Sunday, March 18, 2018

Are you a hole in your community's leaky bucket?

When our business leaders, planners, and politicians look at ways to revitalize local towns and rural areas, the usual proposed solutions are to find ways to bring more money into the community. Typical approaches to bringing in money involve promoting tourism, agriculture, corporate relocations and other forms of inward investments. What is often overlooked is the important concept of money flow within the community.

Think of your local economy as a bucket and bringing in money to your community is like pouring water in the bucket. The bucket is going to have some holes in it and some of the water will leak out. Some of the holes can’t be fixed so you will always have a leaky bucket. The state and federal government will collect taxes, for example. Those are holes that can’t be fixed.

The idea of the leaky bucket illustrates the importance of money flow through a community. The more holes in the bucket, the more frequently the community needs to refill the bucket (bring in outside investments). By the same token,  fewer holes in the bucket (more money circulating within the community), the less frequently the community has to look for outside money to revive the local economy.

Let’s put the illustration in simple dollar and cents. Some studies suggest that for every dollar spent at a locally owned and operated business, sixty-eight cents stays in the community. The same dollar spent at a nationally owned store sees thirteen cents staying in the community. Now an important concept comes into play, a concept called the multiplier effect.

A consumer spends a dollar at a locally owned and operated business, of which sixty-eight cents will remain in the community with the remainder of the dollar having been leaked out of the bucket through taxes, utility costs, vendor purchases, and the like. If the sixty-eight cents that remained in the community is spent by that business owner or employee (through his pay) at another locally owned and operated business, forty-six cents remains in the local community. If the person who received the forty-six cents continues the trend of spending locally, the money will pass through eight more hands before the leaky bucket has taken it down to two cents.

If a consumer spends the dollar at a nationally owned chain instead of a locally owned and operated business, thirteen cents will remain in the community.   If the employee who received the thirteen cents in his pay (the rest of the dollar having leaked to the owner and upper management in another state, taxes, utility costs, vendor purchases and the like) spends it at another nationally owned business, only two cents remain in the community.

From this simple example, you can see how fast your community needs to find more outside money to regenerate your local economy. Your dollar spent at a locally owned and operated business will pass through nine of your friends’ and neighbors’ hands before it has practically vanished from your community. Your dollar spent at nationally owned businesses would only pass through one of your friend’s or neighbor’s hands before it has practically vanished from your community.

In the real world, it isn’t always practical, and sometimes not even possible, to spend your money exclusively at locally owned and operated businesses. But you do have the power to slow the leak. Several independent studies have concluded that a 10% shift in our spending habits to support locally owned and operated businesses would create hundreds of new jobs and tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in new economic activity.

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

Monday, February 26, 2018

My life's an open book - Chapter I

Estimated read time: 12 minutes

More than two centuries ago, a handful of great forward thinkers gathered in a locked room to put to paper revolutionary ideas no one but a traitor to the establishment would dare pen.  Despite the summer heat, they locked the windows shut lest anyone on the outside heard their whispers.

When they finished their secret meeting, the paper they held dared speak of inalienable rights afforded every person regardless of their status, wealth, or intellect.  In their vision, the common man not only was entitled to the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the wealthy elites had, but they also had to be afforded the equal opportunity to exercise those rights. The Declaration of Independence laid the groundwork for the formalizing of the new government of the United States in what we call the Constitution.

Our Constitution detailed many of those inalienable rights generalized in the Declaration of Independence.  Freedom of: religion; peaceful assembly; innocent until proven guilty; bear arms; free speech.  Even one who hasn't read the Constitution can peal off the rights guaranteed the common man.

Except for one.

Talk about the rights to privacy, and most people sort of understand, but their blank stares tell you they have no clue where in the Constitution we're guaranteed our rights to privacy.  That's probably because the right to privacy isn't least not as blatantly and clearly articulated as our many other rights.

But the right to privacy is there.  Our Founding Fathers sprinkled the Constitution with specific examples such as banning unreasonable search and seizure, not being forced to house soldiers, and the well known Fifth Amendment - right not to testify against oneself.  Professor Linder at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law has written an extensive website on constitutional law and he explains the concept of our rights to privacy more eloquently than I can.

Throughout our history, courts have repeatedly upheld the concept of our right to privacy.  In his famous dissent of the US Supreme Court case Olmstead vs United States (1928), Justice Louis Brandeis summed up the right to privacy concept succinctly as the "right to be left alone."  (His strong support for one's rights to privacy can be traced all the way back to 1890 in an article he co-wrote for the Harvard Law Review, an article recognized as one of the most influential essays in American law.)

Ironically, Justice Brandeis' dissent in 1928 was based on what he saw as an abuse of new technology by the government.  The new technology?  The telephone.  The Supreme Court ruled, with Justice Brandeis dissenting, that wiretapping of a telephone isn't an invasion of privacy nor unreasonable search.  Wiretapping is simply "listening." 

Fast forward forty years to the 1960's through the Nixon Administration.  Times had changed and the general consensus finally caught up with Justice Brandeis' thinking forty years earlier.  A series of government abuses resulted in Congress passing the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act in 1968 requiring a warrant to obtain a wiretap.  The law did, however, contain a loophole.  It allowed the President to authorize wiretaps "to protect the United States against the overthrow of the Government by force or other unlawful means, or against any other clear and present danger to the structure or existence of the Government."  President Nixon utilized this loophole extensively.

In an attempt to limit the President's authority in light of President Nixon's abuses, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978.  In the last forty years, it has been continuously tweaked, amended, expanded, and renewed.  Most recently, Trump blasted the FISA as the tool used against him in his Russian collusion investigation.  After blasting the "dangerous law," he renewed it a few days later.

Technology has progressed well past the telephone, yet the wiretapping laws haven't even caught up with the technology of the telephone much less the digital technology of cell phones and computers.  Our laws are still stuck at the analog, rotary dial-up technology.  Ironically, if we listened to Justice Brandeis' definition of our rights to privacy and judged our snooping laws on his simplistic characterization of our "right to be left alone," none of these snooping laws would be on the books today for us to debate.  The government wouldn't be able to snoop unless we gave them probable cause as defined in the Fourth Amendment.

Snooping has become big business for the government.  The government snoops with impunity and we only catch a glimpse of their illegal snooping when a whistle blower or watchdog group brings it to the public's attention.  Border searches are a good example.

An outdated law defines a border zone as an area 100 miles within a land or coastal border.  That means about two-thirds of the US population lives and works within a border zone (see map).  When the average citizen thinks of "border protection" their attention usually turns to the deserts of the southwest along the Mexican border.  Many might even support the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stopping and searching anyone within the 100 mile border zone.  It would come as a shock to those same people that if they are in Washington DC, they could be subject to warrantless searches the same as those down in our desert southwest.  DC, NYC, and almost all of New England are within the 100 mile border range where our CPB and ICE agents routinely search citizens without a warrant, at least down in our desert southwest.

Citizens headed to Mexico or back are routinely subjected to cell phone searches despite a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 2014 requiring a warrant be obtained before law enforcement can search one's cell phone.  The ruling, however, did not cover the CPB nor ICE agents so they routinely search citizens' cell phones without first showing a judge probable cause, as the Fourth Amendment states, and obtaining a warrant.  There is no control or oversight to prevent abuses nor anything in place to prevent the government agents from downloading the contents of your phone as they conduct their search.

Once the information is downloaded, you have no recourse to know where the data is being stored nor how it is being used.  Odds are you probably didn't even know the government downloaded your profile and are storing it somewhere.  The notorious "spy file" Denver police kept on political activists is a case in point. First brought to light by Glen Morris - a Native American activist, who discovered the police had a 16-year "spy file" on him - his file was only the tip of the iceberg.

Our Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to assembly.  Implied in that right is the right to freedom of association, a concept the US Supreme Court coined in the 1958 case, NAACP vs Alabama.  Alabama tried to coerce the NAACP to turn over its membership list to the state.  The NAACP refused fearing its members may face state retaliation for being members.  The US Supreme Court sided with the NAACP stating that in the First Amendment right to freely assemble is the implied right to freedom of association.  Many other cases during the Civil Rights Era expanded on the idea of the freedom of association that the First Amendment implied.

The Denver police ignored the Constitution and built files on activists attending meetings.  Officers combed the parking lots of meetings jotting down the license plate numbers of attendees and cross referencing them with addresses and phone numbers.  Neighboring Colorado Springs police officers gathered information on attendees to a peaceful protest and  turned over their names and license plates numbers to Denver.

NSA Headquarters
No one knows what goes on behind all that dark glass...
...not even the people looking out from behind all that dark glass
The question isn't "Does the government have a file on me?"  The proper questions are "What file does the government have on me, what's contained in it, how many different files by different government agencies on me are there, and who has access to all those files?"

The answers to those questions could be very important.  Seemingly innocuous information about you in and of itself may not be a big deal.  Added with other bits of information and a picture of who you are, what you do, and how you think begins to emerge.  That picture may not always be accurate, but the picture could still be used to freeze your bank account, deny you a job, land you on a "watch list", ruin your reputation, and basically make life a hassle for you.  And if you think it's the federal government looking for terrorists doing all the snooping, think again.  Even small town police forces are using high tech snooping technology to circumvent your constitutional rights.

There are plenty of people out there who value security over rights, but, fortunately, they are not in the majority opinion.  The most recent Gallup poll (2015) measuring our attitudes of security versus civil liberties and rights show almost a third of us choose security over protecting civil liberties and rights, but almost two-thirds of us choose protecting our civil liberties and rights over security.  Despite the poll that shows we value our civil liberties and rights, only 41% of us say the government is violating our civil liberties and rights in their efforts to keep us safe.

That last number is the telling reason why our government and law enforcement agencies can abuse our liberties and rights and no one challenges them.  Instead of 41% believing the government is violating our civil liberties and rights, the number should be 100% or very close to it.  The fact someone is monitoring your Internet behavior, scooping up your cell phone calls and location, using cameras equipped with face recognition technology, recording your license plate numbers, forcing you to walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines and even watching or recording you through your laptop (at least they have the technology to do it even if they deny having ever used it) means they have trampled over your Fourth Amendment rights (probable cause, unreasonable search and seizure) among others.  You are assumed to be guilty of something and it's just a matter of time for the authorities to find out what that something is.  Damn your constitutional rights.  We need to protect society from you.

Let's pretend that our government officials and law enforcement agencies place a high value on citizens' civil liberties and rights.  Yes, that makes their job harder because they have to prove probable cause before they can start snooping, and then they can only snoop for very specific things.  But that standard worked for two hundred years and they're determined to make it work for another two hundred no matter how much more difficult that makes their job.  They have had a change of heart and decide to abide by the Constitution and its laws. The government and law enforcement have nothing to fret about.  For the low, low price of $19.95, they can buy the information on any citizen they need from data brokers

The Federal Trade Commission knows who the big nine data brokers are.  The data brokers know everything about you - how much you make; where you've been online; how long you spend on each website; what you buy; when and where you're getting married or were maried; what you buy at your local supermarket if you use a loyalty card to receive discounts; your age, gender, marital status, number of children, and their age and gender; what vehicle you own; your political affiliation; how often you vote; how healthy you are even though your medical records are off limits to healthy you are?

Yes.  It's called putting the pieces of the puzzle together.  If you buy allergy medicine online regularly, you are flagged as an allergy sufferer.  If you're buying plus-sized clothing and diet pills, you are overweight.  One healthcare provider purchased the information (subscription required to read full article) on three million of its customers it insured.  The purpose was to identify potential health risks among their insured so that, as a Blue Cross Blue Shield spokesperson stated, they could send them information on how to make healthier lifestyle choices instead of credit card offers.

Nothing these data brokers are doing is illegal.  Their snooping isn't prohibited by the Constitution.  The Constitution only details what the government can and cannot do.  How companies collect our information and what they do with that data may not be illegal, but most of us would agree it is unethical.

Therein lies the problem.  Even if we could convince our government and law enforcement agencies to give up their snooping tactics and play by the Constitution, Corporate America isn't governed by the Constitution and can trample over our rights at will.  Legal but unethical, yes, but not nearly as unethical as when one tries to opt out of a data broker's (or any company's) tracking and trading practices.  Each broker or company has to be contacted individually and none make it easy for one to opt out.  Some will even charge you to take down your information, but nothing prevents them from continuing to collect on other devices you may use that don't have your opt out information.

It is unlikely we'll ever get our government and law enforcement agencies to play by the rules and abide by our Constitution.  That doesn't mean we should stop trying, though.  Perhaps someone smarter than I will start a simple data mining site that targets our government leaders, bureaucrats, law enforcement agents, and CEOs of Corporate America and share the information legally obtained so they can experience firsthand the serious threat snooping and the collection of metadata poses to the average citizen.  Personally, I'd be dying to know who in the White House and Congress has been shopping at Victoria's Secrets on a regular basis.

Hmmm...wonder how many more files on me have been opened up for writing this.  I used the word, target, in conjunction with our political leaders.  I'm a potential dangerous radical now.  I bet the NSA has a best seller in it's database and one of those data brokers is going to sell it to you for low, low price of $19.95 and I won't get a penny of royalty for the story.

We've come a long way since the days when we believed that right to privacy meant the right to be left alone....

TL;DR folks:
The government is watching you and probably has at least one, if not more profiles of you in their database, all obtained unconstitutionally.  If the government doesn't have the profile, you can bet more than one company does, all obtained unethically, if not illegally.  Your life is an open book for all to read, for the low, low price of $19.95.  But wait.  Order now and they'll send you a second copy free.  Just pay a separate handling fee.

The government and Corporate America know you better than your Mom.

For your listening pleasure:

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Big business steamrolls John and Jane

Estimated read time: 20 minutes

If you have been in the job market long enough (that is, you're old and been working all your life), somewhere along the way you probably heard of the term 1099 employee.  You may have even worked a job that classified you as a "1099 employee" and you accepted the classification as a normal alternative to the W2 employee most of us have been all of our lives.  Guess what?  There is no such thing as a "1099 employee" nor a "W2 employee", at least as far as the IRS is concerned.  There are employees and what differentiates them is how they pay their taxes. 

Most of us are paid by an employer who takes out our taxes, most notably our FICA taxes.  At the end of the year, the employer sends us a W2 form showing how much they paid us and how much taxes were taken out from our earned pay.  We then file our taxes at the end of the year using the W2 to determine if we owe more taxes or, as is the usual case, how much the government owes us for taking out too much.  (Unfortunately, we can't charge the IRS interest for the money they held all year that was legally ours, but we all know life isn't fair and the government gets to steal what it wants.)

There is a subset of employees who aren't paid by an employer.  We usually think of these employees as self employed.  Business owners and many other professionals like doctors, lawyers, consultants, and writers, are just a few of this subset of employees. 

Writers, for example, don't work for a publishing company.  The publishing company's main purpose is to publish written works.  Writers submit their work and hope to be discovered.  Some established writers (established means proven money makers) enter a contract with the publishing company promising the publishing company they have the first crack at publishing their work, but they still don't work for the publishing company.  They simply provide the writings the publishing company publishes...or might not publish.

Sticking with writers as our example, at the end of the year, the publishing company may or may not send the writer a 1099 form showing all the money they paid out to the writer.  If what they paid out was less than $600, they do not have to file the 1099 with the IRS.  Even if they paid out more than $600 to a writer, they do not have to file a 1099 with the IRS.  If they don't file the 1099, the amount the company paid the writer is simply not a tax deductible business expense. 

What is the 1099?  Technically, as far as the IRS is concerned, the 1099-MISC (the form's long name) is "non-employee compensation" paid out during the year, either to people or businesses.  In our writer example, the publishing house will send a 1099 to a writer (a person) or to a business (possibly formed by one or more writers) that supplied written material to the publishing house throughout the year.  The publishing house gets a tax write off and the recipient has taxable income to claim.

Now that we got the basics out of the way, why do we classify employees as W2 or 1099 employees?   

Beats me.  What we're really doing is classifying how employees pay their taxes and who does the paying.  W2 employees, for example, pay their FICA taxes with the rate being determined by their W4 form telling their employer how much to withhold.  1099 employees pay a self employment tax, a tax similar to a W2 employee's FICA tax, that is paid either quarterly (for those making beaucoup bucks) or at the end of the year when they file taxes (for those who make a mediocre living).

Where the difference comes in is the unemployment tax.  With the exception of three states (Alaska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), employers are solely responsible for the unemployment tax.  If you don't live in one of those three states, don't rejoice over not having to pay an unemployment tax.  According to the Tax Foundation, a non profit tax policy organization, you are paying the the form of lower wages.

This explanation is complicated enough and, since I'm not a tax professional, even I'm scratching my head.  One take away from all this, though, is if an employer were to change the company's workforce to all self employed workers, the company could save some on its tax bill and, with the advent of Obamacare type legislation, could save some on benefit expenses.

In steps the politicians who want their tax money.  Since there are two ways to pay an employee, the government had to define the way an employee is paid - through a W2 form where the employer matches your FICA tax and also pays state and federal unemployment tax (costs that, in reality, are passed off to the employee through lower wages) or through a 1099 form where the employer pays nothing in taxes since "1099 employees" are self employed and responsible for their own taxes.  To ensure the government maximizes its tax revenue, politicians defined which employees can be legally paid through the 1099 form.  The default payment structure is through the W2 form.

Which employees can be considered self employed? 

A lawyer specializing in tax and corporate law would be the best person to answer that question.  I can almost guarantee no two lawyers will agree on the answer.  That's why we have courts and judges to decide what the law might be saying and might not be saying.  I predicate that statement based on an informal meeting I had with a local tax attorney I know. 

So there is no misunderstanding if you read on past here, I am not an attorney nor have I studied law in any capacity.  The attorney I did talk to knows nothing of what I'm about to write as I only asked him generalized questions about the classification of employees and how one proves an employee may have been misclassified.  In short, I could've found a FAQs section on an anonymous attorney's website offering the same information.  In fact, the IRS Guidelines pamphlet offers more information than my informal meeting with the attorney.  The attorney did, however, reaffirm what I was thinking, did challenge me to dig deeper to make sure I understood the issue at least on a basic level (like look for the five characteristics that could show a misclassification), and did put me on a more objectively thinking path.

Objectively thinking path - that's a clue more technical background information is coming in the next few paragraphs.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

The IRS looks at the degree of control the employer and the employee have in three major areas: behavioral control, financial control, and relationship factors.  Fortunately, the lawyers over at the blog, Strictly Business, did a fine job of breaking down what the IRS tried to explain in their pamphlet linked above.  From their blog as written by Attorney Alexander J. Davie in 2011:

Behavioral Control Factors

  • Does the worker decide their own schedule and location of work?
  • Is the company providing training to the worker?
  • Does the worker have their own employees?
  • Does the worker decide the order and sequence of services?
  • Does the worker decide what kind of reporting is provided to the company?

 Financial Control Factors

  • Will the worker submit invoices?
  • Will the worker pay their own business and travel expenses?
  • Does the worker furnish his own tools and materials?
  • Does the worker have his own business?
  • Does the worker advertise their services?
  • Will the worker recognize profit or loss based on good or bad decisions?

Relationship Factors

  • Is the worker retained for a specific project or are they involved in ongoing operations?
  • Does the worker have other clients?
  • Will the worker maintain independent activities?
  • Does the worker maintain his own insurance?
  • Is there a signed contract between the worker and the company specifying that they have an independent contractor relationship?
  • Does the worker receive benefits?
  • Is the relationship temporary or open-ended?
  • Are the services provided a key aspect of the regular business of the company?

While this is a good list to get one thinking about what differentiates an employee who is paid through a W2 (hourly/salaried employee) from one paid through a 1099 (self employed employee), one should look at the IRS pamphlet for further explanations.  You can't, for example, answer yes or no to the above questions, tally your score, and more yeses means 1099 and more no's means W2.  If it were that easy, we wouldn't need lawyers.

Are courier services misclassifying their employees? 


With all this boring, textbook buildup, that question certainly sounds odd.  If you were paying attention to all that boring textbook stuff (and got brave and read the IRS pamphlet), you'd know there are no blanket definitions to determine an hourly employee from a self employed employee, but a couple of points do stand out more than others.  One of those is the whether or not the employer-employee relationship is temporary or open-ended.  Let's illustrate this with a made up example.

Word of warning: if you own a pizza place, don't take my word that you can hire a self employed cook as described below.  Consult your lawyer or play it safe and hire an hourly employee.  Misclassifying an employee can cost you tons of money.

A pizza shop is doing well, but the owner noticed a trend.  More and more of his customers were asking if there were any good sushi bars in town.  Being shrewd, the pizza shop owner got the bright idea to test the viability of hiring a sushi chef and offering his customer the fine Asian cuisine as an alternative to the traditional salad.  A six month test would determine if the owner should keep the sushi-expanded menu or discontinue it. 

By now, you probably know the pizza shop owner can't hire pizza cooks as self employed cooks.  They are receiving either an hourly pay or a salary.  One tell tale reason is the main purpose of a pizza shop is to provide fresh cooked pizzas.  Hiring a pizza cook is an open ended assignment and the services the pizza cook provides is a key aspect of the pizza business.

A sushi chef, however, might be a different story.  A pizza cook can walk into a pizza shop, start out as the sandwich maker or fry cook or even dishwasher, and learn how to make pizzas within a couple of months during the slow hours of the restaurant.  A sushi chef takes ten years of training to become a master sushi chef and the training continues well past the ten years.  Yes, it's a lot harder and more complicated to slap raw fish on rice than one might think it is.  Well, that is, it's a lot harder than it looks if you want to serve good sushi and make a profit.

In my made up scenario, the pizza shop owner might be able to justify hiring a sushi chef as an independent contractor or self employed chef.  The pizza shop owner isn't providing any training nor tools (sushi knives), dictating how the sushi should be prepared, demanding certain procedures be followed in sushi preparation, and so on.  The pizza shop owner also isn't saying nor implying to the sushi chef that sushi services will be needed as long as the sushi sells.   All the pizza shop owner wants is a sushi chef to set up an affordable sushi sampler menu to see if the product will sell well along side the pizzas for the next six months.  After the six months, if the pizza shop owner decides to keep sushi on the menu, the sushi chef may need to be reclassified as an hourly or salaried employee because now sushi would be a key aspect of the pizza business, at least for this one shop.

But pizza shops aren't courier services and made up examples are just that - made up

No, pizza shops are not courier services, but two real live "independent couriers" hired for their delivery services are not a made up example.  This is where you get to decide the answer to the question, based on the real example I'm about to detail: are courier services misclassifying their employees?

For obvious reasons, the two couriers do not want to be named.  They still need to find a new job and don't want a potential employer stumbling on this article and denying them a job for being troublemakers or something.  They have, however, shared their stories, their original contract, and emails between them and the courier company that hired them so I could write this story.  To protect the privacy of those two individuals, no, I will never divulge their identities.

The first courier, Jane Doe, worked for a company (which I won't divulge since it's irrelevant to the story) in a courier position as an hourly employee of that company.  After five years, her company decided to outsource her position to a third party vendor, Medifleet.  The company insisted that Medifleet offer their existing couriers a position so they wouldn't end up on the unemployment line.

The selling point for Jane was Medifleet told her she would be self employed and had the option of not only running her route she knew, but could take on additional routes and hire whomever she wanted to run those routes.  She could build her own medical courier route.  The opportunity sounded appealing and she took it.

She trained her husband to run her route so whenever she needed a day off, he could run it for her.  Three years later, a courier on another route wanted out so her husband, John Doe, took over that route.  He had already proven himself reliable and had all the OSHA training.  He was the logical choice to run the second route.

John and Jane ran the two routes reliably.  When one couldn't run the route, the other would combine the two routes and get both done to the customer's satisfaction.  Medifleet never worried about those two routes being vacant due to a no show.

Recognizing a need for a relief driver in case they both wanted to take time off together, they decided to expand their business by hiring a friend that would learn both routes.  By this time, Medifleet had merged with Fleetgistics.  Fleetgistics clamped down on the definition of independent contractor.  Any new driver had to pass their training and standards before they could be allowed to run any routes.  This was Jane and John's first indication they weren't really self employed running their own courier service.

This was also the year that neither had to sign a new contract.  Under Medifleet, the year anniversary of being awarded a contract meant signing a new contract for the following year.  Signing the contract wasn't a negotiating opportunity.  It was sign it or go on you merry way endeavor, but at least it was a binding contract of what each party could expect for the next year. 

When Fleetgistics took over, there were no annual contracts to sign.  That never prevented dispatchers and employees of Fleetgistics threatening their independent contractors like John and Jane with comments like "What does your contract say?" whenever there was a conflict.  In Fleetgistic's eyes, the last three years (going on four, now) the annual contract last signed was still in force.  Their second clue they weren't independent contractors any more reared its ugly head.  They were expected to work without a contract.

Two years later, Fleetgistics sent someone to talk with all the independent contractors and try to fix the problems with the account.  One insistent point he made to all the couriers was they needed to wear a shirt with the Medifleet logo as part of the uniform described in their contract, a contract no one had signed in at least three years.

In that now expired contract, there was a uniform clause.  When Medifleet took over the routes, the company still wanted the independent couriers to follow their company guidelines for a "uniform," which is why the contract contained a vague uniform clause.  As Jane described, the uniform when she was a company employee was a loosely defined dress code prohibiting jeans and a preference for khaki or dark blue pants and white or dark blue shirt - no tee shirts.  Fleetgistics morphed that definition into "dark blue shirt with a Medifleet logo."

As Jane emphatically stated, "If I'm a self employed courier, why am I required to wear a uniform advertising another courier company, a company that, in effect, is my competitor?  I accepted the contract because they didn't have their own couriers to meet their obligations.  I'll be damned if I'm going to advertise their services." 

Jane and John's real objection?  To comply with the new uniform definition meant spending seventeen dollars per shirt to get a dark blue shirt with the Medifleet logo.  From experience (both John and Jane did purchase five shirts each), the shirts had no pockets (a necessity for that cell phone they had to carry to do their route) and only lasted about two months before beginning to rip.  They could purchase the same style shirt with pockets for five dollars each at Wal-Mart, and the Wal-Mart shirts lasted a year and are still being worn.

This was John and Jane's third clue they weren't independent contractors.  They had to purchase another company's shirts to run their routes and weren't allowed to advertise themselves as independent couriers.

By now, Jane and John had their fourth clue they weren't independent contractors.  They were expected to run their routes based on a manifest digitally produced by a third party vendor and not how they saw best fit to run it.  They had to forgo their privacy rights by enabling location tracking on their personal phones and they had to follow the times on the manifest, a manifest more fraught with errors than the latest Windows 10 update.

Both John and Jane knew their routes and knew the flexibilities built into them.  If something happened on the route, like an accident that held them up, they had the phone numbers of their stops to give them a heads up or instruct them to leave anything they were supposed to pick up in the box outside, so the manifest times, despite often being incorrect, also weren't critical.  They had to run their route against the manifest Fleetgistics created else risk being marked as "failure to meet commitments."  Dispatch often called wanting to know why they weren't meeting their commitments. 

The final straw for John and Jane came in January shortly after Fleetgistics merged with USPack.  Without warning, the operations manager for the region approached John and gave him a heads up of the addendum that was going to be attached to the contract (an unsigned contract going on four years old) and to watch his email for it.  Sure enough, the email came through three days later.

Notice the employee is threatened with
"deactivation", not termination of contract.
The gist of the email outlined new "fees" to continue working the routes.  A 3.9% brokerage fee would be assessed to the routes to cover the cost of obtaining and maintaining the accounts with the customer.  A $12/week fee would be assessed for use of the software provided (that third party software in the courier phones) to effectively carry out the route requirements.  And a half percent charge would be paid to couriers to wear that Medifleet shirt, defined as an "advertising fee."  Instructions stated to carefully review the new requirements and sign the addendum to be added to the courier's contract else face deactivation - yes, deactivation like a robot - not fired like a person.

For Jane, who was going on eight years with no pay raise nor negotiating power to argue for a pay raise, and John, who was going on five years with no pay raise nor negotiating power to argue for a pay raise, this was the fifth and final straw.  The "advertising fee" amounted to a whopping seventy-six cents per day pay increase for John and a sixty cents per day increase for Jane.  Those increases were offset by a 5.5% decrease in the route pay (over three hundred dollars per month pay decrease between the both of them) and they didn't bother to calculate the cost of the new shirts every two months to honor the "advertising clause" USPack threw in.

John offered one last gallant fight to no avail.  He demanded a pay raise in both routes that, after the new fees were deducted, would minimally impact their take home pay.  The operations manager told him to trust him, he'd make his request happen, just sign the new agreement.  John and Jane stood fast and told him to make the pay hike permanent, in writing, and they would sign.  Three days later, on Sunday night, the operations manger called them and said, "Sign else you have no route tomorrow."

Neither John nor Jane signed.

After eight years, both left Fleetgistics without a job and unable to collect unemployment since they were "self employed." 

For Jane, eleven years later after being outsourced, she holds no harsh judgments on her old employer who outsourced her.  Like most companies, she was a business expense to be shuffled around and not much more, but she understands her old employer had their bottom line to protect.  

For both Jane and John, their last almost eight years of experience with Fleetgistics is just more business as usual.  The bottom line and greed rule.  Whether or not Fleetgistics broke any laws by classifying them as independent contractors remains to be seen, but it's hard to deny they acted in a less than honorable manner and probably acted unethically.  And while we can understand John and Jane's sentiments, the question remains - did Medifleet, Fleetgistics, and USPack misclassify them?  Should they have been hired has hourly or salaried employees instead of independent contractors?

Now for the bigger question


Jane and John are looking for work.  They know delivery and courier services and they have the experience to learn what to avoid.  As they search for jobs, they haven't encountered any company that charges a "brokerage fee."  Most courier companies they've looked at have minimal requirements for type of vehicle, licensing, and insurance.  Until they actually work for these companies as an independent contractor, they have no way of knowing if they'll be treated as truly self employed contractors or employees - employees who only become self employed when it's convenient for the hiring company.

One lesson that can be deduced - delivery and courier services companies need to be looked at closer.  The opportunity for job classification abuse is great and there's little recourse for those caught up in the classification.  It wasn't easy for John and Jane to walk away from their routes with only a few days notice.  Fleetgistics and USPack strong armed them out of business.

The sad part is both Jane and John knew back in 2015 Fleetgistics operated their business under less than honorable rules.  In the 2015 class action lawsuit, Fleetgistics, without admitting guilt, settled a $3.5 million class action lawsuit that alleged they misclassified drivers as independent contractors, denied overtime compensation and forced drivers to pay for Fleetgistics' business expenses.  Jane received just short of a thousand dollars in the settlement (four years of work) and John received just short of three hundred dollars in the settlement (two years of work).  Because of the class action suit, they have no further recourse to the law.  Jane and John got pennies, the lawyers got rich, and business as usual continues for Fleetgistics.

TL;DR Folks:
Ok, you go to work nine to five and get paid hourly.  Should you get paid hourly?  This article won't answer that question.  It will answer how a company might be abusing its authority over you, especially with regards to how you are getting paid.  If you don't care to read the article, ok, welcome to the machine.

For your listening pleasure:
Please note, this is a fan's interpretation of Pink Floyd, and a good interpretation

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

Monday, February 5, 2018

What's with our reliance on job titles?

When you talk about your job - whether you're talking to your friends or family, strangers at a Chamber of Commerce social gathering, or even a job interview - you don't tell people you're a Burger Flipper at Burgers R US or Head Honcho of the Business Development Division at Burgers R Us. The first thing you describe is what you do, not what your job title is.  Job titles are nothing more than a useless bit of information that means nothing except to the stranger who really doesn't care what else you have to say, but needs something to make judgments about you.

I know you'll say that's what we have job descriptions for - to further describe what the person does. That's fine and dandy until you (you acting in the role of a potential employer) realize what talent you might be overlooking because you don't have time to read those descriptions. Burger Flippers may not be qualified to take on the role of Head Honcho, but that doesn't mean they lack the education and/or real life experience to know what changes would increase sales for Burgers R Us. They may have ideas Head Honcho hasn't thought about.  And their experience, education, and ideas might qualify them for an entry level position in the Business Development Division if not the Head Honcho position.

Of course that brings the flip side of my argument. Head Honchos may never seek a job as Burger Flippers, but perhaps they should. Why? Taking on a job for a month as Burger Flipper would give them real life experience to take back to the  Business Development Division, ideas that would make Burgers R Us bigger, stronger, and more profitable.

Bottom line: we have job titles everyone reads and stereotypes, and we have job descriptions we understand on a generalized and biased level, but we don't bother to read on an individual level.  The result is we end up with overqualified people in some positions and underqualified people in other positions. 

Burger Flipper and Head Honcho have reached their peak at Burgers R Us and start looking for new jobs, perhaps even within the same company. This is where job titles hinder job seekers. Job titles hinder the entry level through middle level employees with more impact than your upper management and professional levels, but it's a hindrance that shouldn't be there regardless of the level.  Before either have entered the interview room, the interviewers already have formed their ideas what each can do and what their qualifications are. 
When the Burger Flipper or Head Honcho writes a résumé, signs up on a job board, or becomes a member of professional social media platforms like LinkedIn, the first thing the job seeker is asked to do is categorize his/her life's experience in neat little job titles. That job title is then used not to advance the individual's career, but to find a similar job the applicant is seeking to leave or grow beyond.

Potential talent wasted.

In this high tech world where we categorize as much as possible and then we willingly peruse the categories to make our hiring tasks easier, we have sacrificed valuable individuality for less-than-valuable conformity to expected labels. Burger Flippers, if they  work hard and apply themselves, may some day work their way up to shift manager. The Head Honchos, if they keep their nose to the grindstone, may work their way up to International Business Developer.

Funny thing is Head Honcho realizes the promotion brought on ten times the work pressure and headaches for one-and-a-half times the pay and the prestige of a new job title.  The Burger Flipper realizes the promotion to shift manager brought on ten times the work pressure and headaches for a nominal raise and prestige of a new job title.  Deep down, both know they didn't realize their full potential because everyone looked at their job title, not them as individuals.  There were other job titles they would've rather have taken their job skills, education level, and experience to, but every venue's insistence on relying on job titles to pigeon-hole them made a cross-career move highly unlikely, if not next to impossible, even within the same company.

I could complicate the debate further by introducing the concept of socioeconomic bias, but that might be for another argument.  In the meantime, I'd be happy if human resource departments, job boards, and professional social networks did away with job titles altogether.  That's not going to happen, but maybe someone smarter than I could morph those job titles into something more meaningful, a title less likely to be misused or subject to our own biases. 

As machines (robots and AI software) are poised to takeover a third or more of our workforce, maybe it's time to start looking at people as individuals and not as job titles.  It's a lot harder for machines to take over individuals than it is for them to takeover job titles.

TL;DR folks:
If you found this article too long to read, then job titles are a necessity for you. 

For your listening pleasure:
Being George Carlin, R-rated for language and sexual suggestion

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Union Talbot Boys closer to becoming real

Three months have gone by since my last update on my journey to making the Union Talbot Boys more than just talk.  Holidays and my day job are partly to blame for the delay in an update, but mostly, an exciting new development has had me keeping a lid on the story.

If you remember, my journey started with the Talbot County Council back in August and ended with them in October.  When I started my exploratory journey on my own lonely path because I couldn't find anyone else working on the Union Talbot Boys project, I got a lot of suggestions from various people and organizations, all of whom ended our meeting with a finger pointing in a new direction for me to explore.  All that finger pointing had me walking in a very large circle, but when I circled back to the Talbot County Council, Jennifer Williams, President of the Talbot County Council, forwarded my emails to the legal department.  With a huge thank you to Ms. Williams, she sent me on a path to making the Union Talbot Boys a reality.

After a couple of emails to Anthony P. Kupersmith, Esq. (Acting County Attorney), his office arranged a meeting with R. Andrew Hollis (Talbot County Manager), Mary O'Donnell (Assistant County Attorney) and himself.  To my surprise, I wasn't the only invitee to this meeting regarding the Union Talbot Boys.  Two other gentlemen also pursuing the goal of creating the Union Talbot Boys were invited so we could meet each other and discuss where we were at in our plans.

I have a confession to make.  I'm a bit impatient at times.  As I embarked on my circular journey, many times I thought the system isn't for the little guy with a dollar in his pocket.  It's for the person carrying a fat wallet or a fat purse.  The little guy with a dollar in his pocket gets shoved out the door with the hope he gets thirsty, stops at a tavern for a beer, and forgets what it was he had set out to do.  I'm sure that bit of frustration showed in a couple of my previous articles as I wrote them in real time while experiencing the events and emotions.  But I learned two valuable lessons that's easy to forget in this technological world of instant gratification.  I learned no matter how things might look, you don't know everything going on behind the scenes, and patience and persistence pays off. 

I'll never know if my initial contact with the County Commissioners resulted in a three month circular journey because they were measuring my commitment to the project before involving other people who could provide valuable help or if fate happened to make my journey circle back to the County Commissioners to afford me the opportunity to meet others who were working towards the same goals.  All I know is I sat in the meeting with two gentlemen who were further along on their path to making the Union Talbot Boys a reality than I had gotten on my path and there were important ears listening to the three of us.
Story won't be complete
until the Union Talbot Boys
join him

In fact, not only did those important ears listen, but Mr. Kupersmith, Mr. Hollis, and Ms. O'Donnell took copious notes of all we said.  Between the three of them, there were enough words on their pieces of paper for a short story.  The other two gentlemen took a paragraph or so of notes each.  I didn't even have a pen to write my name on the blank sheet of paper, a sheet I had to borrow.

By now, you're probably wondering who the other two gentlemen are.  Best I can tell, they're regular guys like me who happen to feel strongly about the Union Talbot Boys.  They aren't trying to make the monument a reality in pursuit of their fifteen minutes of fame.  They're trying to make it a reality because it's the right thing to do.

There's the tricky part.  How do we know what "the right thing to do" is? The pages of history are filled with stories of people doing what they felt was "the right thing to do."  Many of their choices have stood the test of time.  Some haven't.  Some we still debate.

One good indication that "it is the right thing to do" is there are no underlying selfish motives for doing it.  As that principle applies to the effort to erect a Union Talbot Boys Memorial, it means those involved aren't making the effort to gain fifteen minutes of fame, to enhance their résumé, to push or validate their own views, or to gain personally in some way.

Since our first meeting the week before Thanksgiving last year, the talk has always centered on how to tie in the Union Talbot Boys with the existing Confederate Talbot Boys and get both monuments to tell the whole story of that turning point in American history.  The driving force has been that the community shouldn't be shuffling history off to a weed overgrown cemetery or an obscure museum simply because we don't like what that history shows us.  Instead, it should stare us in the face so we are forced to stare back at it, reconcile with it, and teach it so no future generations repeat the mistakes.

A couple of weeks ago, I met a third gentleman on the team when we met at the courtyard grounds with a local monument broker to assess the location.  Again, the talk centered on where to place the Union Talbot Boys and how to tie it in with the Confederate Talbot Boys to get both monuments to tell their story.  The meeting reinforced my belief that as a group, pursuing the Union Talbot Boys project was the "right thing to do."

As we talked and the monument people took their measurements, an elderly lady milled around within earshot of our conversations.  After some time had passed, one of us (I don't remember who) struck up a conversation with the lady.  After introducing herself as Sue, her comment was a simple statement that she was happy to hear somebody cared about the Talbot Boys and was working on getting the whole story told.

For some people, the existing Talbot Boys and the proposed Union Talbot Boys are simply statues on a hunk of rock.  For others, like Sue, those monuments mean a lot for unexpressed reasons.  And for others, like the gentlemen I'm working with, the monuments are personal.  When the Union Talbot Boys is completed, they'll have family members listed on both monuments.  Call the Civil War whatever you like, but in the end, it was and always will be a war of brother against brother, a dark but necessary chapter in our history, and a turning point in what our country would become.  We have a ways to go to achieve the ideal, but if we start erasing the bits of history we don't like now, we're doomed to repeat our darkest chapters in one form or another later.

TL;DR Folks:
A group of residents, brought together with the help of the County Commissioners, is working on making the Union Talbot Boys a reality so that the Talbot County Courthouse grounds can tell the whole story of the Civil War.  For readers of this blog, you already know me, but I assure you the other people I'm working with are not Drunk Rednecks.  They are soberly pursuing a solid plan to honor the Civil War veterans on both sides of the conflict and ensure we don't forget the lessons the Civil War era taught us.  I look forward to introducing them to you as we continue to develop and build the project.

The whole Talbot Boys saga:
All articles

For your listening pleasure:

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Are you shopping local?

Let's have a serious talk...even toot your own horn, if you like.

I just spent the last two hours looking at shop local videos on YouTube trying to learn what works and doesn't work.  Of course, it's Saturday night and I have my Budweiser with me.  Budweiser is the only beer I drink and have drank since my college days.  I have sampled other beers as long as I can buy them one bottle at a time, but... when I buy to stock my fridge, Budweiser is all you will find.

Then I came across a video where a chef took to task the shop local message.  His point was that consumers are driving the shop local message, but are local shop owners practicing what the consumers are preaching?  Since he is a chef and owns a restaurant, he pointed out that in his restaurant he carries almost exclusively locally produced beers, wines, and spirits and he suggests them to his diners over the national brands, like Budweiser.

His comment got me thinking on three fronts.

First, as much as I push "buy local", I have been remiss on supporting our local breweries?  I have a few decades of brand loyalty to Budweiser, yet I bet the folks at Budweiser couldn't find Delmarva on a map.  Sure, when I first started drinking beer back in college, there was no such thing as locally produced beers, but now there is.  Unless Budweiser gives back to to my little community on Delmarva by sending a couple of ice cold kegs via Clydesdale horses for a community crab feast every year for the next thirty-five years (my time investment in Budweiser so far), I need to find a comparable locally produced beer.  At least I know if I spend my ten bucks every Saturday on a 12-pack of a locally produced beer, $6.80 will stay in my community, adding to its strength and vitality it so desperately needs. That's a much better investment than the $1.30 that Budweiser leaves for my community.  I do want to see those Clydesdales up close so, if Budweiser is listening, I'm willing to negotiate a year-to-year deal with you to give back to my community.

Second, if you own a restaurant or bar, how much of your inventory is locally produced beers, wines, and spirits and do you often suggest or actively advertise them, like with plenty of signage and verbal suggestions to every customer, including printed ads?

Third, I figure I have a lot of "brand loyalty" to many basic household items, food, and drinks in addition to my brand loyalty to Budweiser.  I need to take a closer look at what I am buying and try to find an acceptable, locally produced alternative.  If you are a locally owned and operated business, will you join me in the quest to find locally produced alternatives your customers will love?

This is where you get to toot your own horn.  If you are a locally owned and operated producer of goods, tell us.  I know I need to find new brands.  If you are a business that sources its products locally, first, tell us.  I need to know where to go to experience the true flavor of shopping local.  And if you are a shopper who already knows where the great locally owned and operated businesses that offer locally produced goods are, tell us.  That's a secret everyone should know!


Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How many friggin' Jew asses are we supposed to kiss?

I caught a lot of flack when I asked a similar question last summer, so I'll be more polite about it this time.  How many friggin' Jew asses are we supposed to kiss? 

We got Grumplin handing the Jews in Jerusalem an embassy.  A couple of weeks later, he hands the Jews on Wall Street and the Jews in our investment banks a windfall tax break.

How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?

While the Jews amass all sorts of presents from Grumplin, a brown stream of Mexicans run across our borders and there's no wall to stop them nor a gorge to herd them in to funnel them to the Gulf of California.  They bring with them their family values of drugs, crime, and murder that blankets our cities like diseased sludge from broken sewer lines.

Grumplin is too busy kissing Jew ass and building Lego wall prototypes to care about the brown disease and the illegal Mexicans bringing their drugs and violence. 


We're goin' to party tonight!
      (Sing to La Cucaracha)

      ¡Manos arriba! ¡Manos arriba!
      Watch us do your women right.
      Mar-i-hu-an-a!  Mar-i-hu-an-a!
      Bang, bang, your pain go away.

Maybe come 2020, we should vote Democrat.  We can count on them to mandate we all learn Spanish so we can at least understand what our illegal invaders are saying as they rape, pillage, and murder us.

Posted by:
Annie Coiture: Struttin' and cluckin' around the conservative barnyard.