New Orleans The first shots are being fired in a workplace battleground where workers have been living the myth that their status was protected and their bosses were their protectors. Modern technology, tech companies, and perhaps even the government are on the verge of completing the process of turning white collar workers into blue collar wage slaves and observers are taking note of the war, even as it may have already been lost.
Driving to work, I heard a radio disc jockey express so much horror about what he was hearing and reading about workplace practices for white collar workers at Amazon that he was claiming reservations about continuing to shop there. More Amazon workers were parsing the problem of workers breaking down in the intense competition in tears at their desk cubicles with the number weeping in the women’s bathrooms, which must define a distinction without a difference. Cartoonists at newspapers are having a field day on Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of Amazon took his hand off the whip for a minute, after refusing to be interviewed, and wrote a note to his 180,000 workers and said he didn’t “recognize” the “Amazon where he works” with the cries of current and former white collar worker abuse. He suggested they email him personally if they felt under the gun, which is about as likely as hell freezing over.
Blue collar workers have endured more than a century of tight time management by the clock and by the task, usually with a supervisor hovering over them. Now it’s coming to white collar workers, and there won’t be happiness in corporate land.
Part of this is attributed to new technology devices and applications that allow white collars to be as tightly tracked as blue collars have long been. At the simplest level workers are having to punch in on their smartphones and computers, but at the most sophisticated level their computers and devices have an extra set of eyes nudging, clocking, and monitoring them constantly. In many situations, white collar workers are being converted into drones managed by joy stick jockeys miles away in Silicon Valley, Seattle, Bentonville, and beyond.
As more white-collar tasks have also been globalized and made redundant, and tech has become wildly competitive, bosses are naturally going to want to make sure that their mid-managers and white collar workers are as productive as their blue collar workers. General Electric is moving real time evaluations for white collar workers on smartphones. Apps and companies called Workday, Timesheets, BetterWorks, and Anytime Feedback have institutionalized Big Brother in the workplace. In fact the founder of Timesheets.com was quoted in the Times saying, “We tell people not to focus on the Big Brother aspect. This is all efficiency.” Wow, buddy, is there a pill for that to go with the app?
A majority of salaried workers are saying that they work over 50 hours per week. New DOL rules that have been proposed would make workers paid less than $50,000 per year eligible for overtime. Undoubtedly, in coming months micromanagement of white collars will accelerate in anticipation of the new regulations and clearer penalties. Bosses will say the government requires tighter time records now for such workers, and they will feel even more righteous about getting every minute of work they can get squeeze out of these white collars.
Millions are going to be singing the blue collar blues soon. Some may even start to understand why unions are important and wish those kind of things were knocking on their doors these days.