Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thoughts On "At Will" Employment # 1

Some recent developments at work have gotten me thinking about the notion of "at will" employment.

Ostensibly, "at will" means both the employee or the employer are free to end their association at any time for any reason. In other words, the company can fire the worker whenever they want, or the worker can quit whenever he desires.

It may be true that both parties are equally able to dissolve their working relationship, but the consequences of doing so are inevitably greater for the employee, especially the low-level, no benefits worker.

The corporation can fire an employee with no notice, no warning and no reason. Though the employee can quit with equal lack of explanation, to argue that "at will" employment puts worker and corporation on equal footing denies the great discrepancy between a worker's resources and the resources of even a small corporation.

For example, most corporate employers have numerous employees and, very likely, even more perspective employees waiting in the wings. They can afford to give the troublemakers a shove. Most workers, however, have only one job they can't afford to lose.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Stop the madness!

As I mentioned earlier, both of us have had dangerous drives homes through slippery hills and curves because winter weather is good for business. When I lived in Indiana the mad, pre-storm rush for supplies made more sense. Serious snow fell only every few years and it could sometimes take a couple of days to dig out.

I don’t understand why the same panic goes on here. It’s New England, after all. You’d think people would expect snow. During the worst storms, the roads are treacherous, but by the next morning they are passable, and always clear by the afternoon.

Still, the morning before the most recent storm, the line at the video store where I work wound from the check out counter all the way back through the action section. There were probably never fewer than 10 people in line. A normal day for our store is about 800 customers. That day we had more than 1700. People act like it’s 1856, there’s no such thing as a plow truck, and they just aren’t going to make it without that copy of “Princess Diaries Two.”

Snow Job

Maybe you've heard about the storms we�ve been having. Mounds and mounds of snow have fallen up and down the East Coast. Philly, New York, Boston all got hit hard. We did too but oddly, not as badly as places south of us.

In the midst of the storm, we got a good look at some corporations' indifference to the welfare of its lowest level employees.

For reasons I won't go into here, both the Mrs. and I have been working retail the last couple of months.

I'm working in the entertainment industry renting DVD's. The Mrs. works behind a supermarket deli counter slicing bologna for iced-over strangers in rush to get home before the snow falls.

The only indication of concern for employee safety to come from either of these companies was the few minutes early my wife got to leave her post in the middle of last week's blizzard. Of course, she only got the OK to take off hours after the New Hampshire State Police began asking people to stay off the roads.

I understand businesses want to stay open and collect revenue as long as possible, but when law enforcement agencies are asking people not to drive, shouldn't employees be free to comply?

Carson Signs Off

I just got the news of Johnny Carson’s final curtain call. Carson died early Sunday morning. I really loved that man.

Many weekend nights when I was in high school, I would come home early to catch the monologue. At the time, Letterman was the rage; the hip irony of his show dazzled so many of my contemporaries. Not me, I preferred Johnny. While my friends sought to imitate Letterman’s sarcasm, I reveled in the gentle humor, the personable chit-chat of the man from Nebraska. He was a friend to come home to, a reassuring voice in the night.

No doubt, Letterman’s show has at times been great, but it’s never had the sophistication and the class the Tonight show projected through the warm glow of the tube five nights a week.

I was surprised to see Johnny go. Just this fall I finished reading what is probably the best-known biography of him, King of the Night by Laurence Leamer. The author ends the book portraying Johnny as a sad, isolated, empty figure, beloved by his audience, estranged from all who knew him well. This may well be so, but to me, as a member of that vast and undifferentiated audience he shone like no one else, up on that screen, deep in the middle of the night.

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