ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Monthly Archives: April 2009

Engaging Talented Workers, or Not

 A colleague of mine in Pittsburgh oversees datamining and reporting for a well-known international company. M’s area uses computer applications such as Cognos and Crystal Reports to track sales and inventory for jars of pickles and bottles of ketchup. Several years ago, his job was outsourced and he became an employee of large international third-party service provider with three letters in its name.


History alert:  Both companies originated in the late-nineteenth century. The first bears the name of a German immigrant who grew and sold horseradish in the ‘burgh. The second is connected with the German-American Herman Hollerith, who helped design the first census after the Civil War using punch cards.


M. is bright, articulate and motivated. In between his regular job and family, he plays and mixes music. He has produced several CDs. He recently (in I’m going to guess his mid-to-late thirties, and in between everything else) completed his undergraduate degree in labor relations through Penn State’s distance learning program. He offers a good example of work-life balance.


Early this year my friend’s original employer brought his area and position back in-house and he had to re-apply for his job. There may be a certain logic behind such decisions, but it often seems to be logic of Kafka or Joseph Heller in Catch 22. M. was told the application process was a formality. Not to worry: he was the top candidate. He went away for a week’s vacation and returned to find his job in jeopardy. His prospective manager called him into his office and explained that M was deemed perhaps not as fully engaged as the other candidates, whatever that means. Whether this was a deliberate bargaining ploy or organizational obliviousness, the experience caused M. and wife and son not a little stress, as anyone who reads the paper about mounting job losses can understand. After keepng M. on pins and needles for a week, the company finally hired him at a bit less than his previous salary with similar benefits.


Articles fill newspapers and magazines about organizations bemoaning the need for qualified candidates with appropriate skills, experience and work ethic. This is no less true when times are economically challenging than when things are flush. In fact, it may be more true, as companies are forced to do more with fewer resources. Perhaps someone can explain why, then, instead of simply making M. an offer, an organization that needed his skill and experience, and for whom these (along with a new degree) were known quantities, went through the time, expense and inefficiency of such a  dysfunctional and stressful hiring process. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.



Visiting the ‘Safety First’ Exhibit at the Rivers of Steel Heritage Center

On a sunny, windy afternoon I bicycled across the Rankin Bridge over the Monongahela River and spent Saturday, April 11th at the Rivers of Steel Heritage Center in Homestead. There I learned everything I wanted to know about not getting my hands or other extremities folded, spindled or incinerated in a steel mill. Rivers of Steel has an exhibit running at the Bost Building titled Safety First. Curator Tiffani Emig and the staff have done a fine job interpreting the various posters, movies and instructional materials that the steel industry and union in Southwestern PA created to promote safety in the mills from the time of Carnegie up through the 1990s. Of course, manufacturing steel was (and is) inherently hot, dangerous work. Whatever the rhetoric, it’s clear the need for speed and productivity sometimes trumped safety. The posters and films graphically attest to the consequences, and at least the attempts to use humor and effective communication in the mills to reduce accidents. The exhibit is worth a visit. Your voluntary donation will go to help preserve Southwestern Pennsylvania’s steel heritage

Sample Reading from ‘Out of this Furnace’ by Thomas Bell

Please click the link to see a sample video. The reading is from Thomas Bell’s Out of this Furnace, which I included for the Carnegie Library Sunday Poetry and Reading Series event I did in November 2008

Lewis & Clark Sample Video Excerpt

Please click to view the following additional sample video. This is from a not entirely serious work that I wrote and performed for the Carnegie Library’s Sunday Reading Series and Poets’ Corner in Pittsburgh. 
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