TRNN viewers may remember a recent interview we published at the beginning of February in which Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez spoke with retired railway engineer Jeff Kurtz about a US District Court blocking railroad workers at BNSF Railway from striking over the recent implementation of an oppressive new attendance policy. Even if the story has faded from the headlines, the struggles railroad workers are facing have not gone away in the slightest, and workers and their families have reported that BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” policy has been a disaster for them and for the railroad industry. In this crucial follow-up report, Alvarez speaks with Jeff Kurtz and Ron Kaminkow of Railroad Workers United about what workers have been going through since the implementation of this new attendance policy and what can be done about it.
Jeff Kurtz was a railway engineer and union member for 40 years. He served as a union officer most of his career, including eight years as president of BLET Local 391 and chairman of the BLET Iowa State Legislative Board, where he oversaw safety and legislative matters for the union in the state for four railroads for 10 years. He retired in 2014 and served as state representative for one term in the Iowa House after winning the 2018 election in his House district. He now works in a volunteer capacity with Railroad Workers United and the local labor chapter of the Iowa Federation of Labor. Ron Kaminkow is currently serving as General Secretary of Railroad Workers United. Prior to hiring out as a brakeman with Conrail in 1996, he served as President of AFSCME Local 634 in Madison, WI. In 2005, Kaminkow helped to found Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU), an RWU predecessor. A former brakeman, conductor, and engineer for Conrail and later NS in Chicago, he formerly worked for Amtrak in Milwaukee and Chicago. He currently is working as an Amtrak engineer in Reno, NV, where he is the Vice President of BLET Local 51.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Pittman on Feb. 22 blocked the BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) and the SMART Transportation Division—the two unions opposed to BNSF’s planned Hi-Viz worker availability policy—from striking. Link
For a vast majority of Americans, democracy ends when work hours begin.
Most people in this country are subject, as workers, to the nearly unmediated authority of their employers, which can discipline, sanction or fire them for nearly any reason at all.
In other words, Americans are at the mercy of what the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson calls “private government,” a workplace despotism in which most workers “cede all of their rights to their employers, except those specifically guaranteed to them by law, for the duration of the employment relationship.” With few exceptions — like union members covered by collective bargaining agreements or academics covered by tenure — an employer’s authority over its workers is, Anderson writes, “sweeping, arbitrary and unaccountable — not subject to notice, process, or appeal.”
If “private government” sounds like a contradiction in terms, that is only because in the modern era we have lost an older sense of government as an entity that, as Anderson says, exists “wherever some have the authority to issue orders to others, backed by sanctions, in one or more domains of life.” The state, then, is simply one kind of government among others, albeit one with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
For most of human history, the state itself was essentially private; few individuals outside of the ruling class had any standing to question its decisions or demand accountability for its actions. The extent to which the state is public at all is, as Anderson notes, “a contingent social achievement of immense importance,” the result of a centuries-long struggle for “popular sovereignty and a republican form of government” such that the state is now “the people’s business, transparent to them, servant to their interests, in which they have a voice and the power to hold rulers accountable.”
With that in mind, to say that most workers are subject to unaccountable “private government” is to make clear the authoritarian character of the American workplace. And it is to remind ourselves that in the absence of any countervailing force, the bosses and managers who wield that authority can force workers into deadly environments and life-threatening situations, or force them to remain in them.
That is what appears to have happened on Friday at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield, Ky. There, more than 100 people, including seven prisoners, were on the night shift, working even after tornado sirens sounded outside the facility. “People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” one employee told NBC News in an interview. But, she said, they were warned: If they left, they were “more than likely to be fired.”
When a powerful tornado did bear down on the factory, it was so strong that there was nowhere safe to hide, according to Andy Beshear, the governor of Kentucky. When the storm cleared, eight people on site were dead and eight others were missing. Three hours north, in Edwardsville, Ill., a similarly powerful tornado hit an Amazon warehouse, killing six people. There, too, workers had been toiling in the midst of severe weather.
Had either of these groups of workers been empowered to say no — had they been able to put limits on work and resist unsafe working conditions — they may have been able to protect themselves, to leave work or miss a shift without jeopardizing their jobs. In the absence of that ability, they were, in effect, compelled to work by the almost sovereign power of their respective employers, with horrific consequences for them, their families and their communities.
Put another way, these disasters cannot be separated from the overall political economy of the United States, which is arguably more anti-labor now than it’s been at any point since Franklin Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act in 1935. A society organized for capital — a society in which most workers are denied a meaningful voice in their place of employment — is a society where some workers will be exposed, against their will, to life-threatening conditions.
The immediate solution is as it always has been: unionization, collective bargaining and workplace democracy. This is easier said than done, of course, but it still must be said. Our democracy is and will remain incomplete for as long as most Americans work without power or representation under the authority of private governments. Whatever democratic habits we hope to instill in ourselves and our children cannot be sustained, in the long run, when democracy is banned from the shop floor.
Or, as the sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox once wrote, “The people are not free when a relatively few masters of industry could deny them control of their resources” — and to that, one might add control of their selves.
Social media personality turned boxer Jake Paul, slammed UFC President Dana White for mistreating his fighters.
- We work hard, we play hard. => Expectation of Long hours with unobtainable goals. Play hard means incentivized events, often after hours events.
- We are family => Small, privately owned businesses. When I am at work I am not able to fill time with my actual family, cult-like
- We’ll promote you later (6 month or year) => Don’t have the budget. You don’t have it in writing and will have to fight for it, especially if your hiring manager leaves
- You’re replaceable =>They don’t value you on any level. Live in Fear
- We wear a lot of hats => You have to do a lot of roles of
- We’re in startup mode
- We only hire rockstars => Check Glassdoor to see if salaries match
- We’re always hiring => They have high turn over for a good reason.There is a revolving door
- If they lay people off,They’ll call you back if things get better => often from “family businesses”
- They say that they have a foosball table => like putting lipstick on a pig
- if you need help
It seems to be becoming less common, but another sign of bad employers if when they require someone who can “multitask” or who “thrives in a fast paced environment”. These are often euphemisms for disorganized management.“We’re like a family” is one of the most toxic tropes in the workplace in my opinion and it needs to stop. It sets up an expectation to devote yourself to people that don’t deserve your loyalty and have no practical way to compensate it. Companies really CAN’T be like a family for the simple fact that in a family you have to accommodate everyone and you can’t fire anyone! Families are way harder to manage which is why your energy needs to go to your real family.I had a boss who would regularly say, “You know, this is a ‘fire at will’ state, right? Anyone can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason!” Great, boss. Thanks for the motivational speech. Also, since we worked at the corporate headquarters of a multi-state operation, we were told that we were “overhead” so we really had to deliver value or we’d be canned. They also paid “market rates” no matter how good or bad one’s performance was! And then hired consultants for hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out why performance was lackluster and turnover was so high! It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so soul-destroying. Unfortunately, I’m describing most companies.You could have made your own list rather than spying on the company I work for.
Fast paced environment usually translates as: “We will overwork you and overstress you and when you burn out we will blame you for not being up to the task and will spit you out and yell “Next!”“You’re gonna be wearing multiple hats.” “So you’re also gonna pay me multiple salaries, then?”I always hated mandatory “fun” during my off hours. Got wrote up at a company for not going to a Christmas party that was off the clock. I told them I don’t work for free. That and I HATE Xmas, so forcing me to go was just wrong to me.Love this list! In my last job search I wound up with several interviews, and I heard all of these things over and over again. The company that finally stood out said a couple things differently: “Your weekends are yours.” “We don’t want people getting burned out.” “We’re probably going to wait a year before hiring anyone else.” “We can train technical skills, we need someone with an eye for detail.” They are the best company I’ve ever worked for. These terrible “we are a family” tropes need to stop. This is a job, not your family, and a great company recognizes that!One of my favorites is, “We’re looking for someone who can think outside the box”. What they are really saying is that their company is broken and they are looking for someone to blame it on. Remember, they created “the box”. If they are looking for someone to think outside of it, they are essentially saying that the system they created doesn’t work. Rather than admitting they have lost control, they hire someone to use as a scapegoat. The new hire lasts a few months and then is let go. The management blames the new hire for screwing up the whole company and they pat each other on the back for getting rid of them. They then go back to their business as usual.“We are like family” is also a sign of nepotism. Actual family and close friends tend to be in higher positions and the employees get to do all the work with zero reward.
“We’re a family here”
“We have an open door policy”
“Our wages and benefits are competitive”
“Any issues feel free to talk to HR”
“Everyone needs to sacrifice”
“We can’t do your review right now. Remind me later”
These are just a few off the top of my head
Speaking to the replaceable: Companies are equally replaceable. I worked for an IT outfit in Cleveland and the owner wanted to chase a certain market. I asked about company support for training and certification. He straight up said “I expect you to cover that as it directly benefits you and your career”. Really this is how you’re going to play it asshole?
So I went and did the training and certification myself, went to his competitor for $15K more/year. Walked into his office and let him know I took his advice from 6 months ago and wanted to thank him.
We was initially confused and then I reminded him of what he said and let him know I fired him.
>> Well done. Changing jobs is the normal way to get a step change in remuneration.
My company has promised to promote me and I’ve been officially working in the higher position since April, without more pay. (I’ve already been doing most of the tasks of the higher role for a year.) I was told in April the official promotion and raise was supposed to come by the end of this year, because they first want to see if I can handle that role (that I’ve been basically doing for a year). So… Yeah, I’ve been applying for other jobs since April and my last day at that company will be in 2 weeks.
“Employees are our most valuable resource.” Said by a CEO after multiple layoffs. I asked her how that works. She said, “Employees are our most valuable resource, just not any particular employee. ”
My favorite is when they ask you to not discuss pay after you ask for a raise because you found out new hires are making 2 dollars an hour more than you. I quit so fast
“We care about a candidate’s compatibility with our company culture” – The greatest loophole for discrimination
I have another one for you. “This is a salaried position”. This being said in the context that you are expected to work long hours. Yes, it may be a salaried position however; that does not mean I want to work 80 hours a week for you! I have worked for a company in which I couldn’t make dinner plans with my family because something could come up at the drop of a hat and I was expected to work way beyond the the normal workday.
You hit this one out of the park! My crappy employers have said most of these things; my better employers haven’t. I despite the “we are a family” pitch. Nope, no you aren’t. My family may WANT to fire me or lay me off but they can’t. When I have a true success in life, my family is excited…the employer wonders “hmmm…how might this negatively impact me?” I am with you 100%.
I’m an IT guy and I’ve been taking these temp to hire contract jobs, so the whole “we’ll promote you later” thing is bull. They lay me off before they have to put up and hire me full time. Being an IT person I can tell you that pretty much every job you’re going to in this industry, you’re going to “wear multiple hats”, and not pay you for it. They’re trying to get away with a ton of this right now in this Covid economy.
“If your not happy quit, I can hire someone else” than management turns around and says “your an integral part of company and our business cannot afford to lose you”.
“You’re replaceable” is right down there with “If you’re not happy here, you can leave.”
Often “Our company is like a family” means “Our company grew from a small group without ever professionalizing its approach” and/or “People rely on longstanding relationships to get things done, so it’s impossible to get things well organized or done the right way.”
I’ve heard the “we’re always hiring” one myself when going around asking if their place is hiring, and I honestly don’t know why anyone would think it’s a positive comment unless its a brand new place that needs lots of people.
When I’m told “we’re always hiring” what I really hear is “everyone quits within a few months”, and that doesn’t happen at places people like to work at.
I worked at a “family” company. I hope to never make that mistake again. I’ve also noticed if usually a job ad says “we’re growing”, that’s a cover up for “someone just quit”. I know this because that’s what they put in the ad for my job when I left.
When they say “we care about mental health” it means they provide you a compfy yoga room to cry in when the job drives you crazy.
This is so spot on. The “always hiring” one especially is a dead giveaway that it’s an utterly toxic environment – either they fire people for little or no reason, and/or it’s so miserable that they can’t keep people from constantly quitting.
As an engineer, I avoid any company using the H1B cheap worker replacement visas. Culture of fear can’t be avoided when they are threatening to offshore your job and make you compete with third world wages.
The “We’re looking for a rockstar” line in job postings is always cringe to me. I’m not a rockstar, I’m a professional and I want my services, years of experience and expertise to be taken seriously…
I remember going through a interview process with a company, and I was extended an offer, however when I got the offer letter the salary was lower than what was discussed and agreed upon in the hiring process. I called back the hiring manager to let him know I wouldn’t be taking that position. To me that was incredibly dishonest, amdi didn’t want to work for an employer that tried to cut corners and lie before you even get in the door.
Yup I heard the “We are like a family” line AFTER I had to file complaints on two toxic bosses in two different situations. It was like their last line of defense when they were confronted with their inappropriate behavior. “You are not my family/don’t care about yours/ do your job and leave me alone” is my motto and how I present at work. I’m here to work and be supported in my role. Get a shrink if you are having so many issues that you need to continually vent at work.
“At every company I’ve worked at, they say ‘we’re a big family here,’ and it does motivate people to work harder and neglect their actual families and put up with all sorts of degrading shit.” – Colin Robinson, What We Do In The Shadows
“We need to do more with less.”
Translation: we can’t keep people, so we’re just going to say you can do 50% more work in the same amount of time.
A former employer: To celebrate the $100s of millions a previous project made for the company, the team was invited to “come let us treat you to a cup of coffee” Amazing how tone deaf some of these managers are.
I’m laughing so hard right now because this video fits very good the absurdity I have to work in. I work in the video game industry in a city that is one of the world’s largest video game centre. In all my work experience on ten years there was at least one of those toxic signs among the 9 presented every time. I estimate that at least 70% of the industry’s companies in the city I live present the toxic signs presented in the video. On top of that, part of that culture is that people work for passion so if you don’t suck up the toxic you’re told you don’t have the passion and someone seen as not having the passion is discriminated without more consideration.
One of my fav is, “you can have any position you want in this company”. I have never seen an employee take on a CEO role to fix the bad decisions made
I’ve experienced the “we are family” nonsense in several jobs. That’s the stupidest thing anyone in a company can tell me. I’ve never bought into that garbage from people I work with, some of which I can’t even stand. Later when they show their true colors, I use it against them (“Is that how you treat your family?” “You know, the family thing goes both ways.” and my favorite, “Oh, now after this we’re family?”). Also the “we wear a lot of hats” nonsense is the biggest sign of the place being a mess.
I’d also add when companies tell you “we’re friendly”. I’ve never ever had the need to clarify to people that I am friendly, and I’ve never ever met any friendly person who have to say that they are friendly, so if the company has to tell people, chances are the place is a gossip/drama ridden place, infested with all kinds of dysfunctional people who are not friendly at all.
“We did not have enough revenue this year to give raises.” Then you find out all C level people got bonuses and raises and the revenue of the company is up greater than 10% from the previous year.
I accepted a ‘You’ll get a raise once you’re trained up’ situation to accept a pay that was WAY under market. Once I was trained up, the raise was 25 cents per hour. I now know to ask for details upfront – but wished I knew earlier. So wonderful that your giving people the tools to avoid these bad situations!
I worked for a Fortune 10 company and saw nearly every red flag warning sign while working there. It’s easy to simply brush aside your instincts and buckle up for a bumpy ride. It can be difficult to face the reality of the situation and make the right choices for you AND your real family. Especially for the older generation like myself where loyalty was driven into us to a fault. Great video!!
“We’ll promote you later.”
I took a job where in the verbal offer this was stated with details of how I would be promoted within 6 months and be paid what I was making at my previous job (I took a large pay cut to take this job in a desperate move to exit another toxic work environment). However, in my written offer the promotion was nowhere to be found. I accepted because it was a small company, in the production world even DECENT jobs are difficult to find, and they brought it up periodically to remind me they hadn’t forgotten.
Three days after I started my hiring manager and direct supervisor walked out (too long of a story to post here but he wasn’t an angel in the scenario either). He and I were the only two in the department. So I worked there for 16 months with no training, garbage pay, garbage benefits, and all because I expected them to do the bare minimum as adults and hold up their end of the bargain.
What I’m saying is don’t work for a stone fabricator in Madison, WI. Companies like this need to be ousted.
Ironically I left that job and started working at a place…with a foosball table.
My favorite line was “we are trying to design the plane while it is flying” to explain why they were constantly firing people.
Turns out they just were stuck because they were too scared to piss off their sales/engineering sections that were only a couple people deep who were threatening to leave if they didn’t get their way. They were protecting their jobs from someone cheaper/better so they wouldn’t end up on the chopping block.
“We believe in a Work/Life balance”. “There are 24 hours in a day, we only expect you to work half of those”.
“Don’t come up to me asking for a raise, I will come up to you myself offering a raise when I decide that it’s needed” – was told this by the future boss when getting hired at a small lawyer’s office. Needless to say, the environment at that office was incredibly toxic, but I needed the money.
Do you have, or considered making a video about sham interviews? The ones where they have already have a favourite candidate and using other candidates as “fill”? What to do in those situations? Who to complain to about such corruption and exploitation?
@Colin I gave up on all that positivity and doing the right thing. None of that got me no where. All these managers play games and get the nice checks. I quit after being played, my team misses me and now they gotta deal w the bullshit supervisor rn
@lakes yes unfortunately these days total obedience seems to be the theme at workplaces and interviews, not objectivity, innovation or productivity. It’s hyper politicalised made worse by a declining economy which fuels more “jobs for mates”.
I see this a lot of times in corporate environments where the hiring manager already has an internal hire picked out but because of corporate policy, they have to put in a sham effort to interview external candidates as well. You can usually tell when this is happening because the hiring manager is totally disengaged from the interview and is really conscious of the time. Mentions it several times. Things like, “so I know we have a limited time” or “to stay on track with our time today”. Sometimes an external candidate will even get to the 2nd or 3rd round before they cut them loose. What a huge waste of everyone’s time and quite soul crushing for the external candidate when they feel like they actually have a chance.
“We’re just one big happy family!”
Translation: We’re the grownups, you’re the child. Expect regular spankings.
I worked for a place that had “work hard/play hard” energy. I was part of a small department who was constantly overworked and salaried. Some of our PM’s favorite lines were “the drawings are wrong” and “just make it work”
I left because when I was interviewing, they told me that they give pay increases based on number of certifications earned. Well, when I came up to my boss’s desk with 11 certifications earned in a year, he told me to wait until our “yearly review” that never happened. I stopped putting extra effort into that job after that.
I’ve had one say “you need to get out of your comfort zone” which basically means “you need to do a whole bunch of crap that isn’t your job.”
As someone who has heard pretty much all these terms during an interview and taken these jobs you are completely right!!!! As soon as I hear the term we need a go getter or we need you to hit the ground running, Im out!!! No matter how hard you work its just not gonna work out. Or we are a family here. Just get up and walk out.
Every time I hear “we only hire rockstars” usually followed by “you should be proud to make it this far because we get tons of applications” or something along those lines it just comes off like the stereotypical used car salesman trying to butter you up
Funny- almost all of these are what GameStop pulls, except “we have a foosball table”. One of the worst companies I’ve ever worked for in my life!
Funny- almost all of these are what GameStop pulls, except “we have a foosball table”. One of the worst companies I’ve ever worked for in my life!
Great job. Yeah, that “We’re like a Family” bs only tends to apply to people that are actually making the money, or running some kinda agenda. A job and the people therein arent your friends, or “family.”
Unfortunately, I have worked at more than a few companies in my area over the past 15 years. I can tell you that I have heard almost everything you mention at every single one of them, including at many of my interviews. I am convinced that company owners get together in this area and purposely collude against the workers. It is hypocritical, considering the anti-union stance they have all taken over the past 30 some years. What’s good for the good is not good for the gander in my area. Additionally, it does me no good to craft an exit strategy when I know the next place will be just as bad, if not worse, than where I work now.
“Early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable” is the one I can’t stand the most. It sounds catchy, but is mostly corporate’s way of saying we don’t want to pay you for everything you do.
It may be similar to the first one but I often hear ‘this is a fast paced environment’ which usually seems to mean ‘we are grossly understaffed so you’ll be doing the work of two people’.
Krystal responds to a Fox News host who was gleeful over mass layoffs of employees via zoom at a fintech company run by a CEO with a history of abusive, fraudulent behavior
Joey Holz applied to 60 entry-level jobs in September and got exactly one interview. John Iadarola and Gary Chambers break it down on The Damage Report.
Kellogg workers strike as the pandemic compounds the problematic long-standing working environment.
During Covid, employees worked 12 hour shifts 7 days per week.
Kelloggs threatens to move jobs to Mexico if workers don’t accept cuts.
Why do CNBC and Fox Business channel only cover stock prices and the CEOs?
Why don’t these “business” channels cover workers and their experience.