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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


[Left: A Waterless place in the Nevada desert, East of Bishop, CA]

One of the most shocking discoveries of my life is that well-meaning people of faith - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist - plus a plethora of other belief systems, patriarchies, matriarchies and even atheists and anarchists - have seen fit to justify the cruel exploitation of workers in their employ. I'd say they've been blinded by the spirit of greed.

On a recent flight from New Orleans to Oakland, I met a small business owner from Arizona who forced his crew to work beyond their eight hour shifts for $ZERO/hour. Once again: Free Overtime = Part-time Slavery.

"I work off the clock myself, almost every day," he boasted, "and I expect my employees to do the same as a show of loyalty!" He was a family man with young children and a wife in tow. A self-made man of Faith.

"Is it morally right to work a man for twelve hours, while paying him for eight?" I asked.

"There are grey areas..." he began hemming and hawing.

"Is it right?" I repeated, picturing his workers missing baseball games, PTA meetings, bedtime stories, as he himself must do. Lonely spouses at home watching dinner grow cold while the last minute "emergency" was tended to by their missing partner. Nine times out of ten it is not the boss who locks up at 11 PM - it's that dedicated worker bee. The business is his - they own nothing save what they can purchase with the short wages he tosses their way.

Mr. Boss-man must have read my mind, because he finally hung his head in shame as I repeated once more: "Is it right?

"No. it's not right, " he conceded. I handed him my contact info and said - if you'd like to speak more about this, give me a call. He avoided my gaze for the rest of the flight and slunk off when we stopped at Houston.

So, I pray for the man and hopes he has a true change of heart. If not, he will follow the standard "spiritual" business reaction to public exposure of enslavement and illegal exploitation of his workers:


For a time, the boss-man will reform his workplace structure to conform to the law and the spiritual principle that a worker is worthy of his/her wages. I am convinced that the unclean spirit that seduced the boss in the first place (Read Matthew 12:43-45) vacates the premises and the workers breathe a sigh of relief.

The boss-man scrupulously restores lunch hours and breaks and begins to pay proper OT wages. Then the test comes. He balks at paying back OT, because the corporate Big Wigs and Mouthpieces say it would involve admitting wrongdoing and maybe require them to liquidate assets they'd acquired with the misappropriated unpaid wages. They are now open for the demons of greed to return.

A key employee gets sick and is gone for several months. Demon #1 steps in. Income is short and reserves are invested in the boss's vacation home in Maui - and maybe secret corporate bank accounts in Nevada or Switzerland, so no replacement can be hired.

Demon #2 whispers the quick fix in the boss's ear. He fires a couple more employees to balance the books for the quarter and tells the rest of the crew that the company cannot afford any more OT. They'll just have to make do with the "lean and mean" crew.

Meanwhile, corporate HQ has plenty of money stashed away, but Demon #3 convinces the Big Wigs that they should refuse to kick any reserve capital back down, because the shareholders would complain and they'd not get their bonuses.

Responsible front line employees find themselves saddled with more work than can be completed within their alloted eight hours, so Demon #4 convinces the boss to look the other way while they to clock out and finish their most pressing business for the day as free OT. A missed lunch and a half hour here and there before the shift soon grows into 20-30 hours of unpaid OT per week.

Demon #5 sends an unqualified friend of the boss to "help out" the flagging operation. His stupid mistakes create even more work for those still remaining. Since the boss-man can't fire his friend, everybody gets dragged down.

Demon #6 pushes the boss to authorize shoddy work and dangerous shortcuts. Quality diminishes, customers flee to more responsible businesses, and the cycle of contraction soon becomes a death spiral.

Some poor sap speaks up and gets a court to order payment of all the unpaid OT wages, and Demon #7 pushes the company to file BKY to erase those obligations.

The boss sadly prays for his workers with crocodile tears, while he hands out anvil parachutes to his former staff. The seven Demons dance around the boss and his dumbo buddy as they go to work for the vultures who scooped up what's left of the business for a song at the BKY sale.

So shall it be for this present generation, unless we light fires under regulators' feet to put a stop to all this nonsense and exorcise these Demons from the workplace.

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