March 13, 2014

I was watching MSNBC yesterday, and some head of some corporate group was wailing and gnashing his teeth over the new (overdue) overtime regulations. (What took you so long, Mr. President?)

Anyway, this guy was going on and on and ON about "the shareholders." "If companies have to pay all that overtime, that's money that won't go to the shareholders. And they won't be happy," he said.

Excuse me? Really? Fuck the shareholders. With a rusty chainsaw! Now that jobs are scarce and people are desperate, employers are taking advantage of it to screw workers right and left. And this bozo's complaining about "shareholder value"?

What is this crap about "shareholder value," anyway? When did that take the place of Mom, community and apple pie?

Why, it started with Jack Welch, chairman of General Electric, back in the 80s. (There were a lot of bad things that started in the 80s.) But you know what really sucked about this idea? When a company is focused on increasing shareholder value, a lot of really immoral and unethical practices result.

But that's cool, because it's all "for the shareholders."

Here's the thing: When all you care about is shareholder value, you stop caring about other things. Like:

  • Worker health and safety
  • Product safety
  • Product/Service quality
  • SEC regulations
  • Legal business practices
  • Human dignity

We can blame the Church of Shareholder Value for motivating much of the 2008 economic crash, this painful Lesser Depression. Their high priests should be ashamed to show their faces in public for, say, the next 50 years.

I have had so many jobs where my bosses just outright stole money from us, I can't even count --- and I'll bet you have stories of your own. Unpaid overtime was always a biggie, sometimes in ways people didn't notice. For instance, if your boss expects you to work through lunchtime, and you're not paid for it, that puts you in overtime territory at 42.5 hours.

That's an extra five hours a week you didn't even get paid for, let alone collect overtime. That's wage theft.

  • At one publication where I used to work, we routinely worked 50+ hours a week. Someone (might have even been me, I don't remember) called the Labor Department and they did an audit. We each got several hundred bucks, which was nice.
  • When I worked for a compliance consulting firm, I got laid off. Even though my separation agreement said in writing that my medical insurance was paid through the end of the month, it wasn't. I had a very expensive cardiac test scheduled for the next day, and the HR person assured me it would be fine. It wasn't.
  • The bill for that test was close to $7,000.

  • When I worked at a political consulting and lobbying firm, the company was going under -- mostly due to the owner's quaint refusal to ask clients to pay their past due balance. (He didn't want them to be mad at him.) Instead, he started a campaign of terror to harass me into quitting so he wouldn't have to pay the extra unemployment benefits. You know the sort of thing -- he'd scream and accuse me of losing documents he had on his own desk, etc. I refused to cooperate, because I needed the money. (Even though the resultant stress put me in the ER with chest pains. Twice.) All because he didn't want to pay for my legally-required unemployment benefits. By the way, I finally got them - but at the expense of my own mental health.
  • Once I was an admissions rep for a well-known trade school. They screwed us on all kinds of overtime (in addition to trying to force us do all kinds of unethical and probably illegal things). When I refused to sign up a student I knew couldn't handle the program, I was canned. I immediately called Labor and filed a complaint (I had records of all the excess hours I worked). The bosses kept the payroll records in a freakin' Access database, so when the labor auditor came in, they'd created a new payroll database -- with no overtime hours listed, of course. I said to the guy, "You mean it's their word against mine? You realize all they had to do was go in and change the numbers." (It was a computer school.) He told me someone high up in the company was politically connected and there was no way this would come out in my favor -- "but if you tell anyone I said that, I'll say you're a liar."
  • "Shareholder value"? These companies have been taking it out of our hide for decades. It's about time Obama got off his ass and did something to even the score.

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