Friday, December 01, 2006

The SBC/CWA micro-strike, Part II: Sitzkrieg

I was there, kids, back in '04 when the CWA (Communication Workers Of America, 'Fighting for jobs and healthcare') went up against Ed Whitacre and SBC (now AT&T, 'anti-job, pro-illness-induced-bankruptcy'). I was on the management side, although, as I explained in Part I, the only thing I managed was the microwave in the breakroom. I delegated heating up Hot Pockets to it.

I know a lot of arch-conservatives and Libertarian types start to pleasure yourselves when you hear stories about management employees taking over jobs abandoned by Union Workers during strikes, sticking it to those ungrateful commie bastards by showing them anyone can do their job, but the reality was not so glamorous in this case.

Around April, after a lot of posturing by both sides, the Union voted to authorize the strike. They gave SBC a 30-day warning. As part of our 'BCP', business continuity plan, we were to receive strike assignments - we'd be told what Union jobs we'd be pretending to take over.

I hoped I would get something cool like driving a repair truck or working at a Central Office, but I got what was to me the worst possible assignment - taking calls from customers who were having trouble with their service.

Some people fear flying, some fear public speaking, but in my case the thought of spending who knows how many 12-hour shifts taking calls from angry assholes while another asshole gave me grief about not taking enough calls or spending too long on a call filled me with fear and dread. I started having nightmares about it. I started sending out resumes and spending large chunks of the days and nights working on a Sanity Continuity Plan.

We were assigned, via e-mails that were machine-generated using threatening templates ('up to and including termination' being a common phrase) a list of on-line training courses we were to take. These familiarized us with the antiquated mainframe-based systems we'd somehow be using to get information. They all had 3-or-4 letter unpronounceable acronym names.

After the online training, we got to spend several days in the classroom. This was especially great. For some reason they did not have a test version of the fresh-for-74 software to use for training. I found this out after the instructor noticed I was goofing off, submitting fake tickets for cities in Ohio. Suddenly she had to stop the class so she could cancel the tickets, so repairmen would not be sent out on wild goose chases all over Ohio.

If I still gave a shit about the company at that point, I would have been mortified, sitting up there in one of the front rows, answering her questions about what I'd put in, watching the people in the rows behind me resentfully glare at me for managing to make an already tedious class even more boring, and jeopardizing the most glorious mission of exalted management in service of number one cowboy asshole Ed, but somehow I had crossed over into a kind of temporary sociopathy, and found the whole thing really amusing (I made an effort not to smirk, though).

Eventually the trucks were called back and class resumed. We did a lot of role-playing, pretending to be angry customers and all that. We watched recordings of actual calls, which were neat because they showed the reps goofing off on the internet during calls. After 2 days of this, miraculously I was not fired, but was deemed ready to man the phones if duty called.

Next time: duty calls, I let it go to voice mail.

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