Snakebites, August 2000




Railroad Managers typically have high personal expectations.  They routinely push themselves to the limit, foregoing family, friends, sleep and other activities to get ahead in the company.  They work long hours slavishly for the cause.  That is the choice they make, and they reap both the positive and negative results of that decision.
But managers have a nasty habit; They tend to apply the same expectations  they have for themselves to the employees who work for them.  This is what we call “unrealistic expectations.”
Why is it unrealistic?  Well, not all employees value work above family.  Nor should they.
Most managers are trying to create a place for themselves in the corporate structure.  This often means that they are trying to land an extremely  well-paying upper management job and all the perks that go along with it.  Employees, on the other hand, while they are part of the process that generates that well-paying job, do not participate equally---not in the risks , or the rewards.  Even if stock options are granted , they are typically small and there is no guarantee  the options will ever be worth anything.
This means that employees don’t have the same stake in the company that managers do.  Therefore it is realistic  to assume they  will not have the same level of motivation. 
Employees, like managers, also have selfish needs and desires.  Most of us who work for others want to strike a balance between work and time off to enjoy family and friends.  We don’t simply exist to benefit our employers.  We work because we are trying to support our families.
That is, we work to live, not live to work.
On the other hand, many employees think the company owes them something just because they work here.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 
The reason anyone is employed by anyone else is for the benefit of the employer.  Think about it:  If you hire a kid to mow your lawn, you probably do it because its easier, cheaper or more convenient than doing it yourself.  The same idea applies to railroads.  Managers can’t, won’t or don’t have the time to run the trains and do all the associated tasks involved to make a profit in this business.  So they hire employees to do these things.  What these things are, how they are done, and who does them are agreed upon by written contracts in this industry.   We are paid to do a job, as specified in an agreement.  Nothing more, nothing less.   No one owes us anything.  It is unrealistic for employees to expect more. 
On closer examination, most of the problems between labor and management can be boiled down to “unrealistic expectations.”

(Next time:  Why this isn’t working and what we can do about it.)


"If there is no struggle, there can be no progress…find out just what people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which can be imposed on them…" — Frederick Douglass


UP OFFICER PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL TERMS AND THEIR REAL MEANINGS.  (From our spies at UP management training school.) 

 GREAT PRESENTATION SKILLS.             Able to bullshit
 GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS          Spends lots of time on phone
 AVERAGE EMPLOYEE.                              Not too bright
 EXCEPTIONALLY WELL QUALIFIED     Made no major blunders yet
 WORK IS FIRST PRIORITY                         Too ugly to get a date
 ACTIVE SOCIALLY                                      Drinks a lot
 FAMILY IS ACTIVE SOCIALLY                  Spouse drinks, too
 INDEPENDENT WORKER                         Nobody knows what he/she does
 QUICK THINKING                                       Offers plausible excuses
 CAREFUL THINKER                                    Won't make a decision
 AGGRESSIVE                                                Obnoxious
 USES LOGIC ON DIFFICULT JOBS            Gets someone else to do it
 EXPRESSES THEMSELVES WELL             Speaks English
 HAS LEADERSHIP QUALITIES                  Is tall or has a loud voice
 KEEN SENSE OF HUMOR                          Knows a lot of dirty jokes
 CAREER MINDED                                        Back Stabber
 LOYAL                                                           Has no seniority to fall back on.



 Overheard in Omaha:  CMS determines the work load of crew dispatchers by the number of keystrokes at their work stations.  Keep poundin’ them keys, kids……..Late calls, phony crew IDs and other number crunching acrobatics are now being practiced to hide the fact that there aren’t enough crews for all the recrews…..Several more of our new-hire brothers and sisters have pulled the pin and left for greener pastures. UP’s loss…..  Word has it Uncle Pete contributed over a million bucks to the GOP convention and Dickie boy showed up there with Big Yellow.  There goes the budget!……Speaking of budgets, our new super thinks he can save some dough by not paying any claims.  Sorry, Dan, Mizz Boone beat you to it….Latest innovation in safety: No getting on or off moving equip. and stopping before every joint.  Been down this road before, remember?  Gee, maybe if  I sprain my thumb on a brake wheel we won’t have to tie any more handbrakes?…Several saw a certain Sr.MTO working as a helper on a daylight trim. Can’t be, he doesn’t have enough seniority to work days.  We already have one scab officer around here, is this a preview of things to come?… What’s this we hear about a highrailer full of high-ranking officers blowing past a Form B stop order last week on the Mountain?  Then they had the nerve to stop and chew out the flagman for not wearing a hard-hat and orange vest.  Rules were made for some of us, I guess….Speaking of officers, look out for the Weed Weasels, they’ll be out in force from now on.  The floggings will continue, etc…….Be sure you follow the rules, work smart, look out for each other and BE SAFE!

". . .This is Worker Speaking. . ."
Corporate Balloon Juice

I used to think that in America, the railroads had an exclusive and unique  way of record
keeping and performance measurement.  I guess was wrong.  I saw  a headline in the local newspaper that announced in big, bold print: "Crime  Rate Is Down."  Does anyone really believe that?  If the crime rates are  truly down, why is there so much clattering about increases in funding for more police officers?   Headlines are blaring about  assaults, home invasions, robberies,  burglaries...But "Crime Rate Is Down!"  How can that be?  It's not magic  (well, maybe it is!)  It all boils down to the way the statistics are gathered, sorted, merged, and interpreted.  (Is this starting to sound familiar?) 
 I remember the old joke about the clever businessman who placed an ad for a  new accountant.  Three applicants showed up for the job interview.  The  businessman brought them into the same room, lined them up and asked the  first one: "How much is 2 + 2?"  "Four," was the response.  He asked the  second applicant the same question, and got the same response.  He then asked  the third applicant: "How much is 2 + 2?"  Without any hesitation, Number 3 lowered  his voice and responded: "How much do you want it to be?" Number 3 was immediately hired. 
The point is, we've known for a very long time that the railroads have been  "reverse engineering" their figures and cooking the numbers..  Now, it looks  like the rest of corporate America and just about every level of  government  has discovered and adopted the same scam.   It just bothers me that today’s technology is just another tool for the corporate liars, cheaters, and scam artists. 
Here on the UP, this tactic is used in just about every department we deal with.  Operating/dispatching department tortures the data and uses the misinformation to hide recrews and train delays.  CMS will use vacation and personal leave time to "pump up" an employee's unavailability figures, thereby making him/her a candidate for discipline due to alleged excessive absenteeism. CMS and HDC will also work together to cover their mistakes for delays resulting from failure to call hours of service relief crews (or the carryall) in timely fashion (the dispatcher(s) will enter remarks in train delay reporting that imply it was the crew's fault).   You can't talk about "reverse engineering" without addressing the UP's Upgrade Discipline Process. The way it's supposed to work: an employee runs through a switch.  The local UP manager looks at the situation and then decides that the employee is likely at fault.  The UPGRADE “cookbook” is pulled off the shelf and it is determined that a Level Two offense has been committed.  By this time, the local chairman is involved, and depending upon the circumstances, it usually goes down as Level 2, with a waiver or investigation to follow.  How some mangers abuse UPGRADE: An employee runs through a switch.  The local UP manager finds out about it and immediately consults the employee's work history to determine his/her current Upgrade Level.  The employee's record is clean.  However, the manager doesn't like this particular employee and thinks how nice it would be to "stick it right in".,  the Upgrade cookbook is consulted with particular attention paid to the Level 4 & 5 infractions.  The manager is thinking: “I want this person to be at a Level far can I stretch it?” ...More "reverse engineering”, except that this tactic has the force and effect of eventually moving you out the door. 
What's the solution?  Hell, if I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn't be working for Uncle Ike and his spin doctors.  It appears to me that we're almost at the point of no return.  Everyone cooks the numbers.  No one is held accountable.  It's downright depressing, if you really think about it.  Maybe we should work on "changing" our culture, and the way the railroad does business?  Hey Ike: Where are we with that project?  From what I can tell from the present attitude of most managers, we just changed the way we talk about culture.  I've said it before and I'll say it once again: You mention culture to the Union Pacific Management and they think you're talking about the Japanese oyster industry. 
Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go buy my winning lotto ticket.


No, Chester the Chicken has not been displaced.  Our new mascot is the symbol of all that’s right (and wrong) with the service unit at large.  Chester’s still the undisputed king of Super Coop.      Stay tuned for the further adventures of :  SHOE-DUCK!