TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Tis (Almost) the Season to be Jolly

Re: Tis (Almost) the Season to be Jolly
22 Nov 2005 13:47:34 -0800

TELECOM Digest Editor noted in response to

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Neither Amoco Credit Card nor
> Diners's Club (at least in those days) were union shops. ...
> Typically, Amoco's procedure was to pay and treat the office workers
> _as though they belonged to a union_ even though they did not. Wages
> and benefits at the credit card office were quite good.

Working conditions have changed a lot for such workers between 1970
and today; these include telco employees.

Back in 1970 jobs such as a corporate credit card center, back office
for a major bank or corporation, or the Bell System had the following
advantages and disadvantages compared to other jobs in that era:

1) Better working conditions: Often those jobs were downtown which
was deemed a more presitigous and pleasant place to work. Often those
jobs were in modern or modernized office buildings in air conditioned
offices in pleasant surroundings with the latest tools.
In contrast other clerical white collar jobs would be in industry,
such as in a factory or warehouse. Often the office was not air
conditioned (except for the big boss), and while perhaps the office was
nicer than the shop floor, it still was an industrial atmosphere in an
industrial neighborhood. That meant noise, dust, dirt, smells, and a
'tougher' atmosphere. Work hours and office life was more regimented,
such as punching a time clock.

2) Stable employment: The large corporations and the phone company
generally were rather stable and layoffs for back office employees were
not as common as for industrial workers. The phone company
particularly was known for stability (other than Western Electric which
did have layoffs). An industrial employer could suddenly shut down for
a while for a variety of reasons and office staff were out as well.

3) Better benefits: The large corps tended to give better benefits,
such as an hour for lunch instead of a half hour, etc compared to a
factory which might be strictly hourly.

1) Boring work: The large corp back offices had highly repetitive
work with little change. Not much chance for promotion. In contrast,
working in an industrial site might have much more variety--you'd post
checks in the morning but send out letters in the afternoon.
2) Low pay: Factories tended to pay more. This was offset by job
insecurity and less benefits. For some people in the short term the
higher factory pay won out.

With the demise of the old Bell System and growth of powerful
computers and phone lines, the traditional back office has been
greatly changed. Much of that work is greatly centralized. For
instance Bell in Phila had several neighborhood centers just within
the city to handle service rep work. Now, all that work, not only for
Phila but the whole state has been consolidated and moved out far away
(WVa?). The back office is consolidated into massive call centers,
highly regimented and less pleasant than in the past. Computers count
your keystrokes, errors, and bathroom breaks and people are watched
very closely. The old call centers expected production, but were
resonably pleasant places. The new ones are much tougher. You sit at
your cube and stare at your terminal and that's it. You do what the
terminal says you do.

Unions got too much power in the 1970s and priced themselves -- and
the workers they represented -- out of job. But now the companies
have too much power and the pendulum has swung the other way. I think
these centralized "boiler rooms" need union representation -- modern
unions looking out for modern issues. Sadly many of the old unions,
while realizing they have to move into new industries, are still
fighting the battles of the 1930s and they turn prospective members
off with their rhetoric. (A union organizer came to us (white collar
workers) and talked to us like we were still in 1875 coal mines like
the Molly Maguires. Our working conditions were greatly improved
beyond that.)

In the old days there were companies like the old Bell System where a
person could go and have a job for life and a pension without killing
themselves in the process. They wouldn't get rich, but they'd have
security. That's very important to some people. Sadly, today few
such jobs exist. In the old days there were riskier jobs, such as in
industry or in high tech start up companies. Workers in such places
could get a lot more money but have no security. Today, we have the
worst of both worlds -- no security with low pay and lousy benefits.

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