Monday, July 20, 2009

The Independent Contract - 2

The drivers at Yellow expressed their fear and their angst with a series of saying:
  • "You've got a job at Yellow Cab as long Steele doesn't know you name."
  • "The longer you work here, the less they like you."
  • "The letter (that your lease has been cancelled without warning) comes on Thursday."
It was Kakaesque world of total uncertainty - apparently designed by Steele to insure that people would be so paranoid that they wouldn't even dare think of forming a union.

I once asked Steele's assistant, Richie Weiner, how many points you could get on your driver's license before Yellow would cancel your lease. We'd been having a friendly talk and it seemed like a reasonable question but, the moment I asked it, Richie gave me a bizarre look and terminated the conversation, saying "take care of it." You never really knew what the rules were or where you stood.

And Yellow could change the rules any time they liked. I remembered that it had said in my contract that you could sublease if you informed them in advance. I wanted to take some time off so I went to the office to "inform" them. The moment Jim Steele overheard me use the word "sublease," he came storming out of his office screaming,
  • "There's no subleasing!"
  • "But," I stammered, " it says in the contract ...'
  • "There's no subleasing!" he screamed and then, waving his hands over his head as was his custom, yelled at me to "get the hell out of here!"
I walked down the long stairway that lead from his office to the street. I stepped outside and then thought, "do I really need this job?" Then, I went back to his office.

Most people say that Steele had a terrible temper. But I don't think so. I think he was just an abusive bastard. I have a bad temper. It's not something you can turn on and off like a faucet. When Steele saw me come back up the stairs, he was no longer screaming. I could see his mind working like a calculator. Of course "pacifist" is not the first word that springs to most people's minds when they see me angry. And, I later learned that both Steele and Richie had been punched out or otherwise assaulted by drivers who didn't like Yellow's managerial style. But Steele actually gave me the sublease and didn't yell at me again until I was back at the bottom of the stairs. "If they don't show up," he screamed half-heartedly, "you're paying for it!"

But winning an argument of any kind with Yellow's management was said to be almost unique. According to what Nate Dwiri would call rumor, what follows are some of the things that were normal at Yellow:
  • They always hired new drivers and Yellow's statistics showed that the drivers would get cocky and begin having accidents at about eight months after they started, so management would cancel many leases before they drivers had a chance to have an accident. The fact that a steady stream of new drivers started every week, tended to back this up.
  • Drivers were required to pay a $500 insurance deposit and, if they had an accident, Yellow would take the deposit until it was determined whether the driver in question was at fault or not. If the driver complained, they would cancel his or her lease.
  • Yellow would sometimes keep the deposit even if the driver was not at fault. If he or she complained, Yellow would cancel the lease.
  • If the driver failed to tip, the lease would be cancelled.
  • If the driver was late a few times, "THEY wouldn't like you." If THEY didn't like you, your lease would eventually be cancelled.
  • If the driver got into an argument with a gasman or a dispatcher, the lease would be cancelled.
  • A driver could have a lease cancelled for one complaint; as in, "he was rude."
  • Some drivers had theirs leases cancelled and never knew why.
Of course most this is "rumor" - but the rumors come from dozens of different people all telling the same stories over and over again. Instead of rumor, let's call it folk wisdom.

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