unionized inception a century ago. Our jobs have been shipped overseas and farmed out recklessly by both the donkeys and the elephants. “Made in America,” a phrase once indicative of real national pride and loyalty, has shifted into some kind of netherworld obscured by NAFTA and CAFTA and consumer greed. When you’re standing there in Wal Mart at three in the morning in San Diego shopping for underwear and socks which you forgot to pack in Dallas, chances are you’re gonna nab the cheapest products without caring where they were made or by whom.

That’s when you should think about this article and others like it, which discuss the direct links between offshoring for profit, layoffs, and the effects both have contributed to weaken the economy. (Of course, you might also consider the ten year-old Filipino kid who possibly made the socks you bought at three am from WalMart — a labor violation in THIS country as well as a human rights issue, but let’s take it one step at a time here, shall we?) This new reality hits us in the wallet in the sneakiest of ways, too. You might believe a company like FedEx would be incapable of sending American jobs outside their scope of delivery, but you’d be forgetting the small details, which add up to large problems for all of us. For instance, FedEx would rather let the cheap Airbus brand bank off of US delivery dollars than put that cash back into its own economy by boosting up more orders from American based Boeing.

We are getting what we paid for now. Those unbelievably low prices are costing us our jobs.

colleencrosby

Colleen Crosby as Rosie the Riveter (http://www.project-insomnia.com/colleen/Rosie/rosie.html)

How are we going to fix this mess? I still think unionization isn’t a bad thing in principle. In fact, I have seen it work for me much more than I haven’t. Good unions create a system of checks and balances. However, it’s time for them to really step up their game. Seriously. All of them. Locals need to quit behaving like every day is election day and focus once again on maintaining regular progress for  American labor as a whole. Members must abandon entitlement and remember they’re paying for a cause and a contract, not a birth right. Additionally, there are so many ridiculous, legal stipulations for organizing that workers have their hands tied unless there are good programs with proper funding. It’s all possible, but the movement desperately needs some real labor messiahs to lead it in the right direction — brainiacs who care about the future of workers in this nation, who understand tactics beyond the paint thinner and tire slashing stereotypes as well as how to regain public trust intelligently.

FedEx employees have been targeted for unionization for quite some time, and its employees really need to start paying attention now to the impending FUBAR situation. After having read many of the comments on the official FedEx threads, I felt such sadness for their plight. They’re warned not to associate with unions because “all unions want are their money.” Well, duh. Unions want you to pay dues, yes, because people shouldn’t have to work for free. I know how that goes; I paid dues simultaneously to two different unions at one point. One contract was terrible and not enforced properly by the world’s worst agent. The other was beyond amazing. I was happy to dole out dues to both, though, because even in the worse case scenario I was getting a better deal than most. What are you paying for? The negotiation of your future. Your insurance benefits. Your pension. Your raises and rates. Your vacation and option time. Mandated progressive disciplinary programs. Representation. Healthy and non-violent work environment. If that’s not enough, what do you want?

FedEx folks and others have also been frightened by their companies’ claims of corruption within the unions. Oh, THAT again. Thanks, Hollywood. Of course, there’s gonna be corruption. It’s everywhere: churches, school boards, city councils, the Girlscouts, charity groups, tax-evading Joe the Plummers, the Democrats, the Republicans, and so on. I can’t think of anything that could escape potential misconduct without proper effort and enforcement. Members get the leadership they elect. Corruption is a by-product of apathy. If unions weren’t such a huge threat to the wallets of corporate executives, they wouldn’t be regulated as heavily as the pharmaceutical industry. When you get down to it, corruption is not fueled by some guy wanting to fight for the right to leave his work station to use the toilet without fear of being fired. Really.

The bad guys are the ones who want to outsource and offshore labor. They’re not the ones who have to take a five percent cut in pay while their boss makes 32 million dollars. Union evil isn’t the root of corporate failure. Corporate failure is the root of corporate failure. (Read: Don’t blame bailouts on the UAW. Auto workers have been wailing about financial mismanagement for decades.)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a labor activist and a most decent man. He died fighting for fair labor. In fact, he was attending a sanitation workers’ rally for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters when he was assassinated. I don’t think a lot of people my age realize it now, but this was King’s biggest plight. He knew safe working conditions, equal rights and equal pay were what people needed in order to help strengthen the core of this nation. And he was right, wasn’t he? Eh, FedEx, et al,  listen and learn from history, will you? As with anything else, left unattended labor will wax and wane. With your help along with that from others, we could really cultivate King’s garden and make fruit of this economic madness. Finally.

“Well, at least I have a job.”

Dr. King, can you hear our people now?