Archive for December, 2019

Service of How Does a Company with Nasty Rules Attract Employees?

Monday, December 30th, 2019

Photo: businessinsider.com

The US unemployment rate is at 3.6 percent. If it truly reflects the numbers of unemployed then workers can afford to be choosey especially in a place like New York City that is crowded with low pay opportunities.

Jonathan Stempel’s article, “Starbucks settles New York probe into illegal sick leave policy,” opened my eyes to another nasty practice of some employers. The Reuters reporter wrote: “Starbucks Corp agreed on Thursday to pay restitution and accept greater oversight to settle a multi-year probe finding that it had illegally required New York City employees to find substitutes when they needed to use sick leave. ” The amount: $176,000.

Officials said Starbucks violated New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act from April 2014 to February 2016 by requiring employees to find replacements before using sick leave, or else face possible discipline including termination. [In the third quarter of 2014 the economy grew at a record pace.]

Who came up with this punishing concept? Picture you sick at home with the flu. You can barely call in sick much less call around to find someone to take your place.

In addition to continuing to deep six the mean sick leave practice, Starbucks must also clearly explain its policy to its more than 8,000 New York City employees, and detail its compliance within six months to regulators, Stempel reported.

In January 2018, Starbucks adopted a nationwide policy granting employees one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. That equates to roughly seven or eight days a year for a full-time employee.

Have you heard of over-the-top employment practices? Do you think this one came about because the company felt that too many employees called in sick simply because they didn’t feel like working and it wanted to discourage the practice?

Photo: insider.com

Service of A First: Two Billboard Top 100 Songs Celebrate Christmas–What Does It Mean?

Friday, December 27th, 2019

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Gary Trust reported that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” represent the first time the Billboard 100 had a twofer of Christmas songs at the top.

Photo: easycutsit.com

In “Mariah Carey No. 1, Brenda Lee No. 2 in Billboard Hot 100’s First-Ever ‘Christmas’ Double Up,‘” on Billboard.com, Trust went on to write that “a record-tying four seasonal songs rank in the Hot 100’s top 10, as Burl Ives’ ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ climbs 10-6 for a new high and Bobby Helms’ ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ rolls 15-9.”

You can’t extrapolate with certainty the significance of this development but it’s fun to try. Are we becoming more traditional? Is music more accessible to people through their smartphones so they can easily add seasonal tunes to family gatherings? What are your favorite Christmas songs?

Photo: amazon.com

Service of Caveat Emptor: Amazon Shoppers, Watch Out for the Splash of Dumpster Divers!

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Photo: theplaidzebra.com

I love bargains but after reading Khadeeja Safdar, Shane Shifflett and Denise Blostein’s Wall Street Journal article “You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon—Literally,” my instinct to be choosey and on alert about where I find good deals set off alarms.

The reporters wrote: “Just about anyone can open a store on Amazon.com and sell just about anything. Just ask the dumpster divers.”

And I know dumpster divers exist because when I had a garage sale a few years ago I offered wonderful things, chucking stuff not appropriate for sale in a dumpster that was near the garage. I found several people in that dumpster sorting through my garbage!

Photo: en.wikipedia.com

Back to the topic. Safdar and colleagues reported: “They are an elusive lot. Many The Wall Street Journal contacted wouldn’t give details about their listings, said they stopped selling dumpster finds or no longer listed them as new, didn’t respond to inquiries or stopped communicating. Some said they feared Amazon would close their stores.”

The reporters found “a stencil set, scrapbook paper and a sealed jar of Trader Joe’s lemon curd” with expiration date of May 2020 in dumpsters in New Jersey and set up a store, DJ Co. “’Sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s high bar for product quality,’ an Amazon spokeswoman said. Examples the Journal presented to Amazon of dumpster-sourced listings ‘are isolated incidents,’ she said. ‘We are investigating and will take appropriate action against the bad actors involved.’” No comment re. the Journal’s store. When Journal staff submitted items for their store they weren’t asked about sell-by dates or origins.

“After a later dumpster dive, the Journal was able to go through almost all of the listing process with salvaged breath mints, sunflower seeds, marmalade, crispbread, fig fruit butter, olives, a headband and a Halloween mask—stopping just short of shipping them to the Amazon warehouse, which is required for an item to appear for purchase on the site.” And “To list a sunscreen lotion, Amazon asked for a safety-data sheet. Attempts to list a protein powder, a pea-powder dietary supplement and a face sheet mask—all from the dive—elicited a request from Amazon for proof of purchase.”

Amazon recently changed its policy: No items taken from the trash could be sold nor could items a manufacturer, vendor, retailer or supplier identified as unsalable. The company says it’s not responsible for what’s sold. A former employee who oversaw the department that handled logistics for third-party sellers until 2013 told the reporters: “We had an internal saying: Unless the product’s on fire when we receive it, we would accept anything. Ultimately consumers are the police of the platform.” Amazon denied this and said “it requires sellers to provide government-issued identification and uses a “system that analyzes hundreds of unique data points to identify potential risk” and “we proactively block suspicious businesses.”

Photo: pinterest.com

One of Amazon’s online merchants fills his Amazon and Ebay stores with clearance items, stuff abandoned in storage units and dumpsters. He cleans blemishes so the stuff looks new and gets the shipping packaging from the trash.

One Amazon merchant said he wouldn’t sell salvaged food but “Amazon’s not going to ask ‘Where’d you get it from? Did you get it from a dumpster?’ ” A Connecticut merchant who sells his items as “used” trolls bins behind GameStop, Michaels and the town dump for videogames, toys, electronics and trinkets.

A former [until 2017] quality assurance inspector based in Florida said he ignored broken things “more often than not.” Staffers were asked to scan hundreds of items in one hour. Productivity over precision was required. So as to avoid a complicated process to dispose an item some inspectors changed expiration dates.

“To see if Amazon customers shared such concerns” [about dumpster items], “the Journal analyzed about 45,000 comments posted on Amazon in 2018 and 2019. It found nearly 8,400 comments on 4,300 listings for foods, makeup and over-the-counter medications with keywords suggesting they were unsealed, expired, moldy, unnaturally sticky or problematic in some other way.”

The reporters continued: “About 544 of the 4,300 products were promoted as Amazon’s Choice, which many consumers take to be the company’s endorsement. Amazon’s website says the label reflects a combination of factors such as ratings, pricing and shipping time.”

Have you bought food or cosmetics from stores on Amazon? Are you surprised about the dumpster allegations?

Photo: youtube.com

Service of Second Hand Clothes: Good Enough to Give

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

Photo: medium.com

I wrote about J. C.  Penney’s second hand clothes department in “Service of Second Hand Clothes: Thrift in Unexpected Places.” At Poshmark, his online business, Manish Chandra has added cachet to used clothing.

Chandra told Charity L. Scott in The Wall Street Journal: “We expect this to be a marquee year for secondhand items being gifted. I remember, a few years back, you might try to hide that you bought it on Poshmark. Today, it’s actually fun to say, ‘I bought it on Poshmark,’ and it’s something that people are even sharing shopping tips on.”

Scott reported: “Poshmark looks and behaves much like Instagram, incentivizing sellers to give and receive comments and ‘likes’ and allowing users to follow their favorite sellers. Similar to eBay, sellers take photos of their own items and sell them directly. Poshmark takes a 20% cut of many sales.”

The company added home goods to its offerings. In eight years, it says it paid “more than $2 billion in sale proceeds to its roughly seven million sellers.” Chandra said “Our mission is to empower anybody to become a retailer, [so] we want to keep the playing field super level.”

Chandra said “We think of Marie Kondo” [responsible for the trend to de-clutter] “as a specific moment in the evolution of reselling and re-commerce.” Kondo is the Japanese organizing consultant and author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” [2011].

Would you give a second hand item as a gift? Have you sold or bought something on Poshmark or any of its competitors such as Mercari, eBay, Etsy, Tradesy, Amazon or Wish? Do you browse and buy from thrift stores?

Photo: inform.com

Service of Status Symbols: Really?

Monday, December 16th, 2019

Photo: marketwatch.com

I once cut up a platinum colored credit card that came in the mail because I didn’t want to pay a premium. The standard one from this company was dark blue. I called and asked for a blue one and was told “Didn’t you read the note we sent in May?” It was November. “We aren’t charging extra for platinum ones anymore.” In the day, a platinum card meant something special to some people–but not to me. The company sent me a new card.

Status symbols don’t impress me but apparently metal credit cards should. “Customers typically can’t ask their bank to swap out their plastic cards, but at least 20 types of credit cards in the U.S. contain metal, including offerings from JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Wells Fargo & Co., wrote Michael Bucher in The Wall Street Journal.

Photo: businessinsider.com

“Like other luxuries once restricted to the wealthy—cellphones, private airport lounges and French handbags—metal credit cards have trickled down the income stream.” A trade magazine Bucher quoted estimates that by 2022 the number of metal cards will quadruple from the 32 million there are worldwide today.

It’s funny that heavier cards appeal to the public according to Citi when I keep trying to carry around less weight. “American Express Co. introduced its black card, named Centurion, in 1999. The titanium card still is issued only by invitation. Customers pay a $10,000 initiation fee and $5,000 annually.” What a waste of money! If you never heard of the Centurion–they didn’t advertise–it may be because you missed it in James Bond flicks, “Entourage” on HBO and in Kanye West songs.

Marriott customers complained when its card went from metal to plastic. [Imagine the savings for the lighter card in postage alone!]

Photo: wallethub.com

Not only is the card heavier, it requires special care. Apple advises customers to protect its titanium card from pocket change or keys that could harm it. “The Apple guide instructs cardholders to clean the card with rubbing alcohol.”

Bucher wrote about a supermarket employee who has handled the metal AmEx cards of affluent shoppers.  Capital One replaced her plastic card with one in metal.  “I opened it up and I was like, ’Whoa.’ It really did make me feel important instantly.”

There are tangible benefits: titanium ones are handy to scrape ice off a windshield or to tighten the screws on a drawer’s loose handle though if you need to destroy one, it’s nigh impossible reported Bucher.

What status symbols impress you? Do you have any metal credit cards? Do they give you bragging rights?

Photo: mercurynews.com

Service of What Happens When You Don’t Double Check: A Package Lost in Zip Code Hell

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

Photo: fanpop.com

It’s not just Santa who should check things twice–so should I.

I didn’t immediately read the zip code the postal clerk put in the computer. She did not post the information in the digital portion of the credit card reader [photo right, below] and I didn’t think to ask her to do so nor did I look at my receipt.

The birthday gift was destined for New Hampshire in plenty of time. I don’t know if it will ever arrive. It has been lost in zip code hell since November 29.

Photo: stateofthenet.net

I first looked at the receipt to track the package a few days after my post office visit. My heart sank: The clerk had inverted numbers so it headed not to New England but to Maryland Heights, Mo.

A clerk at the Grand Central post office confirmed the correct address on the label–it apparently is in the system but nobody refers to anything but the zip code. She admitted that the wrong code would keep sending the gift back to Missouri.

This clerk was correct. I received 25 USPS tracking email notices confirming this–as late as this morning. The package arrived twice in Southern Conn. and once in New Hampshire–though not to the right post office–but it went back to Missouri after that.

I asked her if postmen and women read the full label on a package and she said, “sometimes.” She didn’t have faith in an option to stop the delivery which she said would cost me money and “didn’t always work.”

Back at my computer I found a lost package form to fill out online even though the package is misdirected. I got a standard reply from the appropriate postmaster in the correct New Hampshire town that stated he would look into it. But the automatic tracking emails kept on coming telling me where in Missouri the package was out for delivery.

Light bulb: I found the phone number, called the New Hampshire post office in the right town, left a message for Kirkland S. and he subsequently left a message for me on my phone later that day. He seemed to be optimistic that the package would arrive at its destination because he’d spoken with customer service.

Alas, I got another auto message announcing the package was again out for delivery in Missouri.

I again called Kirkland who admitted to having called 12 numbers before reaching someone in Missouri who would send a person to rescue the package and delete the incorrect barcode so that the machine could not read it.

He explained that up until now a human had not been near the package. Computers read the zip code.  My heart, once lifted, was once again dashed this morning when the auto-tracking email announced the package is out for delivery in Missouri. Kirkland S could not be more sympathetic and he seems almost as frustrated as I am.

I fear that if and when it arrives it will be in shreds. It wasn’t packed to be tossed from truck to truck to truck to truck.

I just sent a slew of Christmas packages and confirmed, on the credit card reader, that each zip code and address were correct.

I consider the mistake to be equally my fault because I didn’t check. Even Santa, as busy as he is, takes time to confirm who’s been naughty or nice.

It’s so easy to type wrong numbers on a keyboard. Mine couldn’t be the only misdirected package. Shouldn’t there be a simple way to fish out mail headed in the wrong direction because of a mistyped digit? Have you run across a similar glitch?

Service of Food: Valuable to Some, Essential to Others

Monday, December 9th, 2019

By Maurizio Cattelan Photo: news.artnet.com

According to United States Department of Agriculture, 40 million Americans face hunger, including 12.5 million children. In this regard two headlines hit me last week.

The first: “Maurizio Cattelan Is Taping Bananas to a Wall at Art Basel Miami Beach and Selling Them for $120,000 Each.”

The second: “Trump administration moves to remove 700,000 people from food stamps.”

Photo: bally.com

Sarah Cascone wrote the first article on artnet.com. She added that the gallery repping Cattelan was upping the price to $150,000 because the banana, affixed with contact tape to the wall, already had two buyers at the original asking price. She also reported that her husband and his college dorm mates had done the same thing with a banana and that he still had what was left of the shriveled fruit somewhere in their home.

I couldn’t tell from the article whether the artist would affix the banana to the buyers’ walls.

Obviously these art buyers have no trouble feeding themselves or their families which isn’t the case for people who need food stamps.

Photo: cnn.com

Tom Polansek wrote on reuters.com: “President Donald Trump has argued that many Americans receiving food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, do not need it given the strong economy and low unemployment. The program provides free food to 36 million Americans.”

Savings to the government over five years is estimated to be $5.5 billion.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio described the cutback as “an unacceptable escalation of the administration’s war on working families, and it comes during a time when too many are forced to stretch already-thin budgets.”

Polansek reported “The administration has sought to tighten requirements for food stamps without congressional approval after Congress blocked a Trump-backed effort to pass new restrictions through the Farm Bill last year.”

“For those impacted it will mean less nutritious meals, or meals that are skipped altogether,” said Cassie Ramos, policy associate for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.

Good work if you can get it is my reaction to the $120,000-$150,000 banana with a dash of there’s a sucker born every day. I’m not one bit magnanimous about the food stamp cuts.  If we’re looking for ways to cut the budget why pick on the poorer members of our country who, without food, in addition to suffering, will become sick and cost more? Will taking away food stamps inspire people who need them to get a job when my bet is that many already have a few?

Photo: wgem.com

Service of How to Ask for Money or Support When You Shouldn’t

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Photo: inc.com

This is the time of year in which we’re bombarded by requests for money which inspired the topic of this post.

Say you’ve neglected a once close friend for whatever reason–do you ask them to support your cause or for the names of business contacts for a project at work?.

Photo: personalitytutor.com

Your silence is worse if they’ve been sick, lost a job or a loved one. It happens.

Do you nevertheless call or write as though you just saw the person last week? Do you make small talk and then ask for what you want or forget it and think of others to contact this time?

If you’re sending an e-blast to all your contacts asking them to attend a fundraiser, do you include the recently forgotten person or delete their name from the list so as not to potentially irritate them?

Have you been on either side of this situation? If you were the one neglected would you play ball–attend the fundraiser, contribute to it or provide the business information you’re asked for?

2 Photo: arroyofundraising.com

Tip Gyp at Doordash

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

Photo: cnbc.com

Seven years ago partners chef Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich paid a price–$5.25 million–for stiffing a percentage of the tips of their employees at Batali’s pricey Italian restaurants such as Babbo, Bar Jamon, Casa Mono and Esca to pay sommeliers’ salaries.

A chunk of the penalty money went to captains, servers, busboys and others.

Photo: blog.doordash.com

Small potatoes by comparison but “The attorney general of Washington, D.C., is suing food-delivery company DoorDash Inc. for pocketing tips on deliveries,” wrote Allison Prang in The Wall Street Journal. To meet the minimum pay promised deliverymen and women the company applied the tip money customers added electronically. Workers were not given the tip in addition to the minimum.

Karl Racine, DC attorney general, said Doordash also deluded customers who thought they were giving a tip.  Prang wrote: “The attorney general is seeking a court order to force DoorDash to surrender the tips and pay civil penalties.”

Doordash claimed that “the assertions made in the complaint are without merit and we look forward to responding to them through the legal process.”

Why do profitable companies pick on the smallest fries–all of whom are essential to their success–to squeeze them out of their rightful compensation? Is it OK because the owners take the risk and make the investment in their companies or is it wrong under any circumstances?

Photo: newsismybusiness.com

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