Most corporations and government agencies have some sort of morale raising activities for their employee. Employee of the week or of the month, cash prizes or trips for employees who excel in production and/or sales, certificates for length of service, and holiday celebrations are just a few examples. The employees see many of these activities as patronizing. Most corporations and government agencies also ask their employees for so-called input and to operate as teams. At the same time, these employers behave in a manner that encourages distrust and unhealthy competition.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the New York State Department of Labor and it’s closing a telephone call center in Lower Manhattan. The call center handles the processing of unemployment insurance claims for the citizens of New York City. Of course, the employees of the call center reflect the population of the city- minorities and foreign born. The staff has the option of being transferred to call centers upstate or being laid off. Needless to say, the city’s call center is located in an area of Manhattan that the September 11th attack devastated. The employees were told their efforts to assist the unemployed that resulted was appreciated. They were invited and encouraged to join committees that would plan the call center of the future. Many volunteered willingly because of their dedication to the department they worked for. The department is headed by Linda Angello- who when head of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations- offered employees when negotiating contracts with the union four years of no raises in salary when the state had a surplus. Employees at the state department of labor were told if they volunteered for the call center their position would be secure. Now, they are faced with relocation with the trauma that this causes the employee and their families or unemployment. Some are being given jobs with other state agencies in New York City. This does not alleviate the hurt and disrespect felt by loyal employees. Call centers are well known as difficult places of employment with unusual levels of stress. High levels of turnover are common. Many have outsourced work to other countries. A few states operate call centers for their citizens overseas. This lack of concern for employees in prevalent in corporate life-it is inappropriate for public entities. As the progressive informed his readers a few weeks ago the location of one of the Labor department call centers that would remain open is in Troy, New York-Senator Bruno’s district. It is common knowledge that citizens in the city have not voted for the Republican Party, which is not good news for the Governor or Senator Bruno.
There is hope for the employees of the state department of Labor. Roger Benson, the energetic and creative president of the Public Employees Federation, announced that the union will file a discrimination law suit against the department alleging disparate negative impact for minorities in the planned closing of the call center. This announcement demonstrates the need for union organizing in this country. Employee rights are best served through union membership. Grieved employees usually do not have the resources to file suits of this nature alone.
Recently, on a radio program a prominent physician who teaches at Duke University stated there are a number of studies that demonstrate people who have jobs that are stressful, and those that have little or no clout at work, those who receive inadequate wages or suffer from unemployment as a result of relocation of their work or outsourcing suffer more health problems. These people often do not have health insurance. Our nation needs to realize that hostile workplaces and employers cause numerous social problems. Businesses need to balance profits with the values that truly appreciate employees and do not just give lips service.