Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trash cans

I work in a cube farm. I came in one day this week, and the two of us in the cube, lost a trash can. We had four. Each of us had a trash can for trash and a blue trashcan for things that will recycle, such as paper, plastic bottles and cans. So I came in one day, and one of our recycle bins is missing. But it is probably a good thing, as we can’t really fill it everyday and it just takes up space in a tight, two person cube.

That reminded me of a year I spent at another company, which got sold, merged and about vanished this last year. They almost had a license to print money, being in a “banking” industry. I hope some of those people that ran that place, have not moved here and taken over trash can duty.

I’ll explain. The other company had to be incredibly diligent in protecting their customers’ financial information. They took this WAY over the top. When I first got there, I was assigned another contractor in the next cube over, to show me the ropes. One of the interesting things he told me about was the trash cans. We each had two; one for waste and one for recycle trash. My mentor cautioned me that it was probably best not to use either. And to never put any trash in either, that had any numbers on it. Numbers could be account numbers, and those were not to be compromised. I didn’t listen. I went ahead and dumped my lunch trash into the regular trash. I hardly ever had any trash for the recycle bin. One day I got wind that they finally got staplers in, so I went and got one. Without even thinking, I got out my new stapler and tossed the thin cardboard box it had come in, into my recycle bin.

When I arrived at work the next day, my recycle bin was TAPED to my chair with clear tape and a form letter taped to the bin. The note basically read that I’d violated corporate privacy rules by placing a box with PART NUMBERS on it into my recycle bin. This “breach of security” had been written up, I was instructed to discuss this with my manager and that if even ONE more breach occurred, as a contractor, I’d be shown the door. I could NOT believe it. I still have trouble believing this. My mentor showed up as I was peeling the tape off. He chuckled and said that they LOOKED for any violation and that every contractor had been written up for some real or imagined breach within a few weeks of their start. He said this was done so that they only had to have one more trumped up “strike” against you and they could justify any immediate terminations they needed. I went and talked with my supervisor and explained how absurd this all seemed. He was a social friend of mine and agreed, but said that HIS boss was also notified, so to lay low, stay out of trouble and hope for the best.

I headed back and talked with the other contractors during a coffee break. I found out that almost every one of them didn’t use the trash cans at all. They used the large trash bins in the hall ways. I then began to notice that many employees followed the same rules. At the end of one of our rows of cubes, was a fairly high up manager. I noticed for a few days, that when she would leave, she would pick up her two trash cans and take them down to the common area and transfer all her food trash and recycles to the common bins! This lady probably made six figures, but spent the last ten minutes of her day, sorting trash.

A few months later, we all arrived and they had removed all individual trashcans and also all contractor name tags. We thought we’d all been canned, but no, just part of the dehumanization process.

Well, they found another reason to cut me by the end of the year. They cut ten percent and as the newest contractor with a “breach”, I was one of three let go. My wife told me to never work for the puzzle palace again. The contractors called it the puzzle palace, for lack of any better term.

A few months later, I heard from one of the other contractor friends I’d made there. He had an even better story. He was from Australia. He was working with his wife back home to refinance their home. He had written on a sticky note a FAX number to fax back some documents. He’d kept the documents, but tossed the sticky into the main trash can, not even in his cube, since they had removed all those. Not the “shred” bin, but the regular trash bin. All this sticky had on it was an international fax number, which doesn't look like a sixteen digit credit card number. The next day, he arrived to find the same sticky taped to his chair, the standard form letter, see the boss, blah blah blah.

All of which begs the questions, who was “watching” the common area trash cans (cameras in the ceiling tiles?), who was responsible for dumpster-diving to retrieve the sticky with the fax number on it, and did they keep their shots current.

We called it the puzzle palace for good cause.

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