Sunday, July 31, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
At 2:15pm the three of us report to the meeting even though we don’t know why we’re there. Our principal sits us down and explains the situation. Our union rep sat at the table as an official observer. Our boss attempts to soften the blow with some kinds words, jargony schoolspeak, and ambiguous information.
The summary: Our legal obligation is to have every student in a math class, but not necessarily one that fits their needs. So support classes and remedial classes could all be cut. We have to budget for two less math teachers. One of the two people being cut will be one of us in the room, and because we all had the same hire date we would decide by a casting of lots.
What?!!? The way we are going to determine which of us will no longer have a job at our site was by drawing straws? You got to be kidding me. Something is wrong with this system.
It gets worse.
I ask, “When do we have to decide by?” Today. This meeting. I continue, “Well, can you tell us a couple weeks ago so we can have some time to think about?” It wasn’t a fair situation and I didn’t have time to process. I did know a couple things: 1. I love my job, but every year I contemplate quitting or reducing my hours. 2. My colleagues across the table both had spouses and adult children that were relying on their employment. So I volunteered to take the “short straw.” My principal says, “Are you sure?” I respond, “No, I’m not sure.” Kim hugged me and Gary said he would bring me a bottle of wine.
I discovered some of my coworkers went to our union rep angry about the situation. It was nice to know at least some people would be upset if I left. (She explained to them that I did it to myself.)
I spent the next week agonizing over the situation. Did I do the right thing? Was I not looking out for myself enough? Did I possibly just create a situation where all of us would have a job, but I would be forced to leave my school and go somewhere I didn’t want to be? Was Gary every going to bring me that bottle of wine?
Another week passes and we learn that all three of us were being pink slipped along with two other math teachers in the department (5 out of the 6 could be getting laid off). So basically the whole “casting of lots” meeting didn’t even matter. Knowing that I no longer had a job actually gave me a sense of relief. At least it was out of my hands and I didn’t bring it upon myself.
Our school had to prepare for worst case scenario. Once the Bush tax extensions didn’t get on the ballot I mentally prepared myself for not having a job next year. I reacted exactly the way someone should in this situation—somewhere between acceptance and celebration. I began to calculate my living expenses if I was collecting unemployment, and more specifically my travel expenses while collecting unemployment. Quite frankly I wasn’t just accepting the idea, but embracing it. How long should I stay in Argentina?
Then at the end of April we go to court. Kim and Gary both testify on behalf of our department. I didn’t go into court or even worry about it that much, but I did get some enjoyment during Easter vacation by saying, “my lawyer is blowin’ up my e-mail today.” Then on May 7th we receive the judge’s ruling and the last sentence in article 68 of the 40-page document read, “Mr. Burrill shall be retained, and his layoff notice rescinded.”
A couple days later I was on the outside patio at a restaurant drinking a beer and a teacher from another school that I barely knew walked by and congratulated me. (She most have read the whole document; I just searched my last name.) I guess everything would be restored. When I had the chance to emotionally react to having my job back I had an epiphany: I really do want my job. The district just had to accept the judge’s proposal and everything for Kim and I would be back to normal. From what I heard the district pretty much had to accept it.
However, we still receive final layoff notices in the mail. After some inquisition we learn that they just didn’t have time to finalize the list so they just sent the layoff notices to everyone, and we should get another notice shortly reinstating our positions. A couple weeks pass and we still don’t have anything in writing. After getting over the initial disappointment of having my job back I was now embracing the idea of continued employment. So May 21st my boss sends an angry e-mail to the head of Human Resources stating how their poor business practices and organization were mistreating her employees. He calls her Monday morning and apologizes and ensures her that both Kim and I are on the list to get our jobs back.
Finally. I was getting a little tired of this whole process.
Now employed and happy I continue to go about my life in a normal way. I remained calm through most of this, but Kim worried enough for all of us. On May 31st Kim decides to call H.R. and ask for something official in writing so she can feel some security. The head of the H.R. department has one of his lackeys call Kim back and she basically tells Kim, “Um, yeah. About that getting your job back thing we kinda made a mistake. The judge really shouldn’t have included you guys, and as of right now you’re still laid off. And as far as him telling you on the phone that you had your job back, well, we can’t really get into who said what to who. But hopefully everything will work out for you.”
Seriously? Again? So now I was back to where I was before except instead of planning my vacation to Argentina I was disappointed about not having the job that I love. Something is wrong with this system.
Then the week after school gets out an article comes out in the paper saying that our school budget should look good for next year. So I assume that I will get my job back in time and I once again relax about it. Kim continues to stress out.
Last week I took a team of eight people from my school site to the AVID institute. I worked an entire week assuming that I will have my job next year, and will continue to head the AVID program at my school. One of my coworkers asked if I had received my letter of rescintion I said, “No, but I don’t check my mail that often.” She asked me to check the mail.
I find out that Gary got a letter on Thursday stating he has his job back (which is interesting because he wasn’t in the judge’s proposal at all, but he was ahead of Kim and I on the list). Kim and I have nothing on Friday. Kim contacts me Saturday saying she got a letter saying that she will have at least a 40% position.
What? That hasn’t been a thing. Are you kidding me? Poor Kim that been working so hard this entire time still doesn’t have a full-time position. She is extremely upset.
We text on Saturday.
Me: I checked the mail. (There was nothing.)
Kim: Shoot. Ok. I told Amy and Pannu that I thought that was the case. Pannu will got obat for us tomorrow. Amy and Pannu have talk about this. I email the attorney thought I don’t think she will do antyihng Next in my mind is the SCTA. We may have to petition to the school board since they accepted the judge’s ruling. They probably do not know what we hae been through. Have you followed up on the list of order of events I sent you?
Um… I checked the mail.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
For the first time I have a guest writer for this week's column. The following feature is from my close friend and colleague Giovanni Boone. He describes his experience working at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Finding the Way Out
The moment I walked out of the elevator, the claustrophobia set in. A vast maze of cubicles stretched before me as far as the eye could see. It felt like the walls were closing in on me. Everywhere I looked, people were hunched over computers staring glassy-eyed at their monitors. No one laughed. No one smiled. I had arrived at the heart of darkness: the DMV headquarters. To make matters worse, I was there for an interview. When they called my name, my only thought was, I’ve got to get the hell out of here.
I made my first attempt to escape even before I got the job. At the interview, they asked me a few basic questions - name, age, sex, pulse? After checking my pulse, which was racing, Jeanne, my soon-to-be boss, offered me the job. I politely declined. This environment just wasn't for me, I said. And besides, I think a graveyard shift just opened up at the Circle K. I figured this would be the end of the interview, but instead of letting me leave, she tried to convince me to take the position. My resume was not that strong, she said. It would be good for me to have experience doing mindless work for little pay, she added. It would get me ready for the real world. I’m not sure it did that, but it did help appreciate the movie Office Space more. My reluctance notwithstanding, she finally badgered me into accepting her offer.
There were five student assistants, including me, who all shared the same workspace. We were penned-in like sheep and relegated to the far corner of the building. I soon came to realize that hard work was not rewarded. My bosses seemed annoyed rather than impressed when I finished a project quickly. One time, Kevin, one of the other sheep, and I spent half a day copying and collating a 500-page binder. When we delivered it to Jeanne, she said, oh, we don't need that anymore. Sorry. We were even told that it was okay to play computer games as long as weren't caught. I got pretty good at minesweeper.
My mind started turning to jelly. I'd come home every night completely exhausted from boredom and nap for two hours before going to bed. It was depressing. Four months into it, I decided to quit. Being a conscientious student, I lined up another job at a local ice-cream parlor before giving my two weeks. This gesture, I thought, would get me a good letter of recommendation for my meager resume. My boss was disappointed that I was leaving, but she understood. The staff even planned a going away lunch for me at the Olive Garden.
During that second to last week, I received the same chain letter three times. Email was a relatively new phenomenon back then and chain letters were popular. The letter said: if you send this letter on to 10 people you will see the Taco Bell dog walk across your screen. I had already seen the Taco Bell dog enough on TV, so I deleted those emails, but it got me thinking. Who started this email? Are people really stupid enough to keep forwarding something like this? Wouldn't it be great if I sent out a chain letter and received it back weeks later by some random person?
My last day of work finally arrived and I was feeling good. I did some fake work for a couple of hours and then went out for lunch with the staff. I even got a few going away presents. When we arrived back at the office I decided to reveal my chain letter idea to the rest of the student assistants. They enthusiastically encouraged me to go for it.
I crafted a chain letter similar to the one I had received, replacing the Taco Bell dog with Godzilla. The deal was this: forward the letter to seven people and a mini fire-breathing Godzilla would walk across your screen. Send it to 12 or more, and you'd see Godzilla chasing Japanese citizens through the streets of Tokyo. It seemed reasonable.
Now I needed to decide who to send it to. With my colleagues looking on, I began to scroll through the DMV address book. There were lots of names I didn't know, but as I scrolled, I came upon headings that read, "first floor, second floor..." and so on. Hmm...? I could send it to everyone on the fifth floor, exactly the kind of wide dispersal that would kick start my letter. Moments before sending it off to the entire fifth floor, I happened upon another address that read "DMV internet users." I decided that that would be an even better idea.
Less than thirty seconds after clicking send, Javier, one of the full-time employees who never left his cubicle, came over to us. He simply stared at me for a moment as if seeing me for the first time. Then with a heavy tone, he said: Dude, you've got a lot of balls to send something like that. His words hung in the air like the reverberations of a gong. I looked around at my friends who smiled back, in agreement -- yes indeed, I did have a lot of balls.
Javier advised me to recall my email. The look on his face convinced me it might be a good idea. The magnitude of my actions quickly became apparent. A counter started rolling to show the number of emails successfully recalled. 100... 200... 300... Moments later it was at 1000. My stomach sank. And then the phone call came.
It was Pat, one of my bosses. Network security had called, she said, and were concerned that my email message might crash the server. Security was demanding immediate action be taken against the perpetrator. Pat, said Jeanne, my other boss, would speak to me when she got out of her meeting. I might have to clear out my desk early, she said. This was not going well. How did I get into this mess?
I looked at the clock. It was 4:00 pm.
It'll be no big deal, my buddies consoled. What are they going to do, fire you with an hour left? Besides, Jeanne won't be that mad. Turns out they were wrong: It was a big deal, they were going to fire me, and Jeanne was pissed. Her first words to clued me in to that. Do you know how bad you f#*% up, she hissed. I was beginning to get the picture and it did not look pretty. She told me to get my things and follow her to her office.
In her office, Jeanne grilled me about this email. What was I thinking, she asked. Why did I send it to everyone? Was I trying to get fired? Was I some kind of moron? I didn't have a satisfactory answer for her questions, and to this day still don't know how I made such an obviously idiotic decision. I settled for apologizing profusely and agreeing that I was indeed a moron. Next, she took my employee badge and called security, effectively barring me from ever coming back onto the premises. I could be charged with trespassing if I tried to come back, she let me know. Why would I try to come back? I've been trying to leave ever since I arrived. Furthermore, I was to be blacklisted and would never be allowed to work for the state again. Security showed up a few minutes later to personally escort me out. It was 4:45. I got fired with fifteen minutes left on my last day. It wasn't funny then, but now I can laugh about it.
Ironically, I currently work as a public school teacher and get my paycheck from the State of California.
I never did get that letter or recommendation.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
The old guy in seat five says, “I used to wish I could sing better. Now I wish you could.”