after our sickout, an expression of collective discontent and a protest
of our working conditions, CapTel admin have announced that we will be
given 15 extra minutes of aux time per shift. For an 8-hour shift this
means that ~91% adherence is needed to avoid discipline. CapTel Workers
Union has had a stated demand for a 90%-adherence requirement in our
five-point platform from day one.
Let’s keep pushing forward for
$15/hour, our other demands, and workplace democracy. Let’s remember
that this break from the normal austerity that governs our workdays can
be ended by the whim of admin at any time. The boss’s promises are just
words; a union contract is set in stone.
The Verge recently published an article called “the Trauma Floor” about the hidden lives of Facebook’s content moderators, the folks who are responsible for reviewing the posts that Facebook users report to determine if they violate the site’s policies.
The article is an expose of the austere working conditions at Cognizant, a third-party company that Facebook contracts with, and the brutal toll that the job takes on the content moderators’ mental health and happiness. I was filled with horror while reading it by the oppressive and traumatic nature of the job until it dawned on me—Cognizant sounds exactly like CapTel.
Cognizant employees are forced to look at traumatic content all day long with no consideration for their mental well-being. Workers gradually become depressed or get roped into the weird conspiracy theories or far-right belief systems presented in the posts they endlessly review.
The article stressed how the time of the moderators is micromanaged, with the company allowing them only two fifteen-minute breaks and a half hour lunch during their shift and closely monitoring every minute of their time away from their cubicle. Cameras are everywhere to ensure constant supervision of employees and they are given monitors regularly during which a supervisor remotely watches their work.
People watch their coworkers go from being pleasant, well-adjusted people to conspiracy theorist crackpots and racist bigots who wander the halls and mutter to each other about the earth being flat and using racial slurs, their minds slowly warped over time by the sheer deluge of vile content that flashes across their screen every day of their career with Cognizant.
CapTel’s content is not nearly so consistently putrid, of course, but every captionist has memories of terrible calls that they carry with them. Obviously, I can’t list examples here but I remember calls that honestly shocked me when I heard them.
Our job is also very grinding in nature and even when not explicitly terrible the calls we caption have the tendency to make many of us focus on our own mortality. For someone who struggles with depression, even as relatively mild as my case is, this can easily lead to a preoccupation with death. I’ve found myself in some incredibly dark holes during my time at CapTel. Surrounded by three drab, undecorated cubicle walls and with nothing to distract me but my thoughts, the call content has often led me into a spiraling tailspin of seasonal depression.
The job that we do is one that pays poorly despite how taxing it can be. We caption calls that deal with death, poverty, heartache, and racism. We deserve a raise for the emotional labor that we do and for a myriad of other reasons.
We deserve to be paid more.
We staff a trauma floor.
This piece was written for volume 6 of the CapTel Disconnect. To read the full issue and past editions click here.
On Valentine’s Day some members of the union distributed cookies frosted to say $15.
One of the union members was approached by HR and told he could not do this because it was solicitation. He said “no, it’s organizing” and was left alone.
FOS Nate was seen
ripping up one of the placemats we made. Our placemats featured a
picture of Helen Keller, a famous labor rights activist and member of
the IWW. There can be no better illustration of the disgusting greed and
hypocrisy that CapTel embodies than a member of admin shredding a photo
of the deaf and blind woman they namedrop constantly while trying to
garner positive PR.
The fact that CapTel could be so threatened
by Valentine’s Day sugar cookies simply shows how scared they are of the
union. They are right to be scared. Their lies, repression, and
propaganda cannot keep the workers down.
If you could change one thing about CapTel what would it be? Why?
Simply put, we, the workers should decide the conditions of our labor. This includes a livable pay, an amount of aux time that works for everyone, better-maintained workstations, among other things. We would enact policies based on worker happiness and comfort instead of squeezing out profits and instead of performing discipline and punishment.
What is your CapTel horror story?
I biked to work one day, fell off and scraped my knee on the way there because of a driver making a hasty left. I took the bus to work, showed up bleeding, and after punching in late, I was briefly given a band-aid and wipe as medical attention by a busy supervisor. I was still punished for being late on top of the injury, and I was expected to work as usual. It was at this point that I realized CapTel was not treating me as a human being.
Why do you believe CapTel needs a union?
CapTel needs a union because management is not addressing the needs of the workers. We are often so beaten down by the work that we don’t even have the energy to organize. We often grate against the systems in place, and leave feeling helpless to tackle this bureaucracy alone. Hundreds of people suffer from a small few who can only spare costs when it comes to their high-end lifestyle. If we can raise consciousness, we can harness our frustration instead of suppressing it and we can make a difference
CapTel Workers Union’s own Jill explains why they are fighting for a union and a democratic workplace at CapTel.
CWU: If you could change one thing at CapTel with a magic wand, what would it be? Why?
There are a lot of things that I would change about CapTel, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be the wages. Eleven dollars an hour isn’t a living wage, and it’s really cruel and demeaning to expect your workers to care about their jobs and to be exemplary employees when they’re not even making enough money to survive.
CWU: Do you have a CapTel horror story?
The most horrible thing I’ve seen at CapTel is people coming into work really ill, because CapTel basically encourages people to come in when they’re sick. What I mean by that is they offer us very few sick days, and if you take too many sick days in a row, you need a doctor’s note in order to not get fired. Lots of employees at CapTel can’t afford to go to the doctor, so this, along with the need to go to work and make money, results in lots of people coming to work sick.
One day I was just walking through the call center, and I saw someone get sick at their desk while captioning. They muted their microphone to get sick in their trash can, and then resumed captioning, because they couldn’t get a call takeover in time to run to the bathroom. And that really disturbed me. I still think about just how awful that must have been for that person, to be at this job where if they left their computer to run to the bathroom when they were ill, they would have gotten fired for abandoning the call. And if they’re not given a call takeover in time, then getting sick in their trash can at their desk is the only option for them. That just really stood out to me, and I think says a lot about the type of workplace that CapTel is, as this sort of thing happens pretty regularly.
CWU: Why do you believe CapTel needs a union?
I believe CapTel needs a union because the people [captioning assistants] who are on the front lines and actually doing all the work and bringing in all of the profits for the company need to be given representation. We need a union because we deserve living wages, better healthcare, more empathetic policies. [CapTel management] have made it clear that they’re not just going to give us $15 an hour out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s clear that the higher-ups at CapTel don’t want to treat us better without putting up a fight, and I believe we need a union because that’s the most effective way to positively change our workplace. A more democratic workplace would benefit every CA.