Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where’s The Outrage? Employer Drug Testing & Personal Privacy

Recently, much furor was stirred as word spread that companies were asking to see the Facebook pages of job applicants, going so far as to ask for their Facebook passwords. PC World, in an article titled “Privacy is a Sci-Fi Fantasy, ” states that “The assault on personal privacy has ramped up significantly in the past few years. From warrantless GPS tracking to ISP packet inspection, it seems that everyone wants to get in on the booming business of clandestine snooping -- even blatant prying, if you consider reports of employers demanding Facebook passwords prior to making hiring decisions...What happened? Did the rules change? What is it about digital information that's convinced some people this is OK? Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress.”

This problem with employers asking for personal information goes farther back than Facebook or the proliferation of personal information being stored digitally. I put the blame squarely on the decades-long practice of companies drug testing employees, looking for illegal substance use.

Even when the job market was good, people would allow companies to drug test them for illegal substances. Whether or not the applicant had marijuana (or any other illegal drug)  in their system had no bearing on the job for which they were being hired. Many companies used the excuse that if a person used illegal drugs, they would be more likely to steal from the company, or have a higher absence rate, or have behavioral problems. Sadly, I’ve worked with many people who were secret (and not so secret)  alcoholics who were more damaging to the company than those that I knew who smoked an occasional joint. As alcohol isn’t illegal, the company couldn’t get away with testing for that.

Still, if a person is told that as a condition of employment is they have to be drug tested - either using the urine sample method or the hair follicle method - most submit to the test without objection. Now, isn’t taking a sample of your hair or your urine – you know, parts of your body or a byproduct of your body – a more horrific invasion of personal privacy? Yet, in 2012, drug testing as a condition for employment is still very legal and very much in practice…but many are more worried about someone looking at the Facebook page, where people willingly post the details of their personal lives.

I’m of the opinion that a prospective employer – or your current employer – has no right to drug test you, much less ask for access to your Facebook page, especially those areas that a Facebook user has designated as private. But companies get away with demanding the information because people have been willing to surrender to worse in order to get a job. It goes without saying that a person shouldn’t be handing out their Facebook password – or ANY password – to anybody, period. If we need a law to mandate that companies can’t ask for that kind of digital information, then let’s go a step further and extend a job applicant’s – or an employee’s right – not to be drug tested unless there is a specific job related need for doing so. (For example, a school bus driver should likely be drug tested, while someone working a clerical job in an office may not have need to be tested.) While I don’t have any illegal substances in my system – and never did in all my years of working and beyond – I still believe that drug testing is a major invasion of privacy. Oddly,  there’s been no outrage about that over all these years. Maybe there should be.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cleveland Catholics Win Appeal But Will They Lose The War?

First and foremost, I should explain that I was raised in a strict Catholic family but have been a lapsed Catholic for almost 40 years. I could write volumes about all the things I think are wrong with the Catholic Church but for today, I only want to focus on one issue.

In March of 2010, I wrote an editorial titled ”Who Is Destroying Cleveland’s Catholic Churches?” about the closings of many Cleveland Catholic churches at the hand of the head of the diocese, Bishop Richard Lennon. In that editorial, I stated that Lennon “completely botched the execution of his church consolidation plan” and spoke of the ensuing protests from Clevelanders who were affected by the subsequent church closings. I also wrote that “Local Catholics have protested in many ways, some making very vocal protests at church closings and also picketing churches. A group was formed called Endangered Catholics whose intent is to get justice and equal opportunity for parishioners. Protests are also working their way up to the Vatican. Sadly, I suspect that these protests will fall on deaf ears for the most part…”

I am pleased to say that as far as my latter statement, I was completely wrong. In a shocking move – shocking because the powers that be at the Catholic Church never seem to listen to the “little people” (the church parishioners in this case) – the Vatican reversed the Bishop’s ruling on the 13 churches that appealed the process.

This is huge news in Cleveland for many reasons. Those that appealed feel like they won a big battle with the Church, a victory that has been described using words like “extraordinary,” “unprecedented,” and “unheard of.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Boston activist Peter Borre who was working o the appeal, said "This is very significant because it means that Lennon erred procedurally and substantively," Borre said in an email to The Plain Dealer. "If he had been reversed only procedurally, he could re-boot, start the procedure again and fix the procedural error. "But he cannot fix a substantive error [regarding canon law]." My translation – Bishop Lennon really botched it, and in a big way.

But while the affected parishioners have won this battle, the war still continues. Bishop Lennon can still appeal the appeal. The churches who have appealed were already closed by the diocese, and many objects have already been removed from the churches and either moved to other parishes within the diocese or worse yet, sold to churches far outside the Cleveland area. (In the case of my mother’s church, the church organ was removed within days of the church closing and moved to a neighboring parish that remained open, despite the fact that her parish was appealing to the Vatican). As the Cleveland Diocese has not put money into these closed churches, some are falling into disrepair. Some parishioners have moved on in various ways, such as finding other churches (even moving to other Christian faiths) or leaving the church altogether. So, while the battle was won, the war within the Cleveland Catholic Diocese still continues, and may not necessarily end in victory for the individual parishes.

St. Casimir's, Cleveland Ohio (Now closed)

But there were important lessons learned here. For church parishioners: you don’t have to take every non-dogmatic ruling by your church or diocese as “gospel.” The men that run the church (and make no mistake, the Catholic Church is a man’s world) are just that – people, and they can make mistakes. They can also be so focused on making money that they forget that it’s the people of the parishes who keep them in business (so to speak) and provide the money they need to keep functioning. The Catholic Church may have learned that their members don’t see Church leadership as being infallible when it comes to the management of a parish or diocese. We live in a day and age where parishioners have many tools available for them to mobilize and to affect changes, and the Church really needs to get with the times and begin to listen to their members.

So while I am somewhat gleeful at this local victory, I still hope for the day where real change can take place in the Catholic Church, changes that show respect to women and a woman’s ability to contribute. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Opens Mouth, Confirms He Is A Big Fat Idiot

A few years ago, Al Franken – before he became a Senator - wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot.” Just this past week, Rush Limbaugh opened his mouth and confirmed that Franken’s observation is still true after all these years.

It all started when Sandra Fluke, a grad student, was denied the right to testify at a recent House Oversight Committee hearing on the topic of contraceptives as it related to health care law. Instead, the panel consisted of all men.

Many women across the country were appalled that women -  the ones who pay the physical price (pregnancy and related health costs) for the inability to access birth control - had no say in the matter. Making the issue more complicated is the fight over whether the religious organizations can be told by the government to pay for medical coverage for contraception for its female employees. It’s important to note that the Catholic Church, the most vocal against being forced to pay for birth control coverage, is a organization run by celibate men. The Catholic Church has been out of touch for years when it comes to allowing women to have a say about anything, much less birth control. The Catholic Church also forgets that its many organizations may employ women who are not Catholic. Many women who say they are Catholic don’t follow the Catholic Church’s rules when it comes to birth control. But that is another story for another day.

Back to the idiot – er, topic – of Rush Limbaugh. When Sandra Fluke was eventually given the right to speak to the committee, her words drove Rush to spew some nasty vitriol. Here are excerpts from his radio show transcript:

“Three thousand dollars for birth control in three years? That’s a thousand dollars a year of sex — and, she wants us to pay for it. … They’re admitting before congressional committee that they’re having so much sex they can’t afford the birth control pills!...

…What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We're the pimps. (interruption) The johns? We would be the johns? No! We're not the johns. (interruption) Yeah, that's right. Pimp's not the right word. Okay, so she's not a slut. She's "round heeled." I take it back.”

The following day, Limbaugh even makes himself sound even more idiotic (if that is even possible!) by going on to say:

“Folks, if you ask 'em - if you ask 'em - the Washington, DC, Department of Health will send you free condoms and lube. The DC Department of Health free condoms and lube if you just ask 'em for it! So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

I rest my case.

It’s been a long time since I have been so deeply appalled at one man’s attitude toward women. And make no mistake, even though he is responding to Sandra Fluke’s testimony, his comments are directed to all women.

Without mentioning Limbaugh’ name, Sandra Fluke released this statement:

“I thank the thousands of women and men, including members of Congress, Georgetown University students and faculty, and total strangers of all political stripes across the country who have offered kind words and support following recent egregious personal attacks.

“We are fortunate to live in a democracy where everyone is entitled to their own opinions regarding legitimate policy differences. Unfortunately, numerous commentators have gone far beyond the acceptable bounds of civil discourse.

“No woman deserves to be disrespected in this manner. This language is an attack on all women, and has been used throughout history to silence our voices.

“The millions of American women who have and will continue to speak out in support of women’s health care and access to contraception prove that we will not be silenced.”

Yesterday, the Senate voted 51-48 to set aside the measure that would have exempted employers like Catholic hospitals, universities and charities from an Obama health care provision requiring most employers to offer free insurance coverage for women's contraceptives.

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