White Collar Slave
This is a story I wrote years ago, when I was working for AT&T and they were taken over by Cingular.
White Collar Slave
I am a modern day slave, my master is a corporation, my shackles come with polyphonic ringtones, I tend to fields of computers, maintaining them, mending broken branches of the network, always mindful of the fruit that is harvested. Our crop is dressed to the nine’s, 5 9’s. If I let more than 1 in 100,000 go bad, I have to explain why. I’m always working, my mind never wholly my own. When I’m not working, I’m on call, when I’m not oncall, I must still be available. Always ready at a moments notice to serve the master and protect the crops.
My master calls for me all hours, I could be eating, I could be sleeping, even on ‘my own time’, my time isn’t completely my own. I work tirelessly, continuously, sporadically, sometimes incoherently. Sometimes my master allows me to sleep, but not before it’s become dangerous to my health, tedious to my sanity, or tiresome to my family.
I work hard, I do my job well, the other slaves respect me, I help them and they help me. My reward, if I work hard, is I get to keep my master. If my master is displeased, he will cast me out, and I must search for a new master. If I am lucky I may find a nicer master, but if I am cast out, I am more likely to find a more harsh master. Sometimes I get rewarded by my master for all my hard work, with being moved to a new field, with a different crop, but it’s always more work, less sleep.
My master appeases me by giving me more vacation the longer I keep him as a master, but the longer I keep him, the less control I have of when my vacation is. I often lose several weeks of unused vacation every year, because project schedules wouldn’t allow me to take it. When I do take vacations, my work before I leave doubles to ensure nothing gets missed while I’m gone, and I’m rewarded when I come back with new work that missed me while I was gone. I get decieved by my appearant time away, with a deficit of time owed. When I get more time, I lose more time.
When my master really wants to mess with me, he reorganizes his fields and his slaves. He teases me with a golden parachute, a very polite parting of ways where I get to stop working, but get paid a large sum for the inconvenience of losing a master. First he tells me I get one, then he tells me I’m not leaving. Then he tells me I have to move across the world, but if I don’t want to move, I’ll get one. Then when I say I don’t want to move, I’m told I don’t. When I’m told I don’t have to move, but my job is safe, I find out my job is going away. When I try to move to a different field under my master, I’m told I cannot because I’m too needed where I am. When I trust that I am needed, my field gets scheduled for plow, and I’m told soon I’m no longer needed. But before I’m no longer needed, is when I’m needed the most! So I am told I must work tirelessly and give up even more time! Just so I can make myself not needed.
But what about the perks? The benefits of this master? My favorite perk: I’m told I don’t have to pay for my own shackles (yes I have 3, just so the master really knows how to find me.) But then later I find out, it’s not all free, master won’t pay the taxes. Then things change again, master won’t pay for them himself, I have to pay for them, then ask for it back from master. Now that I am paying for my own shackles (paying for them every month!) I am told that master can’t afford to pay for ALL of my shackles, and I have to pay for some of it. Which makes me think, well what if I don’t pay for the shackles, wouldn’t that be great, I can save master money, and me too! But then master tells me he would have to get rid of me if I do.
But my master does pay me. He pays me less than other masters who have slaves tending the same fields do, I’ve seen the slave surveys, some slaves are definately treated better than I. But the grass is always greener… My master used to pay me for every hour I worked, then one day master decided that I had too much responsibility to be paid so much. So my master used a vague unrelated law to justify paying me less. But my master says, don’t worry, I’ll compensate you by paying you more! Before I got paid less, I made 50% more than my base pay because I worked twice as hard. Master so very kindly now pays me 3% more than my base pay was, and expects me to work just as hard. Work smarter, work more efficient, my master says. I’m told to automate, I’m told to multitask. Multitasking Automation, sounds like a clone robot to me. Yes I am to work as if there were two of me, and one of me works automatically. So I now do twice of the work, on half of the pay. Math says 2 x 1/2 is 1/4. Yes I now am getting compensated 1/4 as fairly as I was before.
But wait! Master evaluates my work, and raises my compensation every year! Yes, every year my master sees that the world has gotten more expensive, and surveys say that things really do get more expensive, around 4% more expensive each year. So master rates our work, and gives us a part of that 4%. If we work hard, really hard, he might give us 3.5%, but most often we get 2–3%. So every year, master pays us more, but really we work for less.
There’s a glimmer of hope, there are these things called unions, and unions join slaves to let their numbers stand up to the masters. Sometimes we even hear of unions nearby, but I’ve never seen one at work, I think they don’t exist. We’re told by our master that we don’t have the right job to join a union, our job is called ‘exempt’, meaning we are exempt from the laws that are designed to protect us. Where’s my emancipation proclimation! Where is my protection? Who is my advocate? I asked this once, and was told that Human Resources is there to protect me.
So I asked who is my human resources advocate? My master says they don’t know, they’ll find out. So I wait. I ask again, my master looks again, and finds a name 2 weeks later. So I contact my advocate. I tell them my plight. My advocate sympathises. I get kind words, and told that patience with the master and the master will correct things. But the master is slow, and I see no change, so I contact my advocate again. No response. Again, Nothing. I then find out my master has let my advocate go. I have a new advocate a mile away. So I contact the new advocate. I retell my story, the advocate wishes to look at my file, but they don’t have it yet. Be patient they say, change will come. I wait. I ask again, the advocate tells me because the master reorganized, they are no longer my advocate, and they give me a new name. I start again with the new advocate 10 miles away. Meanwhile, my master moves my job (like I said above, to the other side of the country), again I’m told, I have a new advocate, on the other side of the country. I contact that advocate, nothing, I wait, and contact again, nothing. Finally my advocate replies, and tells me because I’m so far away, I should contact a local advocate, surely they cannot be mine.
So here I am, 3 sets of shackles, working harder and harder each day, getting paid less and less, working hard to make my job go away, with no rights, no union, no advocate, and if things keep up, no personal time, and no family. And then, my master decides to reward me for giving up five years of my life in dedication to the master, my master gives me a pair of tiny binoculars, and a golden plated emblem of my masters name which I can pin to my clothes to show pride in my hard work. So every other master out there, knows who is my master.
Now, I’m not just a slave, I just got branded too.