Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Subcontractors...the Collarteralized Debt Obligation of Work

I was at the local library yesterday in Redwood City. It is a lovely facility.  Inside there is a small cafe that serves tea, coffee drinks, and some food items. It is nice, as well as closing down.  The corporation that runs it does, or did, so by subcontracting out a "manager," whom they trained and then who was responsible for making the operation profitable and giving the company Fresh Foods something or other, their "cut."  The manager found it to be wholly unprofitable and gave it up, and the company was unable to find anyone to replace the post, since they do not get enough traffic to make the business profitable.  Now, I understand how corporations make money and the advantages of running a business as such: consolidation and broad reach of money making ventures allow resources to be pooled instead of a small business person operating in the lonely confines of his own operation...in theory.  The twisted side to it is how corporations seem to like to pretend that a business has potential profit (shocker, I know) when it does not.  Since businesses are able to hide behind the cloak of "privacy," despite how they effect the lives and communities of people every day...especially those trying to eek out a living on meager incomes.  Anyhow, one business in particular that get's my goat, and got my wallet, was Service Magic.  They are different from Angie's List in that they do not rely on personal testimonials, which, if they are offered by actual customers, are great.  But why would I need to go on a national website to do this? Why not just ask my neighbor or see how businesses are rated by the community in which I live?  Back to "Service Magic."  They run a duplicitous campaign to service providers in that they tell independent contractors that they will bring business to them for a monthly fee.  Then they tell the consumer that they "interview" the best candidates for their household needs and connect them as such.  What they really do is charge the independent contractor a fee every time a POTENTIAL customer calls.  Yes, the independent contractor gets charged for every phone call, regardless of whether they get the business.  When I decided to cancel this service, since it was very expensive advertising that wasn't valuable to my business, the person with whom I spoke, the paid by the hour employee who knows little to nothing, obviously about running their own business, started to question me on my business practices!  Yes, instead of simply following my request and canceling MY service, they acted as though I was supposed to follow their advice so that I might keep paying them for a service that amounted to nothing. Their business model was to piggy back on people who actually worked and provided a service for the purpose of creating a pretend business that provided a pretend service.  They did not discriminate any of the independent contractors, they received payment from them.  It was galling to have someone from an office, whom I was paying, act as though I worked for them...total b.s. No, Service Magic, I PAID YOU, not for advice, but for the alleged service you offered!  In the same vein, my partner hired, under the ill advice of his friend, a certain house painting company to paint the house.  The business was solicited, as the boy who showed up at the door was canvassing the neighborhood looking for customers on behalf of College Pro or College Works...one of the two.  The boy had an absurd yet elaborate folder containing his C.V., which did not include house painting, but a testimonial about  the joint degree he was pursuing in music and business and his goal to be in the music business.  He was intent on entering the music business "with a business degree, not a guitar" his cover letter read. Awe, ain't that cute, he wants to be a suit!  The gimmick that the company he worked for was selling was to send the ambitious young college student to your door and have you swoon over how cute and industrious they were, so that you would sign onto having your home painted by him and his band of high minded forward thinking college students, whose work ethic far surpassed that of the independent contractor, who, according to their philosophy, had only the petty desire to "put food on their table."  I kid you not!  They had the nerve to knock the working person who actually painted homes for a living as being disingenuous.  The overall business is the same: exploit a bunch of college kids who are looking to make some extra money and promote the real "go getters" i.e., the ones who drink the Kool- Aid of your business model, to "managers," whose job it is to find more people to sign up for their house painting service, which was not cheap compared to the little person who simply wanted to put food on their table.  After putting us on the schedule for a couple of months in advance, when the time came to actually paint the house, there was a slew of scheduling conflicts, and a meeting with the boy again who gave us a speech about how he aimed to be "self sufficient," and his success in getting so many people to sign up to get their house painted that they didn't have enough time to actually paint the houses! Oops! After he sent another "manager," over to power wash our deck with our garden hose, which was then destroyed, I called to say we were not longer interested in having them paint the house and that we would be seeking a refund for our deposit.  After getting the run around from the corporate offices who made claims that were refuted by our managers' manager, who aimed to try and make amends by setting up a "meeting" to discuss the situation.  I told him on the phone not to waste his breath and that we simply wanted the refund to which we were entitled, which was about five hundred dollars less than what we paid.  The mangers manager and our manager came to the house, two lanky boys in their youth trying to relate to me as though they had a leg to stand on after two weeks of canceled appointments and a busted hose.  I explained to him frankly how they had already made a bad impression and that I didn;t want to have to deal with a gaggle of youths who were far from professionals painting the house in their inept fashion.  I wasn't that mean, but that was the gist.  Our manager, who had been so ingratiating, said nothing, offered no apology, and listened on with arrogance that could be seen in his face.  I should have been far more inquisitive and held our manager to his pledge to want to outdo the person who painted houses for the small minded purpose of "wanting to put food on their table."  The manager's manager had been in "meetings" all day....a business designed to take money for a service that you are not so qualified to offer, whilst creating a hierarchy of managers to feed off the profits.  We were offered a referral from our neighbor of the guy who painted their house, a nice guy who ran his own small business.  He and his crew were mindful and attentive and respectful and they charged at least a grand LESS than the firm we signed a contract with.   He had been doing this for years and it was frustrating to think of how much business is taken from him and other independent businesses by companies who aim to make money not off of the work they do, but off of the shoddy work they train others to do...all because they have a well organized marketing campaign.
         If there is an ideological rift in the business world, it is between those willing to do the work and those aiming to have work be disproportionately heaped onto those at the bottom of the rung of the ladder of hierarchy.  Then there are those businesses who are truly high minded, who shy away from disingenuous gimmicks and who offer a real stake in the business by offering decent wages and salaries, ending the hierarchy of wage distribution. Yes, that means everybody gets paid the same, from the CEO to the worker.  Namaste Solar in Boulder, Co is one example, and there are a growing number of worker cooperatives that operate not in the exact same way, but for the purpose of creating equity in work, for the employees, the consumers and the communities of which they are apart.