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by Herb Swearengen
WHAT'S WRONG IN CORPORATE AMERICA TODAY?
Never before have workers been subject to the degree of control business
is exerting over their private lives. Business would like to exert even
more control and will do so unless they are stopped.
Corporations are attempting to set themselves up as governments
(dictatorships) that control almost all aspects of a person's life. If
you think that this sounds like the ranting of a radical, look closely
at what is going on today and you will see what I mean.
If you choose to work for a corporation, you will have to check your
Constitutional Rights at the door. Even worse, mobile and home workers
are finding that the corporation considers the entire world the
workplace and every hour of the day work time.
Corporations are attempting to control and regulate every facet of our
private lives. Because there is no check on their power, this trend
will continue unless we stop it now.
If allegations are made against you about something (company policy or
actually anything) they may be acted upon as if they were fact. In most
corporations, the grievance policy (if one exists) will probably do
nothing to protect your rights. Remember that you had to check your
rights at the door?
Some corporations are refusing to hire people or are terminating people
who smoke or ride motorcycles. The reason is that they want to control
health care costs. Who's next? Skiers, Physical Fitness Enthusiasts, Fat
People, People Whose Lifestyles Put Them at Risk for HIV Infections,
People with High Cholesterol, YOU? Have you received a lifestyle
questionnaire lately from your HMO or other health plan? Did they
request your Social Security Number? Enough said.
Technology is enabling business to affect these abuses. Massive amounts
of information about your lifestyle exist in the computer databases of
medical service providers, credit bureaus, credit card companies, banks,
department stores, direct marketing organizations, government databases,
etc. In the past the danger was slight because the computer power,
software, and cheap digital communications to all enable business and
government to put all this information together and use it for their own
purposes was either non-existent or too expensive. Today you can buy a
very powerful computer at WalMart. You can easily get connected to the
Internet. What do you think those with power and money can do?
GEORGE ORWELL WAS RIGHT
He just got the year and the oppressor wrong. George was off by about 10
years. 1984 should have been 1994 or 1996. He also did not envision the
power that corporations would achieve. You should go to your book store
or library and get a copy of 1984 if you want a vision of what is
happening right now. For an insight in the flawed theory of Political
Correctness, read his book Animal Farm.
HOW DID IT GET THIS WAY?
Things weren't always this bad. Many business leaders in the past had
very strong beliefs in personal integrity and values. These beliefs and
values trickled down through the company. Many companies used to be like
run like a family. I remember when I used to work for Tandy Corporation.
When Charles Tandy was alive, an employee knew that if he put his full
effort into his work, the company would reward him. Employees knew that
the company would take care of them if they had problems. Charles said
that his most important asset was his people and he meant it. Charles
was very tough, but he was also very fair.
You got the feeling at Tandy that no one thought that they were more
important than anyone else. People just had different responsibilities.
Every executive answered his own phone. Several times I ran into
problems with customers or managers and was able to call and talk to one
of the executives and resolve the problem quickly and fairly.
Several times I changed jobs at Tandy because I became burnt-out or
disinterested in what I was doing. They always found a place for me. We
were a family, a team. We looked out for each other.
After Charles died, things began to change.
In today's corporate society, a person doesn't feel safe any more. The
slick and ruthless new breed of business leaders and marketers have
taken over. No more family. No more team. You know that the only thing
the guys at the top care about is the price of the stock, how rich they
are getting, and what company will hire them next.
Do you think that the CEO of your company gives a damn about you or your
family? What is the real reason for downsizing (downsizing is a
euphemism for massive firings). Some of companies that fired lots of
people recently have had to hire outside contractors to replace the
folks they fired. I've definitely seen it in my industry. In fact, I was
working, until recently, for a company that furnished such contractors.
If companies use their computing power and today's new and cheap digital
communications technology to access the databases of health care
providers, credit bureaus, government agencies, and the like, they can
tailor their downsizing lists to bring the most profit to their bottom
line by eliminating workers whose personal lives cost them too much in
terms of medical and other costs. And the organizations and businesses
furnishing the information to companies will grow rich by aggressively
marketing information about you.
Today's corporations no longer have people, they have human resources.
In many cases, these human resources are treated like any other resource
a company has: raw materials, equipment, money. Funny how changing the
name of the personnel department to the human resources department began
the process of de-humanizing the corporation.
As we entered the 1980's, we saw the rise of the yuppies and the fall of
ethics in business. The people at the bottom, now just human resources,
got pushed lower and lower and began to lose control over their
destinies. The guys at the top just got richer and richer. They hopped
from corporation to corporation looking for their next victory and
chance to make more bucks.
In the 1990's lots of yuppies stole billions of dollars from the
American public during the Savings and Loan fiasco. Nothing happened to
them! We now pay for their mistakes in interest charges and fees.
Dishonesty is now socially acceptable if the person committing the crime
has enough power or money.
A recent poll I heard about on TV, said that most American feel that a
person's lack of integrity is not important as long as he is a strong
If you are not alarmed by these trends, you should read history. History
is replete with examples of corrupt but powerful leaders and
organizations who committed grave sins upon humanity. You might think
that it can't happen here in America, but look around you closely, it is
BUT THIS IS AMERICA. THEY CAN'T DO THAT! --- YES THEY CAN AND ARE.
I found some concrete examples of some abuses of corporate power on the
Internet at the American Civil Liberties Union's web site
In California, Sibi Sorkoa was denied a job because he refused to answer
questions about his sex life on a "psychological test." At least two
million job applicants are required to take such tests every year.
In Pennsylvania, George Geary was fired because he pointed out serious
safety defects in his employer's products. At least 200,000 Americans
are unjustly fired every year.
In Indiana, Janice Bone was fired because she smoked cigarettes in her
own home. At least 6,000 American companies now attempt to regulate off-
duty smoking and other private behavior.
But how can they get away with this abuse of power?
Workers have become very dependent on the corporations they work for. In
our society today, it is impossible for many to obtain health insurance
at affordable rates without working for a corporation, for example.
Most states have laws based on a doctrine called "employment at will".
Basically this doctrine, which comes from 19th century anti-labor laws,
gives companies the right to terminate any employee at any time for any
reason or for no reason at all. The are some important exceptions in
some states concerning discrimination based on race, handicap, or sex,
speaking about public issues, filing for worker's compensation, and
whistle-blowing. Also if you belong to a union, are a public employee,
or have signed an employment contract, this doctrine does not apply to
you. But there are about 60 million American workers who work for
private business whose Constitutional Rights are taken away by this
But how does giving employers the unfettered right (except for the
situations, I noted above) to fire an employee take away the employee's
Constitutional Rights? Blackmail, that's how! Here's the definition of
blackmail I got from Microsoft Bookshelf:
black mail (blkml) noun
1. a. Extortion of money or something else of value from a person by
the threat of exposing a criminal act or discreditable information. b.
Something of value extorted in this manner.
2. Tribute formerly paid to freebooters along the Scottish border for
protection from pillage.
So how does this apply to the relationship between an employee and
employer? A company can violate or take away your Constitutional Rights
(which is surely something of value to you as an employee) by
threatening you with the loss of your job (which will discredit and harm
you). As far as I am concerned, this meets the definition of blackmail.
What do you think?
MY LEGAL THEORY: EMPLOYMENT AT WILL DOES NOT TAKE AWAY RIGHTS
First of all, I am not a lawyerjust a concerned citizen exercising his
right of free speech. But sometimes common sense can prevail over fancy
legal theories. The real reason that you "give up your rights" in an
at-will employment situation is that if you complain or demand your
rights they will fire you. I contend that there is NOT an implied
contract between employee and employer that says that you are giving up
your Constitutional Rights in the workplace. I contend that a person
never gives up his Constitutional Rights. Rather, the implied contract
simply states that you as an employee accept the fact that you will be
fired if the employer does not agree with your request to have your
rights honored. That's all!
So what does this mean? If you accept my theory, it means that the
employer is liable for damages you have incurred because the employer
violated your Constitutional Rights. Sure they can fire you. You can not
use this theory to get your job back. Who wants to work for an
oppressive employer anyway? If they are going to treat people as slaves,
do you really want to work for them? But you should be able to sue them
and collect damages for their abuses.
This theory needs to be tested in court. I'd like to be a part of that
test. My rights have been violated and I surely do not want to work for
my previous employer again. I just want to be compensated for the damage
done to me. Some one needs to take this to court to test the theory, it
might as well be me. If you are a lawyer and want to help make America a
free land again, email me at email@example.com.
WHAT ELSE NEEDS TO HAPPEN?
The writers of our Constitution never envisioned the technology that is
available to us today. That technology can serve both good and evil. For
instance, I as an individual sitting in my home office, am able to
express my opinion (free speech) and disseminate it to a large number of
people through the Internet. However, this same technology can be used
to collect information about individuals and used to harm them. There
needs to be some protection for citizens.
In the past, the lack of technology helped to preserve our privacy. It
simply was not possible to violate individuals' rights of privacy on a
large scale. Sure, abuses happened in the past and when they were
uncovered we as a nation were appalled. But they weren't widespread
enough to garner much public support. But as a computer and
communications professional, I am telling you that the technology is
here today to allow massive abuse. I've given you some concrete examples
We as a nation need to write and pass a Constitutional Amendment that
guarantees our right of privacy. We need a law that guarantees that
information collected about an individual belongs to the individual and
cannot be used without permission. We need a law that guarantees our
right to keep our private lives private.
The passage of this amendment is as important as the passage of the
original Bill of Rights. I am sure the founders of our country would
have included it if today's technology had been available to them. Yes,
I know that there are interpretations of the Constitution that seem to
guarantee our rights of privacy. But we need to have an explicit
WHY AM I CONCERNED ABOUT THIS?
I worked for a corporation in 1970's and early 1980's (Tandy
Corporation). I've described my time there previously. After that I
worked as a teacher in the public school system in Maryland and began to
see the deterioration of our rights and values in that environment. I
then worked for a computer wholesaler for a while and saw lots of
corruption. After I left, several people went to jail. Until last year,
I worked as an independent contractor teaching computer networking for
companies of all sizes. I got to meet a lot of people and look at things
from the outside. I was concerned about the trends I saw, but was fairly
insulated from their effects because of my independent status.
In May of 1995, tired of traveling around the country and conducting
training classes, I went to work for a company called Technology Service
Solutions (a joint venture between IBM and Eastman Kodak). I quickly
found that I was out of place in the new Politically Correct corporate
culture. Because my skills and experience were highly-valued, I was
allowed more freedom than most. Some of the attempts I made to change
the system were adopted once I convinced management of their value. But
I kept butting heads with the system.
After a while people accepted this because it usually turned out I was
right. Just recently I was awarded a $1000 bonus for an idea I had to
fight for. My performance evaluations were excellent and both customers
and coworkers rated me highly. I just received a 7% raise. My immediate
manager stated that I was "the best tech guy he had".
Over a course of about a week, this all changed. On June 17, 1996 I was
My skills are in high demand. I could be working at another company
right now if I wanted to. It would save me a lot of grief and trouble
and economically I would probably prosper. I am sure that my previous
employer would not give me a bad reference and matter-of-fact, I
probably won't need it anyway.
As I researched my case, many other abuses in our society came to light.
When I am tasked to repair a computer system, many times the apparent
problem is simply a symptom of an underlying problem. It is possible to
fix the apparent problem and get the system working again for a while,
but eventually the underlying problem will cause the system to fail
again. I truly think that the same thing is going on in our country
today. I am sitting here at my computer right now and writing this
because I want to change the system. Someone has to stand up for our
rights as American citizens, it might as well be me. This country has
been pretty good to me, it is my turn to give something back.
Besides I am a trouble-shooter at heart and by trade. I just can not
stand to ignore something that is being done incorrectly. It digs at my
soul. Call it a passion for fixing things. I want to fix the system.
1996 Herb Swearengen
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