Investing in People

Greed powers the American economy. The vast majority of employers are hellbent on grinding every single ounce of profit out of their employees. If someone gets crushed under the corporate wheel, so be it. Another body will come along soon enough. If it weren’t for unions, most of us would be working 80 hour weeks for subsistence wages.

That may seem like a good idea for your profit margin in the short term, and it may make your investors very happy, but if you’re playing the long game, grinding your staff down is the most idiotic thing that you could possibly do.

The reason you even have a business is because of the people who work for you. If you’re going to invest in anything at all, invest in your people, because without them, you are nothing. Nothing.

Rick Steves understands this. You might be familiar with him because of the PBS show Rick Steves Europe, but here in the Pacific Northwest, he’s an even bigger deal than that. His headquarters are in Edmonds, Washington, and overall, he employs 100 people. (You may have also read my other post about him, which highlights what how he invests in his community.)

According to this article/video, Mr. Steves has made no profit whatsoever this year. As you might imagine, the travel industry isn’t the place to be in the COVID era. He had 20,000 tours booked, and he had to fully refund every single one of them. His office is currently closed.

But he understands the value of his professionals. He wants to keep them around. He could have laid them all off and saved a fortune on the front end, but many of them probably wouldn’t have been able to come back, and the money he would have had to spend on training, and the unknown factor of whether or not new staff would be a good fit would have cost him in the long run.

So Rick Steves is paying his employees to volunteer in their community. Some are working at food banks. Some are cleaning up park trails. Some are working at charitable thrift stores, or manning phone banks to get out the vote.

These people know they’re going to have a job to come back to. They are making a difference in the community. They are not going nuts with boredom, sitting on the couch and gaining weight. They will come back to the office feeling healthy, happy and confident. And I’m willing to bet they’ll be forever loyal to Rick Steves. There’s no better investment than that.

Granted, over the years this man has made a tiny bit a heck of a lot more money than I have. He can afford to be generous. Then again, compared to the bottom line of the greedy Jeff Bezos, he’s small potatoes. But in my estimation, he’s the better man by far.

Rick Steves, in Bruges, Belgium: He spends July and August north of the Alps. ( via Getty Images)

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Capitalism 101

Apologies in advance. I’m feeling a tad bitter today. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t think of this before, but the capitalist system, our system, can be easily explained as follows:

The main goal of this system is profit. The only way that corporations can make a profit is by making sure that the amount their employees are paid is less than the amount of wealth those same employees produce. That’s it, pure and simple. The profit comes from our sweat.

And it’s even better for them when those same employees spend those meager earnings on stuff, thus returning it to those same corporations. Do we really need the latest iPhones and 50 pairs of shoes? Why does fashion go out of style? Why does software become obsolete? Why is everything so disposable?

Now do you get why unions exist? Almost everything you see around you was created by some underpaid, underinsured, struggling shmuck who is just a cog in a corporate wheel. And why the hell did we elect a corporate mogul to lead this country, who is doing his level best to strip it of what few riches it has left?

It’s time to stop sniffing the glue, folks.

filthy lucre

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Working a Tropical Storm

We’ve had our fair share of natural disasters this year. But when you pair that with an increasing disregard for workers, you get a toxic combination. People are getting fired for having to mandatorily evacuate and therefore being unable to show up for work. People have been forced to work in extremely unsafe situations, leaving their families at times when they’re needed most. When human life stops being the most important factor, we have reached a new low.

What follows is a letter I was forced to write back in 2008, when I was a bridgetender in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Florida Department of Transportation put my life at risk. As per usual with them, I never got any response, and there seemed to be no consequences. I hope they are treating bridgetenders more fairly now, as these disasters increase in frequency. But I doubt it.


Hurricane season is once again upon us. As a bridgetender who had to work at Ortega River Bridge in the early morning hours of Friday, August 22nd during the very worst of Tropical Storm Fay, I feel compelled to give you some insight as to what that was like.

I had to drive to work in 50 mph winds, detouring around downed trees and power lines, and then walked up the bridge to the tenderhouse, getting drenched in the process, and nearly being blown into the street on more than one occasion, only to find out that the coast guard had closed the bridge to boat traffic. I was informed that FDOT was aware of this, but since your wind meter did not match the speeds registered by the one in the tenderhouse, you decided we had to work.

Every weather channel said that the winds were going to be at least 50 mph. Clearly the Coast Guard believed this and took boater safety very seriously. Apparently, we were only there to monitor the radio, but the only transmissions I heard all night were the many Coast Guard announcements that informed boaters of the bridge closings, because no boater in his right mind was out in that weather. No cars were out either, except for the bridgetender who was compelled to relieve me at the end of the shift.

During the entire length of my shift, surrounded by electrical equipment, I was forced to mop water down the hatch and bail as it literally poured in the doors, windows, and through the air conditioner. At one point the heavy traffic cones and life ring blew into the street and I had to wrestle them indoors. Not only should the traffic gates be secured in such weather, but also the traffic cones, life rings and convex mirror should be stowed indoors to avoid becoming projectiles. Apparently that was left up to me during the height of the storm.

When my bladder could no longer hold out, I was forced to venture outdoors and across the street to the bathroom in a downpour, and once again I was nearly blown off my feet. Had I been hurt, no one would have known for hours. Not once did anyone call to check on me.

In the meantime, the power was continually going off and on, which caused the generator to kick in as I watched transformers exploding on the horizon. I found out the next day that water spouts were spinning up on the river. The wind shook the building and the waves crested over the fenders.

When it was time to go home, I once again had to walk down the bridge, and the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was physically painful. Once again I was drenched as no rain coat in the world can stand up to those conditions, and by the time I detoured around even more downed trees and power lines to get home, my lips were blue from the cold and I had to stave off hypothermia by taking an extended hot bath. Thank God my electricity was not out or I would probably have been hospitalized.

The worst part about the whole experience, sir, was that I spent the entire shift afraid, and my family was afraid for me. And the whole time I kept thinking, “I haven’t had a raise in 5 years, and I have $5,000 in medical debt because of substandard health insurance. Must I risk my life, too?”

I can’t speak for other bridgetenders. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to climb the ladder at the Main Street Bridge under these conditions. I’m sure my life would have been flashing before my eyes.

I hope you will take this letter into consideration when making decisions in future storms. I hope I never have to have another experience like that as long as I live.


Tropical Storm Fay
Tropical Storm Fay. Would you have expected your employees to work in this?

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Working on Holidays

I love that more and more people are refusing to shop on the holidays in order to pressure companies to not force their staff to spend those days at work. And I love it when I hear of a company that chooses to do the right thing and close during those periods. I will always support organizations that support their employees.

But while you are enjoying your turkey today, please don’t forget that it’s not just the cashiers of this world who are forced to work on the holidays. As you read this, I’m most likely working all by myself on this, my favorite holiday, and feeling kind of lonely because of it. I’ll also be working on Christmas and New Year’s Day, just as I worked on Memorial Day and the 4th of July.

As a bridgetender, it kind of goes with the territory. Heaven forefend that the shipping lanes are not navigable for any reason. And I’m not alone. The ambulance drivers, nurses, policemen, cab drivers, 911 operators, security guards and airport personnel of this world are right here with me, keeping the gears of society turning.

So when you give thanks today, thank those of us who can’t sit at the table with you. And maybe bring us a plate. A little of everything, but hold the cranberries, please. I hate cranberries.


Thank a Roofer

My boyfriend is a roofer, and a harder worker you will never find. I watch him go out there, day after day, in blistering heat and inclement weather, and slowly destroy his body. He has broken his fingers, put nails through various body parts, fallen off roofs, and is constantly cut, bruised, scraped and battered. It’s truly a thankless job.

He also faces skyrocketing supply costs, crippling regulations, unreliable employees, overwhelming insurance costs, a bewildering gauntlet of varying permit requirements from one city to the next, unscrupulous competitors who are known to call OSHA just to slow roofers down or leave false negative reviews about the competition on line. He also spends a fortune in gas to give free quotes to people who then do not follow through. And yet occasionally he will help someone free of charge when he can see that they cannot afford some desperately needed work.

He also takes pride in doing a quality job, even if that means taking a little extra time to do it. When you get a roof from Chuck Guerra, Shinglemasters Roofing in Jacksonville, Florida, it will be a roof you can rely on.

People complain about the expense of getting a roof replaced, but when you lie in bed every night and the rain does not fall on you or destroy everything you own, remember that you have a roofer to thank.


And he’s good looking, too. How lucky am I?

Insanity from Above

I once worked in middle management in a bureaucracy. I wrote a memo to inform people that there was going to be a huge increase in something or other. The next morning my memo was sitting on my desk. Written across it in bold red letters was, “Please don’t use the word ‘huge’ in memos. It’s unprofessional.” That was from the big boss. Seriously? It that the best you can do? Was that battle important enough to “grade” me like I was in elementary school? I posted it on the wall beside my computer so I wouldn’t forget that “huge” was on the no fly list. Everyone who saw it thought the big boss was an idiot. And frankly, she was.

Micromanagement is the most common supervisory error you see in the workplace. If you can’t trust your employees to do their jobs, why are they in your employ? If you make it clear that you have a total lack of confidence in your subordinates’ ability to think independently and solve problems, you will demoralize them, and stunt any innovation that could potentially benefit your business.

Micromanagers also seem to overlook the fact that if their employees look good, then they will look good. Rather than spend all your time frantically attempting to snuff out the light of their positive development, allow them to shine and you will benefit from that glow. It might be scary, but you’ll find that when you don’t grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, you’ll still arrive at your destination and it will be a much more pleasant ride for all concerned.

And that’s my huge piece of advice for the day.


(Image credit

Why I Hate Shopping at Walmart

I do my level best to avoid Walmart at all times, but it’s insidious. It’s like a cancer upon the landscape. Sometimes you just can’t find what you’re looking for anywhere else. When that happens, I take a deep breath, try to center myself, and head to that debauched temple of crass consumerism to do penance.

My stomach starts to knot up just by entering the parking lot. Hundreds of cars driving slowly back and forth, baaaaack and forth, their drivers already entering the hypnotic zone, yet still ready to get into a fist fight if someone gets to that golden parking space that’s 129 yards from the front entrance instead of 133 yards, like the other 3 spaces they passed by.

As I walk toward the sliding doors that seem to suck you inside like a whale eating krill, I see dozens of people leaving, their carts heaped high with God knows what, plus the ubiquitous trio of screaming children. (I don’t know what aisle they go to to obtain these snotty little urchins, but for some reason that I’ve yet to discern, they seem to be quite popular amongst the dregs of society.)

As each cart-wielding consumer is shot out of the building like an overloaded cannon, in my mind I hear, “Cha CHING!” because Walmart seems to be some sort of automatic money making machine. If every person who leaves has spent 100 dollars, let’s say, that’s, well…a crap load of money. And a lot of these places are open 24 hours. You’d think they’d be able to afford to pay and treat their employees a little better.

But wait, I haven’t even gone inside yet. After running the gauntlet of Girl Scout cookie sales, American Cancer Society fundraisers, and please-will-you-sign-my-petition people, you enter what I like to call the Holy Nave. It’s that little alcove where you get your carts, and nearly get run over by people who are desperately trying to free themselves from the trauma they’ve just experienced.

One time, I swear to you, I walked in and there was a girl shaving her legs in the Nave! Carts were swerving all around her, but no one seemed to be reacting other than that. I was stunned. I don’t know what it is about this place that makes people behave as if they are in their own homes. People have been caught sleeping in Walmart. There are entire web pages dedicated to crazy things people have seen and done (or want to do) at Walmart. One woman was somehow cooking up drugs, and had been doing it all day long before she was caught. I have no idea how THAT had been overlooked, but there you have it.

So, you get past the Nave, and you are assaulted from every angle by mounds and mounds of…stuff. Things you don’t need, never wanted, can’t even imagine a use for. But there they are. Buy me! Buy me! No! Buy ME! And then there’s the mass of people swarming over these mounds like termites on a mission. I try not to look in people’s carts, because it just pisses me off. People who are clearly not financially well off, piling up their carts with useless crap, everything from swimming pool noodles to crunchy onion sticks, being active participants in their own down-troddenness. (That’s a word I didn’t even know existed before today, but it’s apropos.)

I try to get the one thing I came for and get out as quickly as possible, but first I have to detour around the people having their family reunion in the center aisle, avoid the one acquaintance that I was hoping not to see, and then come to a grinding halt in the bottleneck that is known as the check out lane.  It’s always about two miles long, and each lane seems to have either a wailing child or a fighting couple, or most likely a couple fighting because their child is wailing. I close my eyes and try to meditate, but I can feel my life force starting to be sucked out of me.

I finally deal with the long-suffering cashier and am grousing in my mind over the fact that I’ve forgotten my environmentally friendly grocery bags yet again, and God forbid Walmart offers you any option other than plastic bags because they’re just that powerful. Now everything seems to be a blur. I just have my eye on the exit.

As I drive away I wonder what type of ritual cleansing I can do to remove the spiritual stink of this experience from my very soul until the next time I am forced to do penance.