I had come to hate the job. It was boring as hell. “Making money” as a caller had long ceased serving to motivate me. I didn’t feel I had much in common with most of my co-workers and I had become completely cynical about the non-profits we supposedly raised money for. I had no feeling of common endeavour, of being involved in something which had meaning for me, besides a rather small weekly paycheck. While this may sound corny, I had no feeling of being uniquely appreciated. I was a completely replaceable cog. The more pressure management imposed, the more difficult the job became for me. On the other hand . I knew I wasn’t good at the job, I didn’t have the personality for it, but I certainly wasn’t there by choice. I needed a job.
In the current situation it was irritating that the leaders of the union, only one of whom was elected, were literally enabling the company to do what they were doing. If the standards were enforced, it looked like a third of the work force would be fired.
We desperately needed new union leaders. Someone, I don’t know who,had put a petition on the bulletin board to have a recall vote. About a third of the employees had signed it. My friend Kevin and I talked about this a lot. Kevin was a union steward but for quite a while had stood aloof from the union drama. For a while I wanted to get involved in union activism. Like Kevin though, I had very mixed emotions about this. I didn’t like the job and I wasn’t that sociable at Share. It bothered me what was happening though. They may have been justified in firing me and Kevin. A lot of other people would be fired though too. There were two elderly women at Share, Blossom and Theresa. Both of them were very nice people. Blossom had a PhD from Yale in French literature. I’m not sure what happened in her life but she didn’t have a pension and was stuck at Share. Theresa was a former Catholic nun. She had also been a teacher for years. She had lived in Latin America and was connected with the Catholic Liberation Theology movement. She had lost her pension and now, in her 80s, was stuck working at Share. She was very feisty and aggressive and very angry at the company. Kevin wanted to help these people. The first step, we thought, in fighting what the company was doing would be to get new union leadership.
At Share I had made a friend, Nabanita from India. Nabanita actually was more pro-capitalist than Kevin and I were and didn’t like unions but she wanted to help us out She also didn’t want to see Kevin and I get fired. Nabanita was also much more sociable at Share than I was. She very aggressively circulated the petition and convinced most of the other employees to sign it. Kevin also worked to get people in the mail room and other employees in the back rooms to sign it. Not surprisingly management tried to block this. Kevin was given a hard time by mail room managers but he managed to circumvent this.
Kevin also spent a lot of time talking to labor lawyers e somehow was able to contact.. Could we legally challenge the performance standards? We got mixed answers. The crux seemed to lie in the fact that employees weren’t given adequate training for the new standards before they were enforced.
Once N and Kevin got into an argument over standards. Kevin and thought any performance standards should be resisted. In an ideal world of course, a company or work team should have the right to expect a minimum level of performance from its members. This isn’t an ideal world though. Management lives at the exploitation of its employees. That is its ultimate purpose. A union granting the right to impose performance standards on employees gives management a powerful lever to use against workers. N strongly disagreed with this.
One day Kevin asked me what the best bargaining strategy should be . I thought there wasn’t any special bargaining strategy. Bargaining itself can be dangerous-once bargaining begins, its inevitably on management’s terms. Managements have highly paid lawyers who are trained in union negotiating. The union had untrained volunteers. The previous contract already had a no strike clause in it. The most effective course a union could pursue in a situation like this would be to be as democratic as possible. People should be constantly informed about what was going on. There should be a union newsletter or memo at least once and maybe twice a week. Union officials should be openly elected and frequently rotated. They should be “delegates” instead of undemocratic “representatives”. Of course, this was the exact opposite of what the Share union was doing. A small group of people were trying to negotiate a special deal.
It was known that the top union leaders at Share openly wanted people to get fired. “Clean out the deadwood”. One of the union leaders was a guy named Alan Newall. A big guy who was rumoured to be a heavy drinker. He was pretty open about wanting to get people fired. He had a bizarre email exchange with Ira, the former union head I mentioned a few postings ago. In his emails Alan said something to the effect that Ira was a poor caller and deserved to be fired. Alan’s emails were written in a way that dripped contempt for his fellow employees. Someone. probably Ira himself ,printed these emails and posted them on the union bulletin board. Everyone had a good laugh. Around this time Share had a “call at home” program. Not surprisingly Alan seldom came to Share after this incident.
Kevin and I felt we were in a race against time. We had to force a new election within the next two weeks or the firings would begin. We didn’t know what to do though. We got the signatures. I tried looking up the UAW rules for recall elections online. I couldn’t find anything. I tried to call a few people in the New England UAW leadership. I couldn’t get hold of anyone and no one returned my calls. The labor lawyers Kevin called didn’t specifically know anything about the UAW. We gradually found out that the UAW itself was complicit in imposing the performance. Two women, Carol Knox, the UAW district counsel, and Cathy Mellish, the president of the regional local,were both present in the Share meetings where the performance standards were agreed to. They were both strongly in favor of them. The UAW is also famous nationally, for suppressing local democracy and helping management impose worse conditions on their employees. Our situation was just one of many. It didn’t look like there was much we could do.
I was written up a second and third time. Other callers were being written up as well. Then the union, or at least the bargaining committee, won a small victory. We were granted an extra week. Apparently the first week the standards were imposed we were”improperly notified”. During a dinner break I heard Jen and someone else talking about this. Gabe, a musician and a union radical, said he thought the UAW was selling us out. Obviously he was right. Jen got upset.”I’m really offended that you would say this…after all the work we’ve done..we got an extra week!” She sounded like she was about to start a fistfight. I got angry. I said, Jen, that’s why you have a well deserved reputation as a bully”. I left. I probably shouldn’t have said that. I avoided Jen the rest of the time I was there.
A lot of people were about to get fired. Kevin thought about filing a grievance which he thought would put a monkey wrench, however temporary, into management’s scheme. It was concerning the lack of training employees got commensurate with the new standards. He thought it would prevent the imminent mass firing. Kevin had a lot of mixed feelings about this. He felt sorry for his co-workers. Some of these people couldn’t do anything else. At the same time he hated the job. He knew I hated it. By that time both of us felt we could make more money collecting unemployment than working at Share. Kevin felt sorry for me being at Share. Both of us wanted out of there. Kevin wanted to help me get fired. Kevin was torn inside over what to do. One evening I logged out early and we spent a few hours talking about this.
For obvious reasons I was looking for another job by this time. I had gotten a job teaching ESL classes part time at an adult education center near where I live. I enjoy teaching and this meant that much less time I had to be at Share. My students gave me very high evaluations. I was also interviewing for full time teaching jobs but I wasn’t having much luck. Boston is literally flooded with students and recent graduates and the market for anything in education is extremely competitive. The fact that I’m trans didn’t help much either.
One day I heard rumours that management was actually offering people money to voluntarily quit. Sure enough an hour after I came in for the afternoon shift in May Robin Glazier and Jason (the former director) asked to speak with me. I knew exactly what it was about. I came to their office.”How much will you give me?” I asked. $100 a year, which for me would be $300 something. I politely told them I was holding out for more. They said they understood. At the end of the shift Linda Blair, the union head, made me the same offer. I told her the same thing. This gave me a very weird feeling. I felt that it was odd, to say the least, that the head of the union should be openly offering people money to quit.
Around that time there was one employee who was forced to quit under somewhat unique circumstances. There was a guy named Will, an African-American somewhere in his forties, I guess. He had worked at Share a very long time. He was intelligent and used to bring up interesting points about the organizations we were calling for during briefings. Will had an on and off relationship with an Irish woman named Karen. Will was said to be a hard core coke head. Karen said Will used to steal money from her to buy drugs. They broke up and Karen got a restraining order against Will. For a while Will had to work as far away from Karen as he possibly could. Then the restraining order was lifted and Will and Karen were back together. They broke up again and then got back together once more. It was a blue collar soap opera that went on for quite some time. A year previously Karen was fired from Share. I don’t know the whole story but what I picked up goes something like this. Karen got into a very nasty argument with another employee, an African-American guy named Zack. Zack’s wife was from Zimbabwe and he knew a lot about what was going on in that country. Anyway Karen and Zack were good friends but for some reason one day blew up at each other. There was a huge yelling match which threatened to turn into a brawl. The call center director at that time was Lee Bradford. Lee tried to break up the fight. Karen told Lee to “f___ off”, upon which she was fired. I pretty much loathed Lee Bradford myself but its pretty obvious if you tell a boss to f___off, you’ll be fired. For the next year or so Karen had been suing Share, attempting to get her job back. (I heard she eventually succeeded, sometime after I had been fired).
Anyway her on/off boyfriend Will stayed at Share. He was in training to be a manager. Although I talked to as few people as I could I got along with Will. One morning, shortly before I had been fired Will came in. He seemed to be acting a bit odd. He would snap at people and then talk to himself. I didn’t really think about him much one way or another. I noticed some hub bub around the rear doorway. People later that day told me will had been fired. I found out the whole story much later. Will had been stealing laptop computers. He had stolen ten altogether. Management was suspicious of him for quite some time. The tenth laptop was put out as bait. I don’t know how this happened-they may have put a GPS chip in it or something, but they traced the stolen machine back to Will’s apartment. The police came to get him at work the next morning. He had a large amount of cocaine with him at the time. I heard more recently that Will is now doing “hard time” somewhere.
Six months after this, long after I ad left Share, I heard that the story about Will wasn’t true. The company had accused him of stealing laptops, and he was fired, but there was no evidence against him. He did not go to jail and later successfully sued the company.
Though out April and the beginning of May the job was becoming much more difficult for me to do. Just being at Share was now becoming thoroughly repulsive and although I now was working much fewer hours than before I was still there. One Saturday I came in. I was in very bad mood. I logged in and tried to make calls. I couldn’t do it. I said to my friend Nabanita, “Can I see you a minute?” I told her this would be the last time she would see me at Share. I apologized. “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this shit anymore”. She knew I hated the job, she felt similarly, although she could throw herself into it more than I could. She had been encouraging me to stick with it until I could find something else. I didn’t want her to loose respect for me. I did try. She said she understood and hoped we’d still stay close friends. I briefly talked to a few other people in the parking lot. I left, avoiding Jen on the way out.
Of course I didn’t really mean to quit. I was “pouting”, I’d wait a few days and force myself to come back. I may have been subconsciously playing for sympathy, which of course wasn’t appropriate. My friends Kevin and Nabanita were in the same situation as I was.
I came back to Share on Wednesday. My ESL classes were now entering the summer term which meant that my teaching hours were reduced. I told myself I’d work harder at Share, try to keep the job a while longer and make more money. I told the few co-workers I was friends with that I had just been letting off steam. Work at Share was meagre though . Management had instituted “shift caps” based on seniority. They were forcing people to work either mornings or evenings. I had taught a class that evening and I couldn’t get a seat in the afternoon shift. I went home. Thursday the same thing happened. I was late for the morning shift. Granted, that was my fault that I didn’t come in early enough for the morning shift. I went to Watertown library and hung out for a while. I came back to Share I didn’t get into the afternoon shift either. I had some another commitment that evening. The next day , Friday morning, I had an appointment with my therapist. Its a long story. I was seeing a therapist in Lexington. She had moved to an inaccessible location. She had agreed to meet with me twice at a transgender center in Waltham, not far from where I live. She had not shown up both times. I was a bit angry even though she is a very good therapist. We emailed back and forth and she offered to pick me up. We could have one more session at a restaurant. She did meet me. I was glad to see her. We found a restaurant a few towns away. She treated me to a somewhat expensive lunch. She said I had been though almost the worst of any of her clients though out the time she had known me. I told her about the situation at Share. She insisted on driving me to work. She was curious to see what the place looked like. I have a lousy sense of direction but I guided her there without a problem.
Like the previous few days I had to wait to see if I could get a seat. If I’m not allowed to work every time I show up there, I felt, the job was effectively over, no matter what happened with the performance standards. I got there a half hour early. I waited and waited. Finally I was told,”no seat.” I had been at Share an hour. Paul, the friend of Craig I mentioned earlier, surprisingly had survived the management layoffs and turf wars at Share and was still there. He said he wanted to speak with me. He said he would “pay me for my time”. He asked me to wait in one of the briefing rooms. Okay. He took off somewhere and I waited about a half hour. Finally he came back. He wanted to go over the performance standards with me. I thought I had one week left. I looked at Paul’s paper work. I saw the word “terminated”. Apparently Paul wanted to keep it hushed up. I started yelling it in the call center. Pauline saw what was happening. She offered to come over and help. I didn’t think there was anything she could do. I started yelling, “I hate this f___ing place..I’m going to get a good labor lawyer and sue these bastards”.
I left. It wasn’t a surprise at all. I should have felt relieved. I mostly felt drained. I had the feeling, “What do I do know?” Share was always supposed to be a means to an end. I was there much longer than I had originally intended.
I walked back to Watertown Square to catch the bus back home. On the way I had a Sweet Ice Tea from a McDonald’s which is planted almost in the middle of nowhere. I walked along the bank of the Charles River, watching ducks and some little kids playing.
A few days after this I filed for unemployment. The people at unemployment gave me very little information but I found out a few weeks later that Share contested my unemployment, claiming that I and others that were fired quit. In the month after I left over 17 other people were fired. I was the first.
My friend Kevin thought he got a reprieve. He was told the points against him were lifted. This was wrong, it turned out he was fired about three weeks after I was. He was elated to be out of there. The people people were fired from Share. They were replaced by mostly high school students who are paid a little over $8/hour. I heard most of these people didn’t stay very long.
I came back to Share to see if I could get their contestation of my unemployment claim lifted. I spoke with Jason, Mikki’s boyfriend who seemed to ave the most authority at the call center. To my surprise he was very low key and friendly and said they would let me collect unemployment. If they hadn’t I could have been facing possible disaster.
A few days after this Kevin and I went to the local Department of Employment and Training. They were very friendly. Kevin acted as sort of my lawyer. I ad to go though a lot of paperwork but I was able to collect.