From Shenzhen to Chicago, the hourly work force is asked to be superhuman in its output--with laborers carrying many times their bodyweight in GDP but receiving less and less in return. Since 1973, American labor's productivity has increased by 72 percent, while its hourly compensation has risen by just 9 percent. When corporate profits recently hit an 85-year high, wages were tracking at their lowest in over 60 years, and American workers got the message that this was just the natural cost of remaining competitive in a global marketplace. Who wants cake?

But sometimes, the requests made by big brands of their workers are such a wreck of cultural and socio-economic tone deafness that the whole country takes a moment to rubberneck on the internet.

These are some of our favorite examples.

1. Urban Outfitters asks people to come out and work for free on their weekends, because business is going really well.

The Pennsylvania-based purveyor of affordable irreverence recently kicked off the season of giving by emailing "A Call for URBN Volunteers" to its corporate salaried employees. It offered free lunch and a ride to rural Pennsylvania during the weekends in October--"the busiest month yet"--for the chance "to help pick, pack and ship orders for our wholesale and direct customers" without pay. Scrapped email subject line: "We're making a lot of money this month, so please come work in exchange for none of it." 

2. Walmart asks employees to donate food, clothing to needy Walmart employees.

For the past three years, the big box company notorious for making the most money but paying close to the least has seen employees in its stores start holiday collections for their impoverished co-workers. Walmart's corporate has responded with a bouquet of wilted statistics and a line so inspirational, it could have come from Tiny Tim: "It's not where you start; it's where you can go." 

3. McDonald's suggests workers low on cash eBay their stuff, get a second job on top of their FT job at McDonald's.

In 2013, McDonald's addressed underpaid employees' financial struggles by posting a series of web tools suggesting ways to make more money to support their low-wage jobs at McDonald's. Suggestions included finding more work and re-selling unwanted Christmas presents on the internet.

4. Koch Industries et al. tell employees to vote for Romney or else.

During the 2012 election, several head offices broke out their stone tablets and descended from their mountaintops with a warning for employees--a win for Obama could be a loss for their gainful employment. The memo from Koch Industries included the portent: "Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences." 

5. Apple manufacturer Foxconn asks employees to sign pact not to commit suicide at work.

After 14 of Foxconn's overworked, underslept, manically drilled workers attempted or committed suicide during massive Apple production cycles in 2010, the Chinese factory owners responded by asking employees to sign a pact promising not to kill themselves at work, or to sue if they do. Then, they erected nets in case people were dishonest enough to go back on their word.

 

Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments section.

Published on: Oct 9, 2015