Sunday, April 24

Dead Peasant LLC!

There are many many ways to run a business.

Most people would argue that the best businesses are those that show the most profit, however I think the best businesses are those that can simultaneously be profitable and enrich the values of their customers and employees lives. There are some companies that do this, companies that rather than have management take an authoritarian and dictactorial stance, realize that some of the most knowledgeable people available for making strong and innovative business decisions are the people out their doing the work. The grunts. Companies that really do take to heart and mind the concept that the "customer is always right'. And then there are some other kinds of companies...

While listening to Ring of Fire, the radio show hosted by Robert Kennedy Jr., I discovered that some companies have decided that their employees are worth more dead than alive. In Texas, Walmart has apparently begun a practice of secretly taking out life insurance policies on it's employees who work in high risk areas. Rather than provide them with protection, bullet resistant glass, additional employees when someone is working alone. or security cameras - companies such as Stop N Go (who who also adopted the practice) have decided that from a cost benefit analysis, they're better off letting that employee remain in harms way and instead put their money into an insurance premium with the company being the beneficiary -- as if the loss of that employee is the same thing as losing a peice of property like a lamp or broken window. It's as if we've returned to the age of serfdom, where worker/peasants were as disposable as any other type of equipment used by the company.

Could you imagine if a Police or Fire Dept took the same strategy? We won't give the officers any vests or guns with bullets or we won't actually put any water in the hoses - but we'll be sure to recoup two or three years worth of the their salary after we send them into the worst neighborhoods and the biggest fires, minus funeral costs of course.

Y'know if somebody walks up to you on the street, tells you a bunch of lies, takes all the money out of your wallet and spits on your shoes -- you'd call the cops [government], right?

Seems like some people [extreme conservatives and libertarians] seem to believe that if they walk into a office as a employee or customer - and the guy behind the desk tells you a bunch of lies, takes money out of your wallet and spits in your face -- you're only option is to go work and shop somewhere else (Where they just might do the exact same thing to you all over again in order to stay "competitive"...). It's all a matter of choice, they say.

But a lot of people don't want to work at a dangerous job, they only do it because it's their only viable choice. Companies like Walmart export manufacturing jobs overseas - usually to China where they own a dozen or so factories - in order to get the cheapest labor. This takes good paying (and safe) jobs away from U.S. workers. Because of this, the economy of scale such a large company can use to buy in bulk, and the fact that Walmart forces their employees to pay for their own healthcare (if they can afford it, which many of them can't and often means they instead use state services such as Medicare for healthcare - which is paid for by taxpayers), Walmart can undercut the prices of other smaller retail competitors and put them out of business. Better paying jobs with good benefits gradually disappear - and all that's left in many small towns around the nation is to work for pennies on the dollar at Walmart, and apparently risk your life doing it. For many people in this situation, "choice" is an illusion.

My own mother shops at Walmart. I try to talk her out of it on moral grounds, but she's on a fixed income -- so she constantly tells me she doesn't have a choice, she can't afford to shop anywhere else. Therefore, she continues to subsidize the exportation of jobs and the devaluation of peoples lives and work - but what else can she do?

But that as it may...there are several possible solutions to this problem that don't neccesarily require the government. The chief among them is civil suits by the survivors - so far Walmart in Texas has had to pay out over $10 Million in such suits.

It's also possible that the insurance companies might wish to limit their liability in this regard by dramatically raising premiums if those companies don't take basic precautions to protect the life of it's employees, in the same way that premiums are higher for people who choose to drive sports cars, or without seatbelts. Put people's lives in danger: pay higher premiums. Take steps to keep them safe, and the costs go down. I can live with that option.

As far as what the government has done - the Bush Administration has proprosed making it easier for the companies by forcing the kinds of class actions suits I mention above to go through federal court, which are far less receptive to them, rather than state court. It has also proposed caps on amount of punative judgements of $250,000 - which is probably less money than such a company can receive from death benefits in the first place. Deliberately putting your employees lives at risk would then be just the price of doing business, something you can simply write off in your taxes - like the losses a company takes as a result of shoplifting.

Now that's what I call "looking out for the bottom line".


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