Sunday, October 02, 2005

Exit stage left!

Dear Abbe,

Since Michelle doesn't have the exit interview paperwork, I thought I would take a few minutes here and express a few thoughts regarding my employment at Charter Communications.

At my current wage, I would have made roughly $20,028 this year. According to 2004 Health & Human Services guidelines, that puts me at 125% of the poverty threshold for a family of 3, which I have. For a family of five, they would be below it. Poverty status is attained by family units whose income is so low, they are spending 1/3 of their income on food alone*. For a normal family, their food budget amounts to approximately 12-15% of their total monthly income. To put this in perspective, I am what is considered near poverty or near poor, being above the poverty threshold but below 125 percent of poverty. At my current income level, my children qualify for free lunch. I don't even make enough to be considered responsible for providing lunch money.

Here are some other interesting statistics. The US median income is $33,000. Customer Service Rep is at number 44 on the list of 50 occupations with the lowest median earnings for year-around, full time workers.

The reason I wanted to share this information with you is because when I look around at my co-workers, I am looking at the working poor. There are two kinds of people who work at Charter as CSRs. There are motivated people who want to get ahead in life by being promoted. If they aren't promoted, they will move on. The rest of these people have no marketable job skills to put them outside of either the poverty level or the near poverty status. Where else are they going to work for $10 an hour? They think they are lucky.

For the privilege of working at a near poverty level, these people are treated like children. They can not get up and stretch their legs or go grab a cup of coffee if they get sleepy. They can not go to the bathroom if they've already used their emergency break. I've seen a coworker puke in her garbage container, and I know of another that did it as well, simply because they couldn't just get up and leave their desk. My children's school can not call me directly. I've had three occassions where they had to get ahold of me immediately but were forced to leave messages on my cell phone. I didn't get the messages until my next break. In addition, we are held accountable for every minute of our shift and yet in order to do our jobs effectively, we are forced by virtue of excessive call volumes to use personal time to read the glut of emails, KM Hot Topics and handouts. We use our personal time to make work order corrections. We use our personal time to address envelopes to send name change forms. We use a ton of personal time to do company work. And yet, if we fail to submit a segment for off-phone time? We are not paid. We are held accountable for every minute of our shift here and despite the low wage we are given, are still forced to give up what precious little free time we have here to do company business. And showing up early just to get logged in? Don't get me started.

To make employment at Charter palatable, promotion possibilities are pushed heavily in the training here, but what people don't realize is that being promoted to HSD or dispatch is largely a lateral move. They are still small cogs in a gigantic wheel making little more than what they started out making. Empowerment is another buzzword intended to encourage new employees. We are "empowered to help the customers." What CSRs discover once they hit the floor, however, is that our ability to help the customers is hemmed in by the overabundant policies dictating responses to every possible scenario that occurs. There is no empowerment for CSRs, only compliance and non-compliance with those policies. Quite literally, CSR's are paid to take the abuse and somehow soothe these people so they don't disconnect.

For myself, I have marketable job skills that can put me above the "near poverty level," and that is why I am leaving Charter. Truth is, I can be poor working most places. Why be poor and miserable?

I realize that because this comes in the form of an email, it does not give Charter an opportunity to respond. However, whether or not my feelings about being employed here are ameliorated is irrelevant. The question, as I see it, is twofold. Number one, with the incredibly low wage being offered by Charter, how do they intend to recruit and keep high-quality employees? The second question is where the rubber meets the road: does Charter recognize the need to better compensate both through more freedom and better pay the hard work being done by the frontlines of its organization? The voice on the other end of the phone represents who Charter is. Having a well compensated, fully engaged and knowledgeable, top notch employee there might go a long way toward improving Charter's image. And the truth is, people who can't afford to pay for their children's school lunches could care less about employee recognition. Just help us pay our bills. That's what we sacrifice our family time for, and that is the least of what we should be able to expect.

Sincerely, Laura Wilson

*Since the USDA's 1955 Food Consumption Survey showed that families of three or more people across all income levels spent roughly one-third of their income on food, the SSA multiplied the cost of the Economy Food Plan by three to obtain dollar figures for total family income. These dollar figures, with some adjustments, later became the official poverty thresholds. (This information taken from the US Census Bureau Poverty website


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