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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Corporate Wage Slave?

Not if I can help it.

The title is a reference to the game Shadowrun, wherein if one's character was employed by a major corporation, there was no getting out, no moving up, nothing at all to look forward to.

Most Shadowrunners are trying to escape this fate.

I know I've said more than once in this blog that the reason I applied for a job at AT&T in the first place was because I loved how I was treated as a customer, and I wanted to be a part of that. And it was like that.

And locally, at AT&T Bothell, it often still is. They were terrific after Laston's death. Supportive, kind, helpful. Some of my coworkers made care packages while I was out on extended bereavement leave. The local managers, former (more on that later) and present, have been great.

But I have to say, when we the union (CWA Local 37083) called this weekend walkout, there was serious trepidation on my part. I have no money, am barely living paycheck to paycheck as it is, and have been paying for the usual suspects plus camp fees and end-of-school-year stuff.

Of course, if we don't as a workforce get at least some of what we're asking for, we will keep doing that until the end of time.

Explaining such things to small children does help one to focus - Lizzy (9) wanted to know why it was not okay to work if others were striking. Well, look, I made a deal with these people to be BFFs, and what do BFFs do? They support each other. If I wandered off to be friends more with the company than the union, they wouldn't be my BFFs anymore, would they.

No, they would not.

But still, not looking forward to striking. I remember Abby's dad striking with SPEEA at Boeing. It was not an easy time. I'm (just barely) old enough to remember (very vaguely) the sign by the side of the freeway. I don't want to do it, but I feel like I have to. And this post? I've refined my thinking a bit since writing that.

Here's the thing. Does Randall Stephenson deserve to make a butt-ton of money? Probably, yes. But not at the expense of the people who do the front line work. We are the ones who deal with the angry customers. Many of them are angry not because of a breakdown at the local tower. Most of the angry ones I speak with?

They're furious because they feel they were lied to by an offshored worker who was hired because it's cheaper to hire them overseas... but they haven't been well-trained or there's a language barrier or something.

They're enraged because the person at the authorized retailer sold them stuff they didn't need and now they're stuck with that contract... and the reason they were oversold is that's the only way that authorized retailer can actually earn any commission.

They're unhappy because their hotspot went away and they weren't told it would happen by someone who's not trained, or because they're being charged a zillion dollars for phone bills while traveling in Mexico because the rep who signed them up didn't realize that you have to opt in after signing up for the unlimited data plan.

And yet, the High Mucky Mucks believe that a 2% raise per year is enough for us, the people who soothe, fix, and comfort customers who are desperately trying to figure out how to afford a phone bill for a deployed soldier or how to retrieve voicemail from a deceased loved one.

They believe, apparently, that my kids are not worth a cost of living raise that actually covers the cost of, well, living. Or that our health care costs should go up. Or that Mommy might not have a job - not because she did something wrong - but because it's just cheaper to hire people in other countries.

If those workers' lives are screwed up, or if customers are unhappy?

Who cares, as long as the (major) shareholders get theirs? I'm a shareholder too, albeit a small one.

I mean really, you'd think a man who makes something like $12,000 an hour would maybe think I - a widowed mom trying to make ends meet - need more than $17.

Friday, May 5, 2017


Teal for Anxiety
So yesterday, not long after I posted about a likely panic attack, I got a note from Lizzy's teacher.

It was the last straw, and looking back at it today, well... let's just say I have reason to be grateful for that continuing FMLA leave for "primary grief reaction: anxiety."

I was having a pretty good week (as was Lizzy). I can now often use phrases like, "my late husband," or describe myself as, "a widowed mom," without losing it. She can, if reminded frequently, not melt down over tiny issues as she is wont to do.

These are Good Things.

Monday through Wednesday went pretty well, for both of us. Oh, there's the constant background radiation of money troubles (children are expensive, there were some fees that have never been in my name before, etc), and the newer niggling concern about the potential for going on strike with my union (which would exacerbate said money troubles). And the dragging fatigue that comes with not sleeping well (perimenopause? impending weird weather? impending political doom? or D: all of the above?)

But in general, a good week. Even Thursday morning was good; we had a walking/outdoor team meeting, in which I used that "widowed mom" phrase without despair, got some fresh air and sunshine, and a little exercise. From all reports, Lizzy was fine at school Thursday until lunchtime too.

Then the feces hit the rotor.

There was news out of the stupid Other Washington about congresspeople who apparently don't have two flying fucks to rub together about anyone but them, there is clear evidence that we can't count on the company I work for (and love) to have our backs either, should the Verucas in Congress get their way, and a very old friend who has been offline for some time and hadn't heard about Laston's death messaged me with touching concern.

Any one of these three things I could handle. Probably even any two. All three and I was getting very anxious and twitchy, and out fidget spinners have not arrived yet.

Then I got the note from Lizzy's teacher.

I burst into tears (thank Google I was between calls), and set up that FMLA time. I called the school and arranged to pick Lizzy up instead of waiting for the bus and letting my mom get her, as is the usual pattern on Thursdays.

It's not actually a horrible thing Lizzy did in and of itself (it involved snatching something from another kid who was taking too long at his turn, although Lizzy still denies it), but the problem is that when she's corrected for even minor infractions, she often loses her temper (0-60 in 1.5 seconds), gets defensive and snotty, and A Scene Ensues. Her teacher is great, but there are 20-odd other kids in that class, and there is not time to calm Lizzy down to the point where she can have a reasonable conversation.

Anyway, by the time I got to the school, Lizzy had calmed down enough for that reasonable conversation. We had it. I did not raise my voice, although I did remind her about Wheaton's Law, which is inappropriate language for use outside "just us." She was very subdued all evening (highly unusual for her) and even suggested making an "apology card" for her teacher.

Good idea.

Today I took her in to give the teacher the card (don't want her forgetting her good intentions between car and classroom). The baby talked surfaced when she saw one of the other kids and I asked her why; she said he was moving away and he's "one of the very few boys in third grade who's nice." I'll have to tell her counselor that one, because that is a very clear case of I-don't-know-how-to-express-my-feelings-here equaling baby talk.

A random PTA mom - we've met a few times - told me I have to go to Weight Watchers when I was dithering about it aloud, while returning my visitor's pass to the office.

So I did.

Half of the WW group spent the meeting in tears, including me. This is also a Good Thing; it's cathartic.

I don't feel better yet, not much. But I will.

It's what we moms do.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


I'm writing this at work, between calls, which means that no matter how angry and scared and close-to-panicky I am, I'm keeping it rated PG at worst.

But I'm writing it at work between calls, because if I don't get rid of what I have to say (and I can't say it to customers), I'll end up having that panic attack.

Here's the thing. As far as I can see, our upper management's attitude toward the union demands is very similar to today's vote in Congress and theirs toward the American people at the whole.

As long as the people at the top get theirs, they don't care what happens to the rest of us.

Or worse, they're anticipating getting rid of us so they can have even more for themselves.

Hike up healthcare costs to the employee or take away life-giving services because you don't want to pay for part of them; it's just a matter of degree, really.

Send money overseas to pay for war, or to hire outsourced call centers. Just a matter of degree.

I feel sick.

But maybe I shouldn't admit that here.

After all, who would pay for it?

Friday, April 28, 2017

That is the Question

To strike or not to strike...

Oh, if my union strikes, I will strike with them.

But I don't want to.

Look, AT&T was very good to me during Laston's last illness and in the aftermath. I don't know how much of that was the local management in my call center and how much was corporate. But they were great within the terms of the contract, although more paid bereavement leave would have been really nice; I had already used up all my other paid time off on chemotherapy and hospital visits and the like.

I love the work and the people.

And I am too old - and have been in various corners of Corporate America for too long - to be anything but cynical about getting what we want (or at least everything we want) here.

Some of my colleagues and fellow union members are very unhappy with the huge pay differences between the salaries made by the likes of Randall Stephenson and your average call center tech like us. I'm really not. I honestly don't care if the CEO makes a bajillion dollars, as long as I can make enough to support me and the girls, and get us some extras now and then.

I don't expect a bajillion. Considerably more than $35k (before taxes) would be nice though. And I am totally on board with better leave policies, lower health care costs, etc. Especially the latter.

What really bothers me is the hypocrisy of it all. In the same week that we are threatening to strike, we're having mandatory trainings about how we all support each other, how the little customer is just as important as the big one.

Thing is, that as much as these trainings talk about "supporting the internal customer," AT&T as a company doesn't walk that walk. They'll hire offshore, and hey, I'm glad that the offshore hiring means I don't have to work late evenings anymore. And I'm glad some nice folks in other countries have jobs. But I'm pretty sure that's not why AT&T is doing it; they're doing it to save money. They are not supporting their internal customers, you know, the ones who are the front line with customers.

I am tired of being treated like I'm a four-year-old who can't be trusted with paid sick time. I'm just now getting to the stage where I am not in a constant state of devastated despair at the death of my husband (the waves of that are coming fewer and further between, thank you EAP from the last union contract), and I'm having to explain to my nine-year-old that if I work when my coworkers are on strike, they won't be my friends anymore.

So no, I don't want to strike. I'd rather work. But - here's the important bit - I'd rather work for someone who sees me as more than a warm body to fill that chair, who actually gives a crap about me. Jenn. My local management is pretty good about this; they know me. But corporate?

Not so much.

I had a customer just the other day - I fixed a problem another rep had caused - who said, "Well, the rep who made that mistake was in one of those call centers in India or the Philippines. I'm sure they're nice people who need jobs too, but they're messing with your customers. Don't you people have a union?"

Yes, we do.

And we're going to use it if we have to.

Whether we want to or not.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Could've Been Worse

I planned to take today off, as it would have been mine and Laston's tenth wedding anniversary. I could envision myself cracking up entirely at work, like, "Sorry, ma'am, but my husband died of a quick-moving cancer not quite eight months ago, and I really don't give two shits about your data speed."

So I planned today off.

Good thing, too, because I (and Abby) have the Cold from Hell. As in, we didn't even sing along with show tunes on our way up her her dad's house, because we both sound like croaky, nasal frogs. So I was not feeling well physically on top of the likely emotional upset.

Which itself was not as horrible as it could have been. I mean, I'm sure that it has contributed to my catching the CfH, and my irritable bowel is... irritable. But these are fairly minor. I took it easy, drank tea and juice, ate bland food, played video games, and finished my latest cozy mystery. Then I took Abby to her dad's and stopped for a manicure on the way home.

Oh, and made my contribution to tomorrow's Last Day With the Team Potluck. Tortellini Salad, loaded.

On the whole, it's been a much better week than last week was, but then I spent quite a lot of it Being Nice to Myself. This will continue next week, because I have a massage and a facial scheduled for next Friday.

There have been some tears, and one song in the ones we listened to in the car that I could not cope with at all. But in general I (and apparently the girls, although the anniversary is likely less of a thing for them) did pretty well. Now if I can make it through one more ten-hour day (it's been really hard lately), I'll be to eight-hour shifts. That ought to help with maintaining that people-ing energy through an entire workday.

Still don't like it, this exhaustion from being around people. Damn situational introversion.

That said, I think I'm going to plan a Board Game Day around Laston's birthday (early June). Different people, different venue, different situation.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tale as Old as Time


It was beautiful.

The mood reminded me of Into the Woods (the movie version), but the whole production was so very theatrical that Abby and I both wanted to applaud at the end of every musical number.

Gaston is a much better villain in this; he's just as over-the-top as in the animated version, but far more sinister and believable. And both Gaston and Kill the Beast were terrifically well done.

 LaFou was great, Again, over-the-top without being an actual caricature.

Kevin Kline, even as "crazy old Maurice" was priceless. As always.

Emma Watson can sing. Who knew? It might be auto-tuned and all, but still.

The animation for Chip reminded me a bit of BB-8.

Ha! Funny story: Lizzy heard the line from the title song "...barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly..." and given all the Legend of Korra we've been watching, she made a connection to the word "bends" that was probably not what Menken and Ashman had in mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, as well as the rest of the day.

We just did lunch and the movie and some errands, but it was so much better a day than I have had in the past couple weeks.

I think my boss was right; I need some time off (not necessarily from work, although the shorter work days coming up will probably help me), even if it's just a day here and there. Some time when I'm not sick, or taking care of someone else for the entire day, or whatever. None of what we did today had to be done today.

And I think that made all the difference.

Of course Beauty and the Beast (and the Phantom of the Opera, for that matter) always remind me of my favorite of the Greek myths - Hades and Persephone. Oh, you can talk about Stockholm Syndrome and sexism and potential for abuse, but that's not all there is to these types of stories. I knew that even at twelve, 36 years ago, in Mr. Hansen's (he of the pretty blue eyes) seventh grade social studies class.

It's a good story.

A tale as old as time, if you will.