What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Still waiting. Here we are 9 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published nine weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

2. Medical records. Online medical records are great, except the part where the system used by my primary care provider and the system used by one of my specialists don’t in any way communicate with one another. There’s also no obvious way to manually upload information from one to the other. A quick call to my PCP’s office confirmed that “Yeah, it really doesn’t do that.” Super. So, I’ll just continue to schlep hard copy of reports and test results around like it’s 1957 because that’s still easier than finding and using a goddamned fax machine in the year of our lord 2022.

3. Advertising. Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I’ve once again received an email from every company I’ve done business with for the last 20 years. I don’t know what they think they’re accomplishing, but it doesn’t feel like effective advertising… unless their definition of effective is to jam up my inbox with stuff I’ll delete before reading and thereby fill a potential customer with questions about whether he wants to do business with them again. I’m sure there’s some advertising industry metric that shows why mass email blasts is a good idea. Maybe it works for some consumers, but it doesn’t do much for me other than piss me directly off. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I’ve seen recently about 37 iterations of the phrase “If you see someone shoplifting, no you didn’t” floating around social media. I’m forced to wonder, what the actual fuck is wrong with people? But, they say, it’s just stealing from some big faceless corporation. Maybe that’s so, maybe it’s not, but I know that once you make an excuse for some kind of bad behavior, it gets a whole lot easier to do it – and it doesn’t feel like a very long slide between “it’s just Walmart” to “It’s just someone with a big house” or “It’s just someone with a nice car” or “it’s some random person who has something I want.” Your mama raised you better. Or at least she should have. Cloak it in whatever sophistry makes you feel better about yourselves, I guess, but don’t expect me to think a common thief is anything other than what they are.

2. Still waiting. Here we are 8 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published eight weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

3. For a hot minute there in early September, I really considered hopping a flight to London to join the queue. My long since expired passport left that an unfulfillable pipe dream. I’ve since retrieved my passport from its hidey hole and at least looked at the process for getting a fresh new one issued. I like the idea of getting back to traveling on something like a regular basis – mostly to exotic places with proper castles and good beer. The catch, of course, is even with all the other ducks in a line, I’m not in any way sure I would be able to find someone I 100% trust to take care of my neurotic dog while I was away. The cat and tortoise have proven resilient under someone else’s watchful eye for a few days at a time… but since he came home with me, I haven’t so much as left him in a different room overnight. The separation anxiety is probably as much mine as his. I’m sure I’ll spend the money and get my fancy new document, but whether I’ll ever convince myself to use it is another issue altogether.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crud. Whatever standard issue crud I was run down by over the weekend continues to hang on grimly. I’m feeling mostly fine, but I’ve woken up every morning this week with a raw throat and very little voice. It’s not enough to really change anything I need or want to do, but it’s damned annoying. With as many shots as I’ve subjected myself to over the last three years, I feel like having one of them be the cure for the common cold really isn’t that big an ask.

2. Rumors. Having been moved away from my home town for going on 23 years, sometimes I forget how things work there. One thing that hasn’t changed is the rumor mill. Industries rise and fall, people come and go, but rumors fly as swiftly as they ever did. Here’s the thing… if you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right from a friend of a friend of a friend, maybe just pick up the phone or tap that message button and ask someone who would know. That way they can confirm, deny, or tell you to mind your own damned business. Though, I suppose that has significantly less entertainment value.

3. Still waiting. Here we are 7 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published seven weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Still waiting. Here we are 6 weeks past the “end of max telework” world and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published six weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

2. Just a cold. I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve heard, “oh, I know I look awful but it’s just a cold.” You’d think that over the last three years one thing we might have collectively learned is bringing your germs to an enclosed working environment maybe isn’t a great idea. But no. People are absolutely re-goddamned-diculous and operate under the illusion that this 200+ year old institution can’t possibly operate without them. It can. It has. And it will. Take your sick ass home and work from there if you think you’re that important. Jesus wept.

3. November surprise. In a surprise to no one but hard-core Republican partisans, it turns out that if you single mindedly pursue a laundry list of policies the majority of the electorate disagrees with, nominate a wide slate of candidates who redefine the phrase “sleazy politician,” and hew in lock step with a twice impeached former president who attempted to raise a rebellion against his own government, then come election day you might have a bad time of it. In a mid-term being held amidst historic inflation and economic angst, the party out of power should have walked away with big wins across the board. Republicans should have had a banner night. It turns out that policy still matters. Candidates still matter. Messaging is important. Even if the Republicans squeak out a majority in the House or Senate, this election should be a wakeup call. It probably won’t be. The true believers will double down and get even more loud and obnoxious. 

A sad bloody hash…

A million years ago when I was a teacher for about 30 minutes, I was a dues paying member of the local union. I don’t remember how much the dues were, but it must have been pretty nominal if I was willing to part with it when I was making something like $2,400 a month. Part of the deal there was that the union was responsible for negotiating our salary and benefits package. Outside of that, my engagement with them was pretty minimal.

For most if not all of my career as a cog in Uncle’s great green machine, I’ve also been nominally superintended by one union or another. The difference here, of course, is that none of these unions are able to negotiate pay or benefits or much of anything that really makes a strong case for sending them money every other week. In 20 years, the total number of times I’ve needed anything from a union is precisely zero point zero. Other than the few run-ins I’ve had with them complaining about me for taking up whole swaths of the parking lot with giant tents every April there for a few years, I simply haven’t had any reason or desire to deal with them.

After three weeks of wondering why no one has heard anything about when or if the new and improved telework program will be rolling out, I finally decided to reach out directly to the leadership of our local union. I sent over a perfectly professional inquiry about why we hadn’t heard a word about it, what the holdup is, and when it’s expected to be resolved. It’s certainly not as if it isn’t a point of conversation around the water cooler every single day at this point.

I’ll be honest here, I got the sense that the union official who responded either didn’t appreciate the specific questions, didn’t appreciate being questioned in general, or maybe he’d just gotten tired of being asked the same thing 100 times a week. His response did throw in one of my favorite old saws that anyone who’s been around more than a few days has heard – that “we train to standard, not to time.” You can roughly translate that to mean it’s going to take as long as it takes, so quit asking.

As a professional planner I consider it one of the worst possible approaches to doing anything. In my universe, time is part of the standard. A 100% solution delivered months after it’s needed is every bit as bad and often much worse than a 50% solution delivered on time. Neither one has the desired effects when and where they’re needed. Any good planner should tell you they’re working to both time and standard, not one or the other as if they’re mutually exclusive, unrelated factors.

Basically it was a very polite invitation to go fuck myself, which I’m not especially offended by… other than wishing people would just say that up front rather than couching it in euphemism. He made his point. I made mine. I doubt either one of us feels better for the experience. As a non-dues paying employee, my opinion doesn’t carry much weight to the union’s internal deliberations, but that doesn’t mean for one moment that I’m not going to voice them whenever I feel it’s appropriate… and I haven’t seen or heard anything yet that would convince me our “representation” hasn’t made a sad bloody hash of the whole thing. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. COLA. Retirees are getting an 8.7% cost of living adjustment for 2023. In contrast, active employees are on track for a 4.6% general pay increase. In my head it feels vaguely like those two figures should be reversed, or perhaps they should be on par. I mean a raise of 8.7% for managing to simultaneously be retired and stay alive is good work if you can get it, but it sends a bit of an odd message to the people who are still schlepping to the office and actually doing the work.

2. Planning. I spent a good portion of the last month working with my advisor to make plans and tweak accounts to make sure I didn’t run afoul of the IRS in 2023. I see yesterday that the IRS has now updated their income brackets for next year due to this year’s inflationary pressure. Those updated brackets imply there are probably a few other changes coming in the next few weeks that could very well have made the last month’s work mostly or wholly unnecessary. Sure, it would be nice to have a little more cap space for IRAs and 401ks next year, but it also means I could have kicked my own planning down the road for a year or two before needing to make changes in how we do things.

3. The union. We’re three weeks past returning to the office under a pre-plague telework agreement that allows for working from home no more than two days a week. It’s also been three weeks since personnel not covered under the union contract were rolled up under their new agreement that allows them to work from home three days each week. In these last three weeks, there has been absolutely no communication from AFGE Local 1904 about why they’re continuing to hold up this benefit for the rest of us. I have no idea what they’re thinking, but they’re making management look downright reasonable, accommodating, and open handed. We’re rapidly approaching a point where I’m going to be willing to pay some dues so I can show up and be an antagonistic bastard at every single meeting they have.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Mail in ballots. I printed out my general election ballot over the weekend. So far all it’s done is sit here on the corner of my desk like a lump. It hasn’t jumped up and subverted an election. It hasn’t even tried to multiply itself or throw itself into the trash so it couldn’t be counted. I’m highly disappointed that this mail in ballot doesn’t seem to have any of the magical qualities that Republicans have been warning me about for the last two years. In fact, it’s almost like they’re making up stories about evil mail in ballots on the spot and talking out their collective asses for their own devious purposes. 

2. The union. We’ve been paying attention to the Great Plague since about March 2020. That’s two and a half years the union that nominally represents most non-supervisory employees at my place of work has had to get their act together in negotiating what right looks like in terms of an updated policy for telework. Their failure to get it done has left us falling back on the policy that was in force in 2019 and bears little resemblance to the post-plague reality of information work. I don’t know what pie in the sky fuckery the executive board was demanding, but I know management’s proposal of two days per week in the office is miles ahead of where they wanted to be when the issue was discussed 18 months ago. From where I’m sitting, it looks like the union is all that’s standing between us and picking up an additional day of telework each week. I didn’t have much use for federal employee unions before this, but dragging out the process on this just adds insult to injury. I strongly encourage AFGE Local 1904 to unfuck themselves as soon as humanly possible because right now all they seem to be is an obstacle.

3. Vehicle repair. I’m driving a 12-year-old truck with nearly 140,000 miles on it. I’m all too aware that we’ve reached a point in our relationship when some repair work is just going to be unavoidable. More than the repairs themselves, it’s just the inconvenience of it that really gets to me. Getting it diagnosed, dropping it off for an unknown about of time to have the service done, arranging for alternate transportation from the shop to home and back again for pick up. It’s just filled with bits and bobs that conspire against my well worn in day-to-day habits.  So, you could say it’s more the inconvenience of it that the actual work that needs doing… and it’s all before whatever the absurd cost ends up being. Alas, that last bit is an inevitable consequence of my being a mechanical incompetent, so there’s no one to blame there but myself. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprise meetings. Some things happen without any warning – earthquakes, tornados, someone punching you in the throat for being stupid – all things that could theoretically happen out of nowhere. What shouldn’t happen out of nowhere is calling someone out of the blue after sitting on the material they gave you a month ago to tell them they have four hours to make a shit ton of changes and present that information to the Grand High Host of the Everlasting Knowitall. If you’ve had something for a month and just getting around to telling someone you’re going to need it completely changed later that day, it’s not a “no notice event,” you’re just a douchebag.

2. Fast food strikes. I flipped burgers for $4.15 an hour. When I see on the news that the “me” of today think they deserve $15 an hour for doing that job, I mostly just roll my eyes. When I hear they’re going to take the day to picket their employer demanding $15 and hour and a union, well, I nearly fall down laughing. In the 5 years I was associated with the burger flipping segment of the economy, I never once contemplated the value of my efforts being worth anything close to $15 an hour. The idea of signing up for Burger Flippers and Fry Cooks Local #209 never even crossed my mind. Unless you’re looking at a management track or life in corporate, I’d not recommend considering McDonald’s or its ilk as a long term career opportunity. We should be incentivizing people to move up and out of minimum wage jobs as quickly as possible, not raising the wage so it’s considered just another “lifestyle choice.”

3. Peanut Butter Jelly Time. I’m almost 36 years old and just had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of sugar free kool-aid for dinner. There are rare occasions when I really think I suck at being an adult. This would be one of those occasions.

From the Mailbag: On Wisconsin

The Question: What are your thoughts on the recall election in Wisconsin?

The Answer: As a rule, I’m not a fan of recall elections. Every four years we go to a lot of time, expense, and trouble of electing our state governors. Thanks to a spastic media and more political blogs than anyone could ever possible read, we pretty much know what we’re going to get in a candidate. If someone, like Scott Walker campaigns on a platform of lowering the cost of state government, reducing its size, and decreasing the influence of public sector unions, well, it stands to reason that he’s going to at least try to do some of those things when he gets elected. Trying to recall the guy for doing something that you don’t like smacks of childish tantrum-throwing, especially when you’re going to have a regularly scheduled opportunity to throw the bum out in two years.

I don’t have any great love for public sector unions. As a teacher I was forced to be a dues paying member of one as a condition of employment. Even now, I’m nominally “represented” by a union, though it lacks the ability to negotiate pay or really do much of any substance. At least I don’t have to pay for the privilege this time around. As a public sector employee, I’d be up in arms too if the powers that be unilaterally decided to slash my pay, cut my benefits, or otherwise endanger my livelihood. Given the state of the federal budget for the foreseeable future, it’s an issue I’ve actually give a lot of thought to lately. After two years of a pay freeze, and a massive impending cut to my department’s budget next year, it’s not all that hard to see myself screaming bloody murder from the atop the barricades. Even so, I think history has proven recall elections to be little more than an enormous waste of money for everyone involved.

It’s a bad time to be a government employee at any level – local, state, or federal. Budgets are going to continue to diminish, services are going to be reduced, and the number of employees is going to decrease. The public is pissed at the politicians and the only group the politicians can kick with impunity are the rank and file government employees. From the tealeaves I’m reading, I get the sense that times are going to look a lot bleaker before they even think about getting better. Even so, I think there are more productive uses of my time and effort that playing the recall game. I’d find it much more satisfying to see someone’s reelection campaign go down in flames head to head against a candidate I support. I’ve always felt it was better to vote for something I believe it rather than just voting against someone I don’t like.