Since the downsizing of the company, to which I was employed for a number of years, I have returned to the ignominious world of the lowly contractor. Yes. I am quite well paid. Yes. I am grateful for the privilege of being able to honestly provide for my family in an honorable manner.
These days, the terms ‘Contractor’ and ‘Consultant’ have become synonyms. Back in the day, the consultant used to be an individual who was held in such high esteem, their every word was treasured and quoted, their advice was heeded religiously and their counsel was adopted without question. For their unquestioned expertise, the consultant was bestowed with deference, princely favors including exorbitant compensation, stately dinners, top of the line hotel accommodations, chauffeur driven transportation and first class travel.
This situation has since changed. The consultant or contractor, while providing singular areas of recognized capability, has become little more than relatively inexpensive cannon fodder.
Take, for instance, my particular situation. For the last couple years I have been involved with three contracting agencies.
The first two such agencies placed me in large organizations where it was understood I could only be employed for a maximum of one year.
You see, this rule has been implemented in a sweeping recognition of a lawsuit involving Microsoft where contractors showed up for work every day. They were paid. They parked in the employee parking lot and they were off on the same holidays as the so-called ‘regular’ employees of the organization. Yet, there was no paid time (PTO), no health/dental insurance was provided and there were no further financial incentives such as 401(k) programs or tuition reimbursements.
“End of the contract, pal. We really like you. We’ll take you to lunch. Now hand in your computer and your badge. Good luck, buddy!”
And so, the contractors collectively sued Microsoft insisting that if it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck …, etc. The courts agreed. And so many organizations have instituted policies protecting themselves from the potential attacks of their esteemed contractors.
And that is my current situation. I don’t like it for three reasons. First, I have to pay for my own vacation time and insurance. Secondly, I have to hustle for the next gig, knowing full well this bottle has an expiration date on it. Third, and upon reflection perhaps the most important, is that my status within the organization is that of mere afterthought . Just so much chattel. Another buzzword for the contractor is: ‘Staff Augmentation’. Sort of like the cereal filler in canned dog chow.
And so I was yet again reminded the other day.
I am with a third organization that has placed me in yet another large organization. Although I warm a chair at the large organization, technically I am employed by the agency. I received a hand addressed envelope in the mail. I was ‘eyebrows raised’ surprised when I realized the nature of the contents of said envelope. I might have uttered something. If I did, it would have been along the lines of, “well, son of a bitch!” To match the hand written lettering on the envelope, contained within was an identically hand written pay check.
Except for birthday presents, I cannot recall the last time I received a hand written check of any kind.
I was left with an even more profoundly depressed sense of lowliness.
But then again, I brightened. I thought of the Scotch Tape store.
When Saturday Night Live started airing in the 70s they had a number of running gags. They had the Emily Latella news commentator together with Roseane Roseannadanna. There were Coneheads, the Olympia restaurant, Gumby, Leonard Plynth Garnell, Church Lady and Celebrity Jeopardy. One of the initial running gags was a Scotch Tape store. Featuring Dan Aykroyd as the plaid sports coat wearing pipe smoking self-satisfied but delusional store owner and his long suffering knowing, yet supportive, wife played by Gilda Radner.
The premise of this skit involved the couple who decided to start a business in a failing mall. They recently opened a Scotch tape store. They sold nothing but Scotch tape. That was it. No greeting cards. No scissors, envelopes, office supplies or any other useful small household items. Just different sizes of Scotch tape. During one such skit, they received a shipment of tape from their supplier. Before the summer temp employee could open up the box, the wife jumped all over it decrying, “Wait! Don’t open it! We can send it back!”
This was the sort of environment within which I had found myself during my first foray into the wonderful world of consulting many years ago. The business was tucked way away in a small office in a large office complex. This one office accommodated about a dozen people. The business supplied software. Generally, the software was ok. There were actually paying customers who not only purchased the software but purchased service contracts for it as well.
The general manager was this guy who had his own desk and a door to his office. There were scuff marks on the wall behind his cheap high back executive chair.
This guy had a slow delivery. At that time I chalked this up to, perhaps, a tendency to chew on his thoughts in order to come up with the right words. After all there are those who, when speaking, do not necessarily have pearls flow trippingly. I found out later he didn’t have any thoughts to chew. He needed to sift through the obvious in order to say anything at all. He was just stupid.
Out of respect for his position, he being the designated office manager, the rest of the staff, when confronted by his comments, suggestions or requests, merely looked at him with a false sense of professionalism, and summarily turned from him ignoring his every word. It didn’t matter. He forgot what he felt he had to say, anyway.
One day, in between such episodes, we were paid a visit by agents of the copier company with whom we purportedly had a lease.
Seems our beloved office manager was a scoche behind on his payments to the leasing agency that provided the equipment and service for this essential bit of gear. Despite the obvious attempts at procuring the regularly contracted payments for the thing, the leasing agency threw its virtual hands in the air and dispatched the repossession types to recover said artifact. And so they did.
We mere and lowly mortals who observed the act of wholesale reclamation merely thought this was an element within the entirety of an upgrade process and we were simply uninformed. We fully expected this apparatus to be replaced with the latest and greatest model.
We were wrong. After waiting for the bright and shiny new machine that never arrived, the realization simultaneously came to all of us, that the copier had, in fact, been repossessed for lack of payment.
This fact raised a small bit of concern for us. One of the more idiotic amongst us, in fact, possibly the dumbest woman I have, or will ever have, met questioned us all. “What will we do for a copier, now?”
The rest of us looked at her dumbfounded. I took the opportunity to speak for us all. “Uh. Denise. I don’t think that’s the real issue here. If we can’t afford to make a monthly payment on a copier, how are our salaries going to be paid?” This thought had to be processed a bit. Denise responded. “Oh. I guess. But in the mean time, what are we going to do for a copier?” I looked down in order to study the tips of my shoes and silently walked back to the chair where I was originally rapt in studying the wall.
A few of the others took it upon themselves to advise the Manager that we were currently bereft of a copier.
He posed. Looking up as though he had just learned that the north side of his septic tank was just swallowed by a sink hole, he pretended to act as though he had no idea as to what had just transpired and that this particular act was a complete misunderstanding and a grave injustice had just been inflicted upon him.
As a brief digression, the next week my check bounced and I quit that afternoon.
Back to our narrative. But rather than tackle the larger question our fearless leader decided to waive his hand in the air and dismiss this as a minor inconvenience. He pointed to our K-Mart supplied thermal printer telephone/fax machine as the answer to our solution. Simply feed the original into the open maw of this fax machine and, after a few button pushes later, you would be the satisfied possessor of a speckled and gray tinged shitty looking copy. What’s the problem?
After the incident with this copier, I referred to this phase of my career as ‘The Scotch tape store’ period.
Does the fact that I received a hand written check yet again relegate me to a Scotch tape store?
Time will tell.