Employees Surrender All Rights at the Company Door

"You'll have to take a drug test, you know." A few friends were talking, over dinner, about how one might land a job at Deluxe Check. "But it's not just Deluxe, it's any major corporation these days." The friend looking for work was not a drug user, but did take anti- depressants, and another drug for attention deficit disorder, which might show up as an amphetamine. Even to apply for a job, she would have to disclose all that -- and who knew how the information might be used? Might they discriminate against someone with a history of depression -- even though it was under control? The thought hung like a chill over the evening. Most frightening was the sheer physical invasion of it all. "Yes, and they'll watch you as you do the urine test," one friend continued -- speaking as one who'd been through it. "It's really quite humiliating." I had been aware, vaguely, that drug testing was on the rise in corporations, but the reality had not hit home until that evening. Then a few weeks ago, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report -- "Surveillance Incorporated" -- revealing that drug testing is now routine at 81 percent of major corporations. That's a remarkable rise since 1985, when only a few bus companies tested their drivers, and then only for cause. Today, one in three corporations further subject employees to random tests -- pulling in a graphic designer to pee in a jar, any day of the year, even though there's no indication of drug use, and the job is not safety-related. Shades of George Orwell and 1984. How ironic, that Big Brother should at last take tangible form -- under the watchful eye not of the government, but of the corporation: that bastion of "liberty." Let it be said straight out: Liberty is a crock. It extends only to the liberty of capital to take flight at the merest whim -- leaving U.S. soil with its bothersome laws, to invest in Disney shops in Haiti, for example, where workers stitch together Mickey Mouse pajamas for 28 cents an hour, and are humiliated or struck by supervisors. Should these workers get uppity and demand a union, capital will simply fly to some other realm -- where workers will settle for, say, 14 cents an hour. Even in America, employees have no liberty: * At a Nabisco plant in Oxnard, Calif., making Grey Poupon mustard (the mustard of the "upper classes"), female employees last year filed a class action suit, alleging they weren't allowed bathroom breaks, and thus were forced to wear diapers to work. The company settled out of court in April, on undisclosed terms. * At Motorola plants in Chicago, making cellular phone (the phones of the "upper classes"), the company instituted a policy in August that workers would be fired the fourth time they were caught smoking in their own cars. The goal was to promote health and reduce "parking lot incidents." Surely these are concerns of such over-riding significance that even the smallest personal liberty must be curtailed. * At a Caterpillar plant in York, Penn., union members were fired or suspended for displaying union stickers on their lunchboxes. "It's like going to prison when you go in there," one employee told the Wall Street Journal. Apply for a job at many corporations, and you'll be required to fill out a personality questionnaire asking intimate questions -- such as, "My sex life is unsatisfactory." Land the job, and you may find yourself secretly videotaped -- as employees were at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston, where a secret camera was installed in staff dressing rooms. Should you come up with a false positive on a drug test -- as Collette Clark did at San Diego Gas & Electric -- you can lose your job. If a creditor should request financial information, two out of three companies will disclose it -- though you yourself can be blocked from seeing what's in your own personnel files. Your phone conversations can be overheard, your files searched, even your keystrokes counted. And all of this is legal. The right to be innocent until proven guilty, the right to be secure in one's person and property -- these rights are suspended at the company door. Inside corporate America, one right alone is paramount: the right of shareholders to get richer and richer. It is employees who pay the price.

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