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Standing at work is better than standing in an unemployment line

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POSTED June 21, 2011 1:31 a.m.

Back in the 1990s, a Ford executive was showing off a new line of robots that assemble vehicles to a United Auto Workers representative.

The Ford executive was boasting that he’d like to see auto workers assemble vehicles as efficiently. The UAW representative shot back, “I’d like to see a robot buy a Ford.”

Populist columnist Jim Hightower of Texas uses that exchange in his book “They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time to Take It Back.” Hightower was making the point that the continued squeeze on wages, automation at all costs, and off-shoring jobs ultimately would imperil the very corporations that seek to expand profit margins in such a manner.

In California the corporations are getting a helping hand to encourage them to eliminate jobs from enterprising trial lawyers who convince “wronged” clients in the workplace that they can strike a big payday. In reality, the big payoff is for the lawyers themselves and the big losers won’t be corporations but the working people who are supposedly who the lawyers say they’re helping.

One such Sacramento-based attorney has traveled Northern California extensively over the past decade filing suit for handicapped access targeting primarily mom and pop restaurants. Mind you, it isn’t done in the course of his normal life but as a fishing expedition. He will routinely paper a town with a dozen or so lawsuits. He passed through Manteca recently and caught several businesses in his fish net. If the idea was simply to correct inadequacies that may exist to make sure the handicapped can be accommodated, that’s one thing. But he essentially uses the litigation process to extort a finders’ fee, if you will.

No matter how you view what he does that is admirable compared to what a flock of trial layers are now doing. They have enlisted cashiers to file more than 100 lawsuits so far against corporations because they do not provide adequate seating for cashiers.

That is gleaned from what some are calling an obscure provision of the Industrial Welfare Commission’s labor code that states, “All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. When employees are not engaged in the duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and the employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.”

The first violation is up to $100 per employee per pay period. Subsequent violations are double that.

Of course, the lawyers aren’t suing just for not following the law’s wording but for damages as well.

The clerks involved might get more in the deal than they expect.

I do not use automatic checkouts for two reasons: I don’t trust them plus I like the idea that there are humans around to help me.

The theory is if enough of us use automatic checkouts the stores will simply cut back on the number of clerks, which in turn increases the unemployment rate, which then reduces money in the economy, and that ultimately may imperil my financial well-being.

If you don’t think that more stores won’t go to automatic cash registers in California given the lawsuits, I have 30 shares of Washington Mutual stock I’ll sell you at $50 a share.

It seems at times that corporations, consumers, and workers are all striving for mutual destruction.

If you keep driving prices down through the elimination of jobs and wages then you weaken the consumers’ ability to buy goods.

If you keep driving the cost of business up through excessive regulation and lawsuits then you encourage corporations to off-shore jobs or automate as much as possible.

It doesn’t help that a lot of firms are looking for quick profits through acquisition and then shedding jobs to service debt they incurred to put their business margins on steroid for a few years. Nor does it help that consumers will essentially demand services - and often goods - for nothing or near to it.

Unfortunately if we don’t temper how we are driven by what is essentially greed whether it is corporations, consumers, or more specific sub-species of civilization such as trial lawyers we ultimately will get to the point that profits will disappear along with even more jobs.

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