The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Unions and Management

Got Comic-con coming up, and a couple of good parties. Then in two weeks its Worldcon. Better make damned sure I've got all my work done before I leave...


Anyone want to know why unions are important? I got involved with a non-union writing gig last November. Turned in my outline...and I STILL HAVEN'T BEEN PAID. I can understand why people might say that Unions are no better than management--they're the same human beings, after all. But when people complain about "evil companies" or "evil unions" I have to shake my head.

Everyone will get away with everything they can--it just depends upon whether they have the power. If they have it, they use it: money, rank, physical size, whatever. If you don't have it, you're not a "better" person. You just didn't have the leverage to express your hunger for control in that arena. Oh, you'll find another one.

The woman who called me from the company two weeks ago, swearing up and down and sideways that she was new, that she had nothing to do with all the grotesque incompetancy, that she could be Like, I've never heard that before. I mean, I suppose having a cute-sounding lady on the phone is their way of offering me a reach-around, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I asked her a simple question: "when was the last time you got paid?" She said last week. "And the time before that?" She said the previous week.

"And how long would you work for your company if they hadn't paid you...ever?" She was quiet. I laughed. "Well, now that we understand each other, let's talk." She promised me that she would send me her emailed communications with my agents and so forth. Nothing.

They need the work by the end of the month, so I know they'll come through, but not because she keeps her word to me. Obviously, they intended to sit on their money until I would sign any contract they put in front of me. They didn't realize I didn't need their money--the project sounded like fun. This is the way they throw young writers into the meat-grinder. The only way to fight this is to either be in the top 10% of writers--and not care about what happens to the bottom 90% (and trust me--we'll all be there one day, either at the beginning or end of our careers) or you have to organize until, as a group, you have as much bargaining power as the entities with which you negotiate.

Obviously, there are problems if EITHER side has "too much" power. The people I don't trust are the ones on either side who seem to imply that whichever side they oppose has less intelligence or morality than the other.


Steve Perry made a comment about not trying to be in Olympic shape. There's one factor he didn't put in there: you can't keep Olympic conditioning. You will wear your body out, if you aren't a monk who does nothing but exercise, meditate, and sleep. The body isn't made to maintain "peak' conditioning for an extended period of time. Not just psyche, but our joints, kidneys, and more--it may be theoretically possible, but in reality the road of fitness performance is littered with the groaning, ruined bodies of those who tried to get into the top .001% of human performance and remain there permanently. Can't be done. Even Jack LaLane cycles between higher and lower performance levels. So Steve IS in Olympic condition for a writer. For a writer in his 60's? Jeeze. He's Batman. We have to be careful, and remember that "fitness" means fit for OUR lives, not someone else's. As long as you have plenty of energy, find yourself attractive (and the right person agrees with you!) and you have the ease of motion to do the things you hold precious, you are "in shape". Beyond that, you're talking sports performance, and that's a very specific thing.


And the question of the day is: How long does it take you to wake up in the morning? I mean, until you feel fully functional. What, if anything, do you do to help yourself along? Have you any rituals?


Josh Jasper said...

November? Sheesh. That's a long time. My wife has had some work not paid until last month that she did in February.

She was quiet. I laughed. "Well, now that we understand each other, let's talk." She promised me that she would send me her emailed communications with my agents and so forth.

I wonder what her reaction would have been if you had asked for a legal signed contract requiring her company to pay a substantial penalty if she didn't follow through. Not too likely, but sometimes people like that need to be put on the spot.

Anonymous said...

Everyone will get away with everything they can--it just depends upon whether they have the power. If they have it, they use it: money, rank, physical size, whatever. If you don't have it, you're not a "better" person. You just didn't have the leverage to express your hunger for control in that arena. Oh, you'll find another one.

almost every time you make
a sweeping generalization
I gasp!

I could never
(note conscious and deliberate use of an absolute)
come to this conclusion
ever having seen it
in operation many times
up-close and personal..
as to the ?OTD:

I wake up fully function
from the moment my eyes open

I'm folowing the Feline Way -
not tired: be up and about

Mike R said...

Very rarely does the alarm actually wake me up. Usually I awake on my own before it. If I have time, I like to drift for a while in bed. That can be anywhere from five minutes to an hour depending on how much time to spare and if I can go back to sleep or semi-sleep or not.

Once my feet hit the floor I can function pretty well, but I only feel 100% awake after I've taken a shower or started doing something active. If I go run then I'm fully awake from the second I start jogging.

Steve Perry said...

Some of us are owls, some are wrens. The cycles are widely recognized. You can consciously shift them, get up early or stay up late as needed. but you won't ever be as comfortable as an owl if you are a natural wren.

Being an owl, I am not one to leap out of bed with the sunrise, taking deep breaths and smiling at the glory of the newborn day.

I can breathe a little.

I can shuffle down the hall and pour myself a cup of black coffee. Two of those later, I am fairly functional.

On the other hand, when much of the world is snoring away, I am still roaming around and alert.
I like eight hours of shut-eye, but my wake-up and go-to-sleep moments tend toward the dark side.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have an unusual sleep pattern. My mother is an owl, as Steve Perry says, while my father was a wren. I have inherited both of those proclivities, which means that I have never gotten into a regular sleeping schedule. Some mornings, I am awake and eager to begin whatever at 5 or 6 am. Other mornings, I sleep until 10 or later. Some nights, I seem to need ten hours sleep; other nights, four hours seems to be plenty. This morning was unusual; I woke at about 7 but wanted to stay in bed, which I did until about 8:45. Ususlly, if I awaken, I want to get up fairly quickly.

Of course, if I have an early morning class to teach, I will get up regularly at an early hour.

On days I am eating, I like to have two hours between the time I awaken and the time I need to be somewhere. On fasting days, one hour is sufficient.

Anonymous said...

As to the whole power corrupts thing; sure, if you have the power you are far more likely to abuse it. It's a temptation. But I'm kinda with Suzanne on thinking it was a little harshly overstated. My husband is constantly pointing out to me that I have a sampling error. My professional life before I became a housewife was not with "normal" people. I worked with the developmentally disabled as my clients and with idealistic, altruistic, "we can change the world" type coworkers. Greedy, power-hungry types don't generally go into grueling, low-pay, charitable professions. I can see some of his point. Still I believe firmly in the innate goodness of my fellow man. If you can remove people from their fear I really do think that we can all just get along. My husband is still waiting for me to outgrow this silly notion but, sampling error or not, humanity as I've seen it is good and kind and generous, except for when it's afraid and cornered and lashing out.

My daughter (8) and I are night owls (as is my mother, and so were my grandmother and great-grandmother before us). My husband works nights. My son (6) is an early bird. My daughter and I like to stare blankly for a while when we get up. The boy likes to speak enthusiastically about many things in the morning. So instead of staring, I blink. I try to parse out the words in what seems like a wall of noise to my addled brain. Now I stare at the computer and when I'm closer to conscious I read bookmarked blogs like this one so my son thinks I'm doing something. He talks a little less and I feel less like a schmuck for not comprehending the diurnal cherub. Then I exercise a little. Then I spend some quality zen time with my ducks. Then I shower and voila I'm a fully functional adult again.

I used to be able to sleep from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. when I worked swing shift in a group home and on that late schedule I woke up in much the same chipper way I'd seen day people doing forever. I used to think that if I could get that sleep cycle back I'd have the vitality and pep that accompanied it. I've recently realized that I'm not twenty anymore and I think that may have as much to do with it as the wren/owl thing. Oh well. Given the time the computer/exercise/duck pen/shower thing is working out well enough.

Frank said...


Have you seen this?

Dr. Sinclair is a co-founder of Sirtris, a company that itself has been swimming in uncharted waters as it works to develop drugs that may extend the human life span. But it seemed to have found a safe platform last month when it was bought last month by the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million.

Sirtris has two drugs in clinical trials. One is being tested against Type 2 diabetes, one of the many diseases of aging that the company’s scientists hope the drugs will avert. With success against just one such disease, the impact on health “could be possibly transformational,” said Dr. Patrick Vallance, head of drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline.

The new drugs are called sirtuin activators, meaning that they activate an enzyme called sirtuin. The basic theory is that all or most species have an ancient strategy for riding out famines: switch resources from reproduction to tissue maintenance. A healthy diet but with 30 percent fewer calories than usual triggers this reaction in mice and is the one intervention that reliably increases their life span. The mice seem to live longer because they are somehow protected from the usual diseases that kill them.

But most people cannot keep to a diet with a 30 percent cut in calories, so a drug that could activate the famine reflex might be highly desirable. Dr. Leonard Guarente, an M.I.T. biologist who founded the field of sirtuin biology, thinks the famine reflex is mediated through the sirtuin enzymes. Dr. Sinclair, his former student, discovered that sirtuins could be activated by drugs. The most potent activator that emerged from his screens was resveratrol, a natural substance found in red wine, though in amounts probably too low to be significant for health.

The Sirtris drug being tested in diabetic patients is a special formulation of resveratrol that delivers a bloodstream dose five times as high as the chemical alone. This drug, called SRT501, has passed safety tests and, at least in small-scale trials, has reduced the patients’ glucose levels.

The other drug is a small synthetic chemical that is a thousand times as potent as resveratrol in activating sirtuin and can be given at a much smaller dose. Safety tests in people have just started, with no adverse effects so far.

The hope is that activating sirtuins in people would, like a calorically restricted diet in mice, avert degenerative diseases of aging like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. There is no Food and Drug Administration category for longevity drugs, so if the company is to submit a drug for approval, it needs to be for a specific disease....

The impact of Sirtris’s drugs, if successful, could extend beyond the drug industry. Dr. Guarente believes that many people might start taking them in middle age, though after having started a family because they may suppress fertility.

Mice on the drugs generally remain healthy right until the end of their lives and then just drop dead.“If they work in people that way, one would look to an extension of health span, with an extension of life as a possible side effect,” Dr. Guarente said. “It would necessitate changing ideas about when people retire and when they stop paying into the system.”

GlaxoSmithKline could put SRT501, its resveratrol formulation, on the market right away, selling it as a natural compound and nutritional pharmaceutical that does not require approval by the F.D.A. “We haven’t made any decisions, but that clearly is an option,” Dr. Vallance said.

Frank said...

Oh, and I forgot the good part that is most applicable to your post

In initial tests in mice, resveratrol has doubled muscular endurance, lowered the bad form of cholesterol, protected against various bad effects of a high-fat diet and suppressed colon cancer. New reports are confirming some of these benefits, but others are ambiguous or puzzling.

According to a study published on July 3 in the journal Cell Metabolism by Dr. Sinclair and Dr. Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute on Aging, resveratrol given to aging mice reduced their cataracts, strengthened their bones, improved coordination and enhanced their health in several other ways. Yet despite their better health, the mice lived no longer than usual.

Anonymous said...

And the question of the day is: How long does it take you to wake up in the morning? I mean, until you feel fully functional. What, if anything, do you do to help yourself along? Have you any rituals?

No rituals, but I find vrksasana remarkably effective at dispelling my waking stupor, perhaps because of the mental effort it requires. (It gets easier with practice, so I make it more difficult by doing it wth my eyes closed, looking up at the ceiling, or both. I haven't managed "both" yet.) It still takes at least ten minutes to stop feeling like my muscles and my brain are filled with lead.

I wonder if subjective speed in wakening might be more to do with the point in the process at which consciousness turns on? Become aware of yourself towards the end of the process and it will seem as if waking is fast and easy, early and it will seem long and weary. Just an idea I had, I don't know if anyone's studied this.

Anonymous said...

Unless I've got a big sleep deficit, I'm just on like a switch in the morning. It has sometimes irritated non-morning people who found my early alertness some weird kind of affront.

I wish I had the other half of Suzanne's feline way down... getting to sleep, I'm less good at.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Days I've had enough sleep, I'm awake like a light switch. Days I haven't, I'm bleary eyed no matter what I do. I work out in the mornings frequently enough -- that wakes me up even when bleary eyed, but it's about the only thing that does. Days I haven't had enough sleep and am too rushed to get any work in, I find myself yawning 3-4 hours after getting out of bed.

"Enough sleep" has changed too. I used to go 5 hours a night for weeks on end -- I can still do it, but I'm crabby and low energy; the hours I get back aren't worth having. These days 6-1/2 works, and 7 is better.

Mike R said...

Doesn't fasting every other day activate sirtuin too?

Unknown said...

I have the alarm on my cell phone set for 6am, and the cell phone is in the living room, where I can't hear it, but the cats can. My morning routine goes like this:

One of the cats comes to wake me. I shoo her out. She goes away for a little while, then returns with another cat to demand breakfast. I get up, feed the cats, have breakfast, spend a little time on the computer, get dressed. I wake the dog by announcing, in a high pitched to inspire dog enthusiasm voice, that I'm going to take him for a walk. The dog jumps up and looks appropriately enthusiastic, but tries to convince me to let him snooze in the sun on the porch as soon as we get outside. I lure him down the stairs with a dog biscuit, and we go for our walk/run. After we get back, I feed him, take a little time for some form of prayer/meditation, then go to work.

Anonymous said...


IS that YOU
Zed, the Reclined????

Anonymous said...

What, if anything, do you do to help yourself along? Have you any rituals?

Anonymous said...

Embarassingly, I can't even move (unless threatened with dismissal from work, failure of a class, or physical harm) until at /least/ twenty minutes after I first wake up. I just find the hypnogogic state too alluring. When on vacation or when I have the luxury of time, I'll spend hours there--and then even more hours regretting the lost time later. (There's an idea on my drawing board about a character who stops sleeping altogether because he finds getting up and doing his morning ritual too time-consuming)

But it's not until after two or so in the afternoon that I feel like a productive human being. That's post yoga, coffee, breakfast (and lunch) for that matter. Then I can write, or play guitar, or Aikido, or whatever else is on the itenerary. Prior to that? I'm in the Hungry Ghost realm, and my ghost is hungry for sleep and quiet.

'course, the flip side of this is that I'm a remarkably chipper and cheerful person around midnight.

Michelle said...

I need a shower every morning to function.

It doesn't have to be a fully shower...but some contact with water and my face.

When I was suffering from post birth depression, a shower every day got me through it. Before that I made sure to have a wash cloth with me in case I got stuck some where.

But then water has a deep connection in my family. We've had to major travel get togethers in the past year. During the texas one, my cousin drove up to the hotel and realized that the entire pool population was waving at here. Of course she, told me later, I should have realized that the pool is where my entire family would be.

At the Mexico one, a friend that came with us told me: It was amazing I would go with entire family to the ocean in the morning, get out and come back after lunch and you all would still be in ocean hours later and not a bit tired.

We're water people.

Brian Dunbar said...

How long does it take you to wake up in the morning? I mean, until you feel fully functional. What, if anything, do you do to help yourself along? Have you any rituals?

About an hour to full function.

I have to have a shower and something warm to drink: coffee or tea. Plus I have to start _doing_ something - if I'm not busy then I slip into lazy mode. I'm awake and I might be at work doing stuff but my mental gears feel like they have sand in them.

Ever try and be cleaver with a computer with sand in your gears? I can look at (computer) scripts I laid down in that mode and I'm appalled.

I can substitute 'clean up' for a shower, but then I gotta work at getting motivated. But I can't start the day without it, even if I showered the night before.

Anonymous said...

I'm an owl so I force myself to go to bed so I can force myself to wake up at 6:30am. Any less than 7-8 hours sleep and I struggle in the morning. Unfortunately, this is often the case since my best energy is at night and rarely get to bed on time.

My ritual is usually a 15 min inner monologue on why I need to go to work. Then I'm up, glass of water with lemon or dash of ACV, feed the cat, shower. No coffee, TV, radio, paper or internet. I rarely speak unless I have to. I read during my short commute.

When I was really on track, I managed to meditate and stretch (thanks, Lifewriting!). I hope to start up again soon. It takes about an hour for me to feel fully present in the world again.

Unknown said...

I much prefer my showers in the evening.

Mark Jones said...

Like Steve Perry, I'm an owl. If not for the anchor of having to maintain a day job I'd probably be completely nocturnal. I need about an hour to wake up--and a shower--except in emergencies.

As for fasting intermittently activating sirtuin--I can't say. But I can say that at my last doctor's appointment, my blood pressure and my cholesterol were improved over my previous visits, and the only change is that I've been doing the IF thing about 3 days a week.

Spilling Ink said...

I totally understand the need for unions, but I have an experience with it that seemed a bit contrary to the purpose. Way back, I used to be a clerk in a department store. It was a union store, the wage was low, and there was a negative working environment between the management and the employees. I couldn't stand the place anymore, so I found a different department store and went to work there. I enjoyed the employees and the management. They worked together for a common goal and there was not that 'us against them' mentality. And I made almost twice the $$ because I worked on commission and was able to develop a good customer base (old ladies loved me and they were very {{sweet}} and lovely to work with).

That said, I'm sure the need for a union probably varies greatly between industries. I hope the missing payment you are owed shows up soon, Steve. That's just not right.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I'm pretty cheerful and functional soon after I wake up. There's a mildly foggy period sometimes, but it's definitely less than an hour. I can also get a lot out of short naps, and wake up from them in much improved condition.

If I wake up in the middle of a dream, I'll be cranky for a while, but that doesn't happen often.

If I'm low on sleep, fading in relatively few hours hits much sooner than waking up in bad shape.

Marty S said...

I'm a morning person. Before I retired I always tried to do the important work in the morning and save the scut work for late afternoon when I was less sharp.
On the subject of unions they have their pros and cons. They prevent the company from taking as much advantage of the worker, but they also tend to take a worker's performance out of the equation. On the one union job I had I ended up being laid off, just because I was a more recent hire and the contract required layoffs be by seniority.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Everyone will get away with everything they can--it just depends upon whether they have the power.

This seems dubious to me. Even if it's amended to "everyone will get away with everything they think they can", it doesn't seem true in my experience. I've treated people more decently than I had to, and been treated more decently than I or anyone else was enforcing.

It's certainly true that some people will push the limits of what they can get away with-- sometimes beyond their own self-interest, and sometimes more or less stably to their advantage, and we need personal and institutional ways of defending ourselves against such people. And a *lot* of people will shade things in their own favor without grabbing everything they can.

Still, if everyone were taking all the advantage they could, civilization would be impossible.

It wouldn't surprise me if part of the way a lot of people are raised is an effort to get them to drastically underestimate how much they can get away with.

Mike R said...

Side note:

Poll on Support for Secession in US

The key data is:


I believe any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic:





Not sure


I would support a secessionist effort in my state:





Not sure


Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (43%) and African-Americans (40%). Among white respondents, 17% said states or regions should have the right to peaceably secede.

Politically, liberal thinkers were much more likely to favor the right to secession for states and regions, as 32% of mainline liberals agreed with the concept. Among the very liberal the support was only slightly less enthusiastic - 28% said they favored such a right. Meanwhile, just 17% of mainline conservatives thought it should exist as an option for states or regions of the nation.

Asked whether they would support a secessionist movement in their own state, 18% said they would, with those in the South most likely to say they would back such an effort. In the South, 24% said they would support such an effort, while 15% in the West and Midwest said the same. Here, too, younger adults were more likely than older adults to be supportive - 35% of those under age 30 would support secession in their state, compared to just 17% of those over age 65. Among African Americans, 33% said they would support secession, compared to just 15% of white adults. The more education a respondent had, the less likely they were to support secession - as 38% of those with less than a high school diploma would support it, compared to just 10% of those with a college degree.

I believe the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections:





Not sure



To me the scary thing is not just that so many people think that secession is a right, but that 44% think the US is broken. If you go by objective quantifiable data, things are really pretty damn good in the US now, especially when compared to our past, and our problems are rather minor ones. If such a high % think things are broke now and would support secession in their state, what will they think when things actually _get_ bad? (Which someday, somehow, they will.)

Anonymous said...

Suzanne asks: IS that YOU Zed, the Reclined????

The same. Still riding the same recumbent bike, in fact (though, truth be told, there's so little left of the original that it's getting to be like the same hammer whose head and handle have been replaced a few times.)

Never really left -- I've been reading Steve's blog regularly. I've just been mostly lurking.

I read Steve's commentary on "everyone will get away with they can" not as any absolute prediction of every individual's behavior in every situation, but, rather, as a prediction that any system in which there is power without accountability will quickly give rise to abuse. That much I think is very much true.

Steven Barnes said...

I overstated my position. Let me clarify it: every organism will try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. If it has the ability to influence its environment, it will do this, to its own benifit, if possible. I would estimate that for 80% of humanity, this means grabbing as much control as possible. There are 10% of people at either end that don't fit here. At the low end, you have the broken in spirit. At the high end, you have the awakened mind and heart. Most of us learn that we get what we want by cooperating and honesty--but this has to be TRAINED into children, who think that everything around them belongs to them. We must teach them to share. They begin to see that they get more out of cooperating within a family or social unit than they do by domination. More by honesty than stealing. That's enlightened self-interest. That's really what I'm saying. I know many, many people with no interest in dominating others--they enjoy being loving and open and surrounding themselves with responsible individuals of like mind, who don't need to be "controlled" or "told what to do." I never meant to say that everyone tries to hurt the people around them, only that everyone wants to feel as much pleasure, and as little pain as possible, and will endeavor to control the environment--and the people within it-- to make that so.

Steven Barnes said...

Absolutely, Unions aren't all good? How could they be? They are made up of human beings. The problem is people who think that good is exclusively on one side of the management/Union line as the other. The more extraordinary you are, the less you need a union. But by definition, the average person is average. And management must have a power to push back against it, or its potential for abuse goes unchecked.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I think secession should be a right myself. I'd be in favor of it for California. California, like most liberal states, has a dreadful balance of payments with the federal government; we send far more to the federal government in taxes than we get back in services.

Most of the states that have a positive balance of payments are southern and conservative. I doubt they'd really want to leave once they realized how much it would cost them.

Mike R said...

The poll wasn't about if states _should_ have the right, it was if they _do_ have the right.

Josh Jasper said...

I think most New York City residents would like to secede from the state as a whole.

Anonymous said...

I see this stuff constantly about how State A (usually CA or NY) sends more to the feds than they get back, but I wonder; is this accounting for federal expenditures to private industry, not just fed expenditures in public works? Lockheed gets a pile of federal dough that gets spent in CA. If that factoid is true, it has to be the farm programs, since I can't imagine that maintaining I80 through Nebraska comes anywhere near even the non-exempt wages paid at Lockheed Sunnyvale.

Brian Dunbar said...

Mike Ralls
To me the scary thing is not just that so many people think that secession is a right, but that 44% think the US is broken.

It might not be a good idea - as you noted things are, really, pretty good here.

But it is a right. The Civil War demonstrated that it's not a right the people can expect to exercise, but it's one we have.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Bud, I'll dig up how this is calculated, but the balance of payments calculations include all funds spent by the federal government in a given state, including things like payments to Lockheed, etc.


Yeah, I understood the poll. The Civil War is a pretty good demonstration of the difference between can and should, in this case.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

For a change, I'm the person who isn't panicking. I don't think the geographical contiguity or the organizational basis is there for a secession. I believe things would have to get a *lot* worse before violent secession is a possibility.

If the US devolves peacefully into somewhat more loosely connected states (with freedom of trade and travel), this might not be such a bad idea. I'm not convinced that people have enough attention to rule 300 million people.

Steven Barnes said...

Yeah, Dan. There are probably damned good arguments against the need for an individual to pay taxes. Ask Mr. Snipes how that one went. "Rights" only matter if you have the power to back them up.