Sunday, April 28, 2013
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
WASHINGTON--The U.S. Postal Service awarded FedEx Corp.
contract Tuesday to provide domestic air transportation service for Priority and Express Mail.
FedEx is retaining the contract that was set to expire in September. The shipping giant was thought to be at risk of losing the lucrative deal, possibly to rival UPS.
Instead, FedEx will keep the air cargo deal for another seven years. The Postal Service said FedEx faced competitive process in order to retain the contract.
"Following a rigorous evaluation of technical aspects, pricing, and other factors in the proposals, the Postal Service determined that the FedEx proposal represented the best value," the agency said in a statement.
The new deal allows for service improvements, capacity flexibility and other operational enhancements, the Postal Service said. The agency is revamping its own network--including consolidating hundreds of mail processing facilities--in order to respond to plumenting letter volumes but a growing package delivery business.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
By Alana Semuels
April 8, 20131:07 p.m.
In a drive to cut costs and improve efficiency, companies are employing an ever-increasing array of tracking and monitoring technology to see what their employees are doing at all times, according to astory in Monday’s Los Angeles Times.
For companies, it makes sense: In a globalized world, anyone who doesn’t cut costs could soon be out of business. But the monitoring is changing the relationship between employers and employees, further upsetting the balance of power in the workplace.
“The technology is being used to satisfy the needs of the employer, but is being leveraged against the employee,” said Regina Connolly, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Internet Commerce, and an expert in “dataveillance,” a term used to describe workplace monitoring. “The playing field is being tilted in favor of the industry, against the employee.”
Employees have little say on how the tracking data are used; the information can be used to justify pay cuts, to pay people piecemeal, or to fire people outright. It gives employers an increasing array of data to use to justify changes in the workplace, she said.
Productive employees are not immune. Employers will know what employees are doing on the weekends, if they take long bathroom breaks, and any mistakes they make, however small.
“We are rapidly moving toward an era in which supervision and surveillance will be non-ending,” said Frederick Lane, author of “The Naked Employee: How Technology Is Compromising Workplace Privacy.” “It will be extraordinarily hard for employees to have any leverage even if they’re quite gifted because the employer will know everything about them.”
“Knowledge is power, and there’s a power dynamic in the workplace,” he said. “The more information an employer has, the more power he has in the employer-employee relationship.”
One major retailer, for instance, started measuring its employees, only to discover its most productive workers were part-timers who had been there less than a year. It then began to focus on hiring short-term part-timers, said Ed Frauenheim, a senior editor at Workforce Magazine.
Some experts worry that monitoring will also hurt companies sales, as employees feel rushed and put less time into customer service and their interactions with customers because they want to keep up with quotas. Customers often notice when employees are monitored and pushed to go faster, said Jeffrey Stanton, a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University.
“The notion that you can prompt people to go faster and faster and still have happy customers is a myth,” he said.
Some studies suggest surveillance doesn’t help productivity. In a survey of two groups of telephone workers in which one group was monitored and the second wasn’t, those who were monitored had higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. They had a 27% higher occurrence of pain in the shoulders and a 21% incidence in back pain than the non-monitored group.
Surveillance can also create an atmosphere of mistrust in the workplace (One company, StealthGenie, says on its website that “the only way to gauge your employees’ loyalty is by monitoring their cell phones”).
When employees don’t feel trusted, they’re likely to be less engaged with work, which means they’ll feel less committed to their employer and spend fewer hours there, said Connolly.
“The technology is being used to satisfy the needs of the employer, but is being leveraged against the employee, which creates a distrust,” she said. “Literature shows us the more an individual trusts an organization, they harder they will work.”
“If you have satisfied, loyal employees, if they feel it’s a good company to work for, then you have a strong psychological contract. They feel they have a future with it, and they put in more time and hours.”
Elizabeth Guiterrez works at a logistics company in the Inland Empire. She carries around with her a scanning device that helps her employer see how quickly she is moving boxes. Every few weeks, she goes in for a performance review, where her bosses go over her numbers. She recently was reprimanded for taking 29 minutes to move a load of boxes; the boxes were much heavier than usual, but the numbers didn't show that, she said.
"You have a lot of pressure, this leads to a lot of accidents,” she said in an interview. Guiterrez says the time pressures are so intense that workers don't feel they have time to go to the bathroom. She recently had a bladder infection because she felt she couldn't go to the bathroom when she needed to, she said.
Rutgers psychologist Jack Aiello has extensively studied the effects of computer monitoring on employee performance. He’s found that employees who are monitored and constantly told that they’re not working fast enough have little motivation to improve their work; and that individuals being monitored have more difficulty performing moderately complex tasks than those who aren’t being monitored.
Judy Sheridan Gonzalez has been a nurse for two decades. In her hospital in the Bronx, nurses now sign into work with a biometric fingerprint scanner. The union fought off an effort to make them wear RFID tracking devices. Sheridan Gonzalez dryly notes that it’s nurses, not doctors or administrators, who are tracked most closely, a fact that doesn’t create any warm and fuzzy feelings between nurses and their bosses.
“Years ago, you would stay in your hospital for your career, now there’s no loyalty to an institution,” she said. “There are cameras all over the place now and recording devices. You look up – you see these little things in the ceiling and we never know when there’s a camera watching us. I never used to worry about stuff like that.”
Join us for a live video chat at 1:30 p.m. Pacific with reporter Alana Semuels and Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times
By Alana Semuels
April 7, 201311:31 a.m.
Decades ago, many workers spent their whole lives at the same job, retiring with a full pension, and maybe even a gold watch from their boss.
Now, almost no one works at the same place for life, and there’s much less loyalty between employers and employees.
But these changes didn’t happen overnight. Although the recession accelerated them, the workplace began changing decades ago, experts say.
In the 1970s, companies had lifetime employment models and long-term plans for developing talent internally and honing good employees for life. But their forecasts for how much their businesses would grow — and thus how many employees they would need — were wrong, said Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of Business. When the recession hit in the early 1980s, companies had more talent than they needed.
Companies that had promised their employees jobs for life had to renege on their deals, shocking many in the business world by firing workers they’d spent time and money training, Capelli said. When demand picked up again, there were so many unemployed trained managers in the labor pool that companies had no trouble finding the employees they wanted. Thus the “free agent” model became more firmly entrenched, he said.
“By the time the genie got out of the bottle, it’s difficult to put it back in,” Cappelli said. The erosion of the relationship between employer and employee had begun.
Another factor during the same time period also began wearing down employees’ strength in the workplace, Mary O’Sullivan writes. For most of the 20th century American corporations were able to make big profits, and reinvest in their companies and retain their employees. But as corporations grew and became less efficient in the 1970s, they were less able to compete with the new array of global companies coming into the marketplace.
As some companies floundered, investors became more involved in forcing out inefficient management and voicing their opinions about the company. They pushed for profits, O’Sullivan writes, and found that doing so produced results. New regulations meant that management that did not listen to the demands of activist investors could lose their jobs.
“By the early 1990s even U.S. firms known for their no-layoff commitments -- IBM, DEC, Delta -- had undergone significant downsizing and layoffs of blue and white collar workers,” she writes.
In order to create shareholder value, O’Sullivan says, corporations have turned away from “retain and reinvest” to “downsize and distribute.” They’re more inclined to listen to the demands of investors than the needs of employees.
“Under the new regime, top managers downsize the corporations they control, with a particular emphasis on cutting the size of the labour forces they employ, in an attempt to increase the return on equity,” she writes.
Efficiency has also been the focus of many management strategies taught at business schools to the people who one day end up running some of America’s biggest companies. They include management strategies such as the “Six Sigma” approach -- pioneered by Motorola and popularized by General Electric Chairman Jack Welch in the 1990s -- that put an emphasis on achieving quantifiable results, and on ranking workers based on measurable performance. Companies are now urged to keep labor costs, which stay largely the same regardless of how well a business is doing, low. That’s why so much of the workplace has no guarantee of an annual paycheck, and only works for short periods of time.
“Fifty years ago, when you went to business school you were taught that you want a loyal, dedicated, skilled workforce,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara. “Today, if you go to business school, they tell you don’t want a permanent workforce. That’s considered new standard operating procedure. It reflects a real shifts in power.”
Though some companies may try to resist these changes in their relationship with their employees, it can be difficult. Once a company find ways to lower its labor costs and make their employees more efficient, its competitors have to follow suit or lose out in the marketplace.
“There are these competitive pressures -- there are innovators who found their way around what were once standards,” said Laura Dresser, co-author of “The Gloves-Off Economy: Workplace Standards at the Bottom of America’s Labor Markets.” “If you have one company move around standards, its very hard for their other companies to maintain their standards.”
Some employees are skeptical that new pressures to boost efficiency are bearing fruit. They include workers at National Envelope Co. in Westfield, Mass. After the company was taken over by a private equity firm, the factory floor was reconfigured for efficiency. Each employee was asked to take on more responsibilities. It made work grueling, employees say. But it may not have made the factory more efficient.
“They get these ideas out of somewhere, go and change the entire workforce and find out it doesn’t work,” said George Magnan, a union representative for the workers at the National Envelope. “Every few years, they take some new trend that comes down the road that they’re doing in Japan and Korea and they think it's one-size-fits-all, and it just ends up being a lot more work, and a lot more wear and tear on the employees.”
Some companies, including Costco, do not place such an emphasis on maximizing the profit they make out of each employee. The company has earned a reputation over the years for treating workers relatively well. Costco pays a starting wage of $11.50 an hour, gives most employees healthcare and other benefits, and has not switched to the model adopted by many big-box retailers of using temporary employee firms in warehouses to keep costs low.
“Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty,” said Craig Jelinek, Costco’s chief executive.
Does it work? Hard to tell. Since 1986, the company’s stock has been on an upward tear, growing 900%. But the stock of competitor Wal-Mart, which is often criticized for its labor practices, has grown 2,500% in the same period.