#47 Getting Paid to Lie (2000)

[This might be the most painful of all of my past Rat Rants. At the time, I worked for a big medical device company that did, in fact, pay me to lie. They didn’t pay enough, so I resisted. The price of resistance was really high, though. Eventually, my options became “Quit or die.” I quit.]

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

I want to start a movement. (Not that kind of movement. There is plenty of fiber in my diet and thanks for asking.). I want to organize all of the employees who are being paid to tell small or humongous lies into a coherent labor movement. The movement's slogan will be "Hell no, we don't know. Ask the idiot who made that decision."

My little grassroots movement would start in Fortune 500 middle management and work its way down the chain of command to the boys and girls who collect your money and hand burgers and fries through windows. Within a few years, those pitiful "company spokespersons" who never say anything more truthful than "we have no comment at this time" or "The Diddly Squat Corporation has never engaged in illegal activities and denies all of the government's allegations" will get to say, "The CEO's office is right this way, folks. I've asked Security to forcibly retain Mr. Doofus in his office until he answers all of your questions."

Imagine the consequences.

For example, I recently spend a long painful day, stuck in the Kansas City airport. I had expected to take a one hour Vanguard flight back to Minnesota. I ended up waiting for 3 hours in Kansas City, detouring through Chicago, scrambling, frantically, to my connection, and sitting for another hour while the plane loaded and unloaded passengers. I finally made it home, seven hours later than my scheduled arrival time.

All through this ordeal, I listened to Vanguard's uniformed and underpaid liars fabricate reasons for why more than one hundred customers were being inconvenienced. Since I arrived really early, in my usual paranoid fashion, I saw the whole story develop. My original flight was cancelled because an insufficient number of passengers had arrived early for the flight. Like Vanguard's role model, Northworst, this dinky wannabe airline likes to see all flights properly overbooked to maximize the airline's return on investment. That tactic bounced me to a plane that was stuffed with ticketed bodies, connecting from Dallas to Chicago through KC, which would depart an hour after my original flight. Bad enough, but it got worse.

The Dallas flight was, literally, bonked from the airport when a freight truck smacked into a wing and a replacement had to be found for that plane. The replacement came from a flight that was scheduled to arrive in KC a little later, also bound for Chicago. By the time that plane arrived, a second Chicago-to-Minneapolis flight was forced off schedule and three plane loads of people were waiting to get onto two planes.

It began to snow. A lot.

I had done my most convincing "angry passenger" routine and had obtained a boarding pass (instead of the stand-by option the clerk tried to hand me) for, not only the flight to Chicago but the connection to Minneapolis. That got me on the Chicago plane early and securely. A dozen or more folks, who got on through stand-by passes, got yanked from the plane along with miscellaneous freight and luggage, to allow for extra fuel required for the (now) severe weather. As the plane left KC, two and a third planes worth of passengers were stuck in KC, waiting for one plane arriving in a couple of hours and another that was scheduled to arrive in six hours.

The stories told to passengers mutated as the morning progressed. At 6:00AM, another early bird and me were told, simply, that our flight had been cancelled. As we were leaving check-in with our transfers in hand, we heard other passengers getting the crunched-plane-in-Dallas story with no mention of the original flight cancellation. When the first load of Dallas passengers arrived, they were told that they would be directed from the plane they were on to another, later scheduled plane, to keep their plane from losing its place in the airport's schedule. Somewhere during this performance, the story changed to the airline was trying to protect our safety by routing us all to Chicago to avoid being trapped in the KC weather. As the day went on, the stories got weirder and less believable. The conflicting stories and outright fairytales started blending into a screenplay that Rod Sterling would have loved telling.

All because the people facing the customers were not allowed to tell those customers the truth about why all this was happening to them. Imagine the relief and focus all of those frustrated wishful passengers would have felt if they'd have been told, "One of our many pinheaded executives decided to save a few bucks and his idiotic decision has cost all of you a half day of your lives." I, personally, would have felt a lot better about it all, just hearing the truth instead of the constantly evolving lies.

Of course, the zombie exec would have had to face the music/cacophony caused by his idiocy and, hopefully, he or she would have been fired. As we all know, too well, all corporate systems are designed to protect the guilty and punish the innocent. In most companies, even when the guilty is identified, the innocent are punished and the culpable are promoted.

Still, my little movement would put an end to this kind of guilt avoidance. The No More Lies Union Golden Rule would be "everyone paid less than $100k is allowed to always tell the truth or to pass the question on to someone who is paid enough to make lying worthwhile." The corollary rule would be "those responsible for any screw ups will be held accountable." Let's see how many MBAs and lawyers and accountants want to be executives if all customers are provided with the execs' home phone numbers and addresses. And the truth.

May 2000

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