Friday, November 19, 2004

Federal Labor Law Violations

I just realized my blog readers won't know what I'm talking about when I refer to federal labor law violations at my husband's soon-to-be-former job. I didn't post about it because I didn't want to get anyone in trouble, but now that he's quitting I'll get them all in trouble without caring.

Favorite Husband works (for the time being) at a company that we'll call X. X used to be a good company to work for, with loads of benefits. Then the owner died in a plane crash, and after that the company came under new management and promptly went downhill. The new management started tightening the thumbscrews on the departments. They assigned FH's division to do many more things without getting them new equipment. Their computer equipment was already aging past the point of practicality and the company refused to replace it and refused to allow them to fix it properly. That was miserable enough, but then they started violating laws.

It started with an ATM machine. It costs them $300 to get someone out there to move an ATM machine, so they asked FH to do it for them. Well, there's a reason why it costs $300: those things are heavy, too heavy for a pair of people to lift. FH hurt his back and still has to go to the chiropractor for the injury.

Then they started installing WiFi. The transmitters were to be placed on top of signs, on top of buildings, on the sides of poles, etc. But instead of getting a lift to do the job properly, they made FH and his fellow techs shimmy 30 feet or more up the poles. They had no helmets and no safety straps, and they had to bring their computers up there to help point the dishes, sometimes in windy conditions. It's a miracle none of them fell and broke his neck. FH had to do all sorts of crazy stunts, like balance a ladder on top of his rental car or work while hanging off of cables, because Company X wouldn't spend the money to rent a lift.

As the techs' duties expanded to include all the pet projects of management, the quality of service began to go down. The techs were expected to continue to maintain all their sites (the ones with the deteriorating antique computers) as well as install scads of new equipment. Phone calls for service for the broken-down equipment came pouring in. The techs were expected to field those too, in addition to what they were already straining to do. Finally, after a while, management allowed new techs to be hired, but their training took time and had to be done on top of all those other duties.

Still, though, those on top were convinced that there were more corners to cut. They started treating their employees with a high degree of mistrust. They implemented biometric scans to ensure they were clocking in and out at the correct times. FH worked a lot of overtime hours out at his sites and away from the scanning equipment, and was constantly being asked to justify every second on his timecard, as if no one could believe that doing all the work he was assigned would actually require more than 40 hours a week to do. They stopped paying employees for their drive time to the airport. They required the techs to find a motel within an unrealistically tight budget, but told them they would be off the clock while driving around trying to find one. In some areas they ended up driving for two hours just to find a motel they could afford. Sometimes they ended up sleeping in their cars. Now they are issuing GPS tracking phones to all the techs, so they can know exactly where the techs are when they clock in and out when they're not in the office to have their hands scanned.

Then they started doing stupid things like drastically raising the premiums on the health insurance while drastically cutting benefits. A memo came, saying that they were doing it because the costs to the company were too high for the $250 and $500 deductible plans, but the $1500 deductible plan was actually saving them money. Their solution to this was to cut out those lower-deductible plans entirely and raise the premium for the $1500 deductible plan from about $300 to $750.

Finally, they started circulating a memo saying that they were no longer going to pay their employees for certain travel hours. Hours that were outside of the 8-to-5 day or were spent traveling as a passenger or in layovers were no longer going to be paid. This prompted me to look up the relevant laws on the Department of Labor's website, because I was sure that was illegal, and it was. So I wrote a four-page report citing chapter and verse in the law, and sent it to FH. FH e-mailed it to his boss, who sent it up the chain of command, and now Legal is looking at it. Evidently someone got a little too zealous at cutting corners, and hopefully some of the empty heads up in management will roll. What was most astonishing about it, though, was that this was what finally prompted FH to quit bending over and taking it. I don't know why this was the straw that broke the camel's back, but FH finally decided he had enough of a spine to stand up to this.

We are so grateful to be able to get out from under the thumb of this poorly-managed company.