UNCHALLENGED OPERATIONS NORMS

Opinion
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Hilbert Morales
EL OBSERVADOR

A NORM is a pattern of behavior within an organization, or its society; A “NORM” is an accepted unchallenged model. The progressive development of human civil rights would not have occurred without the challenge of certain norms being practiced and accepted as the way we do things here.

During the 1930’s Great Depression era, too many working-class folks were unemployed. It was the United Steelworkers of America union leaders who bargained (negotiated) for the need to distribute the wealth by scheduling 5 x 8-hour days per two-week pay period. That simple negotiated agreement permitted the available work to be distributed to the maximum number of steelworkers who needed some income for their family obligations and responsibilities.

The American society and its business firms accept and practice many operational norms. So much so, that certain local firms will never be staffed in a manner that fairly represents the current diverse population which already lives here in Silicon Valley.

Now I served on the Board of United Way of Santa Clara County for 20 years. On the advice of my mentor, Frank Merino, Esq., who specialized in labor relations and sponsored me as a board member, I asked to serve on the fund allocations committee. Frank told me then “If you really want to know what is going on, follow the money.” I did that for some 20 years as a board member (1967-1987), Today, I deal with “United Way of San Francisco Bay Area.

An established free-lance writer was asked by a public relations person to interview Luis Valdez and his son. The San Jose Stage is a non-profit NGO-CBO located south of First Street in San Jose’s entertainment area. Its Director, Kathleen King, verified that Jonathan White was an independent contractor engaged to promote the latest Luis Valdez play under a two-year contract. I assumed that a quid pro quo (value received equated to value provided) was defined in that contract. And I am assuming that both the City of San Jose, County of Santa Clara, Corporate members of the Leadership Group of Silicon Valley (Carl Guardino, CEO/President who employ 65% of the local work force; and wealthy individuals all provide funding support. Their leadership needs to know how their underwriting support is utilized. AND ALL THESE ORGANIZATIONS HAVE UNCHALLENGED OPERATIONS NORMS.

What that Latina professional free-lance writer unwittingly did was to challenge an operational norm practiced by San Jose Stage, Ms. King, Director/CEO. Ms. King had Mr. White employed as an independent Contractor (working 5 hours per week) to promote that new Luis Valdez play. Mr. White contacted our Latina via email instructing her to interview Playwriter Valdez and his son Kinan. No mention was made nor offered as payment for her services as a professional free-lance writer. When I phoned Ms. King to verify that Mr. White was an I.C., she also informed me that there was no budget which is why our Latina professional writer was not offered any payment of any sort.

That Latina is a former employee of the Social Service Agency, County of Santa Clara, now retired. While working full time, she attended university level coursework at SJSU and finished her college training with a degree from Menlo College. All during this time, Belinda Quesada raised her daughter with sporadic child support from the biological father. She augments her retirement income with earnings from her writing. Some years ago, Belinda did interview Playwriter Luis Valdez that impressed Mr. Jonathan White, the I.C./The Stage, which resulted in that email asking her to interview Playwriter Luis Valdez and his son Kinan. That interview results in crafting a written report worthy of becoming editorial content and of use in promotional efforts plus contacting local Latino publications such as EO (San Jose) and El Tecolote (UCSF). I estimate about 20 person-hours would have been required. Sounds like a part time employee, not as an unpaid volunteer.

An important norm in our society is that an individual earns his/her way through life. I can still hear my father telling me to get ready to work so you can contribute to sustaining this family. Non-profits do have budgets which pay their management personnel handsomely. Why was there no line item in the budget to pay a professional writer? When I contacted Ms. King she informed me that there was no budget allowance for this work effort. Am I to assume that promotional materials were obtained at no cost? There is no difference between non-profits and profit-oriented firms both need to create a surplus which is distributed to shareholders (in the case of profit-oriented firms) or distributed to the community clients being targeted with its services (in the case of non-profits).

This clash of different norms is why the working class has been targeted by conservative efforts to take away the collective bargaining done by unions. It may be mitigated by the general public who must earn enough to be a consumer in this American Consumer Economy. Economically, unpaid volunteers make no contribution to the local economy unless their volunteer work is valued enough to be recognized in the project budget. Cash flow is essential to having this capitalistic democratic economy function to the benefit of all. Anything less borders upon exploitation of those who have no power; no authority; no influence. That situation is what motivates some economists to have government distribute a guaranteed annual income to those who earn no income. It is essential to have consumers with a bit of money in their pockets to pay for goods and services chosen and purchased.

Two sets of NORMS collided here: Belinda earns her money by writing (her work) all her life she has earned wages for the work done for firms under the direction of supervisors. The Stages’ I.C. asked her to do the work without indicating any quid pro quo (She interviews, crafts editorial content; gets it published) but not as a volunteer (employers cannot demand high quality work products from volunteers who may quit whenever it suits them).

The profit a non-profit firm earns is called a surplus (inferring it made too much money). That surplus is used to produce and distribute more goods and services to its target community. In contrast, the profit earned by a for-profit firm is used to pay executive is a NORM.

Also, please understand that this dynamic is being played out in Silicon Valley all the time. How do we get beyond this stalemate? First, we must realize that we need each other; we must honor and respect the different realities. Most of all, we must communicate and negotiate. CA is a free-will employment state which means an individual may choose to work for a firm or not work for it at all. Clear direct communication is necessary. Information needed for making decisions must be presented.

Information Technology, especially the Internet, has impacted several NORMS”  Display ad revenues and employment ad revenues have migrated to the internet which diminishes revenues realized by publications. As a result, publications have laid off thousands of writers, investigative reporters, copy-editors and no longer publish any news/press releases received. The other reality is that major internet firms have achieved ultra-high concentrations of wealth while exploiting the internet developed using tax revenues paid into the U.S. Treasury by “We, The People” for profit corporations.

We must all remain connected if we are to reach a new equilibrium influenced by updated NORMS. It’s time to update all NORMS if we are to remain the innovative and creative center the world envies. All NORMS from the manufacturing era must be challenged and updated.

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