TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: 50 Year Unisys Employee Retires

Re: 50 Year Unisys Employee Retires
28 Jun 2005 08:34:49 -0700

TELECOM Digest Editor noted in response:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: One important reason companies do not
> keep around 40-50 year employees any longer is because that employee's
> benefits package is usually so extravagant. For example, I recall one
> fellow who had worked for Standard Oil more than twenty years back in
> the 1960's, when I was there. Working there that long, he was
> entitled to five weeks paid vacation every year ...

You are correct -- companies hate dealing with that. They respond in
different ways:

1) Simply eliminating those vacation and pension benefits.
2) Outsourcing the department.
3) Making life a living hell for the employee so he quits
and gets no severance.
4) Transferring the employee across the country and/or to a
dumpy location. Often such employees are pretty settled
and it would involve uplifting kids at a bad time in their lives.

Companies today no longer provide those nice benefits people used to

There was a good business reason for those benefits: it encouraged
longevity which meant companies had experienced people and didn't need
to retrain and rehire (which is expensive). But now companies don't
care and look at their people no differently than desk chairs or
computer monitors.

Years ago the house organ for companies would proudly feature their
veteran employees on the cover. No more.

That fifth week of vacation isn't as much concern as pension costs
(very high) or health benefits.

Government agencies also had good benefits but they too are under fire
to eliminate them. In some cases they "privitize" which is another
way of saying 'outsource'. The employees lose all seniority and

There was an article in Fortune Mag recently about corporate
executives in their 50s who face the same problem. These very well
paid high-powered people find themselves out of the street along with
everyone else (including people they likely had a hand in putting out
on the street).

Age discrimination is now illegal, but corporations are creative are
circumventing that. As you said, they make a new area restricted to
the young turks so the veterans get squeezed out.

The sad part is modern "outsourcing" companies offer next to nothing
in benefits. Sometimes the workers aren't even 'employees', but
reclassified as "independent contractors" which is even worse for most

Back in the Depression my mother got a job for a small outfit owned by
what then was called a "skinflint" boss. If an employee erred and a
letter was returned mis-addressed, the employee had to pay for the
postage out of their own pocket. When the boss was there, he'd sit
behind his roll top desk staring at the staff. But when he was on
vacation -- which was often -- the atmosphere was much more relaxed
and pleasant.

Today the "boss" never takes a vacation. Companies monitor and record
every keystroke, every screen, every phone call, and every restroom
break. If you fail to meet quota you're out. If a customer has a
tough problem that needs extra time, too bad.

When I came of age I thought unions were too powerful -- they had a
lot and seemed to be too greedy. But now the pendulum has swung the
other way. We do need unions in many white collar jobs to protect
workers. When corporate profits and CEO salaries are so damn high
while workers' wages languish, something is out of balance and needs

[public replies please]

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Even in the olden days of manual
telephone service, operators were expected to keep up a pace of
a certain number of calls per minute/hour. The supervisors would
see that each operator had a large number of cord pairs up on calls.
No certain number of cords, just an average which matched more or
less the other operators. Now let's say an operator got some sort of
very 'tough' call to handle; it took a few minutes extra to handle.
Since operators were taught to 'overlap' (that is, pull down the
cords on a finished call while installing a new call [new cord pairs]
in the process) after a couple minutes into handling the tough call,
her existing connections would have mostly finished and the cords
come down, so in essence she was sitting there with 'nothing on her
board' except the one tough call she was trying to complete. Sure
as the world, that was the moment the supervisor would happen to walk
past, and inquire, not necessarily in a gracious way, "what is going
on here? You don't seem to stay as busy as your neighbors." It seems
the supervisors could not understand that not all calls handled by
the operators were routine: (with cord in hand) 'number please',
(virtually toss the cord at the jack, start the ringing process) and
say 'thank you'; then click off and move on to the next call in the
never ending queue. Sometimes the operators _had_ to engage in
conversation for a few seconds with a customer, and during that few
seconds or maybe a minute of conversation her position would get
de-nuded of other connections. And God forbid the customer had a
_real_ emergency and the operator had to stay on the line with them
for a minute or two, which of course they were trained to do.

_An operator had a heart attack once while I was speaking to her_. I
had called something 555-1212 to get information; the operator
answered and took my request; apparently in the process of looking up
the desired number, she was stricken; the line went silent, but I
could hear people in the background talking, but it was muffled, but
obviously a group of anxious people chattering. Curious, I just sat
there trying to listen. After about a minute, someone else picks up
the headset and says, "may I help you?" and I gave the request again,
and got a very prompt answer. I asked what happened to the person who
originally answered me? The new voice said to me, "it appears she had
a heart attack, the medics are here now to take charge." My goodness!

And Myrtle Murphy, an elderly lady who had been a phone operator
for Illinois Bell all of her working career comes to mind. She was the
very first _union steward_ in the Franklin Coin office in downtown
Chicago. When Ms. Murphy started working for the company, it was not
unionized -- in other words just like Sprint or Walmart today. She was
approached by some people who asked her to be their representative at
the CWA (Communications Workers of America), and she agreed. Many of
her fellow employees laughed and mocked her, saying "no one will ever
be able to organize the Bell ..." and the supervisors treated her like
a pariah; and told the other 'girls' they had better stay away from
Myrtle ... she is a trouble maker; associate with her and she will get
_YOU_ in trouble as well. Well, the other operators did associate with
her, and many of them signed the union cards she presented. And like
Walmart, which doesn't hesitate to throw its weight around and make
hassles in every community it enters, Illinois Bell threw a lot of
its weight around also -- and these were the depression years when if
you had a job at all you were very lucky -- and fought to keep the
union away.

So Lisa, the olden times were not much different than today. The same
ugly corporations and the same ugly bosses in charge of things (I
mean, is there a worker around anywhere who does not hate his supervisor?)
but the modality is all that has changed. We don't call it 'the Bell'
any longer, now we call it 'SBC' and the bosses all use ugly computers
to keep the workers on their toes. But same difference. PAT]

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