What you’re seeing in the above photo is what I’ve been seeing on my way to lunch every day for about a month now. Nobody seems to know exactly what these organized-labor folks are protesting, which in and of itself seems like an error in tactics. Regardless, if they’re trying to “shame” Jared, or obtain any sympathy for their cause, they’re kidding themselves, and here’s why.
This “Jared, The Galleria Of Jewelry” is located on Tuttle Crossing Drive in Dublin, Ohio. It’s in front of a so-called upscale mall and it’s across the street from a variety of unpleasant-looking buildings in which companies like AT&T, Nationwide Insurance, and Sterling Commerce cube-farm their dingy-white-collar laborers. It’s actually a pretty narrow band of humanity; the executives for most of these companies are located downtown or out of town, and the under-$25-an-hour people aren’t valuable enough to their various employers to rate a cube in this relatively expensive area. Therefore, if you throw a Jart into traffic at lunch you are likely to hit one of three kinds of person. None of whom give a shit about the unionized workforce at Jared.
The first, and most common, type of person passing by the Jared during the day is the Dublin H1-B worker. He (and, increasingly, she) has been brought to the United States by an intermediate employment company for a variety of reasons that are too cynical and lamentable to relate in their entirety here. He’s earning $60,000 a year or slightly less. Nominally, this represents a savings over the $90,000 a year an equivalent American would cost. In the real world, the “pimp” agency that holds his visa eats up the entire difference and then some. The pimps used to be old white American men who hired lovely, full-breasted young women to “service the accounts”. Fifteen years ago, one of those lovely, full-breasted young women told me that tech workers (like me) were interchangeable assets but client-relations people (like her) made the real difference. Now the employment agencies are mostly run by Indians, because they understand the merch better and they can get them to work for slightly less. Oops. Turns out we’re all replaceable after all.
Back to our H1-B fellow. He lives in an $800/month apartment with three other tech workers. He sends his entire paycheck to India minus his rent, the payments on his used Corolla or Camry, and basic food expenses. He’s a hero to his family, with good reason. He will cheerfully steal any sealed drink container you leave in a refrigerator and anything he tells you is completely ephemeral unless you have a documented e-mail backing it up but he’s an okay dude. In general, he’s easy to get along with. Those mostly common failings aside, he’s very much an individual and he may be anything from utterly brilliant to completely incompetent. You can never tell until you see the work product and honestly most of the corporations don’t care. What’s important to them is that they can fire him at any time. For no reason. Because he didn’t work seventy hours last week and put in for forty. Because his boss gave him a set of unreasonable requirements and he was afraid to tell said boss the requirements couldn’t be met.
He’s replaceable and he knows it. I’ve seen a pimp agency fire twenty Indians in a day “for cause”, those twenty Indians just happening to make up a department that the client company wanted closed without ceremony or prior notice. He can come in to work and find someone else at his cube. He can have children who are desperately ill and need medical attention and find out that he’s been let go because he took the weekend of the big software push off to attend those children and now he is double fucked.
Worst of all, his employer holds his visa. Did I mention that above? I think I did. Tech work isn’t a business where the talent has much leverage, unless the talent is exceptional, and this is no longer a business where being exceptional is required very often. But for those of us who are American citizens, there is at least the possibility of negotiating something. A one-dollar-per-hour annual “raise” to try to keep up with the CPI. A paid vacation day. A health insurance plan. Something. The H1-B doesn’t get any of that shit. Instead, his employer has complete control: over the rate, over the work conditions, over the resume he’ll be expected to claim. And if he doesn’t like any of it, he’s not only fired, he’s deported.
Think about that. Imagine that your employer could kick you out of the fuckin’ country any time they wanted. That they could charge eighty dollars an hour for you, pay you twenty, and make you work two hours for every hour they pay you, and if you don’t like it, you can get on the next plane home courtesy of the United States Government, which can’t keep a million Mexicans a year from crossing the border but can sure as hell snatch your ass right out of your $800 apartment and force you to buy a $3000 last-minute plane ticket to India and if you fail to comply you will never have a chance to work here again. Simple as that. So, tell me, how much sympathy do you, the H1-B guy, have for the gemologists or counter people or whatever at Jared, The Galleria Of Jewelry? These are people who have lucked into American citizenship, born holding a winning lottery ticket that you’ll work the rest of your life just to get for your kids, with the right to work for whomever they want, whenever they want, and they’re complaining because their union isn’t getting what it wants? Are you sympathetic? At all? Of course not.
Our next group of prospective sign-observers contains the dwindling number of white American men who are lucky enough to still be working in Dublin. The writing’s on the wall for them, of course. Corporate America doesn’t give a shit about them. It wants a limitless amount of H1-Bs and it’s on the way to getting it and the fact that you helped design the Cisco PIX or build the first generation of AT&T’s prepaid-phone infrastructure counts for precisely nothing. All the tough jobs in technology have, by and large, been done. Everything from TCP/IP to SSL has been invented, refined, put into stasis. The hockey-stick acceleration of technology has become a featureless plain where processors from a decade ago work just about as well as the new stuff and the Web browser is the sole interface to everything. The Chinese do the hardware work. Google and Microsoft do the software two thousand miles away. What’s left is mostly janitorial: Windows server maintenance. Coding applications that are designed to be disposable and forgettable. Third-level support that used to be considered first-level support before the first two levels were sent overseas to be operated by people who had never owned a computer themselves and rely on a script to tell someone how to put a new hard drive in a PC.
This work paid $45 an hour in 1997, when everything cost half what it does now, and it pays $40 an hour now. You’re locked into your house because you paid too much for it. Your house may not even be here; I’m always surprised at how many people working in this area actually live somewhere else, in houses they can’t sell, and either undertake a three-hour roundtrip commute or sleep at an “extended stay” in the area. Extended stays are big business. They are the new address of the house-poor. You have an underachieving kid who needs you to pay for college and an iPhone. Last year you earned almost six figures but you couldn’t afford to replace your 2003 Accord or buy new shoes. Your sole escape from reality is public-course golfing or network-intensive games. Grown men, thousands of them, playing Call of Duty or WoW every night, discussing their online exploits in detail over a reheated lunch. At the age of forty.
You could be fired at any moment, because you’re a contractor, or because Ohio is an at-will employment state. Years ago, I worked for a company called SubmitOrder.com that sent out an email to every person in the company reminding them that Ohio was an at-will employment state and that they could be terminated without cause at any time.
At four PM.
On Christmas Eve.
Happy fuckin’ holidays, tech worker.
Your skill set is obsolete. You learned how to program in a language that is no longer hot. You’re a sysadmin in an era where the most common response to server issues is to blow away the VM and start fresh. You’re a waterfall project manager and now everybody is Agile. You’re an Agile project manager in a company where people actually expect results for some reason and you’re totes fucked because Agile is mostly project managers jerking each other off. Regardless. You’re not long for this tech world.
There’s nothing to look forward to after you’re fired from this job. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a $35,000 a year gig in customer service somewhere, sitting among 25-year-olds who make fun of you and complain about your unwillingness to pull extra shifts. You’ll lose your house and what little investments you have left. You’ve seen it happen to other people, seen them fall right out of the middle class in the space of four weeks. You’ve long since stopped kidding yourself that it can’t happen to you.
And once you’ve fallen out of the middle class, you’ll become an unperson. You’ll become a humiliation to your friends. Your wife will fuck you even less than she already does. You’re Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Yesterday you are pretty sure you heard that your department is due for reorganization. Which means letting people go. Which means letting you go. And as you’re listlessly steering your way to Taco Bell for the seven-dollar meal you won’t be able to afford next week, you see a labor-organization banner at a jeweler.
Where’s your sympathy?
Ah, but so far we’re just really talking about indifference. Our last group is the one that has genuine dislike for the union folks at The Galleria Of Jewelry. That’s right, I’m talking about the twenty-eight-year-old bachelorettes who infest Dublin like maggots on a week-old corpse, flocking to the lunch spots, congregating in the hallways, scheduling meetings, dialoguing, wearing cute outfits, using known business terms incompetently, holding amorphous titles like “Solutions Leader”.
Imagine you’re one of those. A decade ago you were hotter than the surface of the sun, milk-white skin and rosy pink nipples on a body with perfect natural muscle tone. You went to Miami or OSU or OU or UC and you were effortlessly beautiful and not very smart. Every weekend night you found yourself under somebody else, a half-sloshed and mostly disconnected receptacle for a sweating, dazed bro in a backwards baseball cap, shorts down around his ankles and his flip-flops, pounding away and putting you in line for a morning-after pill as soon as you can clean yourself up and puke up last night’s Patron and find a clean set of khaki shorts.
It was all good fun and everybody understood that when the musical chairs stopped you’d have someone, the last guy you fucked, the guy in that one fraternity who called you back that one time, your hometown beta waiting patiently for you to come back to Gallipolis, Ohio and love him the way he loves you. And the years went on and all of a sudden you were out of school and the musical-chairs stopped and your seat and was taken so you went to the big city and got employed somewhere doing nothing much for not much money and trying to wear cute outfits on a budget and you’ve had somewhere between seventy-three and eighty-one sex partners and there are almost certainly nudes of you in two dozen cell phones and now it is time to have it all!
To have it all!
To find the middle-class white-collar dweeb of your waking nightmares and convince him to go Dutch with you on a suburban house in which you’ll be underwater for the first ten years of the mortgage and desperately behind on the maintenance from then forward. And weekend after weekend you’re back to lying under the older, fatter, dimmer-witted variants of the bros who put it to you five minutes at a time at the Sigma Chi house in 2006 and none of these guys will commit! They won’t call you back! They treat you like the dispensable fuck toy you’ve proven yourself to be for over twelve years now and every time you give it away it’s worth less, let’s be honest here. You read an article called “Licking Your Way To The Center Of His Heart” in Cosmo or wherever that actually instructs you to toss a man’s salad, to lick the stinking ass of someone who has spent all day in a sweaty cubicle before running out to the Applebee’s for happy hour where he flat destroyed the toilet before heading downtown to the Brewery District, and you did it, you held your nose and licked the guy’s ass before sex and he still didn’t call you! It’s starting to feel desperate, you’ve been a bridesmaid seven times now, you’ve bought your third new car all by yourself, people work for you in whatever ill-defined customer service environment you call a career, and you’re all alone!
And then, by the grace of G-d Almighty, you get drunk enough to fuck a guy you would have laughed at on High Street during your senior year, a loser, a wimp, a moron, some tool who happens to have managed to become the Unit Manager of a customer service operation and pulls down a grand total of $48,000 a year, that’s $4,000 a month, that’s THREE MONTHS SALARY IS TWELVE THOUSAND OH MY GOD THATS ONE POINT FIVE CARATS. So what if those one point five carats are mined by African children. So what if they are made by compressing African children until they become diamonds. Those African children never had to fuck three guys in one night at the Phi Delt Beach Party because they couldn’t get their drunken legs under them to run home. And he calls you back! You’re the finest little thing he ever did see! Your tramp stamp excites him. He went to Columbus State so he absolutely does not know any of the platoon of men who have given your uterus its battle scars and he thinks you are a precious little princess and he won’t hear any different and…
…he wants to marry you.
Now is the time to march him right down to Jared the Galleria Of Jewelry and get him to come across with three months’ salary before he gets cold feet or starts a campaign in World of Warcraft or hears the assistant director of sales talk about the time he and the bass player for Watershed spit-roasted you in the Oldfield’s bathroom in 2004. It’s a perfect plan. He meets you for lunch and he holds your hand in public and you drive him right over and,
those union people,
those black people,
those people with the sign,
they can die as far as you’re concerned.
because if you don’t get this ring,
if you don’t escape the sweaty, anonymous nights,
and the taste of vodka in the back of your throat on Monday morning,
you will die.
So that sign does one thing for you.
It points you to the entrance to Jared.
The Galleria Of Jewelry.
Welcome to the rest of your life.