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November 01, 2006


Katie W.

But once they know that there's blood in the chutney, what exactly can they do about it? Since the labor is subcontracted they have no real authority and yes, they could certainly cancel their contract until employee rights are instated but would that really stop an outside company from doing bad business elsewhere?

Most of my experience with subcontracted labor (through Barnes & Noble, Starbucks and now a small, family owned pool building business) it's often easier for the company to simply find a new sub. Starbucks is constantly changing their subs and, as is often the case, none of us can figure out why.

So, that's all. Of course I agree that Genentech should do something about their subs but what, exactly, could they do? I honestly have no clue.

Heidi Singer

Well, it seems obvious to me what Genentech could do. Assuming they choose subcontractors for their cafeteria by bid, the request for bid should include requirements as to what benefits and employment policies are required. Bidding subcontractors will, of course, raise their rates but Genentech can afford to pay for it, and should!


Been there, done that. As soon as my boss in a temp position (in a cafeteria) found out I was pregnant I was no longer needed. Same thing at the next place when I had a bloody accident. It was turkey, not chutney. That was almost 20 years ago.


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Tim Worstall

Run this by me again?

Cafeteria workers get less remuneration than scientists working on cancer drugs?

Really? Wow, you learn something new every day, don't you?

Thena in Maine

Tim, you know perfectly well that's not the point.

Modern society is built on division of labor, but the key - which seems to be forgotten by the trickle-down types - is that the non-specialized support functions don't go away just because they aren't highly specialized and high status. Or, more simply, if you've got scientists curing cancer over here, somebody still has to pull the garbage and sweep the floors and serve the apple chutney and pick the apples and file the paperwork and so on and so forth. Without somebody to do it, it either doesn't get done, or it "falls up" the labor chain until it hits someone with specialized skills whose time would be better spent curing cancer than doing scut work.

In light of this, it's only fair and reasonable that even the lowest-status and least-skilled support staffers are still eligible for a living wage, health care coverage, and dignity and safety in the workplace. Just simple basic human decency demands it.


Yeah,Tim,that was the point of the post.Next time through,have someone read it to you so there's a chance you understand it.

Tim Worstall

'Tim, you know perfectly well that's not the point.'

Of course it is the point. Remarking that low skill and low productivity jobs get paid little is similar to remarking than on the whole, the sun rises in the east. It's simply an observation of the way the universe is.

Barbara E

What the scientists could do is pressure Genentech about the shameful treatment of the food service workers. What Genentech could then do is sit down with Guckenheimer and tell them to clean up their act or get out.

Karen Armstead

Thanks to Barbara for this topic.

I recall a case several years ago, from the Gap stores, about the abuse of subcrontracted labor in the developing world. A group of college kids started to publicize the Gap's irresponsibility, the publicity started to pick up media attention, and by-and-by, the Gap had to start paying attention to how workers making its clothes overseas were treated.

It's exactly this kind thing (the mention in Barbara's blog, I mean) that is going to start waking up the Genentechs of the world--ahem, certain clueless comments above notwithstanding.


No Tim,the way the universe works is determined by physical laws.We mere humans have more control over wages and benefits.You didn't take my advice to have someone else(maybe one of your kids,when you pick them up from school)not only read the post,but also explain it to you.

ann activist

The point is not that the workers in the cafeteria make less money than the scientists. The point is that even lowly paid people should be given time off to see a doctor.


Looks like I'll have to dump my Genentech stock. It might not have any impact, but at least I won't be participating, however indirectly, in this kind of injustice.

However, I can't help but think that companies will continue to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid providing health care for their employees until we adopt a system of universal health care.

The Eternal Squire

I have a better idea for demonstrating for a New New Deal:

Silent, elegant, no mass coordination required, and perfectly legal ASAIK and might even serve as a very powerful reminder to the Powers That Be that the silent suffering masses do exist among them, while also incorporating the essense of ahimsa (nonviolence against the adversary).

My idea is simply see to it that for a single day ALL maximum speed limits are strictly enforced on Interstates and major state highways.

That is to say, that anywhere traffic is going at high speed, a car or pair of cars should parallel each other in one or both lanes and keep station at the maximum speed for that highway.

Anyone who wants to go faster than the 'lead cars' will be prevented from doing so for ten minutes.

Then those lead cars break formation and no longer participate for the rest of the day, allowing another pair of lead cars to take over elsewhere in the traffic.

One member, the group leader, should choose oneself based on the final three digits of thier social security number modulo 144, starting time measured relative to Midnight Eastern Standard Time for the day of the protest, and then pick buddies to pack the other lanes.

That is to say, the group leader whose social ends with 000 will pick buddies to regulate traffic speed from Midnight to Midnight + 10 minutes.

I wonder if anyone on her legal staff sees legal problems with this?

We'll let Barbara Ehrenreich choose the day and announce the protest to the news if she wishes to unleash it.

The Eternal Squire


As many of us can witness ,today's highly paid is
tomorrow's “hat in hand” . Blind laze fare philosophy's have a way of working up the ladder , just ask any software engineer .

Charles Dickens novels ,revered for their fictionalized account of history , give a good picture of what life was like in a more laze fare social Darwinist world . We improved that world with changes in philosophy and policy rooted in the work and sacrifice of our forbears like Jane Adams , Eugene Debs and numerous others .

What says we can’t go back down the ladder of social progress if we are not thoughtful and vigilant ? The dominant law of nature that applies to the affairs of man as it pertains to labor and capital is greed , to ignore that is to ignore our history and present circumstance . Where capital can cross any border to maximize its interest 90% of American workers don’t want to and could not if they did . For some who walk among us , you can never have enough money and power . If we don’t balance those interest with out philosophy and policies both investors and workers will be poorly served .


Why do Genentec employees need all the Yuppie frou-frou anyway? Sure, decent day care and other family-friendly benefits are good, but do they require the gourmet meals and other frills all the time? What's wrong with a sandwich and a salad as everyday fare?
It seems to me the company is throwing money away, even as it is stiffing the contract employees and encouraging major class resentment.
I myself resent the underlying premise that some people are better than others and therefore deserve the best, even if that means dumping on the poor.


Karma is also the way of the universe.


Hattie, you made an excellent point in your post, the part about the "Yuppie frou-frou".

You know, I never even heard of, saw, never mind got the chance to eat any of these types of fancy foods. I had to Google the word "chutney" just to see what it was.

I do not begrudge the affluent high-earners in our society their cousine of " yuppie frou-frou " but I DO resent that they feel entitled to the best of everything while walking around with the elitist attitudes that the lowest status people (working-poor AND jobless poor alike) don't deserve to have anything. That grates on me big time.

And what is wrong with a simple but delicious Yankee pot roast with apple crisp for dessert instead of grilled swordfish and apple chutney or whatever? A simple nutritious lunch/dinner isn't good enough? Most people I know (my husband and I included) would be damn grateful just to be able to have a simple pot roast with veggies and a simple dessert of frozen yogurt or sherbert.

The Genentech scientists apparently feel like this disparity is perfectly ok because after all, they've got theirs - too bad for the rest who never got jack, right?

Bobby Decker

This is the very essense of the {ZERO SUM SOCIETY} todays America I,ve been hearing for years how the middle class is disapearing only the last few years my conclusion seems heading in a difrent direction I see the middle class being divided between the {UPPER MIDDLE CLASS} yuppie winners and the lower middle class {POOR WORKING CLASS LOUSERS} IT,s Apeared to me to be hapininig in direct porportion every time some former Ford or General Moters employee recives a notice to report to Wal mart for basic training someone elses 16 year olds geting a new BMW convertable to drive to High School I see no end to this trend as long as the non voteing bottom 50% keep lousing by defalt.

The Eternal Squire

The usual recipes for yankee pot roast and the apple crisp are much higher in fats and cholesterol than swordfish and chutney.

For example, the 7-blade or chuck cuts of beef used in pot roast have a yield of only 25% after fat and bone are both trimmed away.

On the other hand, beef tenderloin has nearly no fat except just around the muscle.

I am actually finding myself buying mostly chicken and pork as the price of beef today is almost half again what it was last year.

Fortunately, pork can be used in nearly any beef recipe for about half the price. Pork Wellington, anyone?

The Eternal Squire


Sure pork's cheap. It's processed in huge plants in NC by recently-arrived immigrants and other poor people who work for companies that aggressively suppress union activity. Sort of like chicken in other parts of the South and midwest. Not to mention the farms. I won't even go there. But I still eat it -- you're right that it's cheap and filling, and like most Americans I don't care to think too much about the conditions that cause my plate to runneth over.


Tim Worstall: "Remarking that low skill and low productivity jobs get paid little is similar to remarking than on the whole, the sun rises in the east. It's simply an observation of the way the universe is."

OK Tim. Here's something that might surprise you that maybe you didn't observe about the laws of mathematics, chemstry and physics and how the universe is.

Ever study algebraic topology? How about Analysis of the Complex Variable (that is, the field of ALL numbers both real and imaginary which are of the form X +/- the square root of negative 1, denoted as "i" for imaginary numbers). Complex numbers therefore are all numbers of the form "a + bi" where a,b are elements of the field of all reals, and i is imaginary.

The way the universe works is not simply bound solely by the Newtonian Laws of Mechanics - there is a fourth dimension mathematically represented by time, now the theory of space-time curvature is based on General Relativity which is mathematically founded upon the above referenced mathematics, which is not as simple as sun rising in the east and setting in the west. In other words, space-time is not bound by only that which you can see and ascribe to Earth's Newtonian Mechanics and mathematical functions restricted to the set of all reals.

For example, our Earth has a polar electro-magnetic field which sustains Earth and protects us from solar winds. This same electro-magnetic force generator (Earth's core) is also why we have a rotation and orbital wobble. Now, a catastrophic geological event from within our planet triggered by something as insignificantly small as one tiny sub-atomic electric charge influencing the electromagnetic force field, could change that delicate balance drastically - as was suspected to have happened to bring on the last major Ice Age called the Great Ice Age.

Point being Tim, you cannot throw a delicate balance out of wack without having major shit hit the fan - sometimes with irreversible consequences.

Our society is a delicate balance. It is a balance between the rights of the lucky chosen few over the rights of the many masses.

You seem to be excusing the lack of humane treatment and respect on the job, lack of a living wage, lack of health benefits and sick time by saying something along the lines of, "well the poor cafeteria worker or janitor doesn't have an important job and they lack an education so it's ok if they can't make ends meet or get fired for trying to get their health needs taken care of". Too much of this has thrown our society too far off balance to our collective detriment.

This throws off the delicate balance. Just like a paleo-magnetic reversal throws off the Earth's climate and atmospheric conditions. If the balnce is thrown off too much, irreversible damage occurs.

Now this does not mean a janitor or cafeteria worker should get the same pay as a cancer research scientist - rather it establishes a minimum standard of decent treatment in pay and employment practices as our minimum reference point, and increasing from there.

In sum Tim, a reaonable balance must be maintained or it's chaos and all hell breaks loose - literally. Therefore, we must strive for maintaining balance in our society.



There is one more point here about the research scientists making cancer drugs. The cutting edge, state of the art medicines and best of medical care (thus increasing the liklihood of surviving cancer) is not within the reach of the poor, the uninsured and the unemployed/underemployed who can't afford insurance and co-pays, deductibles, etc. So just who are Genentech's scientists serving an helping anyway?

If only a small portion of the population (the haves and have-mores) are getting to benefit from it, then we can hardly excuse spoiling those chosen few lucky workers at Genetech at the expense of depriving poor lower status and lower skilled workers.

Those "uneducated low skill workers" won't be there to dish out the apple fennel chutney and wait on the wealthy and the privileged, coddled class if the status quo remains unchanged because if you can't get the benefit of all this cutting edge medical care only attainable by the well-off, and instead, get left to suffer until you die prematurely - there's not going to be enough workers left for filling the "unimportant" jobs and that cafeteria might have to go "tail-gater" i.e., the higher status privileged professionals will have to cook and dish out their own food and then clean up after themselves. I wonder how they will like that.

The Eternal Squire

At one place I worked, the owner wanted to save on janitorial services, so he tried requiring all entry level personnel, including engineers, to periodically perform, as he put it, "support functions".


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Genentech has faced this issue with subcontractors before and their inadequate health care coverage. I hope they can step in again and provide something similar to the employees at Guckenheimer.

"As a leading health care company, Genentech believes that health care benefits for janitorial workers is a very important issue," the company said. "Although it is important to point out that these are not Genentech employees, we value the employees of [the contractor] who support our facilities and are pleased to offer to contribute substantially to the cost of health care benefits for these workers for the coming contract period." SOURCE: "Genentech to pay janitors' premiums," San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 2003.

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