It was only a matter of time before the strike at General Motors generated some world class Newspeak. G.M. finally had their moment in the sun when answering charges that according to their own figures, they have been cutting back on investments in the U.S. while building new plants in Argentina, Brazil, Poland and China. G.M. spokesman Gerald Holmes rose to the occasion by explaining how misleading those figures were. Why? "The level of investment is not important," he argued, "because G.M. has been working to make its investments more efficient...It's not indicative that we're doing less -- we're doing more with less." Upon hearing this, Union officials were heard uttering a collective "Du-uh, why didn't we think of that?" Mr. Holmes did not say if General Motors would seek similar investment efficiencies abroad. (NYT 6/23/98)
Science For Sale
Vital scientific research at colleges and universities is being made possible thanks to the largesse of major corporations. For example, the University of Maine's Lobster Institute, funded by the seafood industry, recently published a study showing that lobsters really don't suffer when boiled alive. And the Credit Research Center at Georgetown University, funded by 70 companies in the credit industry, has produced a wonderful study showing just how debtors have been using Chapter 7 bankruptcy laws to escape paying their credit card debts. This latter study was particularly timely because, by a marvelous coincidence, Congress was considering legislation to eliminate such Chapter 7 bankruptcies. But can funding sources influence the results of scholarly studies? The Dean of Georgetown's business school, Kasra Ferdows, points out this study "meets our general rules " for good research. Moreover, since the CRC was funded by approximately 70 companies, the Dean took "some comfort" in the fact that no one corporate interest would predominate. Sounds like a new definition for democracy. (WP 6/19/98)
Early Warning Signs
Borders bookstore chain has been bothered of late by union activity. As a
result, Anne Kubek of their Human Resources Dept. prepared a manual on
"Union Awareness Training for Borders Managers." As a public service,
someone has been kind enough to post the whole text on the internet . Of
particular value is a section entitled "Recognizing the Early Signs of
Union Activity," a concern we all share. Here are a few of the warning
1. "Employees gather in small groups of twos and threes and immediately halt their conversations when managers approach."
2. "Employees start gathering to talk in areas that are off the beaten path."
3. "Employees who are not normally seen talking to one another begin associating more regularly. Strange alliances begin to form."
4. "New vocabulary may creep into employees conversations. Union terms such as seniority, grievance, bumping, job security, job posting, etc. may appear in conversations."
5. "Managers start getting an inordinate amount of critical and probing questions concerning policies and/or benefits. "
Keep vigilant. You never know where the virus of critical thought will strike next.
Getting To Know You
Microsoft has been under criticism for exploiting temporary workers by hiring them for what really are long term positions and then keeping them on for years at the lower temp wages. Recognizing the problem, Microsoft has announced a new policy they believe will help clarify to "contingent " employees their true status. From now on, temporary employees will simply leave their jobs for a month after a year's employment, as a reminder that they are temporary or contingent. Is this just a way to skirt around Washington state labor laws? No. Microsoft has an even loftier goal. Sharon Decker, director of contingent staffing, is quoted as saying "The change is intended to strengthen temps' relationships with the employment agencies that are their employers of record." Its about time someone recognized the deep need of temps to bond with their employment agencies. (Seattle Times 6/24/98)
The Un-Person Dept.
Last October as a Halloween prank, a high school senior in Oneonta, New York, set off a bomb on a rooftop. Seventeen year old Ethan Brush was, of course, suspended from school for the year. But an even worse fate was waiting for poor Ethan, who this spring found himself "disappeared" from the school yearbook. Not only did his name and photo not appear, but he had been carefully airbrushed out of a group photo that he had originally appeared in. This re-picturing of history was defended by Principal Barry Gould on the grounds that appearing in the yearbook was a privilege, and one that could be taken away. ``The school reserves the right to decide those issues concerning those privileges,'' Gould said. So on the day when the group photo was taken, Ethan may have thought he was with the group of students but he actually wasn't. Hopefully those students not airbrushed out of existence will appreciate their new found "privilege." (AP 6/21/98)
Seeing the Light
Congratulations to Washington State Senator Patty Murray (Dem.) for winning this year's U.S. Chamber of Commerce "Spirit of Enterprise" Award. Senator Murray won this prestigious honor because of the overall improvement in her voting record from 14% support of Chamber of Commerce concerns in her first year in office to a 70% business friendly voting record. Sen. Murray has worked hard pushing NAFTA and supporting bills to reduce shareholder rights and to ease pesky restrictions by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, her PAC donations from corporations has risen from 16% to 52% of her investment portfolio. But has this been a mere election year conversion? Sen. Murray answers "No." Instead, she is summarized as saying, its because "Congress and the business community are emphasizing the economic issues she has long embraced: international trade." Thank heavens that Boeing finally came around on the trade issue. (Seattle Times 7/7/98)
A Dying Industry
Hospices have grown from an alternative movement providing care for the dying into a $2.5 billion industry serving 450,000 patients a year, thanks largely to the marketing tactics of corporate America. Some of the more competitive firms now even pay commissions and finders fees to employees who recruit dying patients. These clients can represent more than $400 a day to the hospice. Cheryl Bonnet, chief financial officer of the San Diego Hospice, speaks with pride of how hard her organization has worked to increase its "market share" of dying patients. But Barry Smith, CEO of VistaCare, sounds an important cautionary note about overmarketing this important commodity. "On the one hand," he says, "you want to be zealous in getting the message out. On the other hand you don't want to be a salesman. It's unseemly to sell death." An important lesson for us all. (WP 6/14/98)
The Final Barriers Dept.
Consumer expert Robert M. McMath has some timely warnings about the difficulties of extending brand names into new territory or forms. For example, in the 1980's, the Block Drug Company introduced Efficol Cough Whip, a cough suppressant and decongestant in an aerosol can. But consumers couldn't reconcile the desert topping form with its role as medicine, so it failed. On the other hand, by the 1990's, consumers were ready to accept Starbucks coffee in an ice cream bar form. Mr. McMath concludes from this that: "Narrow package association barriers may eventually break down, but it is going to take a great deal more investment and creative effort by innovative product manufacturers to make it happen." Meanwhile, we can all help, I presume, by examining our souls to see if we have any remaining "narrow package association barriers" that still to be dismantled.. (American Demographics, May 1998)
Moneylenders in the Temple
California was first in offering religious consumers the convenience of drive-in churches, but now North Carolina has leap-frogged ahead. In Chapel Hill, the United Church of Christ has installed an automatic teller machine so parishioners can give electronically. While many churches have long accepted credit card donations, this was usually done within the privacy of the treasurer's office. The United Church of Christ is the first congregation to have an ATM machine proudly displayed. Now there's no bothersome separation between the church and the banking world (or should I say, there's a better interface). So far, the church reports only a few are taking advantage of the convenience and the machine is taking in about $100 a week. But it's a start. (AP 6/21/98)
In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put through a program to help improve traffic congestion along two major boulevards, 49th and 50th streets. The plan involved placing barriers to keep pedestrians confined to one side of the streets to make it easier for cars making turns. But a problem emerged at once over what to call these wildly popular barricades. Fortunately, Inspector James McShane, head of the NYPD's Traffic Control Division, was there to provide leadership. "We call them separators," he said. But that clearly was not good enough in his mind, which lead him to suggest "'Pedestrian facilitators' is even better." Studies now show that average car speeds on these two streets have improved nearly 20% since the pedestrian facilitators were installed, demonstrating once again the power of positive thinking. Ahem. (NYT 6/19/98)