Bill Maher points out that raising the minimum wage might be the first step in dealing with the "immigration problem." After all, many of us spend more each day on a latte and a goodie than the hourly minimum wage.
The gap between rich and poor continues. The NY Times today is on executive salaries rising at an astonishing rate.
Here is Joan Ryan's column in the SF Chronicle on what is lost as corporations rule without soul, and what happens, in one case, when individuals come in to aid the gap. This is a dramatic example though. What happens to those less noticable? It is a sad statement on our society.
Legal world conjures up a conscience
Thursday, April 6, 2006
When attorney Clem Glynn worked at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Francisco, he arrived two hours before the law firm opened its doors at 8:30 a.m. And every morning, Martin Macy was already there. He always seemed to be there.
"The firm was his life,'' said Glynn, who is now at Glynn & Finley in Walnut Creek. Macy didn't marry or have children. He walked to work from his apartment on Battery Street.
You could hear his laugh all the way down the hall. Glynn would come up with off-color jokes just to hear Macy's distinctive uproarious laugh. Over the decades, as lawyers came and went, as the firm expanded and moved into ever-larger digs, Macy stayed on, his dark hair turning to gray, his sturdy frame softening with age and diabetes. He seemed as much a part of the firm as the nameplate on the door.
Macy wasn't a lawyer. He was a messenger, beginning in 1965 at the age of 17. He delivered the mail office to office, desk to desk. He did this for 41 years. He was a company man, an emblem of an era when businesses were local and the bosses stopped you in the hall to ask about your mother's cataracts.
Now he's an emblem of a new era.
Last week, at age 58, he was laid off by what is now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, a firm with 16 offices around the world, 900 lawyers and $600 million in revenue.
Macy earned $34,000 a year.
Workers are laid off all the time -- "The Disposable American,'' as the title of a new book puts it. We take for granted that new management means new layoffs, that one's value to the company will be calculated by a formula that has no variables for loyalty, longevity or distinctive uproarious laughs. There is no line on the Excel spreadsheet for showing up with coffee and doughnuts at 3 a.m. for lawyers pulling all-nighters, or for knowing the names of everybody's kids, or for believing that, even in a law office, people's lives could be lifted by kind words, and they were.
So when Macy lost his job, he seemed to be just one of thousands of American workers snagged each week on the sharp tip of an efficiency expert's pen.
But he wasn't another worker. His dismissal has become something of a cause celebre in the San Francisco legal community.
It began with Glynn, who kept in regular touch with Macy. When he found out Macy was being laid off, he sent e-mails to a handful of colleagues who also had worked at Pillsbury. "What can we do?" he asked. "We have to take care of Martin."
The response was immediate: Where do we send the check?
Word spread. E-mails were forwarded. Phone calls were made. Money started coming in from lawyers, judges, legal secretaries, even clients who had gotten to know Macy. The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper, ran a story on Monday about Macy and the fundraising effort. More money has poured in. What began as a few e-mails among friends has mushroomed into the financial equivalent of a barn-raising: Macy's fans are hoping to put together enough for an annuity that will support him for the rest of his life.
"I don't think I can write a check big enough to repay Martin for all he's done for me over the years,'' Marin Superior Court Judge John Sutro Jr. said.
Sutro's grandfather founded the firm in the late 1860s. Sutro worked there from 1961 to 1990.
"Martin was just devoted to the place,'' Sutro said. "He gave of himself limitlessly. He reflected the spirit of the firm, at least during the time that I was there, back in the days when things like that mattered.''
Macy didn't want to talk to the Record or to me. He is still loyal to the firm. He doesn't want anyone to think poorly of him by saying something ungracious in the paper. But, according to Glynn, he's overwhelmed by what his former co-workers are doing for him.
"He's one of the most unique individuals I've ever met,'' Glynn said, "in that he is incapable of negative feelings. He's someone who did whatever he could every single day to cheer people up.''
Sometimes when Glynn arrived at the office, he'd find a cookie or a pack of Twinkies on his chair. He knew it was from Macy. "It was an act of kindness that would just start your day,'' Glynn said.
Neither Glynn nor any of the lawyers I spoke with wanted to criticize Pillsbury Winthrop. The firm's managing partner, David Anderson, declined to talk about the dismissal out of respect for Macy's privacy but said Macy "would be missed by many, many people here.'' The chief of human resources, Deborah Johnson, said cutbacks are always painful.
"Like a lot of businesses, we have streamlined operations and we have eliminated positions, of which Martin's is one,'' she said Wednesday, "and those are never easy decisions to make.'' She said the firm helps employees with job interviews, training and severance packages that include subsidized benefits.
But, as one attorney said, "Martin's value can't be measured in dollars, and he was more valuable now that he ever was because he represented that oasis of goodness, that place of innocence in a legal world that is less innocent than it's ever been."
It's not just the legal world. The workplace is different now from the day Macy walked through the doors of Pillsbury Madison 41 years ago. Mom-and-pop shops have morphed into multinational conglomerates. Everything is bigger, faster, shinier. But Macy, like so many American workers, didn't think he had to become bigger, faster and shinier, too.
He was an anachronism, a carrier of values that now seem quaint. He still believed that if you showed up every day and worked hard and never complained and made everyone around you feel better for your presence, the company would be as loyal to you as you were to it.