Sunday, November 03, 2013


Once upon a time, in a working world far, far away, I had a fairly decent paying job (at least well above a living wage) with a fairly good sized company, until I decided to just walk away.

On June 6, 2013, immediately after a closed door one on one meeting with my division's vice president, I walked off, as in, quit without notice. No two weeks, no new job lined up, nothing.

I am still unemployed. I have applied for numerous jobs and have been formally rejected numerous times. I can not collect state unemployment insurance because, well, duh, I quit without notice.

I envision that, in future years, I will probably be used as the example of "the guy who quit without notice". I anticipate that no one will ever even consider to hire me again, and I will die broke on the streets.

Which, actually, is just fine with me, should that happen.  

I will never, ever, regret my decision to quit, and especially without notice.

I had worked 16 years for a large metropolitan newspaper. In fact, by circulation numbers, it is one of the top 40 papers currently in publication. Back in 1997,  I walked into a job fair, responding to a want ad in the same paper for a part time customer service call center position. After a spelling test, interview, and physical exam, I was offered a job. I wasn't even that concerned about getting hired back then. I already had a part time job and simply saw this as a long shot opportunity to break away from outbound telemarketing and into inbound call center experience.

Eventually, I gained enough hours to drop my second part time job and work only at the newspaper, although still classified as part time, but working frequent 40-plus hour weeks. I worked very hard at my call center job, and had added duties after the phones turned off, sorting and sending out carrier and truck records for the next day's paper, and working frequently until 10 or 11 at night due to technical and printer fuckups causing delays. Things weren't exactly like paradise but it was tolerable.

Then, around 2006 or so, the shit had begun to hit the fan. After the corporation which owned the paper had piled up a shitload of debt from a big acquisition and merger, suddenly the salad days were over. It was time for the Corporate Gods to make some draconian cost cutting moves at every single one of the newspaper properties, usually accompanied by excuses about the increasing competition of the Internet and the sluggish economy.

Soon enough, working in the call center as a rep started to become, um, more "challenging". To describe it as staff reduction by attrition would be an understatement. The staffing each day became so skeletal that it was routine for 40, or even 50-plus calls to be on hold for up to 20, 30, even 40 plus minutes at a time. Imagine as well how the callers were expressing themselves to us once we could actually take their call.

One fine day, the department received a memo that a new manager was taking over the area including the call center. This new leader, for the  purposes of this writing, is someone who I will furthermore refer to as The Bug (because to me, she so closely resembles the alien cockroach who took over Edgar's flesh in Men In Black). The Bug has an interesting academic background. Fact: apparently her MBA thesis was on call centers... and outsourcing.

Sure enough, exactly two months after The Bug's takeover announcement, we were notified that our call center was, indeed, being outsourced.

I was married at the time, and my then-wife and I had just returned home from our second anniversary trip to San Francisco when the phone rang. It was The Bug, calling to let me know that the call center was being outsourced, but "the good news" was that I "still have a job" because my seniority was only a few months below the ten year cutoff that all of my other co-workers, save one guy with a couple of months more tenure than I, was subjected to. Furthermore, my job duties were being shifted to focus on an area in outbound calling known at the time as Retention, which, pretty much, was just overglorified subscriber bill collection work. Somehow, I didn't feel lucky to have "survived".

The following week, The Bug called me into her office for a transitional orientation meeting. Or some shit. The Bug likes to speak in a rapid fire manner which promotes a pushy, argument-winning-goal sort of manner, while attempting to cover up the fact that she has little, if anything, constructive or intelligent to say. She mentioned some vague goal of "keeping transparency" amongst our customer base and retaining people who, though never stated in so many of her actual words, are those realizing that they don't like to read the paper anymore and are dropping like flies from the circulation numbers which padded her performance goal bonuses.

Needless to say, I wasn't even slightly impressed with The Bug's rhetoric, and began to search for another job and work on writing my two week notice letter. Several days after that meeting, and about two weeks before the call center was officially closing, I received a visit from the manager of the department that handled the information systems work related to circulation at the newspaper.

He informed me that he needed a systems coordinator in his area and was not a fan of the outside hiring process. Essentially, if I was interested in the position, it was mine. This was not a complete shock to me as I had applied for the same job with another manager of that department, previous to the one who was currently in charge and making me the job offer. I had been passed over then for another guy who, in my opinion, was actually much more qualified and adequate for the position than I. This time, feeling like a miracle had happened and gladly welcoming an escape from under The Bug's tentacles, I quickly accepted the job offer.

Although the new position started out with tough lessons (frequently learned from mistakes), long hours and mega-brain strain, the work was much more preferable to me than what I would have been doing under The Bug. I took college IT-related classes at night. I generally got along okay with folks in my department. I felt a sense of self worth and accomplishment to some degree. The money began getting better as well.

And then, one fine day, the shit once again began to hit the fan.

In 2008, the first round of buyouts were handed out among the company workforce, and that included my own special white envelope, containing a packet detailing my monetary offer and other information about what I would get if I accepted (two weeks pay per year of service). I turned down that offer. In 2009, it was yet another white envelope arriving in my interoffice mail with a similar buyout attempt. I declined that offer as well.

However, many of my fellow coworkers did accept a buyout. As a result of those reductions, and as well as some folks who simply bailed for greener pastures (and then had their positions eliminated) a short time later, a workload that was generally handled by about seven people was suddenly the responsibility of around three. Personally, I was in the, um, "challenging" position of doing the work of what previously would have been at least four people on my own.    

Although I was handling it, the workload and the stress beat me down tenfold compared to before. Somehow, I managed to persevere, and got great performance reviews and recognition from higher-ups along the way.

Then, the layoffs, or, as the publisher liked to euphemize them, "staff reductions" began. Five of them over the next four years.

There was a merry dance in play in my department featuring what I began to call the "Death Seat". It was the workstation directly to the right of my own. At least three, or maybe at least four coworkers met their job-related execution there. They would be brought in from other areas to back up our department's duties, and within a short time, be summarily shitcanned in the next following staff reduction from that very seat.  

In 2010, a work area was brought into my department which dealt with the initial edition, section and page creation of each day's newspaper. A daily newspaper's production has to start somewhere, and this page creation work was the particular area. My manager offered me the opportunity to get involved in the page creation area as an addition to my existing duties, and I accepted. At the time, I was supposed to be the third wheel, so to speak, backing up the two page creation workers who were already in place. Little did I know at the time that there were already machinations in place to get rid of one of the workers, and sure enough, one month after I accepted the offer to work in that area, the page creation employee in question was shitcanned in the next wave of layoffs. This is not something that I was proud of witnessing by any means, despite the fact that the damage done from my agreement was unknowing, unwilling and indirect on my part.

In comparison to the database drudgery that I had been previously been slogging through, I had considered it to be great work. First thing I'd do, when it was my turn to work on the pages, was pull a data report on the ad inches. Then I'd do some simple math, come up with column inches and add those to the editorial column inches each section. Then I'd draw out a press chart, and using page creation software, form the actual pages and lay out the display ad space for each page. Eventually, I send the pages out and viola! The Daily Miracle begins.

And, yes, I did make what I just described appear to you, the reader, as being a lot less complicated than the work actually is, especially in the area of making mistakes, in which you virtually are not allowed to do so. One minor goof can hit the pressroom, the plateroom, the ad layout people, and/or editorial, singularly or any combination thereof. Despite the pressure, the work was a great learning experience about all areas of the newspaper industry, and constant contact clear across the board with people working in all areas.

The page creation work was, if anything, meaningful and relevant, especially compared to my work in database administration, which was becoming increasingly more banal.

The Bug, at this point in time, was a director in charge of matters related to circulation sales and marketing. Among her, ahem, bright ideas was the brilliant move to sign the newspaper up as a client with online "deal of the day" websites.

While sites like Groupon, Living Social and the like might make sense to a sushi bar, in terms of newspaper subscriptions, it's a complete waste of money, resources and time. You can line up NAA and Inland flunkies left and right to try to refute me, but having worked directly with  the raw data, fuck whatever they have to say in rebuttal. I stand by my opinion. Using these sites to sell newspaper subscriptions is the dumbest marketing tactic since New Coke.

The newspaper started selling Sunday only subscriptions through Groupon for barely what it cost to print them, and as an added bonus, Groupon was taking in half of the money from each and every subscription sold for the privilege of using their service. Groupon offer codes are, to the untrained eye, gobbeldy gook. They are seemingly nonsensical (though actually sequential) text combinations, with the goal of creating a unique piece of data tied only to the specific coupon purchase. Expecting most, let alone any, customers to accurately submit a Groupon offer code, much less expect an overstressed data entry worker or customer service rep to avoid mistakes, is wishful thinking at best. Additionally, Groupon's reporting on these codes sucked ass. I had created a database query which somehow managed to corral these codes with the customer records and send them down as paysheets to the accounting department in order to actually associate a monetary payment for each subscription. Of course, since there were numerous errors in the Groupon codes with these subscription orders, many of them never got tracked and did not make it through my database.

Somehow, The Bug's twisted, flawed thinking concluded that the data entry errors were my responsibility, and she ordered all of the call center reps to email me every single time a customer's Groupon "payment" did not get posted, despite the fact that these were because of data entry errors entered "upstream" from my reporting and I could not do jackshit about it. 

Of course, there were lots of errors, and therefore I was forced to plow through literally hundreds of emails to let people know that the codes had to be re-entered correctly before they could be counted as valid payments. In other words, I was entrenched in needless and unnecessary work for much of my day. My numerous attempts to appeal to my manager and anyone else who would listen to stop this crap from being dumped on me went unresolved and ignored.

As time went on, the supervisor handling the page creation (and the only person left to do the work full time) became extremely stressed out due to the increasing communication breakdown with advertising reps and managers, combined with the lack of support and the fact that our department's manager, as well as the division leadership team (most notably among them, The Bug) had negligible comprehension of her job duties. The weeks before the Thanksgiving Day newspaper are always the most stressful period of the year for page creation, and afterwards, at the end of  November 2012, the supervisor took a week long doctor-mandated stress leave.

I covered the entire week of page creation on my own, and upon the supervisor's return, I personally arranged a meeting between the supervisor, the department manager and myself to try and straighten out the issues causing the turmoil. The meeting went well, with at least some groundwork for improvements laid out, and the department manager sent us a follow-up email acknowledging that there was positive progress. 

Nine days later after our meeting, it was announced that the vice president of our division was getting kicked upstairs (some people would say "failed upward") to Corporate in a similar but national VP role, and suddenly, or so it seemed, there was a divisional schism in the cards. The pressroom manager was now going to be director of a new division dealing chiefly with the printing, transportation and general production of the newspaper. There was a second division created which was responsible for, among other things, the circulation customer service, distribution and sales.

The Bug was announced as the VP for this new division, and that was where the page creation supervisor and I ended up.

The page creation supervisor, however, did not stay under The Bug for long. Four days after the divisional split took place, the supervisor received a visit by the new production director, during which he informed her that she was transferring to his new division. One hundred percent of her job duties involved page creation, so for her, it was an easy transfer. Not so much for me. At executive meetings over the following couple of weeks, the outgoing VP as well as The Bug, according to the person informing me, had reportedly staged rather toddler-like tantrums, protesting that under no circumstances was I going to do any work in another division, much less transfer out of my current one. Needless to say, I didn't feel very flattered after finding that out.

I had invested a considerable amount of training, hard work and effort into my page creation duties, and had no desire to end working in that area. The page creation supervisor had no issue with me working with her, and in fact, dreaded the prospect of having to train a replacement. It was a clear example of leaders and decision makers who were lacking a clue.

Despite the supervisor's efforts to retain me, and my vociferous objections, the ball stayed in motion to drum me out of page creation. My efforts to get help through the human resources department were rejected. One HR official told me to "put (myself) in (my management's) shoes" and work things out with them instead. More like put myself on as The Bug's skin. I informed the HR person that any attempt to meet with the new VP would end badly, but my objections and appeals were met with deaf ears. Trying to apply HR's advice, I took up the subject with my department manager at my annual performance review, which was scheduled by coincidence a week after my phone call to HR, but there was no budging. The New Order was now in full effect, and my manager was going to follow The Bug's dictates to the letter.

As fate would have it, about a week after my performance review, The Bug and everybody else had no choice but to keep me working with page creation. The page creation supervisor had slipped on the floor at home and broke her ankle in three places. She was on doctor's orders to stay out of the workplace for 6 to 10 weeks. As a result, I ran the page creation area for two straight months. Every edition of the newspaper from the middle of February to the middle of April of 2013 was my responsibility, including one memorable pre-President's Day weekend Friday where I put up the initial pages for the entire Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday editions, as well as the features section for the following Wednesday and the home and garden tabloid section for the following Saturday. Twelve and a half hours working straight through with barely a break. From what I understand, the Friday before the holiday weekend had rarely if ever been handled by one person in the page creation area before.

The page creation supervisor eventually started a home-based part time schedule. I was recognized to a certain degree for my extra work, especially in the form of gift cards from the production director, which came to a final tally of somewhere in the neighborhood of $450. One Friday in April, the director tracked me down to hand me one final installment of gift cards, and at that point informed me that, since the supervisor was still going to be working at home for a while, I will be starting to train my replacement starting the following week. I replied that I wanted to remain in page creation and there was no need for a replacement. He countered that there was nothing anyone could do to change things since the order to replace me came from "on high". I interpreted "on high" to mean that The Bug channeled the order through that special superglued nose-asshole connection that she had with the publisher.

The page creation supervisor, citing ongoing stress and injury issues, extended her disability claim through the month of May and continued to work from home part time for another month. This, combined with the fact that, due to scheduling and staffing issues, my replacement could not be trained after all, kept me in page creation more or less full time for another four weeks or so. The supervisor eventually returned to the office on a part time basis some time around the Memorial Day weekend.

Then, the fateful day of June 6, 2013 came.

I was planning to spend the entire day away from page creation and fully concentrating on database-related duties. It's not like I was looking forward to that situation. I was promised that my regular duties would be covered during the two months I was working virtually full time in page creation. That promise, of course, was a complete load of bullshit, and I had a huge backlog of work to catch up on. It was late morning and I was making fairly good progress catching up on several weeks of paysheets at the moment when the email arrived at my Inbox.

It was yet one more of those needless fuckin' Groupon emails.

This one was dutifully (read: lazily) forwarded via "Service Central" (i.e., one of the in-house customer service reps emailing me anonymously through a central mailbox) from the outsourced call center in the Phillipines. It read, verbatim, the following (and yes, the outsourced rep from the original email was "shouting" in all caps):


Here's my take on what happened. The rep who forwarded this email read,


ignored the rest of the email and forwarded it to me.

I had worked as a customer service rep in the call center for almost ten years. I know that, when receiving an email from a customer, the rep needs to read the customer's email thoroughly, figure out the specific issue, and try to resolve it properly. Having actually read the entire email, I deduced that the problem the customer wasn't having was with a Groupon code. It was with the fact that they should not have been called for payment and validating the code would not have made any difference anyway. The customer, having only started a subscription less than 30 days ago, and started through Groupon, should not have received a phone call for payment. Period. That was what should have been resolved.

I emailed the sales manager with the following:

"[Name of sales manager redacted - ed.], whose call list is this customer ending up on? They started less than 30 days ago..."

The sales manager responded:

"Odd, she shouldn't have been called by anyone, but I will find out."

I replied:

"Good, I thought something was sort of fishy there. Thanks."

During this exchange, I CCed the original sender from  "Service Central" to keep the then-anonymous originator of this mess in the loop on this customer. At this point, I received the following reply from "Service Central":

"They weren't called by anyone, their groupon voucher wasn't applied."

Um. Say what?

I sent back the following to "Service Central":

"Did you even bother to read the note from APAC (below?)" [note: APAC = company for the rep in the Phillipines-ed.]

And "Service Central" replied, yet again:

"Yes, I read it.  That is why you were copied on it Michael.  They do not have a Groupon payment as of yet.  Do you not hande(sic) this anymore?"

At this point, I just had to know who the fuck "Service Central" was. After a few minutes of fuming (and yes, I probably did drop several cuss words while still seated at my workstation), I walked over to the customer service area, located near my work area, in the same room.

(A little backtracking before I go on. You see, The Bug's original experiment in outsourcing turned out to be a complete and utter fiasco. The original company, West At Home, was supposed to handle the calls with stay-at-home moms in their jammies holding a cup of Sanka, and most importantly, within the borders of one of the 50 states. That venture was completely fucked up, so the West contract was cancelled and APAC was signed up to handle the call center work. They sucked too, so the remaining Retention reps were retrained to be "VIP reps", in other words, restoring the old domestic call center to a certain degree to pick up escalated calls when customers are fed up with APAC's shitty job. Long story short, The Bug's efforts for "transparency" failed miserably.)

So. I found out that the mysterious "Service Central" emailer was a part time rep who, 15 years previous, was one of my supervisors back when I started in the old call center, and who, for reasons I don't know and could care less about, came crawling back with her tail between her legs many years later out of desperation for employment. The conversation we had was only about ten seconds long at best, because I quickly reasoned that she was a damage case and I was wasting my breath. I went back to my workstation, tried to regain composure, and typed a final reply:

"The APAC note says that they were called. They should not be getting called. As (the sales manager) noted, they weren't supposed to be called period. This isn't because their Groupon payment wasn't applied."

My manager was on disability leave for surgery. The call center manager was off for the day. Thus, there was no one immediately in the chain of command to talk to right away. I realize in retrospect that this was probably a tactical error on my part, but in light of the absences, and in order to try and cover my ass, I CCed The Bug on the final email. I thought, at the time, that The Bug would have some sort of basic reasoning ability and there could be some sort of civilized resolution to this whole Groupon escapade and its related problems.

What the fuck was I thinking?

About a half hour after my last email reply, The Bug dropped by my workstation, and asked me to meet with her in her office for a few minutes. Although I suspected that we were going to be discussing the email exchange, I wasn't too concerned initially. We entered her office, The Bug closed the door behind us, and we sat down.

The Bug told me that the call center rep has informed her that I was speaking to the rep in a "confrontational" manner. Or some shit. The rep "felt threatened". Or some shit. Wow, really? That must have been an amazing ten seconds of venting on my part. Anyway, whatever the rep was telling The Bug sounded like complete bullshit. Yes, to a certain degree I was confrontational. She was writing to me like a comment board troll, and anonymously at that. Yes, I was pissed off. At this point I tried to remain as calm as possible and give The Bug my side of the story.

It was of no use. The Bug had already decided to play judge, jury and executioner and proposed that I apologize to the rep for any behavior. I replied, straightforwardly, that I am not going to apologize, and the rep is the person who should be apologizing to me. When I tried to go over the points of the email exchange, The Bug dismissed anything I had to say with the typical horseshit sentiment about how the rep was simply helping the customer. I countered that, if the rep had truly wanted to help the customer, then she would have done what I did and read the entire email and acted accordingly instead of forwarding the email and making someone else, i.e. me, do her job for her.

After a few more minutes of useless verbal parrying, The Bug tried to close things out by stating that she was "concerned" about my treatment of "the part time rep". Somewhat of a roundabout verbal warning, and the proposal to apologize was certainly off the table. At this point, I decided to go in for the kill.

"Before I go, I'd like to know if  we could take a few minutes to discuss my role in (page creation)." 

The Bug agreed to talk.

So I got to the point. "It's my understanding that you've been trying to take me off of those duties. Is that true?"

The Bug launched into an even more rapid fire and illegible rant than usual, in which, seemingly, she name checked the production director at least five times in one run on sentence. Now, in all honesty, I can't quote her verbatim, but to my best recollection, to me it sounded something like; "Well, (the production director) can't budget another full time position, and (the production director) is having staffing issues, and that work moved into (the production director)'s area, and so (the production director) is responsible for the staffing and we can't have you working outside in (the production director)'s area due to the payroll and company policy. But... [quick breath] if (the page creation supervisor) leaves, you may have an opportunity to apply for her position."

Then The Bug paused and stayed locked on her usual forced smirk. It was at this point when I noticed that her skin was hanging off of her bones. However, moving forward, I continued the conversation.

I stated that I considered my work in page creation to encompass my future career with the newspaper. The Bug replied with a customer service like 'Well, I'm sorry but..." and launched into scripted blather about plans of the division and my important responsibilities with the databases. Or some shit. I then stated that I did not want to stay in the division, that I wanted to be transferred out to other work. The Bug, of course, told me what I had already expected to hear, which was that transferring outside of that division was not an option, with more nonsensical run-on babble.

At that point, my mind was made up. As I was getting up to leave the office, The Bug made one last comment: "We have plenty of work for you here."

Well, I was sure in my mind by then that The Bug was wrong, because as of that moment, under no circumstances was I ever going to work for her. Therefore, there was absolutely no more work for me in that division. However, I didn't want to give The Bug the satisfaction of hearing me tell her that I was quitting, let alone giving any notice. The way I see it, saying anything like that would have been showing respect that she certainly had not deserved.

Immediately after that meeting with The Bug, at that point in time was when I usually would take a lunch break. I grabbed my water bottle from my desk and headed towards the exit, but first, I stopped off in Human Resources and asked for a voluntary resignation form. On the way out, I ran into the page creation supervisor, and we went back to her office to discuss my plans. I told her about my final meeting with The Bug. The supervisor told me that she would support whatever decision I would ultimately make.

I lived a block away from the newspaper. I went home, sat back for about a half hour, and after trying to contemplate the options, decided to go for it. I filled out the voluntary resignation form, and left it at home while I went back and picked up a few personal things from my workstation. I didn't speak to any co-workers or say goodbye to anyone. Then I went home to get my resignation form and returned one last time to Human Resources.

The HR people were unbelievably efficient and coldly procedural in processing my paperwork. It could not have taken me more than three minutes to have officially signed off on quitting my job of sixteen years, and absolutely no one had tried to find out the reasons why I was resigning, much less stop me from doing otherwise. As a matter of fact, HR made it incredibly easy for me to pick up my final paycheck (including my 110 hours of accumulated vacation pay) at the guard's desk less than twenty four hours after I showed up in the HR office to resign.    

Fine with me. I wanted the quickest clean break possible. 

In the end, my old job as a systems coordinator was filled. True to form, after posting a help wanted ad for about a month, the manager made an internal hire, and naturally, from the ranks of the call center. My page creation duties were also filled, by someone working in the advertising division, in other words, someone from a division other than where the page creation supervisor is located. The Bug is probably just happy at this point that at least it's not somebody from her division. Or some shit.

During my 16 years at the newspaper, I was never living paycheck to paycheck. I had made an effort to save money whenever possible, especially after the buyouts started and things were looking more sour each day.

That said, I realize that, although there are still quite a few people trapped under The Bug who would love to escape, the fact of the matter is that many of these former co-workers are in their 50s and 60s and, virtually held hostage at this point by their paychecks and company health insurance coverage, none of them see any means of a safe exit. So, sure, they'll complain about how fucked up it is to work under The Bug behind her back until the cows come home, but they will always be way too frightened to actually do anything about it, let alone say anything to her face. Still, I probably feel a lot more sorry for them and their situation than any of them ever would for mine, and that's probably the way that both parties should be feeling.

My take on my future? As if anyone out there really cares? Not like I don't blame you. But anyway. Well, if I run out of money eventually, and no one ever hires me again and I find out the hard way that working for The Bug was the only true option, I would gladly accept death on the streets. What the hell, I'm 50 years old and I should get worn out and killed by the elements fairly quickly at my age.I already spent 20 years literally working my way off of the streets. If this is the result of all that hard work, frankly, I don't see any point in attempting to come back a second time.

The thought has crossed my mind that perhaps it was a mistake not to have committed suicide immediately after quitting. At least under those circumstances a number of people would have had to answer to something.

Many people who don't work under The Bug still have to work with her and deal with her, and that's why many people at the newspaper despise her. Most of the people outside of her direct leadership, however, have at least taken solace in the fact that they are not directly under her rule. That sense of reprieve may change, and I hope for their sake, later as opposed to sooner. Why's that? Well. You see...

There have been somewhat longstanding and credible rumors that have been circulating which indicate that The Bug is practically guaranteed to be in line to become the next publisher for the newspaper.

Hopefully, there's a lot of resumes being updated at a certain place of business nowadays.