Storming Mad

In the challenging employment times we now live in, even heroic champions like this guy would have the odds stacked against him.

As mentioned in a previous post, I was once a World of Warcraft player in better employment times. I cancelled my subscription shortly after my full time employment finished, but I still follow Blizzard’s newsfeed, mostly for the trailers and cinematics. My gaming in WoW may have ended but I am still a fan of the lore.

One thing that caught my eye was Blizzard announcing a layoff of over 800 employees. Apparently the bloom has come off the rose that is WoW, particularly after the reaction for their latest expansion, “Battle For Azeroth”. One would have assumed revenue has fallen, so Blizzard felt the need to cut expenses. On the surface, a sensible decision, though I do feel bad for the employees who were let go.

Then I did a little bit of digging and what I found out angered me.

At the same time these layoffs were announced, Blizzard’s newly hired CFO, Dennis Durkin, received $15 million just for taking the position. Right then: Blizzard couldn’t find money to retrain or relocate these laid off employees, yet had no trouble finding $15 million to hire ONE guy — a finance exec, of all things.

I might have been a bit more forgiving if the hire was a creative consultant, a developer, a lore master, anyone who could contribute a gaming strategy that would have taken the stink off of BFA’s negative review and get subscribers to come back.

Instead, Blizzard has a new stink to air out: the optics of laying off employees while announcing record profits AND hiring a line executive for a rather obscene amount of coin.

This is not the first time Corporate Canada — and in this case Corporate America in the form of Blizzard — has put making money well over the well-being of its employees and customers. Over 10 years ago, Canadian banks reported record profits, after reducing teller staff and hiking bank charge. In 2018 GM Canada announced plant closures despite receiving corporate welfare on the condition of keeping local workers employed and not to relocate.

This has always been an ongoing practice, and the reason why this continues is because we’re sheep. We as consumers allow this to happen. We don’t vote with our wallets. Some of us might say we will, even vow that we shall, but clearly there’s nothing happening.

This same practice will continue unless companies are held responsible for the negative aspect of laying off employees for no reason other than to boost profits for their shareholders. Companies that are doing well have no reason to let people go. Re-assign? Yes. Re-train? Definitely. Discard just to fatten the margin because someone had the gall to ask for fair wages for a hard day’s work? Absolutely not.

This must end, and it’s up to each and every one of us to do something about it.

Thanks for reading.

David.

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Taking A Bite Out Of Poverty

This man would never had a positive change in his life had he not regained a reason to smile again. Click the image to read this wonderful news story that has stuck with me for so many years.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE USED:

The Ontario Dental Association (ODA) recently asked for more funding for dental programs used by low income earners and the homeless. Currently in Ontario, OHIP does not cover the cost of dental care, which means unless you are rich or at least work for a company with a generous benefits plan, you are shit out of luck if you do not have the money to go to the dentist.

The ODA itself is shit out of luck if it thinks the Doug Ford government, which has already shown a callous disregard for the poor and homeless by treating them as an excessive expense to be cut from the budget, will go along with the idea. In fact, in a recent link, the Doug Ford government is considering plans to allow private companies to deliver health care — meaning dental care may not be the only thing Ontarians will be paying for out of their pocket.

You don’t have to be knowledgeable about the human body to know how important it is to have a good set of teeth. Teeth aid in digestion of food: if you can’t properly chew your food, that food will either not metabolize properly while going through your digestive tract, or you simply won’t be bothered to eat since you can’t chew. Poor oral health could also cause serious health problems to occur if oral infections spread throughout the bloodstream.

There’s another aspect most people miss when it comes to the importance of publicly funding dental care. It’s looking for work.

Much as I rag on employment assistance centres and their mostly useless job seeking tips, one tip I am in agreement with them on is that appearances count during an interview. Missing teeth is an unattractive thing to see, if not at least a visual distraction, and could subconsciously prejudice a job seeker’s chances of landing a job. We are after all a very shallow society that worships beauty to somewhat unreasonable standards.

I make this point because I’m often reminded of a 2007 news story I read in the Toronto Star. It’s about a man who could not afford dental care because he’s poor. As a result, he lost nearly all of his teeth and in turn could not find work because it affected his appearance. The reason why this story stuck with me for so long was because I do have a great deal of knowledge about the human body — in fact I once wanted to be a doctor — and found it odd that medical treatment for an illness was only covered by Ontario for as long as it did not happen in your mouth. So. Stupid.

After reading this story, I talked to my (former) dentist about it, and suggested that maybe OHIP should cover dental care. She responded, rather tersely, the day that dentists have to deal with OHIP is the day she relocates to America. Seriously.

Why would she have this dislike of publicly funded dental care? Is it because she can’t set her own prices when working under OHIP? Is it because OHIP — being a government run body — is a bureaucratic mess to deal with?

Whatever the reason, dental care is STILL extremely important for the working poor, not only as a sound foundation of good health but also for personal happiness and boosting self-confidence.

Thanks for reading!

David.

P.S. For those of you who didn’t bother reading the story — that’s okay, it’s somewhat depressing — it does end with a happy ending. Toronto Star readers were moved by this story and generously donated enough money to give the fellow a new set of chompers.

Close To Home

An interesting point. Does the government have a responsibility in helping the homeless?

I came across this sign one day while walking home from the Kitchener Public Library. It reminded me of a post I made a while back about whose job it is to help people get employed.

Using the same logic in that post, there are two camps on the subject of housing. 

The first is that housing is the individual’s responsibility. If anyone wants to keep a roof over his or her head, find a job (or keep the one you have), and stick to priorities in the budget. That’s such a simplistic viewpoint, not to mention totally unrealistic.

Owning a home requires not one but two incomes. The cost of a home — a basic necessity — is now higher than items classified as a luxury. These include lamborghinis and world cruises. 

The option to rent an apartment as an affordable alternative is also a thing of the past. For example, an average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2,620. It’s no better in smaller urban areas either. In Kitchener, Ontario it’s $1,320. Choosing a one-bedroom apartment in place of a two bedroom one offers some relief, but it’s still no different from paying a monthly mortgage.

The instability of today’s economic climate has a direct impact on employment stability. Companies have become more aggressive at expense management through labour cost cutting and relocation, even when the government of the day has given corporate welfare as a condition not to do either in the first place.

On the other side of the coin is the argument that housing is a human right, of which I agree with. We’ve come a long way since the wooden hut: modern homes have running water, sanitation, electricity, home heating and even Internet hotspots, but like the hut, it still provides a basic need as protection from the elements. An individual cannot survive without a roof over his or her head and a bed to sleep in. That’s an irrefutable fact.

Where I begin to split ranks is when activists start chanting for even more taxes on the well-to-do to pay for affordable housing. Yes, housing is important but there has to be a better way than more taxes. We’re already paying a lot of taxes: can anyone honestly say we’re getting a good ROI based on the services we’re receiving lately? What guarantee do we have that these new taxes will go into housing based on the past track record of government transparency?

The angle I would approach in this discussion is that people who do not have a home simply do not disappear into the streets. According to the policy brief from the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) and Housing First in Canada :

Homelessness is a significant social problem in Canada, with recent estimates putting the total number of people who experience homelessness on a given night at over 35,000 (Gaetz, Dej, Richter, & Redman, 2016). In Canada (Aubry et al., 2013), as in the U.S. (Culhane et al., 2007; Kuhn & Culhane, 2008), research has identified different sub-types of single adults experiencing homelessness. Single adults experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness constitute 15-20% of the homeless population and they account for the majority of shelter use. Furthermore, many have complex needs involving serious mental illness and addictions. In contrast, those who are temporarily homeless, typically have only one shelter stay and are able to quickly obtain housing either on their own or with short-term support.

That’s a sizeable chunk of the population that needs to find refuge from the elements. When shelters are packed and have to turn away these people, the coffee shops, libraries, shopping malls, hospitals, and other places not designed to house people become the next destination and this is where the problems begin. Employees are forced to become social workers and the general population is made uncomfortable with the sight of people lugging in what belongings they can carry and sleeping in the chairs if not on the floor. Sometimes the police have to get involved when those suffering from mental illness become disruptive.

Sleeping in places not meant for residential living has long term health consequences as well. Lack of REM sleep, not being able to lie down on a supportive mattress, and not getting the recommended number of hours of sleep have both a negative physiological and a psychological impact.

It is for this reason why finding a place for those less fortunate is a worthy investment for the government to make. The transformation of individuals from a state of negative return to one of positive return (as in gainfully working and stabilized) leads to less disruptions in everyday living, reduced costs in law enforcement, social programs, and medical care, an increase in government revenue to pay for services we take for granted, and improved safety for the more vulnerable members of society.

Since the purpose of government is to protect its citizenship, provide social order, and maintain essential services, dealing with homelessness would certainly be on its collective to-do list.

The sign could serve as a reminder to put that issue at the very top of that list.

Thanks for reading!

David.

A Defias Of Our Own Making.

Defera Speech
A screenshot of a cutscene from “World Of Warcraft”, where a mysterious figure from the Defias Brotherhood exhorts the homeless to revolt against the King of Stormwind, blaming him for the situation they live in. Thanks to player “Vahallae” for letting me use this screenshot.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE.

“It’s time for a revolution. Anyone earning 150K? Kill’m all!”

This was an excerpt from a conversation I had with someone in the Kitchener Public Library. The topic of the conversation was about GM closing a series of plants after being given government money to remain in operation and keep the workers employed.

If you feel this remark is extreme, I agree with you. We live in a civilized society and while it’s true we have several levels of government that have grown out of touch with the voters, we’re not living in a dictatorship, not even a benign one. There’s no need to have a bloody revolution.

Such a revolution will replace one problem with a more serious one: replacing politicians who sleep in the back pockets of corporations with warlords and gangs who believe might is right and the weak must perish.

Unfortunately, this is a comment I’ve heard repeatedly spoken by the homeless and the working poor, in varying degrees of bile. It’s also why that particular remark reminded me of a questline in World Of Warcraft, a game I used to play many years ago when times were better and my income was more stable.

SPOILER ALERT. REVEAL OF A QUEST STORYLINE AHEAD.

The questline involved a player having to investigate a murder in an area known as Westfall. This area was once very prosperous but after repeated wars has now become poverty stricken, full of homeless people and the working poor.

Operating within the boundaries of Westfall is an organization known as the Defias Brotherhood, a group formed after engineers and artists were not paid for restoring the Kingdom of Stormwind, after damage taken from their First War with another faction known as the Horde.

Defias exists as a hostile counterforce to what is regarded as exploitation of the socially vulnerable . They incite violence against the law, rally the poor and the homeless (as shown in this screenshot) against the ruling government of the day, and strike at caravans of trade and commerce.

If all of this is a little hard to understand — especially if you haven’t played World Of Warcraft like I used to — what basically happened was a group of lower-class working stiffs were not paid by the government of the day for work done in good faith, and a violent anti-establishment group (Defias) was formed as a result.

If one were to look past the fantasy aspects of both the questline in specific and the MMO in general, such a outcome is quite plausible. In fact, most social activist groups, ranging from the relatively benign to the overtly malevolent, came into being to address an imbalance of wealth distribution. Their portrayal of corporations and levels of government as money grabbing thieves that make the lives of the working poor and the homeless harder might not be accurate, but when there is news about a car manufacturer that closes plants down after being granted corporate welfare by the government to stay operational, or where government funding is being taken out of social programs and given instead to increase the size of a police force —- well, you can begin to see why there would be discontent among the lower income brackets.

In addition to the above, you can also see why the more hardline elements would organize into groups of dissension not far removed from the fictional Defias Brotherhood in World Of Warcraft. All that is needed for this to happen is for enough people to get really pissed off about the government, and want something done yesterday.

The working poor and the homeless have been pissed off for a very long time. Something’s bound to give.

I’m not advocating violence to force government change: I think I made that point clear already. Nor am I white-knighting any social activist movement that breaks the law and risks public safety to help the more vulnerable members of society.

What I am saying is if you do not agree with my argument that helping the homeless and the working poor is a positive investment that ensures a good ROI for society, then take heed this warning instead as another point to consider: nature abhors a vacuum.

If governments will not do the right thing by helping out the less fortunate, then there will be those who will fill in that void of leadership —  but not with laws, not with compassion, not with civility. They will make right what is wrong, as their chant states, “by any means necessary”.

Such a directive will not only fail to bring help to those less fortunate, but it will further destabilize the stability of social order we’ve come to take for granted. The last thing we need is a Defias of our own making to covet the reins of power over our lives.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Untitled (No, that’s actually the title of the post)

A short post today, about some examples I’ve found during today’s job search of what downsizing and rightsizing has done to the workplace. When I was growing up, a dishwasher meant washing dishes and a cashier meant handling cash. That’s all.

Dishwashers do not prepare food and cashiers certainly are not responsible for tasks that involve security or heavy lifting.

Job titles and descriptions mean nothing in this Age of Austerity and the Jobless Recovery.

Enjoy, or perhaps not.

Heavy Lifting For A Cashier

Dishwasher No More

 

 

$y$tem Error

Screenshot_20180911-085959
No shit, Sherlock…..but what was the problem? From my Tim Horton’s app I use to order coffee and spare myself from the purgatory that is a lineup.

One significant change that occured after the Great Recession of 2008-09 was the reduction of labour. You see it most often at a coffee shop or grocery store: the long single lineup that coils around the establishment interior, bracketed on either side by empty cash registers once staffed by employees that were happy to serve you.

Maybe I’m being facetious with the happy part.

10 years later, one would think in this so-called “recovery” that Corporate Canada would start hiring back more staff. After all, happy days are here again, right?

Wrong. There is a reason why I often refer to this recovery as a “jobless recovery”.

Corporate Canada has instead opted to offer apps and self-serve kiosks to deal with the backlog. They argue that such services are necessary with a rising minimum wage rate and the ease of forming unions. Customers want convenience, they continue. A machine can process a transaction faster than a human.

We’re paying for this convenience in the form of price hikes to cover the cost of implementing these things, in case any of you out there missed it.

As a former I.T, professional of 20 years, I can tell you with a lot of experience such systems may be convenient, but they are also highly fallible. I’ve been asked on many occasions at one job to track down a missing EDI order, and report what happened to that order to the EDI administrator so he can fix the trading partner glitch. It’s also why I.T. goes through a very detailed audit every year, usually for a duration of up to two weeks.

I’m also not a Luddite. I have a tablet with a Tim Horton’s app to bypass the long lineups I’ve mentioned at the start of this post, but it’s no solution.

For one thing, the damn thing doesn’t always work.

One time I ordered a coffee and orange juice on that app, and I kept getting the message you see in the post graphic. It wasn’t telling me exactly what the problem was, just that “helpful” message. Since I was not in the mood to wait in the Million Man March of a lineup, I decided to call on my past I.T. experience to diagnose the problem.

While musing, I remembered one time there was a Sears EDI order on a company system that could not be completed (inventory pulled, accounts updated, shipping notice and print documentation sent). One line item in the order used stock not stored on the system but manually tracked elsewhere, commonly used for items that were not regularly sold but as a speciality order. You have to enter a “dummy” record as a placeholder in the inventory file but not enter the particulars like quantity, price, logistics handler, etc. That record was missing so I ran a query statement to insert the dummy. The order was completed and the goods were shipped.

Based on that memory, I removed the orange juice from my app order and the app sent my order without a hitch. After I arrived at Tim Horton’s to pick up my coffee, I mentioned to an employee there the problem with my order and how removing the orange juice fixed it.  The employee replied, rather sheepishly, that message will come up when they’re out of an item.

That message really needs to be re-written. “Sorry, out of stock!” will suffice.

Last Saturday I went to Sobey’s to pick up a carton of milk and a bottle of orange juice. After seeing the single long lineup at the express checkout (with other cashiers telling me they don’t take checkouts of under 12 items), I went to the self-serve kiosk. I scanned the milk, which showed the correct name and price, then placed it in the open plastic bag offered at the side of the unit. The machine squawked, “Foreign item in bag, please check”. I looked back at the screen that showed the information about the milk, then peered into the plastic bag containing my carton of milk.

Right, it’s in the database but the sensor scanning my bag denies its existence.

Since the single employee usually assigned to stand at the kiosks and jump in to rescue hapless customers like myself was not there, I took my milk and orange juice and returned to the long express line.

These are but a fraction of examples I and no doubt many of you have experienced dealing with this New World Order of customer service and satisfaction. In their mad dash to remain profitable, Corporate Canada has presented a flawed solution that not only lacks the pleasant aspects of dealing with people, but cannot be held accountable for the mistakes made.

After all, one cannot fire hardware or software, and such things are not designed to say they’re sorry.

Thanks for reading.

David.

 

In Vulnerable

What Is Wasteful Spending
Cuts do not necessarily translate into savings. Comic created on the Pixton comic making service.

The Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party win in Ontario has been trumpeted as a fresh new start for Ontarians by party supporters and lamented as a dark cold era by party critics.

By the time Ford was officially sworn in as Premier of Ontario, the mudslinging from both sides of the ideological spectrum had buried deep any chance of rational debate about the issues this province must deal with.

One of these issues is poverty. Ford has made it clear he plans to seek savings for the Ontarian people in the form of “efficiencies” that will help make things more affordable, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.

The problem is, the term “efficiencies” was often used during the Mike Harris “Common Sense” Revolution to mean government spending reduction in the form of cuts. This resulted in halving welfare payouts, downloading some services to the local level which in turn created a new generation of homelessness in major cities like Toronto, and left transit systems with a shortage of funding. It pitted urbanites against ruralites. It divided a once united province into two factions of “us” and “them” on every front imaginable.  It was a noisy time of protest, sometimes extremely violent.

In the end, the Common Sense Revolution did nothing for the everyday Ontarian. It certainly did a lot of harm to the most vulnerable members of society I spoke about earlier.

The path Premier Ford is about to take will fail for the same reason why the Common Sense Revolution failed. It’s a mistake to assume that finding money to cut — be it a CEO of Hydro and the board’s combined salaries, funding for social assistance programs, or investments in green energy programs — and giving it instead as a tax cut is going to make things better. It won’t.

If there are no programs to help the less fortunate find affordable housing, obtain gainful employment, find release from addiction, or pursue post-secondary education, having that extra $786 annually (a maximum) for those earning $42,960 and $85,923 per year won’t help. In fact, according to one economist, Doug Ford’s platform will benefit high income earners the most.

There’s a reason why the term “most vulnerable members of society” is applied to the poor and homeless. They feel the effects of sudden economic, socio-political, and environmental changes more than those who are more stable in terms of shelter and employment. When that happens, these same people remain stuck where they are no matter how hard they try to change their predicament.

Any cuts to programs in the name of efficiency-finding won’t put more money back into the hands of the everyday man. That money will instead shift to increased hospital , law enforcement, and sanitation costs that poverty invariably brings. In the long term, those costs will have to be paid for later. Most likely, it will be paid for by a tax increase enacted in the next government — just like what the Dalton McGuinty government did after the era of the Common Sense Revolution ended.

At the same time, having the poor and homeless in a state of unproductiveness robs both the provincial economy of consumer revenue and the government of tax revenue that could go back into services that benefit every Ontarian: transit, roads, electrical grid, health care, and so on.

Doug Ford is a successful businessman yet he has forgotten that sometimes you have to spend money in order to make money. Investment in social programs in the short term reduces the need for them in the long run.

Thanks for reading!

David.