A scene from “A Bird in the Head” (1946), with Vernon Dent and Curly Howard.

As I mentioned earlier, there was always a high turnover at Share. Numbers of people, mostly students or recent grads, would “pass though” the place on their way to school or a career. On the other hand there were also a large number of long timers, who, either by omission or commission, were making Share a career. I’ll have to describe two newcomers who arrived about a year and a half after I started there. They were Craig and Pat. 

Craig resembled the musician/producer Moby. He looked to be in his late 30s and he shaved his head. He took the job very very seriously. It quickly became apparent Craig was one of the best callers there. He was consistently the top fundraiser. He had a Masters in negotiation from Lesley College, the campus of which was nearby. Before coming to Share he had briefly worked for an NGO in Cambodia. Craig was highly intelligent. He was also one of those people who seemed to think very highly of themselves. He was constantly talking about himself. I  have had much more international experience than Craig  but I for the most part I kept quiet about it.  Craig would talk about the few months he spent in Cambodia all the time .At Share there were “briefings” that is  mini-seminars about either a particular organization we would be calling for or a new fundraising campaign of an organization we had already been calling for. Sometimes these would be interesting, especially when I first got there. The briefings would concern things like the history of the ACLU, the status of environmental legislation,or  the positions of candidates on various issues. For me the briefings became one of the few interesting things about the job. Anyway, before a briefing began Craig would do intense research on the organization or the goals of the campaign. Any briefing that Craig was in would quickly turn into a power struggle between him and the person giving the briefing. Craig would disagree with this person and would then give very lengthy lectures on his take of the particular campaign. Craig would then completely dominate the briefing, which would then serve as his audience. Of course, this had nothing to do with actually making the call for the organization. It wasn’t even interesting. It seemed merely like Craig’s power play.

moby

Craig was very vocal in opposing the union. He didn’t believe in labor unions. He was a big fan of Ayn Rand. He also said he didn’t believe in altruism and thought leftists (like me and Gary, I guess) were immature. Craig had a friend who was hired the same time that he was, Pat. Pat was the exact opposite of Craig. I don’t mean to sound classist (this is something I oppose) but Pat looked, and acted, “very blue collar”. There were always zillions of rumors and stories going around Share. Pat was rumored to be an on /off heavy binge drinker. He was rumored to be a heroin addict. For a while he would come into work with what looked like pancake flour on his face. Pat had the look and feel of someone who had spent years bouncing from one marginal job to another. I always got along well with Pat. Several people later told me he hated me once he found out I had a degree. Supposedly he didn’t like anyone with an education. He seemed to be close to Craig though.
 

As mentioned Craig had a background in negotiation. He thought Share could do better without a union, or at least with a small, unaffiliated union. This would make for much more effective negotiations with management. Craig thought the union should collaborate with management, work with the company to help individual callers do better. He was vague on the details though. He never discussed what should replace the union. He was  very vocal about his general ideas though.


Shortly after Craig started on this, during one incident he tried to attend an offsite union meeting (I wasn’t there). The union leaders , to their credit,wouldn’t let him enter since he wasn’t a member. For most of the following month Craig began a campaign to decertify the union, that is, disaffiliate Share employees from any national union representation. Pat joined in. It seemed like he was Craig’s “cookie boy”. He obviously was not very bright but he was very emotional. He said the union was making it worse for everyone. “There are employees here who aren’t pulling their weight, making it worse for everyone” he would say. Pat would complain about the slackers but wouldn’t specify who they were. “We all know who they are…” he would often say. No one then (myself included) thought to ask him exactly who are these slackers he was referring to. In hindsight Pat may have been referring to one particular person. Earlier I mentioned a woman who seemed to spend very little time on making calls. It turned out that this person was not in the union and was paid somewhat higher than everyone else. Not being in the union and having worked at Share since it started this person had signed a separate contract with the company. This was the subject of much resentment. Pat used this to turn sentiment against the union.

Craig and Pat would lobby for this in the parking lot facing Share. They would need the signatures of over half the union to decertify. Craig and Pat both had their spiel. Craig would be smoothly logical while Pat would go into emotional tirades. Pat said that he once had his own telemarketing company but it went out of business because of government regulation. Pat also sad he was making $50,000 a year at Share, but if it wasn’t for the union he could be making much more (Pat had only been  working at Share  for three months by this time and it was difficult to see how anyone there made much over 20 K).


Craig and Pat came close to getting the required number of signatures. Almost at the last moment the union leaders found out what was happening and explained to everyone what decertifying the union would mean. No union representation. No contract giving the employees some protection. Craig and Pat’s project ended. Most of the people who signed the decertification petition withdraw their names. Craig seemed to forget about it after this but Pat continued the campaign for several weeks after. He seemed obsessed with this for quite some time.

governor scott walker
About a month or so after this Craig and Pat were promoted to management.  It was always unclear exactly what they did in management. Craig became the “liaison person” between management and the union. His job title was “change manager”, and was to help see employees though “changes” at Share. One employee, a retied Chinese-American architect I was sort of friends with, would often ask Craig if he was the guy to see if he needed change for the vending machines. A little while after Craig’s promotion Pat joined management. He was a “floater” and did administrative work.

Months went without much happening. The daily grind and tedium of a call center. There was a second attempt to impose performance standards, maybe nine months or so after they were first introduced. Supposedly the bugs in the system were now taken out. This time the process seemed much quieter than the last time. People went along with it. Like last time, suddenly the process was dropped. Again no one was notified or told anything. More bugs and loopholes were discovered. The consensus among the callers came to be that management never intended to enforce performance standards. It was just a way of putting psychological pressure on the callers.

Craig began giving classes on how to become a better caller.  Almost all the callers had to take this at least once. I ended up taking it twice. It turned out Craig had extensive experience as a salesman. His father was a salesman also and he grew up in a sales environment. In his class Craig would begin  each all of his “classes” by asking everyone, “who much are you worth?” Everyone would obediently say how much money per hour they thought they were worth. For some reason both times I had to sit though this Craig never got to me. Maybe this was on purpose. To me, the whole idea of putting a monetary amount on my time is disgusting. My life is  not a commodity. The great creative geniuses of history -Shakespeare, Goethe, Beethoven, etc, would have thought this idea was obscene. Most people of course, especially in modern America, don’t think this way.

Time passed. It was a year after the last union election election when Mikki was vote in. Union elections were held again. This time the people running were Pauline (who ran last time), Mikki (the incumbent) and Linda Blair. Linda Blair was a butch lesbian (one of the few good things about Share was that it was cool to be openly LGBT). Linda always seemed very serious about everything. “Steelyeyed” would be a good adjective to use. Linda looked very militant but actually wasn’t. In terms of union militancy at least, relatively speaking, Pauline was on the “left”, Mikki was on the “right” and Linda was in the”center”. By this time  a lot of long term employees didn’t trust Mikki. A lot of the short term employees though, mostly students, didn’t have the same mistrust of the company as the long termers did and generally supported Mikki. The day before the union vote was to be held Mikki dropped out. She circulated a memo, which said something to the effect that   “My career has suddenly taken a different direction…I have been offered a position with management and I’ve decided to take it”. Linda  easily won the election and became the next head of the union. Six months before this time Mikki’s boyfriend, a guy named Jason, was hired. He started as a caller but was very rapidly promoted. Now he was second in charge of the call center. I later found out Jason had previously managed a convenience store and was thought to have experience Share needed.

In the call rooms themselves were a variety of floor managers who would manage the shift, manage the campaigns, and do administrative work. These people were separate from the upper management in the “back rooms”  of Share. The floor managers seemed to have a relatively high turnover. Most didn’t last longer than nine months. The floor managers who were there when i first got there were nice people. There was a young woman who was a lawyer and was a big animal rights activist, there were several artists, musicians, and grad students.  These people were approachable, intelligent, and friendly. This group didn’t last all that long. They went different ways-back to school, on to careers, etc. Ten months later there was a completely different “line up” of floor managers. The new group of managers were all “in house”, that is they were people who had worked at Share a very long time. Most had started off as callers themselves, long ago.  There were exceptions but in general most of the succeeding groups of managers were not that bright and were on petty power trips. They were people who clearly enjoyed having authority over  other people.


There were many cases of outright abuse. In addition to the cases I mentioned earlier, one individual sticks in my mind, a guy named Rudy. Rudy was an effeminate gay man who had a day job managing a group home for mentally disabled somewhere. He had started out as a caller at Share years earlier. He had worked  in the back offices when I first got there. After several management shakeups he was moved to the call rooms to be a floor manager. When I first saw him  I thought he was a a nice guy-I used to joke and banter with him a bit. When he became a floor manager I  came to see a completely different side of Rudy.


One evening a woman who was sitting next to me was told by a donor to call back in a month. She wanted to know whether to put this down as a refusal or a call back. Putting it in as a “refusal” would possibly lower her performance average. She raised her hand to ask Rudy about this. Rudy (rather obnoxiously) told her that she had to put it in as a refusal. At the time I didn’t think this was true. I waited till I thought Rudy had left. I leaned over to tell her “put it in as a call back”. Well, it turned out that Rudy was standing right behind me, waiting for me to say this to her. He threatened to discipline me. “You’re disagreeing with my instructions. I can have you written up for insubordination and have you sent home for the shift”. This came totally out of the blue.  Its difficult to convey the context of this but overall Rudy appeared incredibly rude. The woman sitting next to me was shocked. Technically Rudy may have been in the right about putting donors in as refusals but both of us saw Rudy’s response as that of a  (I can’t think of any other way of expressing this) a rude, vicious little prick. I quickly found out everyone else thought of Rudy in this way as well. People said he was the “next Steve Anglin”, referring to the other abusive manager I mentioned who at that time had recently been fired.

I react differently than most people to abusive managers. Most people I’ve found are able to shrug it off,which is probably the best way to handle these situations. I’m not able to do this as easily. I  found that I have an anti-authoritarian personality . I hate any form of abusive authority. Once any manager treated me that way, if only once , I didn’t bother talking to them socially ever again. I stopped talking to Rudy, except for purely work related matters, even though he was very friendly with people I was friends with. Tension gradually increased between Rudy and I. One evening , during a shift where Rudy was the supervisor,I had a slight case of “irregularity” (I’ll spare you the details).  Suffice it to say that  I had a cold and a slight case of diarrhoea. I had to spend a while cleaning up. I came back to my work station and saw that I had been logged out. I asked Rudy why he had logged me out. “You took over 300 seconds in the bathroom. That’s unacceptable”. I thought this was bizarre, especially since Rudy would spend a huge amount of time socializing with his friends during shifts that he managed.  During this time period Rudy was “going crazy” logging people out. I was upset but I kept my cool. Around that time there were two incidents where Rudy, after knocking, walked into the lady’s room and told everyone to get back on the phone. I wasn’t involved in this but I was upset. It seemed to me like sweatshop like treatment. If there were one or two employees blatantly goofing off, I could understand, but this incident concerned a large number of ordinary employees. There already was a mandatory call time of 70% but management wanted more and more contacts. I tried to get the people involved to file a grievance with the union but people were apprehensive about doing this. People were afraid of reprisals.

A week or so after  the incident where I was  logged out for taking 300 seconds in the bathroom I had another run in with Rudy. People were not supposed to use cell phones in the call center. Almost everyone did anyway but they had to be discreet about it. I have seen callers who were friends of Rudy make cell phone calls right in front of him without him saying anything. Well, that evening my cell phone rang. Rudy ran to where I was and told me shut off my phone. “Shut off that phone NOW”, he ordered. I intensely disliked the guy by this time. I turned my back to him and walked out of the the room. You weren’t supposed to use cell phones in the call room, well I was leaving the call room. Rudy kept telling me to turn off the phone. I wasn’t going to hang up on the person who called me. I went out in the hall way to finish the call (it was from someone in an activist group I was in  at the time but since dropped out of). I came back. Rudy wasn’t around so I went back to my seat. A half hour or so after this Rudy spotted me. He threatened to discipline me. “That’s insubordination”, he said. “I could write you up and have you suspended”. I was sick of his petty power plays. I told him, “You should know that I’m filing charges with the state for sexual harassment”. This got him extremely upset. He left to get another manager, Steve Branco, a close friend of his. Steve, normally friendly, acted  very angrily towards me. He told me I could get a union rep. I got my friend Kevin. Kevin and I had gotten to be best friends by then.

We met in a conference room. Rudy came in. He said I might be suspended. I was asked to give my side of the story. Rudy said, pompously, “Think carefully what you say.  What is said here could determine whether or not I have you suspended.”  I told him that no matter what I said, he would have me suspended. I told him to go to hell, and walked out of the conference room, slamming the door.

Its difficult , given the context, to fully convey the situation and pressure and abuse I felt I was under. Over the previous week and a half I had been “written up”, or disciplined four times. First was the incident where I was accused of heavy breathing on someone’s answering machine. Then it turned out that  I had worked just under the minimum 20 hours the past week. My call time and performance level were also slightly under par and now this. I had been written up four times. “I’ve got to get out of this f____ place”, I thought.

Kevin and I got the impression that I would have to ask Rudy’s permission before I would be allowed to come back to work. I found out that since Rudy worked in human services, even a hint that he was involved in any form of sexual harassment could end his career. He was seriously worried. Of course I didn’t have any grounds to accuse him of sexual harassment (I certainly did have grounds to accuse him of more general harassment), but this is the only thing I could think of to use against him. I came back to Share a few days later , at a time when I knew Rudy wouldn’t be around. I saw Jason, Mikki’s boyfriend, who was essentially running the call center by that time. Jason was very nice. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll log you back into the system”. He did want to talk with me later though.

Later that day I got an appointment to  meet with Jason. It turned out several other managers were there. Craig, the guy who tried to break the union, was there. I brought Kevin, as my union rep, and the chief steward of the union, a guy named Alan Newall. Jason asked, “What’s going on between you and Rudy?” Rudy apparently was bombarding the company’s listserv with requests to have me fired, claiming I had threatened him. The managers honestly wanted to know what was going on. I explained myself pretty well, I think. Kevin was surprised. Earlier  Kevin and I had spent a long time talking about socialist theory and I think he expected me to go off on a Stalinist rant. “When the revolution comes, I’ll have all of you shot.” Instead I was very diplomatic. Craig kept trying to twist things around, to bring the discussion back to why I was using a cell phone and being “insubordinate”. I kept bringing the discussion back to Rudy’s abusive behaviour and how everyone in the call center detested him. Alan, the union leader, backed me up. “We have a manger out of control”. Although Craig was on the other side as me, and was now quite obviously “working for management” against me, I think he respected the way I handled myself.  As an open elitist he thought most of the callers were idiots, I think.The mangers, to my surprise, said they understood how I felt. “No further action against you would be taken”., I was told.  They thanked me and I was excused.

I don’t know what top management said to Rudy, but after I had my meeting he was much more subdued. People quickly noticed the change. “Rudy’s acting nice”. He still acted like a jerk at times, threatening to discipline people for minor or imagined offences, but he was much less obtrusive about it.

Mikki, the former union leader who had taken a job in management, seemed to get more and more responsibility. I was never sure of what she did but according to other callers she was now maybe the fourth highest ranking person in Share management. Lee Bradford managed the call center, Mikki’s boyfriend Jason was the assistant manager, and Susan S., the woman who tried to fire me, seemed to be the third ranking person. This is just the call center of course, and doesn’t include the CEO and other top corporate management, of which I didn’t have much to do with.

Mikki introduced a “team” program. All the callers were put into teams. Each team was led by a “team leader”, another caller. Each caller would be responsible to their leader for performance. The callers would have to check their weekly schedule with their team leader. By that time I was not a high performer, to be honest. I was assigned for my team leader to a guy named Joe. Joe was a very obese gay man in his fifties. He had an enormous beer belly. He was also regarded as being dirty. One time he was sent home when another caller complained to management about bedbugs jumping out of his hair. Joe was also known to be obnoxious. He would bully other callers as well as donor. Strangely he was a good fundraiser. He was ultra serious about the job. Joe was assigned to work with me to “whip me into shape”. We went to a back room for training. He first tried to intimidate me. “Don’t you have any sense of pride?”, he shouted at me. I held my ground. I told him I’ve been around the world four times, that I ran a language school in Moscow, Russia, and I had a Masters degree with a 3.8 average. I didn’t need a lecture from Joe. He backed down and was a little nicer to me the rest of our “session”.

Joe was assigned to be my trainer.I dreaded what was coming next. I would have this guy constantly breathing down my neck. I thought the job, as bad as it was, was about to get a lot worse. Suddenly the whole “team leader” project was abruptly dropped. No announcements were made, nothing was said. Joe left me alone after that. I didn’t talk to him the rest of the time I worked at Share.
godzilla-vs-king-kong
A little while after this  a series of bizarre power struggles broke out among the managers. There seemed to be several factions among management. It seemed Susan S. represented the “old guard” of Share and Lee, Jason, and Mikki were part of another group. It was known these two groups didn’t like each other. None of the callers quite knew what was going on. It was fun guessing -like Cold War era Kremlinology.  Share’s previous CEO, a woman named Susan Paine, left and we got a new CEO, Pam Pierson. This led to a management shake up. Earlier I mentioned how Susan S. was abruptly fired. She was in charge of hiring and training. I was glad she was gone but some of the coaches and mangers were very upset. Shortly after that  Mikki, the former union president who had joined management, was suspended for two weeks. She had supposedly been discovered hiding bottles of booze in her desk. There was a rumour that she was a severe alcoholic. It was known that Rudy hated Mikki and had been trying for quite some time to get her fired. There was another rumour, which a lot of people believed, that Mikki had been   set up by Rudy or one of his friends. They had planted the bottles in her desk. Two months after that Mikki was fired for good. Share has a call center in DC. The story is that she was sent to DC to provide training on new software Share was adopting. When she got there she was so extremely drunk she couldn’t get out of her taxi unaided. She was fired on the spot.

Rudy had a partner, a guy named Lewis, who worked as a caller. Strangely, Lewis was a nice guy. He claimed that Rudy was emotionally abusive, which I could easily imagine. Early one morning a week and a half after Mikki was fired Lewis discovered the word “fag” written on his car. Share was in a minor uproar over this. Managers were upset at this “sad display of homophobia”. A few days later the rumour came out that it was an “inside job”. Everyone knew Rudy and Lewis were gay. No one cared, or if they did they were careful to keep this to themselves. Davis Square, where Share was located, was a hip area, and was also something of a lesbian hangout. Nobody in that vicinity  cared  about anyone’s sexual orientation. It was thought that a friend of Mikki wrote this as retaliation against Rudy, who had finally succeeded in his goal of getting Mikki fired. Any homophobia of course should be opposed. I couldn’t stand Rudy but that wouldn’t justify marking up his boyfriend’s car.
mothra
A while after that Rudy and Steve Branco were suspended  themselves for two weeks. In turned out they were both falsifying the times they had worked, logging each other in for shifts they were not present for. Rudy himself was quick to log out and threaten any caller he thought was improperly using company time. Hypocritically he had been doing the same thing  himself

Around the time I was having the dispute with Rudy ,Lee Bradford, the call center director, a guy who had become intensely unpopular among the callers, became   “director of IT implementation”. Since there already was an IT team present and a guy in charge of “IT implementation” no one could figure out exactly what Lee’s new job was. He stayed in his new office and didn’t seem to do much. Jason, Mikki’s boyfriend, was now the call center director. Mikki herself was gone. She was said to be working in a beauty parlor somewhere. Someone in management put out a strange memo which talked about “all the exciting changes at Share”, (presumably referring to the management shakeup)  in gushing terms, as if announcing a daughter’s wedding. I didn’t notice any “exciting changes”,  for me it was the same hum drum job as always.

A month later Lee Bradford suddenly quit to take a job in New Hampshire. Word had it that , since he had a wife and kids, the company had agreed to carry him until he could find something else.

 newhamp