Monday, October 26, 2015

Death of the Human Worker? IF Computers here to stay start acting like it!

The other day read this article and my blood pressure rose exponentially:

Bank's Severance Deal Requires IT Workers to Be on Call for Two Years — Without Pay -
"Employees of SunTrust Banks in Atlanta said their severance agreement requires them to remain available for two years to provide help — and to do so without compensation."

SunTrust Banks in Atlanta is laying off about 100 IT employees as it moves work offshore. But this layoff is unusual for what the employer is asking of its soon-to-be displaced workers: SunTrust's severance agreement requires terminated employees to remain available for two years to provide help if needed, including in-person assistance, and to do so without compensation. - Computerworld

To be fair, SunTrust told Computerworld for the article that it was just if they have to touch base with an old employee for information. But they don't say if they will actually require work from them. We had this situation at work just recently when they laid off the "big brain" guy on our team and we suffered for it.

Our music for this blog today will be Donovan's old, "Gold Watch Blues."

When they called him for information such as this article discusses, he just never called back and I didn't blame him. If they are going do to that kind of thing after you leave, then they should pay you consulting fees. It's high time corporations stop getting such a free ride. Corporate loopholes? This is just one more. It's just one more corporate loophole of a different kind that needs to be closed before this one too gets any worse.

This is just more nonsense from business that was obvious to be coming from how IT workers have been treated now for years. Not to mention, my home mortgage is through SunTrust Mortgage and my second mortgage is through SunTrust Bank.

We don't get paid overtime in IT work because of being salaried yet we have to pull "on call". For myself I have it monthly for a week at a time 24/7 and also as last week "day time on call" from 7am to 5pm where I have to have my hands on keyboard within five minutes should I get a call and then triage it across our IT department.

The rationale for how we are treated is that we get paid how much we get paid because of things like that and because we're considered professionals. But we're really no treated like that. We're the grunts of white collar work, just as many of the developers are who write the code we support. But when their code breaks in the middle of the night we are the ones called to either fix it, or figure it out. When we can, we wait till daylight hours to call the programmer's up. And that's all okay because our salary is good enough.

But at what point does that stop being justification?

We're human beings too in the end. It is this corporate mindset of these corporations that puts us in this position and it is a mindset that goes from our level all the way on down to the least compensated employee. After all if the company can get away with doing this to us, then how is some lowest base pay or new employee going to be able to stand up about this for themselves?

Research has shown very clearly employees need to get away from work at times, to KNOW they are away from work. To put work out of their minds for a while until they return. To get off work at night and not have to deal with it again until the next day, or to be free of it over the weekend. We know in this job that we can be called at any time while on call, or not. Why? Because they have cut the workforce down to the bare minimum and then some so that there are seldom enough knowledgeable employees available to be able to effective deal with unforeseen situations. Much like is of late in government and just about everywhere.

When will this stop and from what level will that stoppage come from? Blue collar workers? White collar? The executive levels (I don't think so).

I was on vacation in Mexico years ago and got called up and to work, from Mexico! I had been required to take my laptop with me. My wife and kids weren't happy about it. So how was that a vacation? A "working vacation"? A "vacation" because it was a nicer "cubical"? You can almost never get away from work now a days.

Originally, decades ago this law was set to enable computer companies, being the fledgling business they were back then to take off, to help the industry overall to take off. Especially in the Pacific Northwest around Seattle because of companies like Microsoft. So. Do you think it has taken off yet? Is it here to stay, the compute industry? Time for them to start paying their way on things like employee compensation for overtime and on call?


There are employees working 80-90 hours a week at times, with no extra pay involved and now a days the higher ups say they don't even want to hear about compensatory time. I worked at one company many years ago and if you worked an hour, you got to take of 1.5 hours that next week, or within that pay period. Then it was equal time off. Then it was "no we don't do that anymore." Why? They wouldn't pay us money as we were "exempt" but now they won' give up time off either to justify, to pay us back for our extra time worked.

There is a site you can read about this for Washington State law. The law had been changed back in 1992, 1994 and in 2004. It seems reasonable at first read, but it does not address what I would consider abuses. When working over a normal number of hours per week, isn't some number of hours too many? I believe 12 hours per day is the limit actually. 12 hours per day times 7 days is 84 hours a week, with no compensation in pay, possibly no time compensation in days off. To be fair, I've seen a day or two given as time off, but not always to be sure. Just a "thanks" and let's move on (and not talk about it).

Law states that overtime needs to be paid to workers in Washington state UNLESS you are specifically a computer worker, the one exemption actually broken out and cited in law.

If they want us to be on call, how about paying for that now? Even a token amount...something? It's not so much about the money as a mental hedge but also a hedge for the company to consider when it is work and when it broaches abuse. When it has too few workers for one thing. When it has cut costs beyond the point of functionality.

Most of us are on call 24/7/365 anyway for what we are responsible for and "on call" merely means who is on point for that day or week. When I worked at the University of Washington, I was hourly, granted. But I got paid if I got a call, two hours work even if it was a minute to fix something. I got paid extra for night work. I got paid extra for holidays, time and a half or sometimes double time.

Over the years I've been interrupted during holidays, family time, and during Christmas eve. All because companies "can't afford" to pay enough employees. Which begs the question, what are they doing wrong? What as a nation are we doing wrong?

It's high time that even salaried and exempted workers are paid for their extra work on things such as being on call. Let's do away with the concept of exemption. Just as we should be doing away with the concept of more than 40 hour work weeks, more than 8 hour days, while we should be shooting for 4 day (not ten hour day) workweeks and 6 hour days (and not 6 day work weeks).

Besides, paying overtime forces a company to see what is truly happening, to do what is right, rather than giving them a false sense of the state of things, or abusing their exempted workforce. It shows them when they do indeed need to hire more people, not just make it through with less and let those few take the burden, to feel they are not capable at times, all because more employees are needed which expands the knowledgebase base of their workforce overall.

It is long and well known that no one can know all the nuances of just about any software product anymore. Systems are fixed by hit and miss much of the time anymore. Employees who by the company's dictate "should know" are really just guessing much of the time.

There is simply too much knowledge on any one element for any single individual in their area to know all of it. So much of the time I know I need to work on something with someone else, and yet, they are seldom there for more than a minute to offer suggestions on a direction to go and then they are back on their own work, swamped, overloaded with their own work.

This is not a secret within the industry, it never has been. I'm not saying anything that will surprise any computer worker. It is held close to the vest of these workers however in order to keep their jobs but I'd be very surprised if the execs in their company or any company, simply don't know all this very clearly. And yet they go on with business as usual.

It is not as it is typically portrayed that computer "experts" know all there is to know. Of those there are very few, though they are out there and we all hold them in high esteem. But they pull a high dollar figure and most companies can't or won't suffer to afford them. And then, as in the gentleman I mentioned above, they lay them off. Three degrees, a "big brain", they are usually too expensive to maintain for long by most companies.

Computer work is more like a doctor who "practices" their field of study. Just like doctors computer workers guess at the diagnosis much of the time, trying things if they cannot find the lines of description somewhere for solutions to problems they come across. Doctors guess at drug levels to fix illnesses just as computer workers guess at various settings to lighten loads and decrease overheads. Putting all these different networks, software and systems together exponentially increases the difficulty of things.

It's a compliment to these computer workers who somehow do their jobs, figure things out and keep at their jobs year after year. Though only because many of us are trapped at that compensation level and cannot now get out. Still, more and more of us now are working to get out, to find ways to live on less so we can leave this nonsense and abuse behind.

Wake up. As a nation we need to start acting like adults, like an advancing culture, to start bettering everyone's work environment in all ways possible and not just do what pleases corporate heads and their stockholders.

Having to continue to work for a company after you have finally divested yourself of the company, possibly one you can no longer stand to be associated with in the worst case example, or in having to keep working somewhere you will miss working at,  all when you have a new full time job to do (possibly with on call associated with it as I've looked for other jobs doing what I do and they all require on call), is ludicrous. In my case I'm just looking for a new industry and in my case, it is writing as I'm a far better writer than anything else.

Of course this is all brilliant for the old company one leaves (to be able to force you into two years of on call after you resign), but as it is now they have refused to pay their way anyway in these kinds of cost cutting tactics where they put the burden of their financial situation, so typically because of mismanagement on the executive levels, upon the worker rather than the CEO, the CIO and the CTO.

It's high time this is addressed as it will remain a hidden issue forever if something isn't simply done about it. And for all involved.

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