See That My Face Is Not Seen

As I was leaving the library at the unnamed university this afternoon, two cars on the sidewalk barreled toward me and jumped the curb to enter a driveway. Despite the near-death and even nearer annoyance situation, I could not shake this fucking story.

The new management did transform the work culture, however. Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.

The company said Mr. Michaels had the support of the board.

“Randy is a tremendous motivator, very charismatic, but he is very nontraditional,” said Frank Wood, a member of the Tribune board. “He has the kind of approach that motivates many people and offends others, but we think he’s done a great job.”

The next paragraph of that story is about how the company’s sinking into bankruptcy, so a great job at what, exactly is a question hanging heavy in the air. And speaking of hanging heavy:

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

The new permissive ethos was quickly on display. When Kim Johnson, who had worked with Mr. Michaels as an executive at Clear Channel, was hired as senior vice president of local sales on June 16, 2008, the news release said she was “a former waitress at Knockers — the Place for Hot Racks and Cold Brews,” a jocular reference to a fictitious restaurant chain.

Un-fucking-believable emphasis mine. And:

In 1995, Mr. Michaels and Jacor settled a suit brought by Liz Richards, a former talk show host in Florida who filed an E.E.O.C. complaint and a civil suit, saying she had been bitten on the neck by Mr. Michaels and that he walked through the office wearing a sexual device around his neck.

“They were like 14-year-old boys — no boundaries at all — but with money and power,” Ms. Richards said in an interview.

During and immediately after Mr. Michaels’s tenure at Clear Channel, three lawsuits were filed contending sexual harassment at the company. One plaintiff, Karen Childress, a senior executive, said she was fired after complaining about receiving lewd e-mail from senior company executives. In her complaint, Ms. Childress also stated that women who slept with male executives at the firm were promoted. The cases were settled out of court. Clear Channel declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Apparently, lunkheads driving right at me don’t bug me as much as lunkheads with money fucking around in a skyscraper in Chicago. Ever worked in a poisonous atmosphere? I have, and the memories are so vivid and remain so raw I can’t be distracted by traffic on the sidewalk.

But don’t worry about Chicago, because these people in California are about to be in real trouble.

“There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”

The company, known as L.S.S.I., runs 14 library systems operating 63 locations. Its basic pitch to cities is that it fixes broken libraries — more often than not by cleaning house.

“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

Traditionally, libraries employ people who are either too quirky to fit in or too damaged; either way, they’re odd but they do honest work. That’s what we’re all supposed to do, right? Our conservative brethren will say we’re all supposed to hold jobs and pull our own weight, but they really mean we should make money for them. The kind of people who work in services like libraries cannot make them money. Libraries are an investment, not a profit center. This is disaster is rolling toward the very people who can least defend themselves.

On the other hand, I walked toward the speeding sidewalk drivers with my arms out in the Jersey whattayadoin’ gesture, shouting, “Get the fuck out of my way!” So not all library workers are delicate, or taking anybody’s crap.

One response to “See That My Face Is Not Seen

  1. Pingback: Outside My Frost-Covered Window « Poor Impulse Control

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