Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Curmudgeon hates big corporations, Part 2,137

No "big picture" stuff today. Let's just stay close to home.

There's a kid who's been working here at the Undisclosed Location since shortly after I first moved in, seven years ago (yes, I moved last year -- but it was 35 feet up -- three floors in the same building to the Teeny Tiny Law Office).

By "kid" I suppose he must be pushing 30 by now; after all, he's been here six or seven years and he didn't start working here when he was 11. He's on the maintenance staff. He may be employed by the same outfit that supplies the overnight cleaning crew but he's on the day shift and is directed in his work by the building engineers.

He's of Eastern European origin, Polish I'd guess (this being Chicago); I don't know for sure. I do know his English was just about non-existent when he started; it's improved considerably over the years. I've made it a point to say 'hello' or 'good evening,' as appropriate, and I've seen the improvement.

But I'm not a smoker (not anymore, not for 25 years or so). So I don't go downstairs several times a day to venture out into the alley next door to the Undisclosed Location to hang with the smokers puffing there. Our tenant does smoke. So she sees this kid three or four times a day. He helped us out a few times when we were moving -- making sure we had carts or big waste baskets or whatever else we needed. ("He'd better bring it," my tenant told me at the time. "Some of that stuff belongs to my company and I let the building use it for free.")

Recently, when our tenant was coming in from her nicotine fix, she ran into the kid from maintenance and said hello. The kid glanced furtively around before answering. "I can't talk to you anymore," he said. "New policy. I'm not allowed to talk to people in the building."

Our Undisclosed Location was sold a couple of years ago to a new group of investors. There's a market for Class C office buildings, even in a never-ending recession: There will always be fly-by-night lawyers such as yours truly, and in a bad economy there are always businesses looking to bail from fancier Class A or B buildings when the new lease comes due.

The new owners have become quite aggressive about capturing costs. No longer can we hail a building engineer in the hallway when the heat is not hot enough or there's an issue in the bathroom. Now we are expected to send emails to the corporate office -- in Michigan -- so they can dispatch the engineer (who was just down the hall the whole time) to come fix the problem. But by going through corporate, the appropriate charge can be added to someone's bill.

The maintenance staff has always delivered our rent bills. Last month, though, our rent bill came with an insert: In a "green initiative" the new owners want us to provide an email address to which our future rent bills can be sent. The transparent fiction is that this move would supposedly would save paper -- as if we wouldn't print out the bills to keep a record of payment anyway.

No, the reason for this is to prevent a tenant from asking the person delivering the bill to replace a light bulb in the exit sign or check the thermostat in the back office. These costs must be 'captured,' darn it; these services must be billed. That's the only 'green' in which our new corporate owners are interested.

Which brings us back to the Eastern European kid now afraid to say hello to people he sees every day. He doesn't want to lose his job because he practiced his English. I can't blame him. I don't know exactly who to blame -- but I can bet he or she is in Michigan, at the corporate office, and has an MBA.

He or she is also a thoughtless jerk.

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