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This line got a few hearty laughs among the six middle-aged white guys at the table next to me as I was enjoying breakfast at a local restaurant. Owners of local small service businesses, they were comparing notes on the merits - and costs - of conducting criminal background checks on new employees. There was general agreement that, if the background check could be done for $10, using some on-line service it was well worth the money spent. They regaled themselves with stories of people they'd heard about who were found to have committed all manner of crimes. The consensus was that even care in hiring didn't guarantee a good outcome, not because of any flaw in the criminal background search process, but just, you know... Those people.

To his credit, one of the guys pointed out that he never conducted criminal background checks, and that he'd hired managers for his various locations who had been with him for many years, with no problems. Like me, this fellow has some faith in (1) his abilities to judge character and (2) the general goodness inherent in most people. It wouldn't have surprised me one bit if I'd found out that one or more of his employees did have a criminal record. The indiscretions of youth may be just that. They need not presage a lifetime of escalating criminal behavior.

The concensus among the others was that this fellow had just been lucky. They regaled themselves with observations about workers, and their inability to rise above their stereotypes. Some things, they noted, were just the way that they were. Trash collectors, for instance, would always be trash collectors. They all went home and drank every night.  That's just the way those people are. Drug testing's too expensive anyway, so just hope that if the criminal background check is clean, there won't be a problem. As long as the drivers only hit a hydrant once in a while, it's all good.

They went on to discuss other forms of employee surveillance and investigation that  they'd implemented, including cameras in the work areas and in vehicles, vehicle tracking, and E-Verify. By now, I was having a difficult time tuning out their discussion. Cameras in the workplace in the workplace offered useful information on employee inefficiency. For instance, one guy explained, "All the other techs are able to pack up and head out by 8:45, and this one guy can never get out the door before 9:30". He didn't explain the reason. Who knows: maybe this last tech was helping the others load their gear so that they could be more efficient. Imagine that.

Cameras in the vehicles came in handy in case of accident. One business owner noted that footage showing someone backing out of a driveway in front of his company's oncoming van helped prove that they weren't at fault. Vehicle tracking by GPS made sense because, if a customer called with an issue, the business owner could quickly discern which of their vans was closest, and send them to deal with it, saving time and money.

E-Verify, the government program aimed at determining worker eligibility of employees to work in the US, was useful not because it weeded out immigration problems, but because - as explained by one of the business owners - it shielded the owner from personal liability if an E-Verified worker was later found to be working without proper authorization.

One of the business owners asked about how all these surveillance activities affected employee morale. No worries, he was assured by some of the others. Once the cameras are installed, nobody even notices them anymore. You can just tell them it's required for insurance.

Yeah. Right. Evidently these titans of the local service industry believe that their workers are just (1) grateful to have any kind of job at all, (2) resigned to their lives as a great downtrodden mass, or (3) too stupid to see that they're being treated like criminals to say or do anything about it. Fortunately, these kindly, paternalistic Republican small[minded] business owners will work hard to safeguard the employees from their natural tendencies to revert to their stereotypes.

Oh, except for that one guy who had been so successful in selecting and retaining his managers and staff without running any background checks. He also didn't have much in the way of surveillance systems, to the amazement of his breakfast companions. Who knows: maybe he uses the money he saves to provide a better wage for his people. Something tells me that he's the token Democrat in the group. Too bad he didn't call them on the "Hey, they're Democrats... of COURSE they have a criminal record" remark.

As I got up to pay my bill (after leaving a hefty tip), I noted that two of the guys had their business' insignia on their shirts: a local chain of car washes that we won't be patronizing any more. There are plenty of other places to wash away the grit and grease and grime of the world. Too bad you can't wash away hateful stereotypes and teh stoopid.

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 08:06 AM PST.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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