Adventures in H.R. (in four parts)


In the early days, Cavendish Junior College was a big, happy family. Everyone was local, friendly, easygoing. Enthusiastic. Your basic Yoopers. At contract negotiation time, the leader of our little maintenance field group would be summoned into the Personnel Director’s office. (Yes, they used to call that department “Personnel” in those unenlightened days. Forgive them, they didn’t know any better. Now, in these more enlightened days, we call it Human Resources, to better distinguish the responsibilities from Energy Resources, Land Resources, Animal Resources, whatever. Apparently “personnel” was a vague word without meaning.)

Our group leader would sit down with the director and they’d shoot the bull for a while, talking about huntin’, da Bears, where the best fishin’ holes could be found, and at some point the director would slide a piece of paper across the desk, on which he’d written his contract offers. Our group leader would look at it, nod and say, “Yah, this looks good.” And it was. They shook hands and negotiations were concluded.

In later years, contract negotiations became a war. Weeks and months would be spent in battle. Tempers flared, vile language spewed, veiled (and a few naked) threats delivered. The Administration would spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers (hired guns expert in negotiation, confrontation, intimidation and humiliation) to beat down the employees. In those days the then-President motivated employees by urging that “You shall never reject any ideas by saying ‘we’ve never done it that way.’ Those words are forbidden!” Needless to say, one time a creative suggestion proposed by the employee group to streamline our health care was rejected by the Administration’s pitbull lawyer. Asked why, he said, “Because we’ve never done it this way.”

We sensed a disconnect there.


We all know the guidelines for people applying for a job. Do your homework. Know the prospective employer. Have a list of things you can do for them. (Some good examples here.)

So we had an opening for a custodian. Basic skills and duties. Sweep, mop, straighten up the place, clean toilets, change light bulbs. Keep the buildings clean and safe. Applications were accepted and reviewed, interviews were scheduled. One guy came in and did it right. He’d spent two days walking around the Cavendish Junior College campus with a clipboard, making copious notes on any deficiencies he saw, and what he could suggest and would do to make it all better. He was sharp, qualified, on time, polite, dressed for success, literate. At the end of the interview, he was thanked and ushered out of the room. Everyone on the committee was impressed. Stunned. This guy had nailed it. He did everything right. (I’ve told this story to people who’ve been on hiring committees; their eyes would light up and they’d glow with delight just hearing this.) But the committee was chaired by our Maintenance Department boss, Ed Posen. Ed glared around the table, and said, “That guy’s gonna be trouble.” Needless to say, he did not get hired.


Motivation is usually always a good thing. People work better when they’re motivated. Our employee reps would met with the President occasionally to discuss various issues. One time a big issue at CJC was rumors of early retirement buyouts. When the president was asked what were the chances of that, he replied, “Why should I pay people to go away when I can just fire them?” That was certainly motivating.

In contrast to the bad old days of the Personnel Department, the new Human Resources Department often doesn’t know what they’re doing, or who even anybody in their employ is.

After one round of firings (also called “personnel reductions,” “downsizing” (or “right-sizing”)) some top level positions were left vacant. Like Director of Public Safety. Things got tense and confused in the Public Safety office. Critical duties went undone. People who’d had no training were held responsible, of course. It got ugly. But the kicker was when H.R. called one of the survivors of the cutbacks some time later, demanding to know where the (former) director was, and why wasn’t he answering his phone or replying to their urgent emails? “Um,” the new director said cautiously, “you fired him six months ago.”

“Oh!” the H.R. person said, clearly surprised. “Um, well, nevermind, then.”


When  I retired from CJC, I got no direction from H.R. I had to go ask questions, which got me incomplete answers. It was a long, frustrating process of chasing down people who knew anything at all about the process—how to apply, who to tell, what forms to fill out, where to file them, what to do with my keys, phone, computer, etc. Like no one had ever retired from there before. Long afterward, I talked with business friends who described things like “exit interviews.” Huh? I had to have this explained to me. I didn’t know what they were talking about. Apparently, someone from H.R. should, ideally, in a perfect world, sit down with you and discuss your experiences with the employer, the good, the bad, the work, the environment, the processes. I would have loved to share my experiences. But I certainly didn’t get an exit interview. What I got instead was a generic survey on a website. The first question was “Why did you decide to leave the college and seek employment elsewhere?” Um, I retired?  It was obvious that after 19 years, they didn’t know me, or care. I don’t remember if I finished the survey. I don’t know, and I don’t care.



Alleged Road Repairs

We have a strange concept of “road repairs” in Ingham County, Michigan. Or maybe everywhere.

Rather than do something good and worthwhile, SOP here is to lay down a coat of tar, then cover it with a layer of pea-stone gravel. That’s it. Done. Walk away. Go get a beer. In the olden days I think the road crews used to bring out “steam rollers” and roll the gravel out and down into the tar. Not anymore. Now they just go away and subcontract the work to us, the citizens, to tamp down and level out the gravel with our tires. What, so I’m working for the county now? And providing my own equipment? For no pay? Just the risk of a cracked windshield and chipped paint? I’m not even getting the benefit of free undercoating from the tar. I should call National Labor Relations Board.

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Free Life Insurance

I just got another offer from my credit union for $1000 of free life insurance. This is to be purchased in my name for me by my credit union. The total cost to me is saying NO! every time a rep from the life insurance company calls to make an appointment to push more insurance on me at their “low, low monthly rates.” I can afford that. It occurs to me if I’d been accepting all these offers when they first started coming to me 45 years ago I’d probably have tens of thousands of dollars worth of free life insurance now, just sitting there, waiting to be paid to my survivor. At no (monetary) cost to me.

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

I get burned by this law all the time. You know it, even if you don’t know you know it. “No good deed goes unpunished.” That pretty much sums it up.

I bought an in-dash touch-screen infotainment unit for for my car. Unwise, I know, but I wanted it and I had the money. Mostly because it has the navigation feature. We’ll get to that in a minute.

After having the marvellous new touch-screen infotainment unit installed in my dashboard, I discovered I got no more audible alerts from my car. No seatbelt chime, no door ajar chime, no key-in-the-ignition chime. Not even the click-clack of the turn signals. Turned out all those sounds come out of the factory-installed entertainment unit, i.e.: the radio that we had just removed. I needed an optional wiring harness with its own built-in chimes. Back to the installation shop with more money in hand.

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Summer Blockbuster Syndrome

The summer movie blockbuster season is upon us again, and I have to admit I can’t get excited about it. I was put in mind of the comedian who told about his grandfather coming back from a major league baseball game. Someone asked how the game was. Grandpa grumbled, “the millionaire on the mound pitched the ball to the millionaire at the plate, he hit it to the millionaire in the outfield, who threw it to the millionaire at first base…”

Let’s face it, the “Marvel Universe” doesn’t exist. Ditto the Star Wars Universe, the Alien Universe, the X-Men Universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy Universe… It’s just going to be another season of “the CGI villain beats up on the CGI hero, they toss CGI cars and CGI people into the CGI buildings of a CGI city with CGI jets and CGI helicopters screaming overhead…” I mean seriously, why do we care about any of this?

Some things I’d rather see? How about this image of the Panama Canal, a project so huge you’d think these photos could only be done with CGI.

Or maybe this one of the propellers of the Titanic, built in 1909 through 1912.

These are both phenomenal things that were built in the days when a Ford Model T was pretty much state of the art for automobiles. And now of course the Panama Canal has been massively expanded, a project  so huge it’s almost dizzying in photos, and you would swear they were CGI if you saw them in a movie, but they’re real.

Maybe it’s just me, but I am pretty much over CGI. Hopefully these three photos will expand to fill your screen if you click on them. If not, I’ll find a way to fix that. Probably with CGI. But then also there are these photos to give a better idea of the scope of the Canal expansion.

That said, I admit that I recently watched a CGI ape battle a CGI T-Rex and swat CGI helicopters out of the CGI sky. The original Kong was forty feet tall, the Kong now is maybe 100 to 150 feet tall, but that was not enough to be overwhelming, or even enough to make it a good movie. I can’t say I was underwhelmed, because that would oversell my expectations. I guess I was just merely whelmed.

Although finding King Kong: Skull Island uninspiring, and I will almost certainly find myself watching Alien:Covenant and Blade Runner 2049 this summer. But seriously, I don’t know what the future of summer blockbusters will be, but someday I hope it’s not just this. It’s hard to write, and harder to imagine, but maybe it’s going to have to be up to Millennials to redefine, with their entertainment dollars, the whole moviescape for all of us. It might not be pretty, but they’re blooming into adulthood now and maybe it’s time for them to step up and take a leadership role. So far they’re not inspiring confidence, but who knows? The Powers That Be in Hollywood are, in my opinion, drowning in gridlock… to mix a metaphor.

But what do I know?