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How I Came To Be Unemployed

May 1, 2010

I found myself very unexpectedly unemployed three weeks ago.  I had the virtue of optimism, of naivete, of believing that I would not succumb to the viciousness of office politics. How wrong I was.

Until just recently, I was a call scheduler for an interpretation company in Portland, Oregon. I managed all of the European Languages (except for Spanish). This included over 30 languages (34 to be precise) and over 70 interpreters (that number could not be precise because we kept, ahem, “losing” interpreters). I liked to think that I was good at my job. Admittedly, I loathed going to work because I have never been in a more mismanaged office. My manager resorted to scare tactics, public humiliation, and passing the blame in order to keep our call center in line. Not only that, but punishment was inconsistent and meted out with a clear favoritism. Of course, this favoritism was always a ruse. When one co-worker left for another job, she expressed a “dissatisfaction” with the company’s conduct in her exit interview. My manager jokingly threatened to report her husband to the state for his dubious status as a legal resident. The result was a screaming match. Another co-worker, a supposed favorite, was the subject of an e-mail to the owner in which my manager faulted my co-worker for getting all of her sick days off, paid because she went to “an Indian clinic where they hand out sick notes like pancakes.” (Actual quote!)

So yeah. Fun place to work.

But, I kept my head down, I didn’t draw attention to myself, I worked at filling appointments, establishing rapports with interpreters, and basically passing my time. Ah, but life was not content with that. Another co-worker, lets call him Jay, left to start a rival company. You see, the didn’t make us sign non-compete agreements, so if someone were to start a company, they could steal as much of the information they wanted from the company if they were an employee. Well, my friend Jay did just that. He left under the pretense of working at his girlfriend’s parent’s restaurant (he does want to own a bar one day, it made sense), but in fact he started a rival business.

Ultimately, my bosses found out because interpreters don’t know how to keep their mouths shut. Cultural differences, understand. They retaliated by prank calling Jay’s company several times. Classy guys. A month went by with little to no retaliation. During that time, a group of us at the office would meet with Jay for lunch and after work for drinks. We wanted to stay friendly. We complained about work, the usual things, and some people passed information — phone numbers, business practices, people to call, contract details — some very sensitive stuff. I always made it clear that Jay would have to do his own digging, I wouldn’t be giving him anything. And I never did, despite repeated phone calls.

In the first full week of April, my co-worker Wayne was called into the meeting room after the end of his shift. There was some other work drama regarding a co-worker we all despised, let’s call her Sara Lee. Sara Lee had worked at the company for four years. She was old hat. She had worked there for so long she had a repeatitive stress injury in her right hand that eventually pulled back into her body like a T-rex arm. She had a soft voice and we didn’t think much of her. However, she was also a troublemaker. She never met our daily quota, people complained about her phone etiquitte, but Sara Lee always had excuses. Right after I started, there was a shuffle between the on-site appointments and the telephonic phone calls. Sara Lee now had to do slightly more demanding work of filling appointments. She grew to hate it and began having “technical problems.” We slowly discovered that she was sabotaging her work station. She would drop calls on purpose,  and reject calls we sent to her (more often than not, people she called, calling back). Her most brazen act was to call the Northern Medical Office, not say anything when they picked up the phone and still hang on the line when they hung up. At that office, the line would continue to exist as if you were still on the call. This location was known for some very long hold times, so she would sit on fake hold for 10 minutes, not taking any calls. When someone important walked by, she would being faking a conversation. That’s right, talking to dead air.

Anyway, we found out about it,  started chatting amongst ourselves. She was moved to another station to stop the “technical problems” plaguing her computer, found the chat logs, printed them out and went to the boss. They met with one part of the conversation, slapped him on the wrist, and did nothing else.

How this relates: the other part of the conversation was my best friend at work, Wayne. Wayne has a law degree. He was past 30, he had better things to do. He was too smart for the call center and working there made him a bitter, but very funny, man.  So, Thursday afternoon, Wayne is waiting for his class to start, and gets pulled into the conference room by the owner. He assumes its aboutt his drama with Sara Lee (he’s been stirring the shit on other problems as well).  He starts talking about that, but the owner has no clue what he’s talking about. He asks about Jay’s company. Wayne tells him nothing out of sheer contempt. He’s not intimidated by anyone, least of all the owner of a company he hates, employing him to do a job he loathes, and is now trying to threaten him with a job Wayne would leave as soon as possible. Right after Wayne, another guy (lets call him Luke), a recruiter for the company who’s been passing most of the information to Jay gets called in. I’m done with work, Wayne and I go drinking. Luke joins us, a little shaken, but with his job intact.

The next day, both Sara Lee and Wayne are let go due to “restructuring” within the department. I was the last person hired at my paygrade ($11.00 an hour baby!), and all the other employees had been hired at $9.00 an hour. Now, they were talking about hiring mostly part time people, so that they didn’t have to pay benefits (which, let me tell you, can get expensive).  Under this banner, they got rid of two troublemakers. In reality, they were retaliating against Jay’s company firing one possible mole, and getting rid of problem employee with the same fell swoop. I felt bad, but I went to my friend Madeline’s wedding and had a good time.

Monday morning, I walked into the office and was stopped at the front desk. I was told by the receptionist that there was something going on in the call center. I assumed someone had finally snapped and was being talked down, or that they wanted to talk to me about Jay’s company. Instead, my Boss and a witness show up and let me know that I am without a job. I ask if it’s performance based, the Boss states that she is “killing the call center.” She is starting “from the ground up,” getting rid of full time employees, paid my particular wage. I pick up my last check and am now unemployed.

After some discussion with others, we settle on the fact that I am collataral damage. Wayne and I were fired as a message to Luke (who was worth far more to the company): “Shape up, or your next.” Since then, two other employees have left, rather competent ones too.

So, for the past three weeks I’ve been unemployed. Now, I try to find another job.

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