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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 leader.

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 happening now!

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 (http://www.aclu.org):

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 doctrine.

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 hswear@why.net.

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 already.

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 guarantee.

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 terminated.

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.
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1996 Herb Swearengen

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