Posts Tagged ‘Employment’

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Getting Fired for Medical Marijuana Use: Why Should Employers Drug Test At All?

09.15.10

Many people are affected by the drug war.  Just take a look at our southern border.

But those aren’t the only ones.

While the states work the whole federalism angle on the legality of marijuana use, there’s bound to be some snags.  And in the case of some people, it’s costing them their jobs.

Glenn Greenwald:

In some cases, workers have been fired for failing drug tests despite having prescriptions saying, in effect, that what they are doing is legal according to the laws of their states.

Here’s the thing: for an employer, you want your employees to be efficient, dependable, and hard-working. If an employee can accomplish all of this while smoking weed — legally prescribed or not — then what’s the issue? If he’s a total wastoid (yeah, wastoid, I said it, bringing it back along with high-tops and snap braclets), then his piss-poor performance should be enough to warrant disciplinary action, regardless of its cause.

Now, I do understand that there are HR costs involved with the hiring of a new employee so companies will want to best determine whether or not this applicant will be a quality addition to their team before they hire him — but, why test current employees?  You already hired them! They already passed your rigorous interview process (so, if they’re sucking at work then you might want to look into revamping your HR department, not firing your employee cause he takes a few puffs to ease his anxiety).  They’re doing their jobs competently, otherwise you could just drag them onto the carpet for their poor job review and cut the dead weight that way.   It’s pointless.

The problem with drug testing is that – NEWS FLASH!!!not all wastes-of-office-space take drugs and not all druggies are inept at work, despite what our current drug war culture would like you to believe. (Total mindblow, I know.)  It’s the whole “well, some pot smokers are lazy and don’t get anything done at work so we’re going to punish them all regardless of their individual aptitude” way of using a gravity bong when a simple one-hitter would suffice.

But since companies fancy themselves as some sort of moral authority now, why stop at drug testing?

  • Why not require me to bring in my hard drive so they can scan it for pirated software and music?
  • Why not scour my glove box to make sure that I indeed have proof of car insurance?
  • Why not stop by my apartment to make sure I’m not illegally leeching some wireless Internet from my neighbors?

I mean, all of those morally questionable practices could affect my job performance, believe you me. Without loads of music to fill my iPod, I’ll go insane at my desk and take my co-workers with me, kicking and screaming. Without car insurance, I could get into an accident, not be able to get a new car, be stuck taking public transport, and consistently arriving late to work irritable and making everyone around my desk miserable as a result.

And without the Internet at home… well, let’s just not imagine that dark, dark world, okay? I just had a glimpse into that lifeless hell when WordPress glitched up, forcing me to re-write this blog, nearly leading me into a total meltdown at my desk — a complete over-reaction, sure, but I almost went social (the post-modern version of going postal).

But, hey. At least I’m not smoking medical herb for my migraines, right?

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Our Current American Political Climate: Why is Government a Four-Letter Word?

09.14.10

Why do people imagine government workers are lazy, overpaid, and unproductive drains on society?  And what positions are people imagining to personify all government workers?

Based on my own notions, I figure most people are thinking about one of two people: postal service employees, and overstaffed, nondescript office personnel in DC.

But, how many Americans employed by the government fit into these roles?

Let’s crunch some numbers:

Number of postal workers587,768 (2009)

Number of federal financial administration* employees: 107,221 (2009)

Number of full-time federal employees: 2,518,101 (2009)

(I picked “financial administration” because that seemed generic enough for the sake of this humble blog, which doesn’t claim to be an expert on these matters, simply a rough estimate for the sake of argument.)

Whipping out my abacus, it looks like those who represent the average “government worker” in the mind’s eye of many Americans account for less than 28 percent of those employed by the government.

Not remotely close to being the majority, it’s hard to argue that these people should be the face of the amorphous being that is the government worker, an arguably pointless term anyway.  If you work for a private company, are you a private worker?  Are you a free market employee?  Does that even come remotely close to defining your job, your title, your business?  Of course not.  So, why should we lump all government workers under the gigantic umbrella that is called “government.”

The truth is that government workers are health care professionals, road workers, police officers, park rangers, librarians, lawyers, judges, correctional facility officers, FBI agents, scientists, teachers, and soldiers. Just to name a few.

Are teachers overpaid?  Are our troops?  Are our doctors lazy and unproductive?  How about our lawyers or librarians?

Absolutely there are individuals who are lazy, unproductive, and overpaid, just as there are in any industry, in any office, in any company.  But, to generalize all of the vastly different positions that fall within the realm of the government as such is simply unfocused anger and resentment without any depth of thought given to the argument.

And why so much animosity toward people who work for the government?  Especially during these times of economic woe, if the government is hiring and it means that people will be working rather than collecting unemployment during the recession, how is that bad?  And before you get all Ayn Rand on me, I get that it’s better for a free market to have more able bodies employed by the private sector, but it’s not as if simply working for the government means that you’re part of the government anymore than an average Wal-Mart employee should be blamed for the inequalities and questionable practices by Sam Walton’s progeny or the workers at Barnes and Noble should catch hell for the company not adjusting their business model to succeed in the 21st century.

When government has become a four-letter word in our current political times, it’s important to stop a minute and really think about what government means and how complex of an institution it is before making snap judgments about the people who call the state their boss.  It is valuable to be critical of governmental spending, but better to do so on a case-by-case basis rather than these broad generalizations that miss the reality of the situation.

America was founded on limited government, not no government at all.  And those who work for the state are Americans, too, trying to make ends meet, and possibly even performing tasks and duties that help you and our country as a whole.

Photo courtesy of ekonon’s Flickr Photostream.

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Unemployed for Over a Year: A Light at the End of the Tunnel?

07.06.10

My mom has been unemployed for over a year.

In that span, she has applied to hundreds of jobs — some she’s possibly qualified for; most others that she was beyond qualified for even a decade ago.  From those countless applications and resumes sent out to all those different hiring managers, she has only had six interviews.  And of those six, only three weren’t total jokes — what 50-something can afford to live on 12 bucks an hour?

She’s run the gamut of emotions.  Originally, she felt shame.  She avoided the topic when it came up in conversation with friends, offered up other excuses, anything she could to dull the humiliation of having to say that she didn’t have a job, that she couldn’t find a job, that she couldn’t even get an interview.  She felt unemployable.

Then the realization hit that she wasn’t the only one.  Many others were in the same boat as her.  While that helped ease the shame, it didn’t help the feelings anger or frustration, or helplessness.  The worst coming last winter when she was contacted by a recruiter for a coveted position in metro Detroit that promised a high salary, benefits, and other perks.

The preparation was intense.  It started off with regional phone calls and hours of studying for interviews, which she aced.  And then it was on to the big round, down in Detroit, where dozens of others were all going to try to win the precious few regional positions they had available in the state.  She spent hours studying material, doing mock interviews to prepare for anything that the hiring manager would throw at her.  She knew exact dates and times for all of her major accomplishments as well as her struggles and what she had done to overcome them throughout the past ten years of her job, and she was ready with specific work-related events and projects that she had done that would answer any and all of the possible questions they could throw at her.

By the time she drove the two hours down a few weeks later, she was ready.

And then came the interview.  She got stuck with one of the last interviews of the day, which didn’t bode well — after eight hours of interviewing, even the most seasoned interviewer would be tired and drained.  But she wasn’t deterred.  She sat down in front of the unsmiling man, ready for anything.  She had done her part, and expected him to do his.

“Okay, how about you walk me through your resume, starting with high school,” he said.

That just wasn’t what she had had in mind.  For all of her preparation, all her hard work, the manager simply wanted her to walk him through her resume, which he had no doubt had in his possession for weeks prior.  She abided, hoping that it would give way to some juicy interaction, but nothing ever did.  That was it.  They brought her in to just read through her resume, a well-prepared guide to be sure, but only meant as the Cliff’s Notes of her professional career to entice someone to bring you in for an interview to get to know the human being behind the collection of jobs on a piece of thick paper.

It was over before it even began.  They had no intention of ever hiring her, yet put her through the ringer as if she had a chance.  And it was months before she got another interview anywhere.

After that came the feeling of acceptance.  It wasn’t a lack of skills or experience.  It was just the state of everything right now.  Being in Michigan with its highest unemployment rate in the nation sure didn’t help things.  Neither did being over 50 years old battling with all of the recent graduates just entering the job market and asking for much lower wages than she.  Deciding that she might as well enjoy the time off – all the while continuing to search and send out resume after resume after resume – she picked up yoga, read more books for pleasure (which she rarely had had time for in the recent past), and finally found some relief for her excruciating and debilitating migraines that only got worse from the stress — being unemployed allowed her to check into an in-patient headache facility where they were able to get her pain under control and much more manageable, making her even more primed for getting back into the workforce.

Perhaps all of this contributed to the events of this week.  After having barely more interviews in one year than fingers on your hand, she’s now had nearly as many scheduled in the month of July.  She’s excited – for one in particular – but she’s trying to keep her expectations tempered.  It’s an optimistic trend, though, no matter how you look at it.  To go 12 months with nary an acknowledgment of applying for a job to actually getting called in for a face-to-face is quite the step in the right direction.

I’m feeling optimistic for her: based on what she’s told me, these job opportunities have legs.  They’re not piddly $25,000 a year jobs that don’t even bother utilizing her strengths and expertise.  They’re well-paying, solid positions for companies with room to grow.  After over a year of looking and hoping, and now with the unemployment extension being blocked in Congress, this turn of events couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

And I hope that this also bodes well for the American economy in general.  Too much of the news I hear and read is about deficits, balancing the budget, unemployment benefits, the way the stock market reacts to the European markets.  While all of those are important, they divert us to the big picture, the intangible, the ethereal.  Most of us can’t comprehend what owing trillions of dollars really means for anyone, let alone the federal government.  When money is simply a promissory note with a stamp of approval from the federal government declaring that this piece of paper is, in fact, money, how do the rules even apply to the entity that itself decides what is and is not money?

We’ve been going into debt for ten years, paying for these two wars on credit, and now it’s a huge problem that needs fixing immediately, without regard for those who are currently unemployed, scraping by, trying to make ends meet.  Now it’s vital to fix at this very instant.  Now it’s a matter of our grandchildren dealing with… what we’re dealing with now?  I don’t even know.  And whose grandchildren?  Mine?  I’m 28.  I don’t even have kids yet, but assuming that I did, I won’t have grandchildren who will even know how to pronounce the words “budget” or “economy” for another 30-plus years, at least.  Who knows what will be going on then?  Who knows what wars we will or won’t be fighting?  Who knows what the Euro will be doing or how strong the Zone will be at that point?

The news talks about falling unemployment rates, but says that’s actually a bad thing because that means that people are just giving up.  It’s not that they’ve actually found work, they’re just no longer collecting benefits from the state anymore; they’ve lost hope that they’ll find a job anytime soon.  They’ve stopped looking for work because there’s no work to be found.

Others who have jobs aren’t in much better positions: they’re finding that the only way they can keep their jobs is to take a 40 percent drop in salary and loss of all benefits just to stay employed.  But that’s not really working, is it?  You can’t buy a house on $12 an hour, not even here in Michigan.  You can’t build a savings.  You can’t invest.  You can’t pay for your children’s or grandchildren’s college tuition.

Some industries will never recover from this recession.  And what that really means is that the skills and training that many people have spent their whole lives honing may never again be profitable or marketable.  And that’s the real casualty of this entire mess, for which there’s no real remedy.

But, while the news is understandably bleak, there are pockets of hope if you skip over the broad strokes that make the airwaves and delve into the lives of those who are experiencing it right now.  I hope my mom gets one of these jobs.  I know she’ll flourish and succeed out of the gate.  She’s resilient and courageous.  And when she does finally join the workforce again, I hope that means that many others are also joining the ranks of the employed.  I hope it’s a sign.

Things have to get better eventually.  Might as well be now.

Photo by Ryan Mason.  Midland, MI, 2010.

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The Senate Immigration Reform and My Case for Humanities and the Arts

04.30.10

Apparently amid all of this Arizona immigration law controversy, Senate Democrats in Washington have actually released an immigration reform plan.  It seems extraordinarily unlikely that this will go anywhere in 2010 since this is an election year and nothing is more polarizing than tackling immigration.  (Except maybe health care reform.)

You can download the REPAIR (Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform) proposal here.  (I wonder how long it took them to come up with that acronym and I wonder how excited they were when they finally made it work.)

I haven’t had a chance to study this 26-page document but I stumbled upon this excerpt that caught my eye, which shot me off into a completely different topic entirely but one still worth talking about:

This proposal will reform America’s high-skilled immigration system to permanently attract the world’s best and brightest while preventing the loss of American jobs to temporary foreign labor contractors. At the moment, high-skilled workers are prevented from emigrating to the Unites States due to restrictive caps on their entry. In order to accomplish this goal, a green card will be immediately available to foreign students with an advanced degree from a United States institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and who possess an offer of employment from a United States employer in a field related to their degree. Foreign students will be permitted to enter the United States with immigrant intent if they are a bona fide student so long as they pursue a full course of study at an institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. To address the fact that workers from some countries face unreasonably long backlogs that have no responsiveness to America’s economic needs, this proposal eliminates the per-country employment immigration caps.

My emphasis.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the real-world necessity of having the best and brightest minds in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics here in the States working for American companies.  Our ability to compete with China, Russia, and India depends on it.  But, I have to say that the total lack of respect and throwaway mentality that is associated with the arts is appalling and depressing.

Upon telling inquirers that I was studying film in college, I couldn’t count how many times they would respond disdainfully with: “Well, what are you gonna do with that?”  As if learning about dozens of cultures all over the world through over one hundred years of celluloid art was a preposterous waste of time, money, and energy.  The change from excitedly curious to holier-than-thou tones in their voice still hasn’t escaped me to this day.  And I know that I still feel slightly ashamed that I haven’t become a successful filmmaker only because it would truly spite those people and their ignorant disapproval — and another part of me is slightly ashamed to admit that.

I have to think that our society wouldn’t be dealing with some of our current woes were we not so dismissive of the studies of humanities and the arts.  We need English majors.  We need Philosophy majors.  We need Sociology majors.  We need Fine Arts majors.  We need Comparative Literature majors.  We need History majors.  We need Psychology majors.  We need Photography majors.  These studies matter.  These studies provide value.

Perhaps they’re not the sexiest of degrees, nor do they promise immediate paydays upon graduation.  Admittedly, many of them don’t even guarantee employment in their respective fields once those students enter the workforce.  But what these studies and those who study them provide to our society and culture can be measured in countless other ways.  Not everything worthwhile in this world can be calculated by how much you bring home each paycheck.

If everyone became an engineer, who would actually assemble the product?  Who would interview the designers for the newspaper article that brings them attention and acclaim?  Who would film the inaugural release of that innovative creation, showing the whole world their success?  Who would turn that amazing story into a bestselling book and subsequently (less) amazing movie?  Who then would catalog these historical documents and relics so that this feat can be remembered forever?

(H/T The Daily Dish)
Photo courtesy of MLibrary

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Stop Sending Them to Prison

02.19.09

Law Professor John Pfaff explains how the American prison system should be reformed.

We need to stop admitting many minor offenders, even if they’re serving only short sentences. We need to focus less on high-profile drug statutes and more on the ways small-fry drug convictions cause later crimes to result in longer sentences. Once we start admitting fewer people to prison, we should shift money from prisons to police.

Pfaff has some good ideas and, being a student of law, probably has a more educated and informed take than I do on how to fix the current situation.  But, I feel that he misses a huge issue:

The fact that if you have a felony on your record you’re immediately disqualified for countless jobs.

Whatever happened to the idea of prison being a rehabilitation center?  Or, at the very least, an adult-style “time-out” where you serve your punishment behind bars and, when you re-enter society, you’ve finished paying your debt to society?  To deny someone employment because of a previous infraction for which they’ve already paid basically means that the punishment never ends.  No wonder felons stick to a life of crime.

We need more than just not imprisoning small-time crooks.  We need to allow for some infractions to be dismissed after the punishment has been appropriately served.