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Laboring on Labor Day

Be honest. What did you do on Labor Day?

Like many Americans, I worked that day. Of course, since I’m self-employed, I didn’t have to work but no work means no pay for freelancers.

Labor Day used to celebrate the American worker and labor unions. But “union” become a bad word back in 1981 when President Reagan fired unionized air traffic controllers who had gone on strike for better wages and working conditions.

Labor Day is No Longer a Workers’ Holiday

Labor Day isn’t a day off for many workers. According to USA Today, about a third of Americans are working today. Most work in retail, which pays on the lower end of the scale.

Many stores are open, and as far as I can remember, have been open on the Labor Day “holiday.” The holiday is a draw for those who want or need bigger-ticket items like a late-model car. Or as the Scribe from New Jersey sings, to buy a new used car.

But in the old days, workers had to be enticed to work on Labor Day. Even part-time workers were asked, nicely, to work the holiday, with promises of time-and-a-half pay. Today, I’m not so sure that’s the case. A Bloomberg BNA survey says one-third or workers are required to work on major holidays like Thanksgiving. Most will get some monetary award for working on that particular holiday.


Retail Work Isn’t Very Nice to Employees

Most retail establishments don’t recognize any holidays at all. Even grocery stores stay open well into the July 4 and Christmas Eve holidays. Some will close early “to give our employees time to enjoy” the holidays.

I worked a retail job a few years ago, when I signed up for holiday work at my local Target. I understood there would be odd hours during holidays.

I didn’t really mind the work itself. The customer service training was interesting. I liked the discounts they gave employees, and my coworkers were nice. But management rules eventually ended my “career” there. I just didn’t have the physical stamina for one part of the job.

shoe display at retail store
As a Target worker, I feared nothing, not even the shoe department!

It wasn’t lifting boxes, cleaning up the shoe department, or stocking shelves that got to me. I didn’t mind those at all, and let me tell you, it was hard for management to find anyone who’d work in the shoe department.

I was defeated by working at the register, a task required for all non-management employees.

A thinly-veiled anti-union training video we watched during our training extolled how much fun it is to work in different areas. It didn’t discuss that standing on a hard floor in one place for more than an hour can be hard on the body.

I changed footwear and wore supportive sneakers and inserts, even those fancy Dr. Scholls gels, purchased with my 10% employee discount. When there were no lines, I’d walk away to straighten out the gum and other stuff stocked near the register.

I still ended register shifts with hip pain bad enough to make me walk with a lurch, like I’d been injured.

I asked if I could buy a padded kitchen mat sold in the store to use at my register. I already had one at home in my kitchen, and it was great. Nope, not allowed. No reason given.

Then there was the water issue. My register trainer told me we could keep bottled water at the registers as long as we only drank when no customers were around. Then a manager cited me for doing just this. I explained what my trainer had told me and mentioned I also take medication that dries me out. I pointed out that we do, after all, live in a dry climate here in Arizona and most people need to frequently hydrate.

I was told to get a doctor’s note. My disbelieving doctor took the time to write out a note, which I duly presented.

In the meantime, another coworker, a guy about my age, fainted on the job. It was probably from dehydration. He quit after that.

Later, we met up to talk business (he’s a photographer) and he told me how embarrassing the whole ordeal was for him. The store insisted on calling paramedics. Everyone saw him get carried out on a stretcher.

I ended up quitting because my hips continued to ache. Nowadays, I notice that Target employees are permitted both a padded support mat to stand on and water at the register. And that manager is gone, too. I have to wonder if it was her decision or Target’s to deny these modest supports to employees. Too bad there wasn’t a union rep I could ask.

When I gave my reason for resigning, no one offered any suggestions to alleviate my discomfort.

Right to Work? Really?

Since Arizona is a “right to work” state, it’s nearly impossible to get union protections here.

“Right to work” means that anything a union negotiates for members benefits all workers, regardless of whether they belong to the union. The argument behind “right to work” laws is that no one is forced to join a union.

Once upon a time, it was normal to be unionized if you worked an hourly job and or a job deemed particularly dangerous or sensitive like air traffic control. Unions protected employees from outright abuses like forcing them to work off the clock to meet quotas. They guaranteed breaks and ensured overtime pay. Unions also made sure employees had benefits and decent pay—enough to actually live on in the area in which a job is located.

In their early days, unions ended the practice of 12-hour shifts, six days a week. They ended child labor and got safety regulations put in to make workplaces less dangerous for everyone.

There are now laws that provide some of the protections unions used to give. But no one is watching out for the labor force. Businesses, whether retail, service-oriented, or in another category, have a much stronger hand in negotiating salaries and benefits against a lone hire.

In fact, today’s employees don’t have a right to work, at least not full-time. In our right-to-work state, employees can get laid off or otherwise dismissed from a job without any notice at all. Yet most employers require employees to agree to provide notice before they leave: they actually make them sign contracts to guarantee this. And businesses here don’t even have to pay for unused leave when workers are laid off.

The Irony of Labor Day

We still celebrate Labor Day, sort of.

Most of us use the time to catch up on work. Students inevitably have assignments due right after Labor Day (we start school in August in Arizona). People spend at least some of the time working on or cleaning their homes. Fewer people are going out of town or really taking time off.

People say unions got greedy and corrupt. Some did. So did some businesses. Today’s executives earn about 300 times more than their typical employees, even when they’re “forced” to shrink their workforce or require employees to take furloughs, which are forced, unpaid time off. Locally, Honeywell has become infamous for this practice.

Many businesses seem to have abandoned the concept of being a great place to work. They accept high turnover as a norm.

The worst ones don’t even care about worker safety and no one calls them on it until their coal mines implode. Remember the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, and BP/Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico? Workers are killed, and local environments become disaster areas. This is what happens when we don’t have unions and we’re busy shrinking government oversight staff.

No one is looking out for most of us, a sad irony when a day meant to honor labor is in reality just another workday.





Arizona business Arizona issues Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

The Internet of Things – Alive in Arizona!

You’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things. You might have quickly decided it sounds like too much to look up. Let me simplify it for you: it’s about using the Internet to control your stuff that may or may not be mobile.

Is the Internet of Things too all-seing and all-knowing?
What’s not to like about the Internet of Things? Security, for one but Arizona’s IoT firms are working on it.

I already knew this, and had a pretty good idea about how it works. I’ve written about the “smart home” concepts for clients and wondered how safe this is. Aren’t there geniuses in North Korea and China chained to cubicles and ordered to hack our smartphones this very moment?

If I wired my home security to the phone, what could stop some devious person from breaking in and stealing Junior Yankee from me in the dead of a late Saturday morning when he’s asleep but I’m away at a conference on the Internet of Things? Or what if they want my adorable Chihuahua and Dachahuahua? Is IoT, as it’s also known, a safe place?

The Internet of Things is a Wonderful and Scary Place

I got an email about a local IoT DevFest. Since it was being held at the Mesa Arts Center, I figured it was hosted by a legitimate tech group and not a nefarious dictatorship, although its co-sponsors included Google Developers and Intel.

I’m just joking! Really, Google, get a sense of humor.

A very nice guy named Mike Wolfson (he’s an Android/Java developer) organized the conference on behalf of the Phoenix Meetup for the Internet of Things. He comped me a ticket after I emailed him asking if it would be too technical for an interested, semi-techy, writer.

It was time well-spent. Not only did I learn much more about IoT, but out of a group of perhaps 150 people, there was no line for the ladies’ room during the first, post-coffee break. (Not so the mens room!)

Here are more reasons to like IoT:

  • It’s a bona fide Arizona industry. There are firms right here in our state doing amazing work with IoT most of us couldn’t have imagined five years ago.
  • Its growth potential is huge. A few speakers cited a Gartner Research finding that about a million new devices come online each day, making IoT is a potential $14 billion market.
  • It enables and improves technologies, including mobile technology. A Tempe manufacturer called Local Motors created a series of 3D printed cars. Check out their video below.
    • How is this related to IoT? It’s powered by a platform created by another Tempe company, Octoblu (now owned by Citrix), which works to integrate anything and everything through the Internet. You can control the car through a laptop and I’m sure, through a very well-protected smartphone someday soon.
  • IoT developers care about delivering quality products. I’m among millions of frustrated people who’ve written about abysmally slow US Internet speeds. IoT platform designers will be the ones to push for a faster Internet on our shores. Here’s an article I wrote on Internet Speed a couple of years ago.


Here’s where IoT is scary: security gaps.

Platform developers like Octoblu are working hard to maximize security on their end. They’re constantly hiring people to hack their systems and help them identify where there are weak spots. It won’t be easy for Kim Jong Un’s minions to break into their platform.

The problem comes from the device side of things, where there are no security standards. The best platform developers can do is blacklist devices and firms that are notoriously sloppy and easy to hack. They should also take the lead in persuading and assisting mobile developers to improve security and invest in new safeguards.

Right now, the safest way to communicate between two places is peer-to-peer (P2P), which of course makes it less “mobile” in some ways, but it is the most difficult to hack.

The Phoenix IoT Community is Robust and Enthusiastic

Honestly, IoT folks are not just enthusiastic at work but also at 9 am on a bright Saturday morning, after a rainy week when it’s tempting to ditch a conference and go for a hike.

Not this group. The auditorium was full for the keynote speaker, Octoblu founder and local IoT god, Chris Matthieu, who sports an impressive twirly-style mustache. In this video, he explains how Citrix used Octoblu technologies to power that 3D car.

Citrix also hosts the IoT Hackers Meetup. As a member of a couple of WordPress meetups, I appreciate when companies loan their spaces.

Another local group that brings together IoT developers is CO+HOOTS. It shares offices in downtown Phoenix to encourage collaboration among techies in various areas, including software and app developers. You don’t have to be a techie to use their space, though: the site lists graphic designers, filmmakers, photographers, and independent types like lawyers, real estate agents, and ahem, writers as among their members.

While developers tend to work for their own firms, IcedDev is one local group that hires consultants to work with companies involved in development. I won’t pretend to understand a lot of what they do but its founder, Luis Montes, talked a lot about JavaScript (the group sponsors a local Java/Node Meetup). He also discussed an interesting development in Bluetooth technology that links sensors on low-powered devices like heart monitors to the web. This allows for remote patient monitoring, perhaps as a backup for onsite hospital staff attending to emergencies elsewhere.

Want to know what the experts say will be IoT highlights in 2016? Check out this blog entry from Chris Witeck, Citrix’s chief technology strategist.



Arizona business Arizona education Arizona issues Arizona social issues Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

Still Outsourcing Local Talent?

I attended the Phoenix Mobile Festival recently, an annual event for people who develop apps and technologies for mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology like smart watches. While I’m not a developer, I like to keep up on mobile developments. Since this was a local event, I was very surprised to hear a speaker praising outsourcing, a scourge that’s hurting Arizona’s efforts to become a tech leader rivaling Silicone Valley.

Banner for the Phoenix Mobile Festival
Is a technical conference the place to talk about the joys of outsourcing?

Is This the Time to Advise Talent Outsourcing?

I missed the first half of Fred von Graf’s session on “Secrets to Building a Million-Dollar Business.” I was learning about complications and time travel.

Normally, I welcome business development talks because Lord knows I can use advice on building this business, getting new (paying) clients, and networking. The title of von Graf’s session struck me as silly and cheap, but after checking out an Android development session, I figured I’d make room for a real developer and went into the Million Dollar session.

There I sat, horrified, as this person advised, over and over, to look overseas for tech teams.

I didn’t think people were still hot on outsourcing. I had read that a lot of companies have pulled out and are hiring US workers, whose training and, I suspect culture, match theirs more closely. In fact, I’ve read about companies in India that are outsourcing for US talent!

It came up from a question about where to find freelance tech teams. To get a really good idea of who works well on your project, von Graf advised hiring three teams to do the same project and pick the one that did it best.

How can I pay for that? another person asked.

Easy. Hire teams from overseas. “Their price points are much more competitive then you’ll find in the US.”

von Graf then spent several minutes extolling the virtues of overseas teams. He went on to say that he tells all his clients to hire overseas, where the work can get done for so much less. He groused about his one single client who refuses to hire foreign labor. “He’s spending so much more than he should,” he said, shaking his head.

I was livid, practically shaking.

Don’t Outsource Arizonans!

It made no sense to me. Here he is, in Arizona—a state that desperately needs jobs and encourages people to get educated for tech jobs—telling businesses in Arizona to outsource these very jobs.

von Graf isn’t unfamiliar with Arizona. He’s active in Scottsdale’s SkySong tech community. He’s been featured by GrowSouthwest, a company that nurtures entrepreneurs and independent businesses “everywhere,” but does that mean outside the Southwest, or the entire US?

I was a little relieved to hear grumbling about outsourced jobs from the audience. No one, though, challenged the idea.

Infusionsoft, which hosted the festival, is well-known in Arizona’s tech sector. It won the Pioneer Award from the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation. “This recognition is further validation of the impact we’re having on the global small-business community and the tech sector here in Arizona,” Infusionsoft’s CTO told the Phoenix Business Journal.

After the session, I discussed what I heard with two vendors at the site. One mentioned he had used overseas vendors from Poland and India. They didn’t work out so well. “We ended up redoing a lot of the work. They just couldn’t understand what we wanted.”

The owners of another business, both from India, was also bothered by outsourcing. “We only hire people in the US,” they told me. True, their clients were mostly state governments, but they also showcased a growing number of US businesses.

I’m sure von Graf is a good guy. He encouraged people to contact him after his session. He’s eager to share what he knows and to mentor small businesses in the tech sector.

But shouldn’t that also mean keeping potential jobs in Arizona? Does every business have to make a million bucks? And will this only happen by outsourcing jobs elsewhere?