I manage someone who’s bored and grumpy, I saw an anti-union training on our CEO’s credit card bill, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I manage someone who’s bored and grumpy at work

I work on a small team and manage one person, A. The nature of A’s work can often be quite monotonous and she knew this might be the case when she joined.

A is the type of person who wears her heart on her sleeve. We’ve gotten used to adapting to her moods, but it does mean she can be quite negative during a particularly monotonous period. For example, during team meetings, she will be grumpy or moody. She will agree to do certain tasks, but then complain about them. Of course we’ve all been known to make comments like this, but her tone can be quite negative or brusque. My manager and I usually try to comment about the other valuable things she does, or lighten the mood by sharing our boring tasks too, but I’m not sure if it works and to me it feels glaringly obvious that we are trying to pacify her and she knows it.

We’ve also tried to encourage her to let off steam by messaging in Teams if there’s a particularly annoying/repetitive set of emails to respond to, and by offering to take on some of them. She has started venting a little over Teams, but usually brushes off offers of support. At times like this or when she’s having a difficult time personally, she has also seemed disengaged or demotivated in wider staff meetings or on one-to-one calls.

Though it’s not the best working environment to have a grumpy colleague, I’m glad that she is making her feelings known. However, we wonder if there is more we could do to support her. Unfortunately monotonous work will always need to be done! Do you have any advice on coping strategies for this type of work, and how I can best support her? I am not very good at being direct!

It’s true that everyone vents about their job occasionally, but most people manage to do it in a way that doesn’t regularly bring down the mood of their entire team. That’s the issue here — not that A occasionally lets off steam, but that her routine negativity is affecting the work environment for everyone else.

It also sounds like you might have inadvertently encouraged some of this — in an effort to be supportive, you’ve encouraged her to vent more. I think that’s counterproductive. If A is unhappy with her job, the solution isn’t to make everyone engage in extra emotional labor to help her manage those feelings. As her manager, the solution is to have a straightforward conversation with her along the lines of: “You’ve seemed really unhappy with your work. I want to be up-front with you that XYZ isn’t going to change; that’s the nature of the job. If you decide the job isn’t for you anymore, I’ll support you in figuring out what you want to do next. But I do need you to be realistic that as long as you’re in this position, this is the work.” That’s ultimately more supportive because it’s more realistic. Your role isn’t to coax her into liking work that she doesn’t like; it’s to be clear with her about what the job is, and what can and can’t change about it, so that she can decide for herself if it’s something she’s up for or not. You can do that kindly, but you do need to do it.

You also need to let her know that being openly grumpy on anything more than a very occasional basis isn’t okay because it makes everyone’s else’s work environment harder. That’s going to be a shift in tone from what you’ve been doing so you’ll need to think about how to navigate that in a way that doesn’t give her whiplash — but you really do need to more actively manage what’s going on.

2. My company let me buy a house, then laid me off — then pulled the rug out from under me again

I’ve had a bit of a whirlwind month at work and am feeling extremely demotivated from the fallout. I was previously a remote worker, but management encouraged me to relocate to be more competitive for promotions. I discussed this at length with both my direct manager, Sara, and others in management, who all suggested this move. I had some reservations because we are undergoing a large restructuring and the worst case scenario would be to commit to purchasing a house and then be laid off. I was reassured that there were no layoff plans for my team and ultimately purchased the house and started relocating.

Less than a full workday after I closed, Sara brought me into a meeting with some higher-ups and let me know the entire team is being offshored and all employees will be laid off at the end of the year. Internally, I was furious. It felt like management had misled me for months as I considered whether to relocate. I did not express this at the time, wanting to stay professional. In later meetings, Sara and her supervisor indicated the restructuring had created a new position that they wanted me to take. I had been doing my due diligence and applying elsewhere, including some internal transfers, but I kept in close communication with Sara about my status. I was waiting to hear from one internal position and let Sara know I expected a response on Monday and could decide then which offer I was more interested in. She seemed supportive and relayed it to the others involved, all of whom said that would be fine and they would contact me if anything changed before then.

On Monday, I was blindsided again. The other position decided to go with the other finalist. When I reached out to Sara to update, she said they had decided to offer the position to someone else because “we couldn’t wait another day.” It felt like a huge insult — they couldn’t have let me know they needed an answer sooner? Why did they tell me they would make a decision Monday and then go back on that?

I’m now stuck on what to do next. I know another position on the other team is coming open soon, and that since I was in the final two candidates before I would be a likely choice for this round. But can I really trust my workplace at all after they’ve pulled the rug out twice? Should I chalk this up to an issue with my direct manager, or should this be a red flag to get out now?

Well, we know you can’t trust Sara, who has behaved abominably. It’s true that companies usually can’t tip people off about layoffs ahead of time, but when you know someone who’s being considered for a layoff is buying a house — specifically because you have encouraged them to move — and they’ve discussed their worries about that with you at length, you can find ways to subtly hint. And then not bothering to tell you she needed your answer on the other position a day earlier, after assuring you she didn’t? There’s no excuse for that.

That’s all about Sara. I can’t say from the outside whether you should get out of your company altogether. To answer that, I’d say to look at what else you know about them: have you seen other managers treat people well and with transparency? Does this feel like an aberration for the broader company culture or is it on some level unsurprising?

You could always take the other position if it’s offered without calling off the rest of your search, and if an external offer comes along after that, your company has forfeited any expectation that you wouldn’t take it.

3. I saw an anti-union training on our CEO’s credit card bill

I work in accounting for a nonprofit. My workplace is not unionized, and I am not aware of any current efforts to unionize. Our CEO’s credit card expenses recently included a union prevention training. As I said, I’m not aware of any current efforts to unionize, but am I allowed to share this information with fellow staff who I know are pro-union and would be interested to learn this? I’m not asking about our internal policies, but rather what regulations exist regarding what kinds of information people in certain positions can share. Does the answer change if it’s just me talking with interested staff versus actual organizers for a current unionization effort? If a unionization campaign were to happen at my organization, is there anything else I should know as a pro-union person with access to all the financial data?

There are no laws that protect your right to share confidential information that you’re given access to as part of doing your job (with the exception of whistleblower laws, which this wouldn’t fall under). Your employer almost certainly expects you to not to shit-stir on the basis of what you see on the CEO’s credit card bill, and could legally fire you for abusing that access. That is true regardless of whether or not there’s an active unionization effort going on; in both scenarios, employers can require people in positions that require confidentiality and discretion to maintain that confidentiality.

For what it’s worth, you sent me the name of the training and the organization hosting it, and I don’t think it’s particularly egregious — it’s pitched as how to maintain positive employee relations so employees don’t feel they need to organize. (And yes, lots of anti-union stuff uses that framing, but I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that warrants risking your job, or that it’s a sign your CEO is actively looking to bust up unions — at least not any more than most CEOs are, which is a non-zero amount.)

4. Asking to work from home more often after a traumatic workplace event

Warning for gun violence

I got my dream job recently (thanks for your cover letter help!) and I’ve been here for five months now. This job has a really, really great hybrid policy — basically, you need to come in at least one day a week, but you can choose when that day is. It really attracted me to this job. However, employees have to work there at least a year before they can go hybrid. And I was fine with that, until recently.

I work in an office building, but the first floor is connected to a food court/mall/train station area that’s open to the public. The first floor isn’t owned by the company that employs me, so it’s not technically a part of our company, but most every employee uses it, whether it’s for the train station or for getting lunch at the food court.

There was an incident a few weeks ago where someone came in to the food court and started shooting. Thankfully, no one was killed, and the injured people will all recover. I wasn’t present (I missed it by 30 minutes) but we did have a shelter in place order for a few hours while the police arrested the guy. The shooter never came anywhere near our offices. Even if he wanted to, he would have had to get past a locked gate, two security desks, and an elevator that needs a key card (and each key card can only go to a specific floor).

I feel silly for it since it really didn’t affect me, but I kind of want to ask if I can start the hybrid work early. But at the same time, I worry that I’ll come across as trying to flout the rules or like I’m taking advantage of what happened. After all, it’s not like it’s likely to happen again. My experience with my boss and HR has been good so far, but I don’t want to push it. Would it be okay to at least try and ask? I do have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but should I disclose that? Or would it be best to wait out the remaining seven months?

It’s okay to ask. They might say no, but any compassionate person would understand why you’re raising it, in light of what happened. You don’t need to mention the anxiety disorder; this is a reasonable thing one might want to ask about regardless.

However, you could also try the formal accommodations route, given the anxiety. There are reasons to be cautious about doing that, but it’s another avenue if you want it.

5. Firefighters aren’t being fed enough food

I work as a contract paramedic on wildfires. I’ve been doing this for three seasons now. Each year, I go out there and it feels like the food quality from our contractors gets worse and worse for everyone in fire camp. I’m genuinely concerned about the nutrition of the firefighters I serve. Firefighters work so hard — they need ~4,000+ calories a day to compensate for the work they’re doing — and I’m appalled at the state of the food they’re served.

To explain, catering in camp is contracted out by the federal government to the lowest-bidding private companies. In theory, this is fine. In practice, it means bidders cutting every corner they can to pocket an extra penny. 60-70% of the time, food is not great but fine. But the rest of the time, I’ve seen full-grown firefighters forced to sustain themselves on prepackaged snacks (e.g., goldfish crackers, cheap protein bars, etc.) and/or receive raw/moldy/otherwise inedible foods for breakfast/lunch/dinner in often remote locations where there are no other food options. Us medical staff get ~6-8 GI complaints per fire, and those are just the ones being reported.

How do I change this?? I’ve complained every year to my medical bosses, who all agree with me and complain up the chain as well. But barring a few specific fires that get viral attention (a Tweet about raw chicken or moldy bread getting a caterer fired, for example), I have not seen structural change. Even though there are guidelines as to what caterers have to cook, I’ve seen them violate it time and again without experiencing any consequences. Beyond my bosses, who do I contact to address the issue? It affects both me and the firefighters and I can’t figure out how to improve the situation.

I know this isn’t your typical workplace and it’s fine if you don’t have any answers, I’m just not sure where to turn for advice at this point.

I’m not sure but I bet some reader knows, so I’m printing this in the hopes that you get useful suggestions in the comment section. The inspector general for the federal agency that oversees the program? Members of Congress on the appropriate subcommittee? Someone out there knows. (And if nothing else, I suspect some reporter might be really interested in writing about it.)

{ 408 comments… read them below }

  1. nnn*

    For #5, would the elected representatives responsible for the place where the fire is be interested? (I’m not American so I’m not entirely sure of the structure)

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      I’m not sure why the department contracting isn’t getting MREs from the same place the military does. They’re not great, but they’re a high dose of calories for physical work and not crackers or moldy bread.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Very sensible suggestion. A day’s MRE is indeed 4000kcal and with government contracts also very reasonably priced. If caterers provided one fresh meal a day plus an MRE there would be plenty of variety and quantity.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Yes, during the plague I added MREs to my just-in-case stock. They are balanced, nutritious and surprisingly tasty (German army).
        More reliable and keep better than fresh food in the case of fire-fighting.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        Nobody want to eat MREs for months on end. The organization is contracting with the intent to feed these workers hotter and fresher meals than MREs provide. There are no fresh fruits or veggies in MREs.

        They are failing due to the contractor and enforcement of the contract standards.

        1. Former military*

          Exactly. Former military here. MREs are fine on occasion but not for months on end.. They need to contact the contracting officer for the contract and QC for the contract. Also the congressional Representative for the area where the firefighting HQ is located.

          1. PropJoe*

            I once spent a solid month eating MREs only, didn’t even have tray rations to supplement them. Was very glad to finish that and get normal chow again.

          2. AF Vet*

            That was my thought, too. Who within your agency is responsible for bidding out the contract? They’re also responsible for overseeing the contract. Hold THAT person’s feet to the fire ASAP. (Heh, fire)

            I was in the Air Force, and am still part of the community. We have the Contracting Squadron within every wing, as well as someone in the office that the contractor works in who oversees the contract compliance. If this was on my watch, I’d be talking to both the POC within the contractor company AND CONS to ensure these shenanigans stop NOW.

            Also concur on the power of public naming and shaming. Contact your local representative, whatever branch of Department of the Interior IG, DI IG, etc. Keep pushing higher in the chain. Notify the local media, especially if you know a pot-stirrer who enjoys tossing a few rotten eggs at the government.

            This is awful. I live in wildfire country, and I’ve never heard that this is an issue. And yes, have access to MREs, so that the firefighters can CHOOSE to toss them in their gear for EXTRA calories while on the line. However, unless they’re actively fighting the fire, MREs are NOT the answer. They certainly are NOT the answer in camp. Shame on those contractors! They need to be fined massively for not meeting the contract and then blacklisted ASAP.

      4. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

        MREs are also pretty expensive. It would be short-sighted to take the lowest bidder on catering just to turn around and supplement with expensive MREs. (Not that that kind of thing doesn’t happen, especially when the money comes from a different line item in the budget.)

      5. The Editor-in-Chief*

        not crackers or moldy bread

        HAHAHAHA bless you.

        *MOSTLY* the bread is not moldy (definitely happens, though). And the crackers in the non-bread-having ones are fire with the jalapeno cheese, but.

        MREs will absolutely stop you up, though…

        1. Peer pressure works*

          For the firefighters, there are a lot of people out there that enthusiastically support and appreciate their efforts in dangerous and distant situations protecting our communities. While I doubt a community meal-train effort is in any way practical or safe, circulating the idea of a drive to ensure donations to keep them safely fed is going to raise a bunch of questions on why it’s needed in the first place.

          I can’t go out on a line to fight fires, but I will cheerfully harass the embarassment out of any official I think can make a difference for them, if I know there’s a problem to harass them about in the first place.

      6. Rusty Eulberg*

        I’m former Army, and My dad retired from the US Forest service– so I can answer “why not MREs?”
        They do server MREs at the start, before other logistics have been set up. Same with the army. Its preferred not serve MREs because:
        MREs are very calorie dense, and very preserved– this leads to constipation and dehydration issues pretty quick.
        MREs are costly. About 2x as much as any other option.

        It’s super disheartening to hear that fire crews aren’t getting fed well. My Dad told me quite a few stories every December after fire season about the efforts he made to take care of crews (towards the end of his career he was a logistics chief). One of his tricks was one of his packs was always full of bottle of hot sauce, as making firecrew’s favorite condiments available on day 1 made them quite forgiving of the inevitable mishaps of trying to feed, house, and provide hygiene for hundreds of high intensity folks.

      7. Coverage Associate*

        It’s possible the federal law specifies how the funds can be spent and/or that the employment agreements for the firefighters or other people assisting require hot, locally prepared food. The Department of Agriculture, which manages federal wildfires, does not have the amount of budgetary flexibility that DOD does. (Amount, not proportion, as DOD’s budget is way way bigger than USDA’s)

      8. Nedra Whitehead*

        I’d write the inspector general for the Dept of Interior and copy the representatives and senators of wildfire prone states. If possible, find the contractor name and the contract number. It should be public information but is likely to take some digging.

        1. Jack Russell Terrier*

          This is where I’m headed. I would also add in the Chair of the:

          Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources

          That’s the Committee with a remit for wildfires. Right now that’s Joe Manchin

    2. Double A*

      This is definitely a good suggestion: both the state and federal representatives for the district might be interested.

    3. Liane*

      Elected representatives (or senators) are a good place to start. All of them, as well as state legislators, have local local offices and staffers whose jobs include looking into complaints and snafus for constituents, and they are scary effective. The elected officials’ websites usually have a form, or you can call the local office.

      1. Firefinch*

        I’m a fed, and this is the best way to go. The contract is likely not managed locally, and the contracting officer or their representative might not get approval to travel and verify independently. Plus everyone in federal contracting listens to elected officials; it’s a much faster option for you. Call the local offices as Liane said. Also if you post on that elected official’s Twitter feed with the comment that the firefighters are being fed substandard food, that might help. If you have pictures where the food is obviously substandard, you could put those on there too. Make sure to not cross HIPAA lines.

        You could also call the local media. That would be justified and likely effective.

        1. Firefinch*

          I was trying to be concise. I meant to not cross HIPAA lines by mentioning firefighters needing medical attention as a result of substandard food.

          1. Maggie*

            If the person is not identifiable, HIPAA is not violated and it doesn’t sound like the OP is a covered entity under HIPAA anyway. The scope of HIPAA is much more limited than most people realize.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              OP is a paramedic – similar to an ENT. I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to maintain patient privacy.

              That said, “there have been GI complaints” seems safely anonymized to me too. Assuming it’s a crew of dozens, not a handful!

          2. Magpie*

            How would this be crossing HIPAA lines? Wouldn’t it be ok to generally mention firefighters getting sick as long as you didn’t mention the names of the ill firefighters or give any other identifying or personal information?

            1. Nonanon*

              SO: it has the potential to cross HIPAA lines IF OP is collecting any data. HIPAA compliance would mean you have sufficient anonymization: if Wakeen Snooter is a 35yr old male with vomiting, you could log “Patient 24601 is a 35yr old male” and it can be considered sufficient… unless he’s the only 35yr old male, in which case you would do something like “Patient is a mid-30s male” or “Patient is 18-40” or whatever to sufficiently anonymize Wakeen. “We had five cases of diarrhea yesterday” or “I’ve noticed an uptick in giving emergency fluids” aren’t necessarily in violation of HIPAA because there isn’t patient information to begin with; one is a quantification of symptoms with no patient data (anyone at the camp could have been your diarrhea patient, BUT you would want to be careful since it is patient data) and one is anecdotal evidence.

              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                Right – aggregate data wouldn’t violate HIPAA and would probably help OP’s case to address this.

          3. Distracted Procrastinator*

            As long as you don’t name the person or give identifying details, you can discuss patient health with outside persons. For example, you can’t say Dean Winchester suffered from GI distress and low blood sugar. But you can say 10 firefighters reported to the medical teams for food related issues per week, including _______ and ________.

            Mentioning how the food is affecting the health and safety of the firefighters will strengthen LW’s arguments and may get them a solution faster.

        2. Jshaden*

          Also in and adjacent to fed acquisitions most of my career, and agree with Firefinch. It is counterintuitive, but the amount of regulations around federal contracts can actually severely limit what the people managing the contracts can do if there are issues. Attention from relevant politicians or department/agency leadership will probably open more options.

          Also, in my field we always say “Don’t do anything that will get you on the front page of the Washington Post.” So media is also a possible route.

          1. Pretty as a Princess*

            Alison was dead correct suggesting the Inspector General for the agency. The IG for the agency that holds the contract will be easier to find than the COR, and will have a hotline number published for IG reporting. The way I would frame this is a Fraud, Waste, and Abuse complaint. (IDK if the agency is FEMA? If so, OP google this phrase “How can I help FEMA prevent fraud, waste, and abuse?” Their IG has an 800 hotline, an online form, and even fax submissions if you find yourself reporting from 1992. ) If it is not FEMA, google Agency + Inspector general hotline.

            The LW should do their best to take contemporaneous notes of what they witness in terms of food prep violations, food quality (eg mold), insufficiency. Nothing fancy – a small pocket size spiral notebook. Date each observation. Include site info if sites change.

            There’s no need to worry about managing for HIPAA when tracking this and filing an IG report if you do this: on a shift with lots of GI calls, just note in your notebook “lots of GI calls today.” Date and time the note. If several firefighters all tell you “the chicken a la king was moldy” then you can document that. Then when filing the IG report, include dates and shift hours. The IG can deal with obtaining the data from those shifts in a way that does not violate any disclosure laws.

            That last para assumes that the paramedic teams have to do reporting on all injuries/illnesses that is tracked somehow, even if it’s paper that is digitized later. I have no idea how that works in these situations. If there isn’t a good way to track that in this environment at the level of fidelity you need at the pace of operations, perhaps you can use inventory of certain products at start and end of your shifts as a proxy since you have to monitor supply levels on the regular and you have to transmit orders of some kind for replacements in a more timely fashion than digitizing treatment records. If you’re going through Pepto at 6x the normal rate….

            Good luck to you and your firefighters, OP.

            1. B*

              This is all excellent advice. OIG + Congress + documentation. Underdelivering on a contract, likely pocketing the difference, and harming first responders is the kind of thing that may just get the big guns’ attention.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                Julius Caesar used to hang contractors who sold him bad meat (the time I mentioned this around my CO in purchasing was the only time he ever smiled at me). I suppose this would be over the top and get a person talked about, though.

            2. Fed*

              It wouldn’t be FEMA. We provide *funding* for fire response in specific circumstances, but would not be managing the fire fighters.

            3. Fed*

              Per the National Wildfire Coordinating Group website “Wildland firefighting agencies operate at the federal level (National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs), the state level (Dept. of Forestry, Dept. of Natural Resources), and at the local level where forest lands tie in with the incorporated area.”

              OP will know which agency is managing theirs – and I agree, Inspector General, and look into whistleblower complaint lines.

          2. Coverage Associate*

            +1 to Jshaden, from a family with a member at those fires with OP #5 (also not a firefighter) and from this professional who works adjacent to federal contracts

        3. Person from the Resume*

          I do think the elected officials and the media is your best bet.

          Ideally there is a contracting officer representative and contracting officer who are monitoring the contract and would act on information that the contracting company is not meeting standards, but at distributed sites like this I’m not sure how the LW would find out who that is.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, definitely try to get the media involved. For one thing it may have direct impact on its own like with the tweet, but it also might encourage more people to contact the elected officials!

            1. AVP*

              Media person here — I would send this story to whatever local nonprofit journo outlet is in your operating state (CalMatters in CA, COlab in CO, etc.) and then to any climate outlets and national outlets that are covering wildfire issues. And the major urban papers, depending on what state you’re in. If you can speak to the electeds and pull a big enough data set, to go ProPublica. WaPo might take it on as an issue with government contractors, too.

              Don’t only send it to your small local TV station or town newspaper (love them, subscribe to them, but they likely won’t have the bandwidth to cover or respond properly).

              If you do want to push for media here and haven’t done it in the past and want more guidance, ping back here and I’d be happy to help because this really sucks.

              1. Cynthia*

                Came here to say the same. Media attention pressures them into taking this seriously.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          And if any of the firefighters are prisoners on work release (this is happening more and more) the local media will be very interested to hear about what they’re being fed both there and in prison (don’t get me started.)

          1. Star Trek Nutcase*

            I know you’re right. IMO it’s a sad commentary that media would be more likely to respond (and stronger) for convicted prisoner firefighters than for law abiding professional firefighters. In a perfect world, all would receive appropriate attention & quality food, but I know which segment I would prioritize.

            1. Justme*

              The US Justice system is not exactly…just. For instance, Black men receive much harsher punishments than white men *for the same crime.* Poverty and desperation can also be pathways to incarceration. And of course, plenty of “bad guys” are still on the streets because they didn’t get caught, or they had enough money to pay a lawyer, or because white collar crime is treated differently.

              In many ways, prison labor is essentially slavery – the American carceral system continues to exploit People of Color to provide free labor.

              And of course, incarcerated persons still have human rights and should still receive adequate nutrition, shelter, etc.

            2. Sunshine*

              I lean the other way on this one, because the convict group has less choice about whether to stay in this situation that will make them sick.

        5. FunFed*

          I’m a fed and have done some contracting work. I agree with going to the IG, elected representatives, and media, but would also add (and apologies if I’ve missed someone already adding this) trying to contact the contracting officer’s representative, technical monitor, and contracting officer. All three play a part not just in compliance, but in rating the contractor’s performance in the CPARS system. Having served as a contracting officer’s representative, I’d have considered it unethical not to at least evaluate comments I received when rating the contractor. To be clear, though, immediate action (such as a cure notice) sounds as if it would be appropriate. Basically, the more noise you make to the more people, the better.

      2. My Useless Two Cents*

        Also try contacting the any news agencies covering the fire. Mention to the elected officials that you are doing so. The catering companies are only getting away with it because no one is currently making it public news. Since it isn’t public news, there is no urgency for elected officials to act. By the time they get around to looking into it the situation has played itself out and they can tell themselves it was an isolated incident.

      3. Petty Betty*

        Even an ombudsperson (city, borough, state) would be a good place to start.

        And yes, calling food inspectors is a good idea. Start getting photographs/videos of everything you can to detail things. Take notes of what happens each day and log how many illnesses are happening when what gets served. The officials (and media) will want that.

        Nothing will change until the *people* clamor for change.

    4. Green great dragon*

      Alongside this, raise with whoever is
      managing the contract every time they aren’t meeting the contract minimum. They should be able to make it extremely non-cost-effective for the company not to provide what they committed to.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        This! Unless they are told, they can’t know they’re being cheated to fix the problem.

        Medical staff has influence–I hope OP and their co-workers speak up.

        1. Fed*

          I can’t speak to this particular contract, but other government contracts I have been involved with have penalties built in if the vendor fails on particular deliverables (time, staffing, materials….etc.). Meticulous enforcement of these requirements can make breach of contract a very expensive proposition for the vendor.

        2. Venus*

          You can add penalties for problems (i.e. reduce what they are paid). I’m not an expert in food, but for example if you lease a car then you could say that you won’t pay for the entire lease if it spends more than 5% of the year in maintenance. The exact daily penalty rate would be set out at the signing of the contract. This type of addition is rare in our personal lives yet I’ve heard about it in government contracts. In this case the problem is likely to be with getting the information about food quality back to a central location, and then proving that the problem with the food is due to those who cooked it, but the contracting penalty part is feasible.

          1. Jshaden*

            In theory, yes, but at least for US federal gov contracts it is highly probable a contract for this type of basic commercial service would not have any of those penalties or incentives built in. Contracts like that are more work to evaluate, award, and manage and without another reason to, penalties or incentives are less likely to be included. Getting department, media, or political attention on failures is something that could increase the likelihood of those methods being included in future contracts.

            1. Venus*

              Agreed that the penalties aren’t likely currently in the contract. It was in response to DJ Abbott and I interpreted the question as “What options are there for future contracts?”

            2. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

              I would tend to agree, this is probably just a standard boilerplate contract that they insert a contractor name and total cost into, and that’s it. I would bet the contracting officer in charge of this one is also managing several others, and if this is through BLM or Forestry, said officer is likely waaaaaay overworked.

        3. AF Vet*

          You’d start by looking at the contract and seeing what the provisions are for failing to meet the contract. What penalties are ALREADY spelled out in the contract for failure to perform the duties outlined adequately? Then ENFORCE those provisions. It can be hard, but it CAN be done.

    5. Anonforthis*

      Elected officials and federal whistleblower lines would be most effective, along with local news. The contractors will likely not be responsive themselves, and the agencies likely care but might not feel empowered to act.

      If these are on federal lands, contact your local officials but also the Congressional committees in charge of overseeing the agencies. On federal lands, those would be the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Contact both the majority and minority (Democrat and Republican) staff for both chambers; on the House side, there are two different websites for the majority and the minority so make sure to go to both and use the available whistleblower reporting link. You can also try going to the Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General website and flag it for them through their whistleblower channels.

      Good luck and thank you for advocating for our firefighters!

    6. DJ Abbott*

      Can I just say I love how everyone is represented on this site? No matter what the question, there are people from that field here to help. It’s really, really awesome. <3 All good wishes and vibes to the firefighters and those who help them!

    7. Jay*

      Like everyone else said, contact whatever elected officials you can.
      This is an election year, and solving this particular problem would be a PR goldmine for whoever handles it. And a potential PR disaster for whoever doesn’t. That means that even politicians too out of touch or ideologically blinded to care are likely to make an effort.

      1. HonorBox*

        This is a great point Jay. In an election year, especially, someone could easily secure votes in that district by being a champion for those trying to protect home and land in that district.

        I’d add that a media alert would be additionally helpful, as it will force the issue to be dealt with more quickly in all likelihood. Making a change to funding streams and contracts could take some time, but if the media (and thus viewers… ie voters) gets hold it would likely speed the process along.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Yes: If I was a person whose home and family were saved from fire and then told the people who did so were being fed moldy and insufficient food, you can bet I’d be on the phone to every local elected official day and night.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I feel like I often think this then turn out to be wrong–but this seems like a truly nonpartisan issue that everyone should support which a lot of politicians would want to run with.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          We may be incredibly divided along partisan lines, but at least most Americans can still agree “starving firefighters is wrong.”

      3. AF Vet*

        Also, have the firefighters contract THEIR local reps. For the big fires you can have people from multiple states battling the same fire. Imagine the ruckus if congressional staff from 10 different offices all request an update? ONE Congressional is enough to be painful and work-stopping.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          This is a great point! Bringing in as many agencies as possible may increase chances of *something* being done much faster.

    8. Seriously?*

      While not a long term solution, there are often volunteer groups who would be happy to aid the first responders. (said as someone with relatives who perform similar services and have been fed by local community organizations, on the regular, during longer term incident responses of up to a month or so.) The public affairs person assigned to the incident should be able to put out the ask.

      1. AF Vet*

        While I get it, and for the firefighters this is a great temporary solution, this also allows the contractors to continue skating by on substandard rations. The public naming and shaming can be effective – “Since ABC Co has been fundamentally derelict in their duties to feed the people **responsible for keeping our houses from burning**, we are setting up a rotation for churches, restaurants, etc, to feed these amazing crews.”

        1. Fire Country*

          Incident command always tells the community “don’t bring food/supplies, we’ve got the logistics covered.” So it’s really disheartening to find out they don’t always. But I get why logistically it would be an issue to have a bunch of donations, so the contractors really need to be providing for that.

      2. Petty Betty*

        Here in Alaska, we end up with a lot of local businesses that volunteer time/money/resources to help feed firefighters during wildfire season. Retirees come out of the woodwork to crew large bbq grills at safety checkpoints, scouts are helping to keep the camp clean, food vendors are there serving (some bring their food trucks, some just bring up serving stations), and volunteers are everywhere. It’s almost a smoky festival sometimes.

    9. SDA*

      I’ve worked for members of Congress, both in district/state offices and in DC. I’ve also worked for fed agencies in the offices that respond to inquiries from Congress, so here are some tips for accomplishing this.

      Call your congressional rep or senators *at the DC number* and ask to speak to the staffer who works on agriculture issues. You want them to write a letter to USDA about this, or better yet, get a briefing from the agency about it. Check if any of your members are on the Ag, Appropriations, or Oversight committees. Target them, because the agency will likely listen to them more.

      Do not go through the district/state office. You may get someone industrious who wants to help, but you’re just as likely to get a staffer who will simply forward your mail to the agency for a generic response without follow up.

      1. Laughable Walrus*

        Tried replying early but it didn’t seem to come through, so I apologize if this is a double post!

        In addition to specific members of Congress, you should contact the Committees of jurisdiction. Although the Forest Service is part of USDA, most public lands are part of the Department of the Interior, and so Forest Service (and Bureau of Land Management, which also often has wildfires) are overseen by the Committees with jurisdiction over Interior, not agriculture. In the Senate, that’s the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and in the House, that’s the House Natural Resources Committee.

        Contact both the majority and minority (Democratic and Republican) staff – they work independently. Both sides have their own websites and their own oversight tip lines. Committees can be more effective than single Members because they have more dedicated staff covering these specific agencies and know the bureaucracy and who to call. They’ll be more likely to be able to raise this with decision makers in the relevant agencies than if you try to contact the agency directly.

        The Department of the Interior also has an Office of the Inspector General that investigates waste, fraud, and abuse within the Department. I’d recommend also contacting their hotline.

        Good luck and thanks for advocating for firefighters!

      2. Former Hill rat*

        I worked in a senior policy role for a US Senator in DC and, long before that, in an entry-level role in a district office. This is bad advice – the quality of state offices very much depends on the member, and constituent service often gets a higher priority at the district level. Personally, I’d be inclined to reach out to the state director first.

        1. Former Hill rat*

          Perhaps I should amend that: it not so much “bad advice” as “not necessarily good advice.” Again, it will vary by member.

      3. AF Vet*

        USDA? Not Department of the Interior? I’m fairly sure that wildfire coordination is part of Department of Natural Resources or National Park Service (if it’s close to a park)?

        1. Snarkaeologist*

          The Forest Service does the bulk of federal wildfire management, and they’re under the USDA.

        2. Rusty Eulberg*

          interestingly US Forest service (under the USDA) and US Park service have wildly different approaches to forest and wildfires. So much so that the late 1980s yellowstone fires were the direct result of US Park services out-of date policies. They improved since then.
          BLM has policies much more like USFS.

          //exactly what policies…i don’t know — Stories from my dad who retired in the late 90s from the USFS

          1. Coverage Associate*

            Forest Service has a primary mission of keeping the timber available for use. Interior’s primary mission is less economically precise.

    10. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Seconding the email/call your reps suggestion. I’d do it on all levels: local, state, and feds (House & Senate). On the lical level, if you cannget someone like the Mayor’s Chief of Staff on your side, that gives you an ally whi knows the sys/bureaucracy from inside. You want to get bad vendors blocked from being eligible to respond to procurement calls.

    11. Some Words*

      Ombudsman was the thought that popped into my head. From my observations they can be helpful in many situations.

    12. AnonInCanada*

      Or, could OP#5 report the contractor(s) responsible for this “food” to the appropriate health department in the jurisdiction they operate from? A surprise shutdown due to food safety violations will certainly make these contractors wish they didn’t pinch pennies to deliver product that’s literally making people sick. Hard-working firefighters have enough to worry about. Worrying if the next meal they’re being fed will poison them shouldn’t be on that list.

      1. AlsoInCanada*

        This was my thought as well. I would suggest reporting this to health authorities.

      2. Coverage Associate*

        Local health departments will rarely have jurisdiction for temporary catering pursuant to federal contract on federal land or land commandeered by the feds.

    13. ButtercupDC*

      In addition to elected officials, inspectors general, media, Congress, state legislatures–report to the Government Accountability Office hotline (https://www.gao.gov/about/what-gao-does/fraud) for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. It’s essentially the legislative branch’s inspector general. Just piquing their interest may be enough to get the involved federal agency to move.

      1. Former IG*

        I second the notion of contacting the agency’s Inspector General. If you provided specific details of instances within the last year or two that the contractor was not meeting the requirements the IG would have to at a minimum look into it and more than likely open an investigation if you also had specifics with regard to the medical consequences etc. Basically simple, factual statements and a list of potential witnesses who could provide additional information. Somewhat classic example of contractor fraud.

    14. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Is there any mechanism to take a look at the deliveries when they arrive and complain to the caterers at that point? If there were other options for food in the area, I’d consider rejecting deliveries that don’t meet the standards, but that’s likely to make the problem worse here.

  2. Christina*

    Oh boy #3 is super relevant since I just sat through a 3 hour anti-union meeting with all the managers in our area today. I know a lot of our employees are frustrated with things in the workplace that could be easily solved with unionizing, and I didn’t realize until the meeting today how easy it would be for them to do so. I really want to tell them that it’s a possibility, especially since if employees in my company did organize it would be Very Big National News, but I don’t see a way for me to get that information to them without jeopardizing my job. I’m obviously doing my best as a manager to improve their working conditions, but I have very little power and my hands are often tied even when they shouldn’t be–I can’t even get the AC, a toilet, the leaking sprinkler system, and the leaking ceiling to be fixed, so I feel frustratingly disempowered to help my employees in any other, more substantial ways

    1. nnn*

      Maybe in this weekend’s open thread, people could collectively share what they know about how easy it would be for various types of workplaces to unionize, especially in the kinds of workplaces where it would be big national news.

      Even if you, personally, are prevented from sharing what you know, there must be other people here who know this information too, or who know some of it and then others can build on it.

    2. Yvette*

      They may not need a union. Some of those things sound like health and safety violations.

      1. Not Jane, I hope*

        Tackling serious safety violations is one of the things unions can be most effective at.

        1. Boof*

          My sense is Unions are another layer of bureaucracy. Yes, bureaucracy that is supposed to have the workers interest more at heart than the employers, but that’s invariably going to come with some cost – will they be earning more than they’re using depends a lot on what the employer and what the union is like.

          1. Jackalope*

            Your sense is not correct, and sounds like it’s been strongly informed (whether consciously or not) by anti-union arguments put forward over the past several years.

            1. Boof*

              No, it is my actual experience with unions as a grad student, and my husband as a teacher, and now working in health care with various union and non union groups. Unions seem useful when there are serious systemic problems and you need to push back as a group, but even then they don’t always do enough (I’d say teacher unions seemed better than nothing but my feeling was still a bit unsatisfied). If you have a lot of power as an employee because you are scarce etc, they cost money and do… ??? Maybe some unions are entirely volunteer led but most require some funding to maintain them and probably to be most effective. IDK simple math; something takes resources (time, energy, money); it needs to generate a return on investment. Same thing with insurance – all these things offering “protection plans” for low cost electronics; probably not worth it.

              1. CheeseHead*

                Unions act as an advocacy group. Saying that they’re making money is like saying that your lawyer is making money when you sue someone. Yes, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The question isn’t “is your lawyer getting paid”, it’s “is your lawyer winning money for you.”

                Also, by and large unions are run by… us. The employees/members. If you’re not satisfied by your union, IME it isn’t hard to get elected to a leadership position and try to make the changes you want. (I say “try” because there will be a lot of politics and negotiation. It’s kind of the nature of a collective bargaining organization.)

                1. Boof*

                  I’m not sure why you’re acting like we disagree when we’re saying the same thing; I never said they were for profit or implied it. I said and implied they have overhead and we’re both agreeing on that? The question is whether they are “worth it” and I think it depends on the work situation – if work is largely fine and responsive, the union isn’t going to add much except some cost to the situation. A bad union can actually mess things up. A good union can be a great way to negotiate everyone’s needs. I’m just pushing back on the notion that unions are universally awesome; they are made of people and will be as awesome or failable as the people involved with them, and it also matters how much they’re actually needed by the employees or if there’s already a smooth relationship there.

                2. CheeseHead*


                  Ah, okay, I was confused by your comparison to insurance, which needs to take in more money than it pays out. That didn’t match with my mental model of an advocacy relationship, where the union is taking the dues but the business is “paying out” in salary and benefits.

                  Sure, there are probably businesses out there where management is responsive to employee desires, salaries are pegged to the top of local pay scales, benefits are top-notch and always getting better, the company regularly checks for pay equity, there are grievance processes for appealing unjust discipline procedures, and keeping employees happy is as big a priority for company owners as stockholder value. A union would be pretty redundant at those businesses… at least until the business was acquired by someone with different priorities.

                  Not every union is great. On average, though, unions boost wages and improve benefits. Companies wouldn’t spend so much money fighting them if the employees weren’t getting major concessions at the bargaining table.

                  On a personal note, my union got me a 9% COL raise last year, rolled our temporary 3-week COVID leave policy into a permanent 3-week increase to our sick leave bank, and forced management to stop making us work so many hours by getting us overtime pay even though we’re all salaried and exempt.

                3. Boof*

                  Gotchya – and looking back over this specific thread, Christina’s particular situation sounds like a union would could be great! (Frustrated employees, lots of serious problems, managers who have the rapport with the employees who want to help but don’t have the power to do so) – I was thinking more on the LW3 question where there’s no real indication why they’re so livid at the prospect of some anti-union training (which very well could actually be “listen to your employees and don’t make them feel like they need a union to get things!) when I replied to the sub comment :P
                  I suppose unions should be a bit less lossy than insurance, when you put it that way, but no matter what they’re going to take up some time/effort/maybe money until our AI overlords take over which is why I think a lot of people don’t care to unionize unless they really need to (at least for folks I know who actually decided to unionize after trying other things first)

              2. Peter the Bubblehead*

                In my lifetime have had two jobs that required I pay union dues. (I state it that way because one of the jobs during college was a temporary position right from the start, I was not allowed to join the union or receive their benefits, but I was required to pay union dues none the less.)
                In both cases I paid a lot of money out of my paycheck and received ZERO benefit for it. Money was collected from employees and used to influence local and Federal politics. No union member I knew ever received any real tangible benefit from their membership, not even enhanced bargaining power. They did nothing for the employees that the employee could not do for themselves.
                If possible, I would choose to never be employed in a job that required union membership again. Waste of money to support politics I openly oppose.

                1. Butterfly Counter*

                  And I just got a $5000+ year promotion that wouldn’t have been possible without a union. Literally, without the union, there wouldn’t have been another level at which to promote me.

                  A person hired tomorrow who one day makes it to my level of promotion might think they see “ZERO benefit” from the union if the union isn’t able to make more headway in the next X number of years, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t benefit from the union.

                2. AJ*

                  Speaking as a Union rep (in the UK) – I think you’re conflating National and Local union priorities.

                  It’s absolutely the job of Unions to campaign and lobby politicians for laws that protect workers’ rights and address systemic issues at a national level, but you also need your local reps as well, and it sounds like you never got those.

                  Your local union rep can and should: – negotiate with employers at your workplace for better pay and conditions, redress of health and safety issues, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and similar. A lot of them provide other benefits like legal insurance (which is probably why it’s mandatory in some sectors), employee assistance programs, hardship funds, and training opportunities. They will also help you out personally in employment hearings and make sure the company treats you fairly (though there are limits to what they can do, which aren’t what most people think).
                  Honestly, a lot of the actual negotiation is just a more official version of something Alison advises a lot; getting together with your colleagues to present an idea or a problem to management, rather than doing it alone.

                  The thing is, it’s up to the union members in your workplace to organise a lot of this stuff; no one is going to swoop down from the national exec to sort it for you (most of the time). And that’s really tough if you’re somewhere that doesn’t have a union culture, so your local members don’t really know how this thing is supposed to work.

                3. Boof*

                  Yea I know all the logic behind it but I don’t love mandatory unions because I think that takes away from a lot of their incentive to keep the focus on their base

              3. Jackalope*

                Here’s the thing, though; most likely you aren’t seeing a lot of what the union is doing. A few examples that I’ve seen as a Union rep: I’ve had Management come run something by me to make sure it follows the Contract before sharing it with their staff. We discuss it and they tweak it if it’s not according to policy, and then the staff hears about it without knowing that the original version was different. Or a staff member comes to one of us with a grievance. We file the grievance, it goes through and gets approved, and now that’s set a new precedent in the area which all of the other employees in our Local benefit from even though none of them know how it happened except for Management, Union reps, and the involved employee. Likewise, we’ve fought for various health & safety issues that have come up and gotten them resolved in the employees’ favor; sometimes the employees are aware, but sometimes they don’t know that we were involved. The point is, I’ve taken a lot of actions (as have my fellow Union stewards) that have benefited our entire Local, or entire offices, without them knowing why the Issue has suddenly been smoothed out, or the Equipment has been repaired, or whatever it might be.

                Second, here’s what I’ve observed about life. There are some people who will always take the highest and most noble route they can to treat the people around them well (category A). There are others who will always take advantage and do the slimiest, scummiest things they can get away with (category B). And finally, most people are in the middle, and will rise or sink to whatever standards they are held to (category C). We don’t need to worry about the Management in category A, but they aren’t the largest category. A part of our job as Union stewards is to put pressure on TPTB to keep category B folks in check so they can’t get away with treating their employees like garbage, and keep the folks in category C (again, the largest group from my experience) honest and make sure they don’t start fudging the rules in ways that are anti-employee.

                Last, one of the great Union phrases is: “United we stand, divided we beg.” You argue that if employees are scarce (I assume you mean that they have niche skills or something along those lines) they have a lot of power, but that doesn’t describe the majority of employees. It is even less likely to be true about anyone who isn’t a straight cis white man with no disabilities. Alison has run letter after letter about people who are underpaid, treated in ways that violate EEO standards, get minimal vacation time, are treated poorly at work, etc. One of the ways Unions can help is to make sure that everyone gets a fair salary (which again, is much harder for those who aren’t straight cis white men w/o disabilities), reasonable vacation and sick leave, fair treatment, etc. One individual standing up and saying, “We’re paid well below market rate and can’t afford to live here,” is likely to be ignored. A coalition of people standing up and saying that is much more likely to be successful. It’s true that some Unions aren’t great at what they do – as others have said in this thread, they’re made up of people and not all people are good at this sort of stuff. But those who work at jobs with Unions are generally going to have higher salaries, more leave, and better working conditions than those w/o Unions. (Obviously this is not 100% across the board, but it’s a good rule of thumb.)

          2. anonymouse*

            yeah no! our union is just *us*, getting together and talking about our problems, and taking that to management. the national union is there to support us with info about laws etc when we need it. now that we have unionized and have an explicit contract with our employer, we have multiple protections and benefits we didn’t have before. there is literally no downside!

            1. Union nerd*

              Agreed! The only time my union adds a layer of bureaucracy is when it helps us. Specifically, our direct managers are sometimes more harsh than the C-suite, and if that happens then our local stewards will request help from the union staff, and they talk with the senior managers who politely tell our local managers that they’re wrong. It’s a weird situation when we can indirectly rely on the C-suite for support! In most interactions with our local managers it is a simple discussion between them and stewards with no extra bureaucracy.

              I personally got involved in the union because it was the most effective way to get some of my managers to address EEDI problems. Compared to other stewards I’m pretty unenthusiastic about unions, and I didn’t even join my union officially until I had EEDI problems, but I have to admit that it was really effective.

          3. CheeseHead*

            My state banned public-sector unions except fire and–you guessed it–police. So instead of a union I pay dues to an “Employee Relations Group” that negotiates pay/working conditions on behalf of my entire working group, even those who don’t pay the dues. So there’s no individual benefit to me to pay dues, but as soon as dues-paying membership drops below 50% the ERG will be dissolved in a classic tragedy-of-the-commons.

            It’s been *13 years* since that law was passed, and all the ERGs at my organization are still here. Even at increased dues level (due to the freeloading non-members), we know we’re getting more out of our membership in terms of salary and working conditions than we’re paying.

          4. Unions Are Good, Actually*

            This is right out of the anti-union playbook, so either you’ve been successfully propagandized, or you’re making an effort to spread propaganda about how bad unions are yourself.

            I’m recently in a unionized position and I am very grateful for it. It’s the sole reason I have certain workplace rights (such as excellent parental leave benefits) that I otherwise would not.

    3. Siege*

      I mean, if you can get them to your local state or county labor council, they can assist your employees, but also, depending on your job title you may not be automatically excluded from a unionizing effort. We represent plenty of people who do people management but generally are not corporation decision-makers in my union.

      1. Ellen*

        I want to know more about this! I’ve always understood anyone who does people management as being excluded from unions. What are the actual restrictions? Thanks for the insight.

        1. doreen*

          The NLRA doesn’t cover supervisors and managers, but “manager” and “supervisor” have a specific definitions. There are lots of supervisors who are in unions. The fact that .the NLRA doesn’t cover a group of people doesn’t mean they can’t unionize – for example, the NRLA doesn’t cover state and local government workers but there are unionized government employees. And in fact, in the government agencies I know about, at least the first line of supervisors are typically union members. Sometimes it’s 3-4 supervisory levels that are union members.

          1. Governmint Condition*

            Right. But sometimes, supervisors and managers are in a different union than lower-level employees. This sometimes result in resentment between unions.

            1. doreen*

              At my jobs, the supervisors were in the same union as the employees – that caused problems , too. Which doesn’t mean supervisors/managers shouldn’t be allowed to unionize, just that there isn’t any perfect way to do it.

        2. Union Rep*

          There’s a multi-element test for whether someone is management, but the biggest element is hiring/firing/discipline. For example, Starbucks shift leads direct their co-workers in tasks, but they can’t hire, fire, or write people up. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t hire or fire people, there’s a good enough chance you’re not management that you could be part of at least the initial exploration of whether to unionize.

      2. Christina*

        Yes, I’m in that grey area of “maybe included, maybe excluded.” I technically have hiring/firing/discipline power but my direct manager requires that any decision I make is approved by him, so in practice I am not a decision-maker. However, since I was sent to this meeting, it seems that the company believes that I would be excluded from unionizing

    4. niknik*

      So fixing the can is out of budget, but sending all managers to a 3 hour meeting is not ? Boy, do i have some unkind words for your company…

      1. Christina*

        We have literally infinite money as a company, but things can get stuck at different levels because an individual didn’t want to take action on something. The toilet, for example, is being held up by my direct manager who thinks I’m overreacting. Sprinkler system is being held up by the one 3 levels above me, who is not approving any requests to fix sprinkler systems even though it’s pouring out enough water to flood the parking lot every evening. Things like that. But if someone say, 5 or 6 levels above me decided that anti-union meetings are a go, then everyone below has to fall in line

          1. EO*

            If only things worked that way. I guarantee the person deciding not to fix this toilet isn’t in the building where she would have to use it.

    5. Represented nonprofit worker*

      Find an individual employee you trust to keep your comments anonymous, and communicate just over the phone or in person (no paper trail that could be screenshotted and sent back to management).

    6. Anon for this*

      Accidentally leaving things on the copier or other similar tactics has been a long standing way for people management to support unions – I know it was very helpful at a previous job

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Yep, came here to suggest this. The whisper network and “accidental” negligence like leaving stuff on the copier are both valid pathways. Or talking casually and positively during a lunch break about the UAW’s big auto-industry win last year. Little things to imply “union” without ever saying it explicitly.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Just don’t make the copies at work–some workplaces can trace who prints what job to your individual computer.

    7. theletter*

      There’s that line from The Incredibles: ‘Ma’am, I wish I could help you. I wish I could tell you that if you go to the 3rd floor and file a form 2B-500 . . .’

      1. I Have RBF*

        “Hey, have you read AAM lately? There was a great post on July 10 about managing grumpy people that made me laugh.”

  3. PJ*

    Maybe the county health department that would evaluate restaurants in the area could be alerted to inspect these catering companies? Maybe not at the site, but if things are that bad, it might show up at the source.

    1. No name*

      yes this. every single incident that could be related to food poisoning should be reported.

      Who is writing the contract for the caterers? they might be able to tighten it up so the company is required to follow more than basic requirements for food hygiene.

      1. Overthinking it*

        Doesn’t sound like the problem is the contract, but that the contractor (the caterer) is not performing to the terns of the contract: 1) not providing adequate amounts of food 2) what’s provided is not nutritionally adequate 3) not providing safe, decent food (and if food is badly prepared and stored to the point it’s not edible, it’s not really food, is it?) The wording of the contact might be improved, and the contractor still wouldn’t perform. There have to be mechanisms by which government contractors are held accountable – we just need someone to tell op where to report this. But for now, document , document, document! Photograph each offering. Ask multiple firefighters to make notes as to what they received (make notes after each shift). Estimate portion sizes and figure up nutritional content (My Fitness Pal is a good app for this, and there may be others). Then, when you find who to report this to, you have something concrete to report, that can’t be dismissed as griping. something that might get this contractor disqualified.

        1. Venus*

          Contract problems can be fixed by having clear and enforceable financial penalties. Make it more expensive for the contractor to do it wrong, and give them incentive to cook things properly.

    2. HonorBox*

      While it might be a bit different in emergency situations, most places where there is catering still require some sort of inspection or at least a good faith assumption that rules are being followed. While it doesn’t sort out the inadequate number of calories part, the food that is inedible/moldy/spoiled would likely be something a county health department would want to weigh in on.

    3. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

      It’s a fair idea but I think in an area actively affected by a wildfire, the county will likely be redirecting all resources to evacuation, communications, and victim care. This varies a lot from place to place, but I would imagine most health inspectors are not considered emergency response or safety sensitive personnel and would therefore not be reporting to work at all during a state of emergency unless they’re part of the EOC. At least, that has been my experience as a municipal employee in a hurricane-prone area.

      1. Orv*

        With fires it depends on the scale of the fire and how remote it is; they don’t affect as wide an area as a hurricane and the area most at risk is usually on one or two specific fronts, so unless it burns into an urban area it’s not likely to affect government staff. The actual fire camps where crews rotate out to rest are generally outside the evacuation area for pretty obvious reasons, too.

        1. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

          Thanks! We don’t have a lot of wildfires (not zero, but not a lot) so appreciate the education.

    4. K*

      I dont want to read too much into the LW’s comment, but my read is that they’re not sending food that is appropriate / appropriately stored for backcountry firefighters. Mold etc is a storage issue and can easily happen on extended treks – I don’t know if that’s so much a source issue, but it certainly indicates the contractor doesnt really know and / or care what they’re doing. Not sending calorically / nutritionally appropriate food is entirely an at the source issue, although it’s not something a health department would be interested in. Too much of one type of food because it’s the best caloric option can cause a ton of GI issues, even if the quality itself is fine (like say, almonds. I learned that lesson the hard way on a 6 day hike)

  4. Pink Sprite*

    OP#1: If I were A’s coworker and I regularly saw my bosses *encourage* her to vent, moan, whine, groan, etc., I’d be wondering what’s wrong with their thinking. You might be thinking you’re helping A, but you’ve forgotten about or are ignoring B to Z. So much negativity is frightfully demoralizing. Even if A doesn’t leave (and she probably should – for her own mental health), you’re definitely doing a number on everyone else.
    I’d likely be polishing my resume and networking for a new job.

    1. Worldwalker*

      I was startled at the part about “glad she’s making her feelings known.” Growing up is about learning self-control, and not expressing your feelings outside appropriate places—and work is not one of places. She shouldn’t be “making her feelings known” like a toddler who hates carrots. She should be acting like a professional. (And as adult)

      1. H.Regalis*

        She shouldn’t be “making her feelings known” like a toddler who hates carrots.

        A+ simile ^_^

      2. Also-ADHD*

        No one should act like a toddler but do we have any evidence this person is? I guess it depends on what you picture from “grumpy” but it sounds like the venting only increased when encouraged? I’m kind of wondering how the person is actually acting? I had a lot of trouble trying to picture it without assuming, but the LW also feels very emotionally attached to their report’s mental state more so than having specific behaviors they want their report to change. “Be happy” isn’t an appropriate ask. You can’t say you are happy someone shared their feelings and encourage venting and then be upset at what their feelings are. I think the goal is misplaced?

        1. CheeseHead*

          I think encouraging someone to share their feelings and vent at work is misplaced. This isn’t a therapy session! It also creates a really negative working environment for both A and their colleagues: complaining feels good in the moment, but unless it shifts quickly into actual problem-solving it ends up bringing A down along with everyone else.

          An all-complaints culture can even create this weird toxic environment where you don’t feel like you can leave just because you hate your job, because *all* your coworkers hate their jobs too, and it would be abandoning them without emotional support to go find something better. *shudders in recollection*

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Yep. I wasn’t super happy in a meeting today where I felt piled-on about some things we were doing that the other lab heads didn’t love and want us to change, which I think is a PITA. Guess what? I’m not going to whine and complain about it at work. I texted my best friend to vent. I felt better. Done and done. It wouldn’t serve anyone for me to have vented that at coworkers or even generally to those around me. Nobody in a work environment is served by having to listen to someone vent about how boring task C is. For one, they probably already know! Some of them may have worked up from that very position! But it’s gotta be done, so sometimes you suck it up buttercup and vent your feelings later to your pet/spouse/houseplant/car steering wheel.

            1. Also-ADHD*

              But LW seems to want the employee to vent/share feelings, which is what I find confusing. In that case, if the person feels grumpy, what are they supposed to do? I think the issue is focusing on their feelings, but it depends what grumpy stuff they’re doing.

          2. Also-ADHD*

            Yeah that’s what I mean—I’m not sure what LW is going for, trying to get them to vent and wanting to hear their feelings just to hear them. I’m all for problem solving, but this is venting. Some places have a venting culture (I guess) but then the whole culture is grumpy, so what’s the difference if A is? I’m really unclear what is causing the grumpiness or what LW wants to actually have happen.

        2. Leaving academia*

          I also had that thought, especially when paired with “disengaged or demotivated in wider staff meetings or on one-to-one calls.” If this was me, it could definitely feel a bit like “do you want me to vent or be quiet?”

      3. We're Six*

        Yeah I was also surprised at the LW’s whole “it’s so great that she’s making her feelings known” part. No it’s not great, LW! I’ve worked with coworkers who love to make their feelings known like that and it wasn’t great for the rest of us! After that person left, there was an immediate shift in morale among the rest of the team. Even when dealing with other lousy aspects of the work environment, there was a sense of, “honestly, this is still tolerable because X is not here constantly complaining just to complain.”

        I’d love to know how many of LW 1’s team are passively (or actively) job searching as a result of Moaning Myrtle.

        1. Butterfly Counter*


          In my classes, one or two disgruntled students can affect the mood of the whole class. (And vice versa: One or two positive students can do the same thing in an opposite direction.)

          I learned the hard way that you have to nip the unhappy venting in the bud, because it will bleed into everyone around them as well as myself. I was lucky in that I only had to deal with it for a semester. And boy did I learn my lesson! But yes, have a frank conversation with this person, let them know that this is how it’s going to be and they can either leave or accept that this is the work and they can’t be overtly negative about it to the point it affects others.

      4. The Unionizer Bunny*

        Decades of U.S. company-“culture” training has effectively shaped our notions of “professionalism” to exclude personality traits that might lead to unions.



        Not only is it unlawful for management to circumvent “employees are allowed to complain” by saying “you have to avoid saying anything that makes other workers unhappy”, it’s unlawful for them to base their disciplinary decisions (including termination) on whether other workers actually ARE unhappy. Having a token anti-union employee (or one on management-track, or who wants to kiss up to the boss, or just one brainwashed by anti-union propaganda) does not justify breaking the law. You can certainly have anti-harassment policies, and each worker can say “I do not want to hear this, please do not talk about this to me anymore”, but none of them can speak for OTHER workers – and I’d caution against acting “in the name of” your workers, as an employer. It can all too easily be interpreted as “management is lying about us to each other, impersonating us” and then they don’t trust you at ALL. You basically have to let your workers advocate for themselves, and if ever they decide they ARE interested in hearing, they might change their minds about whether they want to help out the complaining coworker – there might be a union in the future, and you’re not allowed to disrupt the foundation being laid for one just because there isn’t a union in place YET.

    2. Jean*

      “So much negativity is frightfully demoralizing.”

      unless it is the work conditions that are demoralizing, and the negativity is an appropriate response to them. Workplace conditions don’t tend to improve without complaint, often to the point that enough workers need to see the complaint and accept its validity and organize to make needed improvements.

      1. Myrin*

        It doesn’t sound like A is doing anything to improve working conditions, though, she’s just complaining every which way.
        Also, nothing about the environment sounds “demoralising” – OP herself says it’s the nature of A’s job to sometimes be monotonous, and there are in fact plenty of jobs where that’s inherent to the work and not something that can be changed (or which even needs to change). Also, A knew all of this when she started.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          My job has some very monotonous parts and I think you need a particular kind of personality to thrive. If she doesn’t have that type, she isn’t magically going to develop it, and is in the wrong job.

          She may have taken the job as a “foot in the door” believing the boring part would be temporary. OP needs to be clearer about whether progression is actually likely.

          But also, ffs, don’t apologise to someone about their job when you’re their boss. It’s patronising and ultimately unhelpful. If the job is universally unbearable, change it. If it isn’t, find the right person for it.

          1. Miette*

            All of this. Unfortunately, OP, I think you let the complaints and grumpiness in yourself. A might not ever have been this negative (or shown it outwardly) if you hadn’t approached/allowed/encouraged it as you did. At the interview stage? Yes, absolutely let candidates know the nature of the job and that it’s not likely to change so they can decide if it’s for them. But basically telling her how to feel is, in effect, tacitly endorsing and encouraging those reactions. I must also wonder how all the negativity is affecting A’s own mental health and/or job satisfaction–it can’t be pleasant to be A, as much as it isn’t pleasant to work around her, and this is a situation of your making in a pretty big way.

            I think, in addition to Alison’s very good advice, you might also consider acknowledging you’ve approached this incorrectly and are asking for this attitude adjustment from A as much to improve her performance/the mood in the team as to make things functional.

          2. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yeah, I am one of those rare people that actually rather enjoys monotonous work tasks. Some of my bosses in the past would apologize for giving me monotonous tasks and I’d always reassure them that those tasks were the exact tasks I enjoyed doing. It really sounds like A is absolutely in the wrong job and needs to either be transferred to a different position in the company or get a completely different job. I think you need to have an honest discussion with A about how the job isn’t going to change and her attitude does need to change, or at least she needs to vent less. It sounds like she’s becoming something of a missing stair (“we’ve gotten used to adapting to her moods”) and you are being held hostage by her attitude and her reactions to monotony.

            OP, AAM has some posts about how people often think that venting is letting off steam and relieves stress but in reality it actually raises people’s stress levels. So you may think that you are helping her out by letting her vent but you probably are only making things worse. (I don’t blame you; I think it’s easy to fall into the trap that venting is a good thing. And it can be, in small doses, but not all day every day.) In addition to the venting making things more stressful for her, it’s also allowing her to ignore the real issue and prevents her from coming up with a more palatable solution. (“Work sucks but I can just keep complaining about it and that makes me feel better” rather than “Huh, I wonder what I can do to make work suck less?”) Could she listen to music during the monotonous tasks? Could the two of you brainstorm ideas on how to help her be less annoyed about the monotony?

            I’m not sure if “attitude” is PIP territory, but is she actually doing the work that needs to be done, and in a timely fashion, or is her attitude combined with lackluster performance? I can’t imagine that she’s doing amazing work if she’s so negative about it.

            1. I can read anything except the room*

              Venting in response to stress is like scratching chicken pox or a poison ivy rash. Gods, it feels good while you’re doing it, but as soon as you stop, the itch is immediately present again, and now you’ve also potentially torn your skin, increasing your risk of an infection if you haven’t scrubbed under your fingernails recently, and triggered a histamine reaction that could actually cause a small rash to enlarge and spread outward.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                This, exactly. If you’re realizing something you hadn’t recognized before (“Oh, wow, my manager is an ass!”) and then taking action based on it (“I’m going to update my resume this weekend”), that’s one thing.

                Repeating something you already know sucks and can’t do anything about just reminds you of the suckiness and reinforces how helpless you feel.

        2. sparkle emoji*

          Agreed, monotony is different from demoralizing. We know A’s job is objectively the former, which may be subjectively demoralizing for her, but other people are out there who are fine with monotony at work. The issue(at least based on this letter) is that she’s mismatched for the job, not the job itself.

      2. Despachito*

        As OP says the repetitiveness is an inherent condition of the work it does not seem there is much room for improvement.

        And excessive negativity is never an appropriate response, it is rather an expression of powerlessness (either real or perceived) that does not do any good at all. The real solution is either to improve the situation if possible, or to get out of it.

      3. Allonge*

        Working conditions and what your job is are different things. Some jobs are boring, but that is not a working conditions issue. Most jobs would be boring to a lot of people and everyone’s job has boring elements.

        And repeatedly complaining to the entire team that you hate your job is unlikely to lead to a solution if the job is what it is; at the same time it will have a negative impact on everyone and their view of the complainer.

        1. Managing While Female*

          Agreed. To quote Chili Heeler – boring things are important too. Some jobs are just boring but they need to get done. That’s not a working conditions issue, but it may mean that the job is not a good fit for this particular employee.

        2. Smithy*

          Yeah, I also think that the reality of someone with a “bad attitude” has regularly not been used in good faith by managers (particularly against women and people of color). But the bad faith part is that the feedback is regularly given so broadly with little to focus changing against.

          It’s not to say that the general characteristics of having a bad attitude, upset facial and bodily expressions, and regular complaining aren’t a problem at work – but we don’t often get to see a lot of precise feedback or coaching on the biggest issues. My guess is the OP thought they were trying to direct the worker’s frustration and upset into one area (Teams), but didn’t combine that with feedback around where to stop the frustration and upset. I likely think the OP would be better positioned identifying where the complaining/upset is the most disruptive (i.e. team meetings? in the open office plan?) and give the goal on focusing on one thing first.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘unless it is the work conditions that are demoralizing, and the negativity is an appropriate response to them.’

        I’d say negativity is justified under those circumstances but not necessarily appropriate, nor should it be actively encouraged in the form of venting and complaining as OP describes. An appropriate response would be more along the lines of, ‘A, B, and C issues are getting more challenging. Is our management team doing anything about them?’ or ‘Other associates are frustrated by X, Y, and Z, too, and we’ve talked about short and long term fixes such as…’

      5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        “Workplace conditions don’t tend to improve without complaint”

        but not continual complaining that makes your coworkers miserable.
        If you want different work conditions, then go to your union rep, or if you don’t have one, discuss with your colleagues what you want – not in work meetings – organise together and go as a group to management.

        1. The Unionizer Bunny*

          For short-term effectiveness, it probably is better to organize before talking to management. But in the U.S., the NLRA protects “bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention”, which means they can’t discipline or fire you for it without risking the NLRB charging them with an Unfair Labor Practice and an administrative law judge eventually ruling that the company has to reverse the discipline, post a notice in their workplace promising not to do it again, and (if you were terminated) reinstate you to your position with backpay. (For long-term effectiveness, union “salts” would sometimes enter a company’s employment, identify ULP’s for such a notice to bring attention to, and then provoke the company into committing another ULP by firing them for openly-admitted union organizing, setting up the NLRB with a good case.) That said, the backlog for new cases is 2 years, and the risk of an imminent anti-labor administration (or the Supreme Court expanding on their Chevron reversal and/or agreeing with Elon Musk that the NLRB itself is unconstitutional) means nobody shouldn count on it right now.

          LW1 might point out to their employee that “personal gripes” are not protected by the law, and encourage her to learn how to connect her complaints to the problems other employees face (i.e. if she’s not the only one working on this kind of task). Frame it as being protected from the decisions that LW1 otherwise might be pressured to make, and hope it motivates her to consciously learn how to be more considerate of her coworkers. When she speaks with them, she might realize that her work isn’t actually all THAT bad, compared to what the others are doing, and become happier with her situation. Or the discussion might lead to the workers collectively realizing that they are ALL getting the short end of the stick, and brainstorming possible improvements to their working conditions that management hasn’t been motivated to consider. (Upper management might be unhappy with LW1 if this is the outcome, yet it would certainly improve morale across the team.)

          Also, it’s unlikely the employer can do anything about discussing the matter in a work meeting; if the employer allows you to discuss non-work-related conditions on work time, they MUST also allow you to discuss topics like pay and working conditions (and, yes, unions) – they can’t discriminate against protected activities when they pick and choose which non-work-related topics they’re okay with, even if they allow SOME union-related topics (they’d essentially be selecting which union-related topics they thought were harmless).

      6. AngryOctopus*

        Complaining about a legitimate workplace issue that makes your life harder is absolutely not comparable to what’s happening here, which is someone complaining that the boring repetitive tasks that are part of her job are boring and repetitive. OP says right up front that they do warn people about that aspect of the job when they start. If you don’t like it, tell it to your dog later. Complaining about it at work isn’t going to help anything, and it can’t change the nature of the tasks.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      There’s garden-variety grumbling and being realistic about tasks being monotonous in a comradely like way, and then there’s the kind of moaning Minnie who sucks all the colour out of the room. Whenever I’ve seen the latter kind of behaviour, it appears to almost solicit soothing and pandering, so I see why OP has tried going with their grain, instead of against it. Unfortunately, you can’t fall for it. It’s not a reasonable thing to make everyone’s problem, if it’s what you signed up for and you’ll get to the boiling point faster if you make it clear This Is The Job and These Comments Are A Bit Much. It’s also specifically a management responsibility; peers are understandably reluctant to tell someone they are being a pill. If they really, really hate the job and realise they can’t moan their way out of it, sometimes the best outcome is that they leave.. But if they stay, they have to be pleasant.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – the repetitive nature of the work was disclosed during the interview process. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to A.

      If I were her manager, I would be having a discussion about professionalism from a performance management perspective. ie. “A, we were clear from the outset that there was repetitive work in this role and you were clear that you were okay with that. However, you have been complaining about being bored with the work. Has something changed? Are you unable or unwilling to do the work?”

      Give her a chance to answer, and – if she has a legitimate issue, address it. Perhaps she was under the impression that her job would have a lot more variety, despite being informed to the contrary.

      However, if – as is most likely – she took the job without considering that repetitive work was not a good fit for her, then tell her that the role itself can’t be changed, and that you need her to do the work she was hired to do without complaining. Explain that it is a morale issue and is bringing down the team. Point out that future growth opportunities with the company are available (if that is true), but are highly dependent on performance and team contribution, and that new employees can only be considered for transfers after X months (however long your company policy is), and that her role is very important to the overall performance of the team / department. Can she commit to doing her work without complaining? Emphasize that if she lacks resources, training, or other people are not delivering the inputs she needs to do her work, you expect to hear about that. But you expect her to do her work with a good attitude.

      After that, give recognition when she does her role well, and have repeat discussions (to the point of managing her out, if she keeps up the complaining and doesn’t do the work).

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah I’ve done boring data entry work. Was it boring and monotonous? Yes. Did most of my team hate it, probably. But we also understood that it was a job that had to be done and we were the team that did it. Some people were fine with it and others left fairly quickly when they realized how boring it could be (there were options for promotions to other roles that were less monotonous and repetitively boring, plenty of my coworkers did that.)

        OP needs to tell this employee that the job is monotonous and that’s not going to change. She can either accept that or she can leave (find another job, talk about promotions or transfers if that’s an option) but the complaining is wearing on the team’s morale and can’t continue. The job isn’t going to change and complaining about it isn’t going help.

        If there are specific things that can maybe be made better, they can talk about that. For example, in my data entry role, we had to enter data into a computer from forms filled out by other people. Sometimes that data was misleading or incomplete and we’d have to ask for clarification, which some people were better about getting us than others. In that case, a complaint was legit, we could go to our boss and she would speak to the people in question or maybe their boss about making sure certain information was correct. But “oh I have 500 forms to enter and I hate it,” would be met with “well, that’s the job. Are you resigning?”

    5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      An occasional whinge is normal, but continual moaning about the job being boring would make the job more stressful for her coworkers.

      It sounds like the job is inherently boring and can’t be significantly change, but that everyone knew the duties beforehand.
      She sounds frustrated.
      Did she assume maybe that she wouldn’t be long in this role and could soon move up to something more interesting, or has she been jobhunting forever but can’t find anything better?

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      I think the theory is “If we let her expel her negative emotions, then she will be less grumpy.” But what actually happens is that by wallowing in the negativity, it gets super comfy and normal and where you spend all your time, piling up the negativity even higher.

      Everyone has points where they feel annoyed or frustrated by work. But if you make that grumpiness your defining characteristic–of yourself or your team–then people will try to avoid that quagmire.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve read about studies that found focusing on negativity – venting, complaining, fault finding, ‘problem identification’, whatever you want to call it – can rewire the brain to identify and react to more and more negativity.

        Negativity may be the dwelling place for some of my colleagues, but I don’t need to live there with them.

        1. Managing While Female*

          Yeah, there’s a line between acknowledging and accepting your negative emotions (instead of trying to will them away a la toxic positivity) and wallowing in them. Either way, the manager here cannot make themselves responsible for this employee’s emotions.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            When a peer or direct report asks to talk about something bothering them, I typically respond with, ‘Let me ask if you want to talk about finding a solution to this situation or if you need to vent…’ I suggested the venting take place during a break or lunch or other downtime. A discussion about solutions got 30 minutes, future discussions TBD. Interestingly, this approach stopped a lot of discussions in their tracks.

            The solution seekers were specific about their problem, we had a good session or two, and they moved forward with their plan. Ideal outcome!

            If the solution seekers vented more than brainstormed, I reminded them they wanted to talk about solutions. ‘Oh, right, never mind. Thanks for listening.’ And off they’d go.

            For the persistent few who came back to vent, er, brainstorm, I simply declined to talk: ‘We’ve spoken a couple of times and you don’t seem to be moving forward yet/interested in my suggestions/have any ideas we can build on. Why don’t you re-think your situation, and come back to me when you have a plan?’ I’m sure one or two came back after I set that boundary, but I can’t recall.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              When a peer or direct report asks to talk about something bothering them, I typically respond with, ‘Let me ask if you want to talk about finding a solution to this situation or if you need to vent…’

              I do that with my husband (and he does it with me!)

        2. Smithy*

          Yeah….I think this lightbulb really switched for me when I was at my worst job with a lot of complaining and frustration. And that was from myself as much as anyone. At the point when I realized my job hunt would take a while and there wasn’t much I could do to speed that up – I realized I needed to change my mindset into a more maintenance survival. I needed this job until I got a new job, and I needed to have as much energy as possible to continue job hunting.

          In my case, it was more about trying to change myself to never engaging in complaining or frustration in the office. I could go to coffee, lunch or happy hour with a colleague if either of us wanted to vent – but it could not be an 8+ hour a day thing in the office.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, the hardest but most valuable thing for me at work is just… deciding not to care so much.

            The project is behind schedule because the project lead won’t let me start work? Well, I guess the project will be behind schedule. Someone makes a terrible design decision and won’t listen to my advice to change it? Oh well, that’s above my pay grade. I could care more about a project’s success than the project’s owners, but all that caring is just wasted energy spent anxiously spinning my wheels, getting nowhere.

        3. Cat Tree*

          Yes. The previous conventional wisdom is that by venting, you get it out and it goes away from you. But it turns out that it actually creates a feedback loop and reinforces the thought. It’s OK to vent or feel bad, not because it helps you “get over it”, but because humans have emotions that are sometimes negative and it’s OK to feel things instead of squashing them all down. But at a certain point we need to make a choice to stop focusing on it.

        4. ferrina*

          Exactly this. Neural pathways in the brain strengthen with use. If you are using the negativity pathways more often, they will get stronger and easier to follow (yes, I know that there aren’t ‘negativity pathways’ and this is a vast oversimplification). Basically a one-time vent session is just fine and can be an emotional release, but a regular habit of negativity will become self-perpetuating.

          It sounds like OP created a culture that encourages the behavior they don’t want. They encourage the direct report to vent often, and that is what the direct report is doing.

          At this point, OP needs to call a mea culpa. They need to have a meeting with their direct report and apologize. OP should acknowledge that they thought that venting would help make the job more enjoyable for Direct Report (DR), but they’ve realized that the regular venting is creating a culture of negativity. OP should acknowledge that this is OP’s fault for creating a bad system. OP should then tell DR that OP is going to be doing a re-set on expectations, and that going forward they would like venting sessions to happen off of work hours. Of course, pointing out work issues is very much encouraged, and reaching out for questions or assistance is encouraged, but complaining with no expectation or desire for action will be asked to be save for after work hours. Tell DR that you know it will take a month or so for everyone to get used to the new expectations, and you really appreciate DR’s help on this.

          OP should also say “On a separate note, I know a lot of your frustrations and venting in the past have been centered around the monotonous parts of your job. Those parts of your job are not going to change. If that means that this job isn’t the right fit for you long-term, I understand. I’ve been really happy with your work and am delighted to have you in this role, but if you ultimately decide that this job isn’t giving you the satisfaction you need, I understand.”
          VERY IMPORTANT- OP needs to script this last part in advance and run it by their boss. They want to make sure that it doesn’t sound like they are trying to push the person out- they are acknowledging the frustration around the monotony and gently acknowledging that the only way the monotony will change is if this person changes jobs. The DR will then make the choice that is right for them, whether that is leaving or realizing that they are okay with the monotony in exchange for the other benefits of the job (and not venting about it)

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        THIS. OP by letting her vent you are actually encouraging the behavior because its gets feedback from the boss that its okay to do this. What you want though is for it to stop. The only way to do that is not give her positive reinforcement when she does it.

        Goodness you are even offering to take work from her when I am sure you have your own work to do. Imagine how the other people on your team feel that complainer gets special treatment while they are sorting out their own work without complaint.

    7. My Useless Two Cents*

      Also, while some venting is beneficial, excessive venting is a snake eating it’s own tail. It only causes more frustration and negative thinking. So it is not necessarily good for A either; not just demoralizing for B to Z.

    8. Stoli*

      Stop trying to pacify her. There are probably hundreds of people willing to do her job with a professional attitude. Warn her and fire her if necessary.

  5. Double A*

    As someone who lives in an area where we depend on our firefighters, the idea that they’re not being fed well (and that taxpayers are supposed to be feeding them! As we should!) makes me extremely angry.

    I suggest you talk to the media. “Contractors cheating firefighters out of food that enables them to do their jobs” is definitely something that a lot of people would be interested and furious to hear.

    1. raincoaster*

      As a reporter (in a different field) I agree. This is a perfectly mediagenic story and the whistleblower here could negotiate anonymity because the paper trail will be easily followed.

      1. I'm the Phoebe in any Group*

        Do contractors have the same whistleblower protections as staff? I am thinking no.

        1. Overthinking it*

          I don’t think that’s a problem here. The people who would be doing the reporting are the firefighters, and/or their support personnel. They don’t work for the company they’d be reporting on.

        2. sparkle emoji*

          It may not be risky to blow this whistle. The group doing wrong to the firefighters is another contractor that the government seemingly had to choose because of lowest bid rules. There’s always some risk in reporting, but I’d guess LW’s employer wouldn’t be thrilled about being cheated like this either.

    2. Pippa K*

      I live somwhere with an annual wildfire season too, and every year when there are fires in the area, the authorities put the word out on social media etc. reminding us that we can’t bring food to the fire camps. “No, not even brownies!” The announcement usually mentions that they have specially contracted food designed by professional nutritionists, and that while they appreciate everyone’s desire to express our gratitude to the firefighters, they (1) want to manage their dietary needs carefully and (2) can’t risk food from unknown kitchens.

      I always think it’s sweet that so many people want to take them food that they need a formal announcement every year. And if people around here thought our firefighters were being fed inadequate or subpar food, we’d probably show up to the caterers with pitchforks. You don’t mess with our wildland firefighters.

      1. Dek*

        I wonder if part of it isn’t also about government workers not being able to accept gifts from the public. When I worked the public library occasionally we’d get patrons wanting to bring cookies in for the staff and we had to explain that no, it goes against the ethics training.

        (The ethics training always cracks me up. Us folks down at the bottom can’t accept a gift basket because it would be seen as a bribe, but elected –or worse, appointed–officials etc…hey, have a ball.)

        1. Lily Rowan*

          What if it’s a gratuity, though?? (Anyone who doesn’t get the reference can see a recent US Supreme Court ruling on this topic)

        2. Jonathan MacKay*

          If you’re required to turn down a gift that is not connected to your regular duties, but is a result of….. let’s say a long term customer or client brings in a gift for you because you’re getting married or something…. if you’re required to refuse that, when it isn’t connected to your job – there’s a problem there.

          1. Orv*

            It varies from state to state. When I worked for the Washington state government, we weren’t even allowed to accept free lunches from vendors and food service workers were not allowed to accept tips. Now I’m in California and there’s a threshold below which it’s OK.

    3. Ashley*

      For the media, honestly I would try Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He has covered bad food in prisons and other low bid government contract problems. It may not make it for a full episode but even a web short. The other national media person who might have sway is John Stewart especially if it involved Veterans.
      It is a nation wide problem unfortunately with how the government keeps outsourcing more and more to contractors who are all for profit.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I imagine that government contracting rules requiring the lowest bid to be accepted (if that rule applies here) don’t help either. I get that everyone wants to say that they’re getting maximum value for taxpayer money, but giving mouldy food to firefighters seems like a false economy.

      2. Brain the Brian*

        This is an unrealistic fantasy — sorry to say it. If you want media attention, you need to start with a small, local outlet (dwindling though they may be), from which major national shows usually glean their stories. National shows will do their own research after that, but they’re not going to take some random tip and devote staff time to looking into it; if they started doing that for all the detritus they get in their general inbox, they would do nothing else, and nothing would make it to the airwaves. In Oliver’s case, note how many of his stories include screenshots and video of *other outlets’* coverage; it’s nearly exclusively where his team sources stories.

        The best bet to actually fix this problem is filing a formal, documented complaint with the federal contract officer responsible for this catering contract (which is publicly searchable information). Those people often love to find a contractor noncompliant because it demonstrates the necessity of their job continuing to exist, and they rely on tips from people in the field to start investigations. If they’re unresponsive, the relevant agency’s inspector general may be. A Congressional office is the next step after that, and then — only then — local media. Any reporter’s first question will be where else you tried reporting this.

      3. smirkette*

        And let’s not forget that there are a lot of incarcerated people contracted out as firefighters.

    4. Dek*

      Depending on the local politicians, OP might start with them as well if they want to potentially give a good one a pretty easy win. Stopping corruption and feeding heroes is a pretty easy sell if you’re smart.

    5. Elbe*

      I found this letter to be very upsetting, too. I hope the LW goes to the media and the contractors who are providing the “food” are appropriately shamed.

      They’re essentially starving these workers. That would be extremely bad for any type of workers, but the fact that they’re doing it to people who are risking their lives to protect others just makes it that much worse. How do they sleep at night?

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Blissfully, on top of a huge pile of money.

        Once you’ve decided to make money starving/sickening firefighters you’re pretty much immune to shame.

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      “Using tax money, so the public is, in essence, being roped into this theft.”

  6. Wing N Wing*

    #5: Somebody is overseeing the performance on that contract. If this is US Federal, it’s the contracting officer, or the contracting officer’s representative, whose job it is to verify that the contractor is performing/providing food to specs. Start by contacting that person and proving them with your documentation

    1. Brain the Brian*

      I know way too many people who’ve been in LW2’s situation: moved on company demands, often at great expense, only to be laid off shortly thereafter. It’s not new, either — I remember several of my parents’ friends going through it when I was a kid. It’s really awful corporate stewardship to treat employees this way, in my opinion, and it just reeks of poor management at all levels. My best wishes to you, LW2.

      FWIW, I would definitely recommend taking that third internal transfer and simultaneously continuing to job search elsewhere (maybe at a company with fewer locations? Heh). You can always change jobs later in your own terms, but right now, I have to imagine it’s important to keep some stable income in place since you just closed on a house!

      1. Brain the Brian*

        (Sigh. I give up on nesting comments correctly. Y’all get that this should have been a standalone, I’m sure.)

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Yeah, it was obvious this was meant to be stand alone.

          FWIW, this kind of thing (a comment not showing up where the commenter thought they posted it) seems to happen here a lot. It’s happened to me more than once, and I’ve seen countless other examples. I suspect software bugs, if such a thing is possible.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            I know what happened, in this case. My browser kept crashing, so I typed my comment in another program and pasted it into the comment box without checking to see where on the page the box was. My fault on this one.

      2. Dek*

        Hell, one of my friends and former coworkers left our library to go work at a university in a different city. After a year, they didn’t renew his contract, which blows my mind because, like. He’s a librarian. And a darned good one. Who is fluent in a second language that is very relevant to our collections as well as theirs. Fortunately, he hadn’t moved yet (an hour commute each way for a year), but now he’s back here trying to find a job with our public library (which is currently under serious attack, so…not ideal)

        It pisses me off on his behalf, and also on ours. I wish we could just hire him back at a higher position in his previous department, because he had a lot of good local knowledge that came in very handy, and a dogged “no, I’ll find it, I know we have it” approach that is excellent for archives work.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        I remember in the film Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a guy whose job is literally flying around the country laying people off for a huge company. There was a bit where they show several workers reacting and one woman looks him right in the eye and says she’s just closed on a house, and thanks to this she is going home to it and jumping off the roof.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Yes, but how does the LW, a contract medic, find out who the federal contracting officer is for the catering contract? The COR and CO would not be at individual fire camps.

      It also sounds like a systematic problem that each year the COR and CO are not monitoring the food quality at remote camps.

      Media and congressmen are the way to go. Publicity to either of these will get the COR, CO, and their bosses attention.

      1. Dris*

        If it’s federal or state, there will be a way to search for the contract and find the contract officer. It’s considered public information so it’s just a matter of figuring out which government website to check. I’m more familiar with state contracts but federal has a searchable list – i *think* it’s fpds.gov

    3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Yes, exactly! Someone on the site should know who the contracting officer is, especially the contractor themselves. Start there.

      Or if no one will tell you who that is, the waste, fraud, and abuse hotline would be a good place to report, since they may be improperly using the government funding given to them/ not meeting terms of the contract.

      I wouldn’t go directly to the media; government agencies can get weird over that even if it is warranted. Try the more ‘governmental’ channels first.

      1. Ashley*

        The contracting officer can be a little tricky to track down. The legal person is usually not anyone has much direct contact with.
        The reverse sleuthing would be to find the bid results / RFQ the government issued and the contracting officer will be in there.
        That said the contracting officer may not be able to do all that much unfortunately due to government contract rules and regulations. I don’t know the food side, but the right to correct or say oops is fairly prevalent. This is truly a systematic problem.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Do you want to solve the problem of bad food or shame the company producing it? If the former, find the CO and report it. If the latter, go to the media. I’d personally prefer the former.

      2. Tired Bureaucrat*

        Also, agree with this. If you are found out to be the one who “leaked” it, so many problems can await you. (My office was accused, probably falsely, of having leaked something and it led to headaches for as long as I was there.)

      3. Pretty as a Princess*

        I’ve never met anyone working on a federal government contract who can tell you who the warranted contracting officer is. except for the senior leaders involved in the negotiations and whoever has to do certain compliance reporting (maybe) . Most rank & file/onsite people will never interact with the contracting officer and are not involved in the contracting actions in any way. The agency IG is the way to go- don’t bother going down rabbit holes when the IG reporting channel is publicly available.

        1. Suited for Work*

          If you knew a federal employee who saw this and was willing to work to address it, you could also try the Office of Special Counsel.

    4. Tired Bureaucrat*

      I agree with this one. The CO might also need to start writing better contract solicitations to weed out the terrible catering contractors.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I write contracts and this could be the most amazingly detailed, clearly written contract in the world and it wouldn’t matter if the contractor isn’t being audited and held to it. The first question I ask user groups when revising requirements for rebids is “are we actually checking that they are doing this?” The answer to that is frequently “oh…we are not.”

        1. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

          Yep. And even if you do check that they do it…. your ability to manage performance on contracts is limited by how much budget you have for a higher bid. And in this particular case, these contracts often go to giant conglomerates like Sysco (it’s literally Sysco-you can see their truck in the picture on the National Interagency Fire Center’s website) who massively invest in lobbying the selfsame congresspeople we’re talking about complaining too.

          I don’t think the contract manager has any feasible leverage in this situation.

          1. Coverage Associate*

            And the budgets are set annually, sometimes not even at the agency level but by Congress, so it could take a literal act of Congress to fix (though there’s always ways to make funds available for emergencies-within-emergencies, as the fires themselves are like an emergency).

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            There are things that can be done even if the budget isn’t there for going to a higher priced contractor. Key Performance Indicators can be tied to strict quality requirements and failure to meet those KPIs during a period of time can mean result in the contractor not being paid in full. It’s not necessarily that the contracting officer’s hands are tied and there’s nothing they can do to enforce the contractual requirements, it’s more likely that the contracting officer has no idea that performance is this bad. I’ve had instances where I finally am brought into the loop about performance issues, I point out to operations all the things that exist in the contract to address performance issues (that operations asked me to put in!), they actually start enforcing the requirements, and the performance clears up. It’s just that the right person has to be notified and it can be really hard on these multi level contracts to find out who that person is.

    5. SpaceCowgirl*

      For #5, I agree with the comments recommending finding the contract officer for the catering contract in question. The contract officer isn’t going to be out on fires and can’t see the violations. They can initiate any breach of contract procedures. Finding each CO might be interesting since each fire complex might be run by a different regional branch of different federal agencies (BLM vs USFS). If you’re a contracting firefighter and not a government employee this will be harder. Do you have any buddies on the federal side that can help you?

      1. Pretty as a Princess*

        Finding the contracting officer will be extremely difficult. OP should google for the inspector general report hotline for the agency in question and report a fraud, waste, and abuse report.

        (I tried to post helpful advice on this earlier from my computer but it looks like the internet ate it.)

  7. catscatscats*

    If OP5, we probably have to write to individual state’s agencies, and also to usfs or nps and/or any government body that ends up involved in fire management. I agree with you that this is unacceptable, and know how egregiously these food vendors behave from first hand experience! It would probably make a difference if a comment section as large as this page’s got involved!

    1. Worldwalker*

      During WWII, my late father served as a cook at a forestry camp for conscientious objectors.

      He said that the food they were sent was sometimes literally rotten—he was ordered to scrape the mold off and cook it anyway.

      This is not a new problem.

      1. Commenter 505*

        I imagine the spoiled food for conscientious objectors was a feature, not a bug. Different problem.

  8. A news editor*

    LW #5 – As a reporter – yes, media would be interested in this (or at least, some media somewhere). If by chance you’re in Oregon or operate there, I could probably help you find someone to talk to & am happy to connect through Alison if that’s an option. Potentially know folks for WA and CA as well depending on area.

    Depending on your willingness and ability to document stuff, here’s what I’d suggest (basically how I’d tackle reporting a story):
    -Document as much as possible, particularly photos of problem food along with date/time/etc. Assemble a folder of this stuff. Document any instance where someone gets sick/misses work time because of these issues. This is something you can take to media

    -Do fire camps include both federal and state firefighters? If there are state or other levels of government involved besides the feds, alerting the state department in charge of wildland firefighting might produce better results – they can plausibly deny responsibility/knowledge of the issue and thus might be more inclined to publicly call for change. I’d look for an ombudsperson or compliance person in that agency.

    -Do you have access to the contracts of the catering companies? (You could get them via a federal public records request, which would probably take a while, but if there’s an easier internal way, go that route). Check for what’s in there as far as standards and enforceability – what rules do they have to follow, what’s the penalty for not following and who’s in charge of complaints or making sure that happens. Alert that person/agency/etc.

    -Enlist a state or federal legislator’s staff on this. Look for someone whose district includes fire areas, ideally someone who’s made a point of sponsoring fire-specific legislation. Ask for a constituent meeting, etc. Show them the documentation you’ve assembled.

    This is top of my head and it’s A Lot of extra work, but that’s where I’d start.

    1. Holly DeMuth*

      As a fellow journalist, can concur this is all good advice. I’ve done some research / investigating (early career, as an intern) in the past on conditions for firefighters who are incarcerated, in particular. Something like 30% of firefighters in CA, for instance, are incarcerated people earning sub minimum wage, and iirc incarcerated firefighters face the highest rate of injury of any incarcerated workers. I’m unsure of the numbers in Oregon – I’m assuming this is likely going on in one of those two states. I’d be very interested to chat with OP – I know a couple of outlets that would be very interested in a story like this.

  9. AnonFed*

    #5, If the food is inedible, I would report it to Finance Section, they’re the ones who authorize payment to contractors.

    If you’re noticing a trend, especially with specific caterers, you can also go to the Office of the Inspector General, they get interested when the government is not getting what it’s paying for.

    Unfortunately, the food at fires has gotten much worse since COVID. It was never great, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t noticed a difference.

    1. AnonFed*

      I just reread the question and realized LW is also a contractor.

      I would focus your complaints on documentable health concerns. Crappy food and crappy conditions is part of the wildland fire culture, and as a contractor, you’re not going to have a ton of capital, but if you have a relationship with a member of the Incident Command Team, they can help you navigate who to report it to. Every Team has their own personality, and different people will respond differently.

      As a non-fed, I’d probably go the OIG route unless there was an active safety concern.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Moldy food with no alternative IS an active safety concern in a wildfire.

        It would be life-threatening for someone to pass out from lack of food on a fire, or need to vomit when breathing requires a mask.

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          To say nothing of the threat to others if the fire spreads because the firefighters were incapacitated. Even “wildland fires” frequently threaten inhabited areas.

      2. TheBeanMovesOn*

        There are also documented issues with having enough fire fighters. I can’t imagine bad food helping retention one bit.

        1. AnonFed*

          I don’t disagree with you. But it’s a cultural problem – like I said, the crappy conditions are part of the culture of wildland fire. I don’t agree with that culture, but if LW raises it in a way that can be dismissed as “whining” it won’t make a difference and could hurt LW’s ability to get hired onto fires in the future.

          Basically, if there is something the Incident Commander or their staff can do and you can document immediate safety concerns, I would raise it. But raising it is not without risks, and the IC cannot fix systemic issues, so it’d be better to raise it to people who can (e.g. the OIG). It’s not that the people in charge don’t care. The IC is eating the same food as the front line firefighters, they know if it’s bad. It’s that when you’re in the middle of nowhere trying to feed several thousand people who are living at a County Fairgrounds, you don’t have a lot of options. And likely, if it’s a bad fire season, they’ll be there for 2-3 weeks, get 2-3 days off, then be off to another fire.

          I know it sounds like I’m making excuses. And I’m probably pretty cynical on this. But as much as people say they support firefighters, if you look at some of the reporting in the last few years about firefighter pay, housing, safety, etc., as a country, we’re not putting our money where our mouth is.

    2. EB*

      Yes if they’re federal I was going to say the Inspector General for the US Department of Agriculture. Also the Fraud, Waste and Abuse tipline for good measure.

      1. AnonFed*

        Dept of Ag if it is a Forest Service Fire, Dept of the Interior if it a BLM or National Park Service fire.

    3. anonymouswildland*

      Not the finance section. You would want to talk to the food unit leader who works under logistics. I don’t think you will get anywhere, it has been like this forever and ever. We all know which ones are the bad ones. Food has been pretty decent on the Shelly Fire, although their choice of a cranberry bagels for the cheese sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes was an interesting one. The burrito dinner was a good one tonight.

    1. juliebulie*

      I agree. Ideally the solution would be somewhere up the chain of command, but if that isn’t effective, perhaps taxpayers should know what their local heroes are being given to eat.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      It’s not a coincidence that “except that time it was tweeted” was the only time anyone took action.

  10. Tirathu*

    #5, the same thing happened at New Years’ in my city, but with police officers who had to take the extra shifts to cover the problematic areas in the city. Mouldy sandwiches. People contacted the media, it was a huge story, the health department shut down the caterer and there are new guidelines for feeding the police, firefighters and EMTs during these occasions.
    Bad food experiences with caterers is also the reason why the fire department (or rather the non profit organisations like Red Cross or St. Johns) have their own mobile kitchen unit when there is a large event like a flood or forest fire. They prepare their own food for all helpers/workers.

  11. Jean*

    LW3, you can meet with the pro-union staff and push for unionization efforts. Saying that you’d like to see it happen soon just in case its needed and that it might be harder to make one when it is definitely needed will get the point across.

    1. Anon4now*

      Or listen to Alison and realize it wasn’t an anti union event. Why was Lw3 even looking uo what it was? I’m sure in the credit card bill it didn’t say anti union event. Most conferences etc have random words or LLC associated with it that is attached to numerous other companies so you don’t know what the CEo went too.

      I would feel really uncomfortable and loose trust in anyone in accounting who started looking up what’s on my credit card bill. If there’s an issue ask your superior or the CFO. Or ask the CEo. If the CEo has done things in the past then go up the chain of command. I once knew someone who spent $2000 on a bottle of wine at a dinner at a nonprofit! Finance made them pay it back in full. Things like that rise to bringing io above.

      For all you know they don’t have the $$ to increase salaries so used this for other ideas. I worked at a nonprofit (that paid fair market value) but many donors didn’t want the $ going to salary or administrative costs. But the leadership team figured out how to get gold standard healthcare which was amazing and they also gave more toward retirement and a ton of vacation. They networked and used things like this to figure out ways to make employee life and work better while also not angering the donors.

      Unless the CEO is known as not a great leader I would give them the benefit of the doubt. I also think using your role with confidential information might come back at you. You aren’t a whistleblower. Someone will tell someone and it will get back you said this (which might also be considered slander) and you’ll loose your job and if someone contacts them for a reference all they have to say is you spread untrue information or confidential financial information and you’ll have an issue getting a job.

      I’m not saying if there is a huge financial problem keep quiet… don’t! But talk to your manager about the charge if you’re worried or go to the CFO but don’t just gossip and tell everyone something you don’t know whether it is true or not.

      1. Nina*

        “I would feel really uncomfortable and loose trust in anyone in accounting who started looking up what’s on my credit card bill.”
        I may be working in a different industry from you, but where I am that is literally and precisely the job of accounting – if they’re not sure what a charge on a company card is, investigate.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Yes, but they don’t have the right to then go use that information in unauthorized ways. That’s where the problem here lies, and AAM’s answer is spot-on in that regard.

  12. Awkwardness*

    #1: I think it also depends on the kind of repetetive task. Is it boring excel work or politely processing customer complaints and sending them required paperwork?
    A task can be monotonous, but still truly annoying, and sometimes it helps more to simply acknowledge the difficulty instead of trying to lighten the mood.

    If I see a problem, and everybody around is only Energy! Power! Exciting! You can do it! without actually acknowledging it, I might get grumpy from time to time too.
    (Not that LW1 gives that impression, but to point out that sometimes a less positive environment is less stressful because it is more true to the facts)

    1. Brain the Brian*

      I also want to acknowledge here that LW1 says that A often volunteers for a task during a meeting and then complains about it later on. If these tasks are the type of thing that anyone in the meeting could volunteer to do, are others also taking on their share — or is A volunteering because no one else will? If the latter, at least some of A’s bellyaching may be legitimate. I know that the LW says the job overall is boring, but if it’s disproportionately and unfairly boring compared to peer positions, it might be worth examining whether you can shift duties around or assign work more proactively so no one is stuck with the lion’s share of the most boring work.

      1. LateRiser*

        LW says she will agree to do said tasks, not that she volunteers for them. There is a huge difference between those two concepts.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Yes and no. I’m currently in the middle of an enormous market research project that I am discovering I absolutely loathe but that no one else would volunteer to do in a department meeting a few months ago. I spoke up because it was obvious no one else was going to, and I deeply regret it. Technically, I “volunteered” — but sweet Jesus, I wish I hadn’t. I do sympathize with A in some respects.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I think LateRiser’s point is that “She will agree to do certain tasks” doesn’t necessarily mean she volunteered at all, technically or otherwise. It could mean a manager said “A, will you do task X?” and she agreed.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              And there can be a culture, even unconsciously, of A or someone like her becoming the “go to” for Boring Tasks. “Oh, A does such a great job collating the mouse shoe data–just ask her. It’s easier than trying to get someone else on it.”

              Just like becoming the default coffee maker/kitchen cleaner/baker of treats, this can grow without a lot of awareness. That doesn’t mean the LW should encourage constant venting and moaning without A taking some responsibility for their own workload, of course, but it might be worth checking on how much boring stuff workers A through Z routinely get asked to do.

    2. Le Vauteur*

      Yes! This plus genuine appreciation goes a long way if you’re the one doing the grunt work.

      Is there the possibility to occasionally throw the employee a bone, in the shape of a more interesting or complex task? The change of pace can do wonders for their sanity and their development.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I think this is actually how OP got into this situation; usually when you Acknowledge & Validate it eases the stress on the person and turns down the volume of complaints. However everyone is different and this employee has instead leaned in to the negativity.

    4. Also-ADHD*

      I wondered in 1 about the cause a little more—it sounded like A was told explicitly the nature of the work upfront and that being bored is common for whatever job this is? In that case, the source of complaints makes minimal sense to me, and the lack of description (I’m not sure what grumpy in meetings or venting on Teams consists of) plus the encouragement to vent on Teams (it sounds like LW wanted this? And thought it would help?) is confusing to me. I’m not sure what LW wants from A, why A is actually upset (yes, bored, but if they signed up intentionally for a boring role, why be bothered?) etc. I think understanding all of that might help LW. I agree with Alison on the directness needed, but I’m really unclear from the letter what actually is causing the conflict and what LW wants to achieve (less hearing about A’s feelings seems very possible, changing them is less so, etc).

    5. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I get that not every job is a thrill a minute, but I’d rather see my boss putting time into figuring out how to make the job stink less, versus encouraging me to vent or worrying about my attitude or whatever. Did you create one position that gets 100% of the worst tasks nobody else wants to do? Did you then make it entry level and not pay that well? That is a thing at some of my past work places and people were shocked – shocked, I tell you – how hard it was to keep competent people in those positions.

      1. planet mango*

        Yeah, I was wondering about this too. Is this job comprised of everyone else’s garbage tasks that nobody else wants to do?

        OF COURSE nobody should be making everyone else at work miserable and everyone should do their best to make the office a pleasant place to be 40 hours a week but it’s worth looking into if this is truly a job made out of crap and if there’s any way to slightly de-crapify it to break up the monotony?

      2. Daryush*

        Counterpoint: every level of job, not just entry level, has repetitive, boring tasks. Even if you work in a passion job, like yoga teacher or organic farmer, you’re still going to have to deal with tedium at times (speaking from experience).
        I think this is one of the challenges in transitioning from school to the working world. In school, once you master a task/skill, you’re given something more interesting/advanced to work on. That’s not the case with any job. No matter how good you get at filing papers, if you’re the paper filer, you’re always going to be filing papers. It’s your own responsibility to try to advance to a different job, or be ok with where you’re at.

        1. Sloanicota*

          “At times” is the key phrase there though. I don’t mind some tedious tasks if it’s balanced out by some interesting ones. What is this job like?

  13. Katie Impact*

    I read OP3’s question a little differently than Alison did; rather than asking whether there were laws that would protect her job if she disclosed the information, I read the question as OP3 saying she was willing to risk her job, but asking whether she could face actual criminal charges for doing so.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Alison really isn’t in a position to know that, since any criminal charges for misuse of business records or confidential information would be state by state, and would not be related to unionization or federal labor laws.

      For example, in some places it is possible to get charged with data theft if you take copies of confidential business records and give them to unauthorized people. But that’s going to be really situation dependent, and wouldn’t be protected union activity.

  14. BellaStella*

    Regarding unions: my country has unions but my employer has always been very anti union. This year there has been some non union collective action driving change in parts of the org and as a worker it is heartening to see. If more of the employees in dysfunctional teams would act together there may be other positive change too, even without unionisation. Personally I fear the missing stairs in the org would be protected more tho if we had a union but am not entirely sure that would actually happen.

    1. Dek*

      It can happen, but honestly, they can often be protected without a union as well. I mean, if there are missing stairs in your org now and you don’t have a union…well… *shrug*

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, it seems like when problem people are “protected by the union”, that actually means that management just doesn’t want to bother going through the agreed-on steps of documentation and progressive discipline in order to fire them.

        Which is often the exact same people who “can’t be fired” when there isn’t a union, because management just doesn’t want to bother going through the steps of documentation and progressive discipline in order to fire them.

        It’s remarkable the hoops management will jump through to avoid having to, you know, actually manage.

  15. Runner*

    Sending best wishes to letter writer 5. I run 90 miles per week and consume around 4,000 calories a day. What I’ve found is that healthy, store brand no sodium whole grain shredded wheat cereal is less expensive than things like goldfish crackers while being more nutritious and filling. I also stock up on hydrolized whey protein and organic peanut butter.

    Not saying these are the solutions necessarily, but wanted to give ideas of high quality fuel that are cost effective and require minimal to no preparation should the food procurement is able to be revised.

  16. Modesty Poncho*

    Yeah….as a complainer, definitely be 100% clear. If someone gave me Alison’s script, I would NOT understand what I was being told.

    “You’ve seemed really unhappy with your work. I want to be up-front with you that XYZ isn’t going to change; that’s the nature of the job. If you decide the job isn’t for you anymore, I’ll support you in figuring out what you want to do next. But I do need you to be realistic that as long as you’re in this position, this is the work.”

    “Oh, no, I know! I understand that, I’m not unhappy. I just need to whine about it.”

    And I would think everything was fine. Because I don’t actually need help (A brushes off offers and does it herself), I just have feelings and also autism. If you want me to work on hiding how I feel so that nobody can tell I’m not happy, you’re going to get less work out of me as it takes longer for the feeling to pass. (That’s a valid thing to want me to work on, for the record.)

    I think it would be a kindness to be extra clear that this is a change in plan, and not something A has been reading wrong, if that makes sense?

    “Hey, I know we’ve been encouraging you to use us as a sounding board and vent it out. We’ve realized this isn’t helpful for the rest of the team, so we want to switch gears and do X going forward.”

    Maybe X is, “My Slack is always open if you want to whine privately” or maybe it’s “If you’re having a grumpy moment, feel free to take a walk around the building” or “Should we have you working at home more so you can make faces where no one can see?” but that phrasing wouldn’t leave me feeling like I should have known to behave differently despite your previous requests.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      In your example I think the conversation is likely to go like this
      “You’ve seemed really unhappy with your work. I want to be up-front with you that XYZ isn’t going to change; that’s the nature of the job. If you decide the job isn’t for you anymore, I’ll support you in figuring out what you want to do next. But I do need you to be realistic that as long as you’re in this position, this is the work.”

      “Oh, no, I know! I understand that, I’m not unhappy. I just need to whine about it.”

      “I need you to whine about it significantly less if you’re going to stay in the role.”

      …and then you know they’re not saying it’s fine. They’re saying that thing you’re complaining about isn’t going to change, so stop complaining about it.

      1. Modesty Poncho*

        Sure, and it’d be nice for the follow-up to be understanding about the fact that up until this new instruction, A wasn’t doing anything they weren’t being encouraged to do.

        But yeah that’s the problem with Alison’s language – I think it assumes that A actually wants something to change. I’ve always always been someone who needs to get over the hump of immediate negativity before I can cheerfully go on with my tasks. She may genuinely not realize that it’s affecting anyone else, especially if she thinks it’s obvious that it’s not going to change, and therefore she isn’t really asking for it to.

      2. Also-ADHD*

        That sounds like a reprimand at the end behavior that was exactly what LW was encouraging though. LW can want someone to hide their feelings or share their feelings, but you can’t want both. I think it’s fine to say you can’t share your feelings, but then don’t encourage venting.

  17. stradbaldwingirl*

    Re: #3, FWIW, I think it’s common knowledge among union organizers that companies use tactics to try to convince people that unions aren’t necessary. So if folks at your company are unionizing, this is something they’d likely be preparing for anyway.

    1. Dek*

      After all, instead of paying union dues, you could buy an xbox with all the latest hits!

  18. MJ*

    LW4, pretty sure I live in your city based on your unique description, and we had a similar incident near my office a couple of years ago so I can actually relate to this circumstance. It’s really scary, but for what it’s worth, my company, who is a bit draconian about our hybrid arrangements (yours sound like a dream, are you hiring?!), were really understanding about us “office folks” having trepidation and were quite accommodating if we just named it. You might be surprised by what you’ll get by just asking, especially since it seems like they’re fairly chill to begin with!

    1. Sharkie*

      Same here. OP4, it would never hurt to ask. I would be surprised if no one else has asked for this as well.

  19. 653-CXK*

    OP#2: You were a former remote worker who was encouraged to move, ensured there would be no layoffs, then the next day after closing your house you are laid off, then you’re offered another job within the company, and then told someone else took it because they couldn’t wait to hire someone and not bother telling you?

    What was next? A three-card Monte game to determine how much severance you were going to get?

    The OP should not only continue searching for new jobs, they should get out the first opportunity they can, because management (including Sara) cannot be trusted. They are too happy to play head games with the staff rather than give them the support they need on an impending layoff (particularly Sara; she seems to be eager to get as much mileage she can get from OP before their time expires).

    The company is telling the OP exactly who they are – full of bees and not beyond manipulation. They are jerks.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, OP needs a job but after this, cut your losses and cut the strings to this company.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I can’t even imagine taking seriously the suggestion that I should move just to *increase* my chances at promotion. Um, no, give me the promotion now if you want me to move. Do bosses have no idea how hard it is to uproot your whole life?

      1. Bossy*

        Yes, I would not ever move for a job I don’t have. Not trying to be rude to LW at all but that might be the wackiest thing I have ever heard. Then to actually trust that they were going to take care of you in another way? Ridiculous. Clearly Sara does not now and never did gaf, which sucks, yet how surprised should we be, especially the 2nd time. Hopefully this is a lesson learned. I would be so upset- try to get over it quickly LW, and the best way is getting these people on your rear view mirror ASAP

        1. MrSquid*

          OP2 here — as mentioned in another thread, I had other reasons for moving unrelated to that specific job or a potential promotion. The new city is larger and has more opportunities in my field, and the culture there is more in line with what I’m looking for. I was already applying elsewhere after the layoff news came, but my internal calculus of taking a new position with the company or taking something elsewhere has changed a lot from this.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            At the very least, you don’t want to be working for Sara anymore. Sounds like she is relentlessly positively optimistic AND loath to share even the tiniest detail that could help someone make a decision. You don’t want to work for that person because they’ll never ever tell you that, for instance, they are actually looking to hire outside the company for the promotion you want, because they think the job should include Aspect L and nobody at the company has that experience. They’ll just relentlessly hype you up about the job and how you can position yourself to get it. Then the cluelessness of why you’re upset about not getting it will set in. It’s exhausting, and I hope you find a new position.

          2. 653-CXK*

            Thanks for responding back, OP#2. I’m glad you’re preparing the next steps of your future (and enjoying the new house and city).

      2. Just me*

        It’s a thing now to not promote remote workers which I think is insane. The work is getting done, WHERE it’s done doesn’t matter!

  20. Esther*

    I work in an admin job consisting of largely boring tasks. I keep looking for projects that are somewhat interesting, with varying degrees of success. I also listen to podcasts on headphones when possible. My manager also encourages the professional development of everyone on the team, including me. Maybe the manager can guide the employee toward these solutions. It’s true that we are expected to do our job with a reasonable degree of cheerfulness. It’s also true that a job shouldn’t be all grunt work all the time.

    1. Worldwalker*

      But some jobs are by their nature boring and repetitive.

      Consider the classic assembly line job, putting part A onto assembly B all day, every single day, for years on end.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Repairing fish nets. Grinding grain. Weaving. A lot of basic subsistence tasks were boring and repetitive and still needed to get done. Camaraderie went a long way to making that time pleasant.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah if you’re organizing an agrarian society there’s a lot of culture and society pieces that goes into people being willing to do that day after day.

      2. Turnipnator*

        I’m pretty sure assembly lines now consider station rotation to be good practice, because a degree of novelty helps keep people engaged which makes output better and reduces injuries.
        Not sure what the frequency of that is every day though.

    2. Florence Reece*

      Agreed. And although yes, some jobs truly are just repetitive boring tasks forever, you can still incorporate “not grunt work all the time” by connecting with an obviously-unhappy employee and asking what she DOES want to do, in the future.

      The reality of these monotonous jobs is that you’re unlikely to find someone who wants to do that for the rest of their career. Sometimes you do! Those people who are happy with the job generally but might have complaints occasionally — sure, encourage them to vent when needed, because that’s truly going to be occasional. But for the most part, you’re going to get employees who are willing to put the work in as a step in their career, and they’re going to kinda hate it the whole time. You don’t need venting from those employees, because that will just increase their misery (and everyone else’s).

      Instead, if this is a stepping-stone job, how can you help them make the next step eventually? IMO the part that starts to chafe in these jobs is that the repetitive tasks aren’t valued and don’t help develop the employee’s skills. When they update their resume, they don’t have a ton of ‘accomplishments’ to speak to. They feel stuck, and usually in a fairly low-paying job. So connect with them and find realistic ways to offset that. Are they interested in a specific team or function of the company — and if so, can you foster a meeting or job-shadow with people over there, or maybe enlist their help on occasional projects? Are there certifications they can pursue, or is there any reimbursement for higher education? Can they study in their downtime? Can they help you with some more basic parts of your higher-level work, even just to deepen their understanding of your team?

      That’s the realm of management, not being a personal sounding board for an unhappy person’s complaints.

  21. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #2 A disgraceful employer and a totally duplicitous direct manager.
    They will keep lying to you.
    btw, do you have a union? This is an example of why workers need some big guns on their side.

    “since I was in the final two candidates before I would be a likely choice for this round.”
    On this company’s track record so far, prepare for this NOT happening.
    Even if you do get the job, keep hunting and just use the time to find a well-paid job with short/no commute and without any red flags.

    Promise your deceitful employer anything they ask about staying etc; they don’t deserve any honesty, having given you none. Don’t worry about burning the bridge when you leave – this bridge needs burning.

    1. Sloanicota*

      The thing with the second job was so weird that it seems like OP doesn’t have all the information or is being actively lied to, or something.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I mentioned above that I feel like Sara is just relentlessly positive about everything, therefore is just encouraging OP to go for promotion/job/what have you without actually being realistic (promotion is likely to go to someone with 3 more years of experience/we have to hire outside because the job will involve a QC task that nobody here has experience in/whatever). This is SUPER UNHELPFUL to anyone working for her because they don’t have the real picture of what’s happening.
        It would have been one thing had Sara said “I don’t know about layoffs, TBH, but if it happens there will be job restructuring and I know they’d love to keep you and your institutional knowledge, so they could offer you a different job in the new structure”. What she did was just not that.

  22. Anon4this*

    You need to report the poor food to USDA since it’s the US Forest Service contracting for the food, . For food vendors in other ISDA programs, they pay attention to the complaints. As with anything, pictures and volume of emails can help. Here is the info for complaints for other Usda food programs, I’ll send if the forest service has a more specific one.
    Contact the FNS Food Distribution Division USDA Foods Complaint Team
    Email us at USDAFoodsComplaints@usda.gov or call us at 1-800-446-6991, Monday – Friday 6:00AM – 5:00PM Eastern Time.

  23. FashionablyEvil*

    #1–I would look at your response to bad behavior in a bigger context. It sounds to me like you think your role is to let your employee vent and cajole her into a good mood. It’s not. It’s to provide clear directions and expectations about the role and her behavior. I say this as someone who has made the mistake of trying to manage things too much emotionally for an employee—you don’t want to be there.

  24. Managing While Female*

    LW1 I believe you’re creating a broken stair situation with this employee by encouraging her grumpiness. Some jobs are boring. Not every job can be fun and exciting. Some jobs are just that – jobs. She knew that going in and it’s not going to change (nor does a job need to change – some jobs just need to get done regardless of how appealing they are). Catering to her moods is not going to improve morale. Instead, you’re allowing her to control the environment for the entire team. I’ve had people like this – they make every one of their negative feelings known and people start tip-toeing around them. This person’s attitude will create a negative environment for everyone else. Based on what you said, this isn’t a situation where someone is bringing up legitimate concerns – this is just whining.

    While I agree with you that everyone doesn’t just need to have a happy face on all the time, there’s a big difference between forced positivity and not griping whenever you have to do boring things. THAT is just being a grown up and realizing that boring things are sometimes important too.

    1. Generic Name*

      I completely agree. Allowing and encouraging negativity and creates an unpleasant atmosphere for the rest of the team. I wouldn’t be surprised if staff members are job searching, and it’s the high performers who will leave first.

  25. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #3 Anti-union training? I’d never heard of this before. Isn’t that a totally weird thing for that guy to have, or is it more acceptable in the US?
    I can’t imagine anti-union training being allowed on a corporate card here or, if paid privately, being anything but damaging to the manager’s reputation.

    Some unions are more effective than others, but I wouldn’t be without them. It’s just the norm here – because we know many employers in any country will exploit their workers as much as they are allowed. None of them – whether in EU, US, or anywhere else – are fluffy bunnies who can be trusted without unions, or without enforced laws protecting workers’ rights.
    “You have the right to get another job” – yeah, often not possible to use that right.

    We also have mandatory Works Councils with union reps for all orgs above a smallish number of employees. imo it makes an org more efficient and less soulless when there is some official employee input to management decisions.

    1. SparkyMcDragon*

      It’s not uncommon in the US and is a thing that is routinely sold to companies to provide to executive and management staff. It’s not an “everyday” occurrence but it’s not surprising or unusual.

      1. SparkyMcDragon*

        The labor movement in general struggled to get off the ground in the 20s due to aggressive union busting tactics that utilized hired forces like the Pinkertons and the police to attack labor organizers. It did eventually gain a foothold but the power of organized labor has been slowly dismantled across many conservative states through the use of “Right to Work” acts which are used to weaken the power of unions within organizations and limit their ability to collect dues to hire lawyers to negotiate effectively. There has been a recent resurgence and interest in labor unions in retail and service industry sectors leading to unionizing movements in those industries. This movement is being met by a counter reaction from Boards and executives with union busting tactics as a response to this trend. Google starbucks union organizing, Amazon union organzing to get a sense of the landscape.

        1. Polaris*

          Probably why Labor Day parades in my area are a major, not to be messed with, thing.

        2. Nonanon*

          John Oliver’s story on Amazon* from a few years ago actually did a good job at explaining union-prevention sentiment (VERY briefly but sometimes the brief explanations are the best); if the management is good, the workers don’t need unions. Our management is good, so you don’t need to unionize! Just come to us directly with any concerns and we’ll listen to them :)

          …this is of course never how it plays out and unions are often beneficial when management is good, but, y’know, union fees cost money out of your paycheck or whatever.

          *I regularly watch JOliver and MAY be mixing up stories

          1. AngryOctopus*

            There was a small coffee shop chain in my area that recently closed. The reason it closed was that the employees were talking about unionizing, in order to make sure everyone across the sites was paid the same, and that everyone got the same benefits. Very basic stuff. The owner threw a shit fit, screamed about how awful it was that his employees didn’t understand how they already had a great relationship, and then (instead of selling it to anyone) he closed all the shops and retired like 5 years before he said he would. Kinda negates all that “great relationship” BS when you’re willing to abruptly close all your sites and fire everyone because they think someone working in a very busy location should have the same benefits as someone in a quieter location.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Starbucks Exec Howard Schultz brought the whole “good companies don’t need unions” to the table because his dad, apparently, was a taxi driver, who were terribly exploited back in his dad’s day. They organized, of course, but the lesson he took away was “if unions are being formed in the company I am a failure because they only are for desperate situations.”

            Without, of course, seeing that his happy, friendly global network was generating tons of those situations.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        I hope that’s one US business innovation we do not copy.

    2. Jessica*

      It’s “acceptable” in the same sense that weekly mass shootings and no maternity leave are acceptable: it’s terrible and we hate it, but it’s our norm. Union-busting is a veritable industry here.

    3. Clisby*

      I (in the US) had never actually heard of union-prevention training, but a quick google shows me there are a number of places offering it. Color me completely unsurprised.

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      And even if an employer isn’t trying to exploit their workers, that still doesn’t mean collective bargaining is unnecessary. Unions aren’t just for “bad employers.” They are to allow workers to negotiate collectively, which is likely to be more effective than each person negotiating individually anyway.

      I always associated the lack of a union as being a massive red flag for a company. I know my dad was shocked when I mentioned a company not having a union. Googling say that today only about 25% or 30% of employees in Ireland are unionised, so I guess it’s no longer necessary a warning sign, but I am surprised the numbers are so low. Apparently in the ’80s, over 60% were unionised.

      So yeah, a CEO who not only would prefer his company not to have a union, but who is willing to admit this to the point of attending anti-union training would be concerning to me as would the implication that he seems to think that “good” companies don’t need unions which implies he sees unions as adversaries rather than there to represent his employees in negotiations. It seems like a sign he might not want employees to have “a place at the table”.

      And yeah, I’m coming at this from a point of view of being a history teacher in a country that the unions literally played a large part in creating, as in one of the armies that fought for our independence was formed to protect the striking workers in 1913 and William Martin Murphy, the leader of the employers is most emphatically a villain character in any telling of Irish history, so that association may be influencing my reaction here, but I would definitely be wary of working for a company that not only didn’t have a union but where the employer seemed actively against unions.

      That said, it doesn’t seem like something worth risking the LW’s job to tell people about, especially as there don’t seem to be any immediate plans to unionise so I’m not sure the information is even really actionable.

      1. StormFly*

        I think that the lower union membership percentage can likely be put down to changing demographics in Ireland after joining the EU, unlike in the US and UK where the reduction came from union busting efforts.
        Back in the 80s, a much much greater percentage of the population was involved in unskilled or low-skilled work, which has much higher rates of unionisation.
        However, in the years after joining the EU, the number of highly skilled jobs greatly increased, including a huge amount of tech and pharmaceutical jobs from multinationals. Those jobs have much much lower unionisation rates. (I think they could probably join SIPTU, but it’s not really part of the culture to do so..)
        And it was probably exacerbated by the fact that joining the EU greatly increased worker rights, so there was less of a sense that it was required in general, in particularly in these highly paid new jobs.

      2. metadata minion*

        Unfortunately in the US, outside of some specific fields, lack of a union is pretty much the standard and isn’t a red flag that the business has been actively prevented from unionizing.

        1. Great Frogs of Literature*


          The tech sector (and some other knowledge work, like reporters) is *just* starting to unionize (mostly under CWA, Communications Workers of America, if anyone is curious), but it’s still fairly rare in most industries. Anti-union CEO is basically what I expect (and I work at a company that has a union).

        2. Excel Gardener*

          Less than 10% of private sector workers in the US are covered by a union, and that percentage has been decreasing year over year for decades. Yes, it’s still declining even in recent years despite high profile unionization drives at Starbucks and Amazon.

      3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        I feel like it’s relevant to point out that the anti-union thing in the US is tinged with anti-communist sentiment. Back in the day of early union organizing, they were always labeled anarchists (WW1 era). Then when communism became the Bad Thing during the Cold War, they switched to labeling unionizers as “commies”. Communism is not a viable political perspective here like it is in Europe.

        Any kind of collective action is deeply antithetical to the USian individualism at all costs, you are always responsible for what happens to you, go it alone mindset. The powers that be have connected that individualism to capitalism and any kind of collectivism to socialism/communism – so you can see why CEOs would think unions are the worst thing ever.

    5. doreen*

      I know there is training for management on how to prevent union organizing that involves lying to employees about how terrible unions are, telling them they will be better off negotiating individually rather than collectively and so on – but I think what Alison is describing is something a little different , where the training is pitched as “How to treat the employees in such a way that they don’t want to organize.” I don’t know exactly what the training is or if that pitch is accurate – but I’ve known a couple of non-union companies that were non-union because the employees were treated the same as their union counterparts at other employers – the workers at non-union Supermarket A got the same pay, holidays, time off and other benefits as their unionized counterparts down the street at Supermarket B. And even more employers where non-union employees were treated the same as the union employees in the same organization. Don’t get me wrong, these situations depend on the existence of unions for other jobs/at other employers – I’m just saying there are non-terrible ways to avoid union organizing.

    6. Florence Reece*

      Echoing others from the “more acceptable in the US” perspective. When I was promoted to management at my old company, my cohort of other new managers attended a (thankfully virtual) welcome meeting with the CEO, an affable guy with a started-from-the-bottom story. He gave us a very warm, well-practiced, carefully-worded spiel about how important it is that our company was non-union and how the lack of union gave the company so much more freedom to be good to all of us! Now legally you can’t go tell your new employees *not* to unionize, and we would neeeeever want to discourage people, but if you notice these red flags of people being “disengaged” and “stirring up trouble” here’s how you can [quietly fire them].

      It wasn’t a paid anti-union training but it was absolutely baked in to the fabric of management at our company. The messaging was so careful, too, and hit every legal requirement to not actively *suppress* unionization efforts but to toe that line very closely and watch for signs of “unrest” so we could “address” it.

      It colored my perception of most corporate jobs, ngl. I’m now in a different company and different part of the industry entirely, and have great pay and benefits. I don’t feel a “need” to unionize because the company *does* treat us well. But I’m at least 75% sure that management here has been told similar things, and I’m certain that my colleagues in lower-level roles are not treated equally well as I am. They’re treated better than our competitors, I’m sure, but not by much. It creates a culture where everyone feels powerless to change things even if change is desperately needed and it’s pretty gross, to me, how calculated that is.

  26. Alexis ~Something~ Rose*

    #5 I would contact elected officials, and I definitely agree with the reporters idea. Find their contact info on the media outlets in your area and contact them, they are always looking for story ideas and this is appalling. I didn’t know this was happening and I am sure more people would want to know.

  27. Mouse named Anon*

    #5 Thank you for being concerned about this! I would contact elected officials as well.

    This happened to my cousin who is a firefighter/EMS. He was assigned some sort of job out of state for really good pay. However they were barely fed and barely slept. He was only like 19 or 20 and lasted like 3 days before he came home. He said it was all too much to handle and I don’t blame him.

  28. Yes, and*

    #3 – Very pro-union here, but having experienced the fallout at a nonprofit where unionization was ultimately voted down by staff, there are consequences. Nonprofits often grow fast, often out of grassroots orgs, and are almost always playing catch up on process and policies. Many of the complaints pro-union staff had could have been addressed (and were being worked on) with changes to those. The union effort was not successful, but the process cost the org tens
    of thousands of dollars in legal fees and a lot of time [years] in limbo working out a settlement with the sponsor union and unable to make any changes to anything that addressed the initial complaints until all was settled.

    In addition, unionization requires additional admin/hr support and legal support (fees) to navigate, and funders dislike that “overhead” in a big way. (This needs to change too, but for now it is still too common of a viewpoint.) Unionizing a nonprofit is a real Catch-22, especially given how different they all are in their funding streams – a public radio station’s on-air staff joining a talent union and said station is primarily funded by individual donors is going to be assessed very differently from a social services org funded mostly by government contracts and/or private foundations, and so on.

    If staff think there are problems, they need to be raised with leadership first. How they respond will tell you if it’s worth working there or look for another job. And as a society and donors, we need to educate people and ourselves more about nonprofits – primarily staffed by womxn and BIPOC, and generally making 25% or more less than folks in for-profit jobs, and with worse benefits and other support. Remember this when you hear someone complaining about a nonprofit spending money on staff and not 100% “on the mission”. There are so many progressive things orgs want to do and $$$ and outdated funding practices make it a constant challenge.

    1. Worldwalker*

      They only incur tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees because they’re trying to prevent unionization. If they said “the union is your business; come to us when you have a proposal,” they wouldn’t have to spend any of that.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Exactly. I’m used to non-profits having unions, just like any other organisation.
        Fighting to prevent a union – so long as membership is optional – is fighting against employees being able to exert their rights when your org does something unfair / they don’t want.

        I suspect such vehement opposition to unions is from those who feel non-profits should be allowed to exploit their employees at need …. Because non-profit.

        1. doreen*

          That’s another difference – in the US, paying dues to a union often isn’t optional. There is such a thing as an “agency fee payer” , which is a non-union member who is still represented by and benefits from the union. ( and since the union is the exclusive representative , that’s everyone in the bargaining unit) They can be required to pay a fee for that representation which excludes the costs of lobbying and political activity. There was a Supreme Court decision that prohibits agency fees for government employees but it can still be required in the private sector. ( And that decision is weakening public sector unions , as I’m sure was its intent)

      2. Ms. Elaneous*

        TY, World Walker.
        The legal and admin fees are what the company pays to AVOID unionization.

        Yes, do you by any chance run one of those anti union couses of credit card fame?

    2. Represented nonprofit worker*

      I’m a (proud!) member of a union at a nonprofit. I hear your concerns, but I think there’s a lot of anti-union rhetoric baked into some of it. Staff often DO bring concerns to leadership—but without accountability, things won’t be addressed. Or they might be concerned about retaliation, so don’t feel safe being as persistent as they would like to be. Unions make workplaces safer—in multiple ways.

      Additionally, funders might not like it—sure, maybe! But unionizing workers do not want the organization to shut its doors. They literally want to keep working at that organization, but in a more safe and sustainable way. Represented workers are not trying to tank donor relationships by fighting for a better deal.

      As for the additional fees, legal work—yes, there can be some additional costs. But what additional benefits is the organization getting from lower turnover? Employees that feel safe and able to do better work? Plus, higher costs also come from things like paying an actual living wage—don’t catch me being upset about higher costs for the organization when it’s just them doing what they should.

      1. MsM*

        And you can’t convince funders to change if someone isn’t willing to push back and say, “No, actually, this is a good business practice and in line with the work we do, and you should be using your clout to back that stance.”

        1. Maureen*

          Union organizer who has organized multiple nonprofits here! I agree with everything that was said about how you can’t officially tell your coworkers about the anti-union training, but you can hint at it. However, I also agree with the people who pointed out that workers should always assume that their employer would prefer for them not to unionize, so I don’t think that the fact that your CEO attended this training matters beyond the fact that it could be bad PR for the CEO if the news got out.

          Regarding what you should know as an employee who has access to financial data if a union organizing campaign does move forward, you should know that there’s a good chance that your employer will try to exclude you from the union based on the argument that you’re a “confidential” employee. In this context, being a confidential employee means that you may be part of the management team during contract negotiations, say by making a presentation on the budget and recommending what type of raises the org can afford. The union can make the argument that the info you work with does not have any bearing on negotiations, or that someone else could easily do the part of your job dealing with that info, and often these issues end up being decided by the labor board.

          To be clear, if you just work in accounts payable and know what everyone’s salaries are for that reason, that’s not enough to exclude you, but if you actually decide those salaries you probably will be excluded. If you’d like to be included in the union, I recommend tracking what types of info you access in your daily tasks and thinking about what parts of your job could be easily performed by someone else.

    3. Ms. Elaneous*

      Funny how having limited funds never seems to prevent non profits from paying their executives way into six figures.

    4. Dancing Otter*

      It’s not the expense of staff salaries that bothers most people, I think. It’s the inflated salaries of the top officers, which can be high multiples of average workers’ earnings, just like in big corporations.
      “Believe in the Mission, and work for peanuts – except for me.”
      You can look up charities’ financial reports on the IRS website. Look where they list the top-paid individuals, and compare to the total personnel costs divided by headcount. Absolutely shocking, some of them.

    5. not nice, don't care*

      Non-profits can be some of the worst employers, thx to depending on vocational awe from employees. Badmin seem completely baffled that front line workers expect fair pay/benefits, humane scheduling, freedom from bullying etc.

  29. Bunny*


    I am a former journalist who recently left the profession, and ***** that’s a story*****. Your union rep (if you have one) should tip off the media. Take pics and go to town. Know what company is supplying meals, and find out if they’ve done this before. Are they a well-established outlet? Is there insider bidding happening? Are they connected to political types?

    Oh, I have many questions. *taps pen*

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yes, please go to the media, OP!
      likely the most effective way to help the firefighters to get decent meals while risking their lives for others and to save property.

    2. Dek*

      For real, though. I can just hear a dogged, mid-atlantic accent asking questions and proposing headlines.

      1. Bunny*

        OOOOOOOOH THEY KNOW BETTER, (ahem, calms down) have had issues in the past, and they suck.

        Alison, I would happy to attempt to hook this person up with a friendly reporter, if I know one in their area.

  30. juliebulie*

    There was a big meeting to unveil the new org chart and one of the salesmen wasn’t on it. He was like, hahaha, why am I not on this org chart? Long, awkward silence.

    At a different job, my department was moving to another building. A couple of us weren’t on the new floor plan. We weren’t let go until weeks later but it was definitely not a coincidence.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yikes sorry, that was for the “how to find out if you’re getting fired” article.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      My husband was working at a job where the entire company was taking staff on a cruise as part of their annual company retreat. One of his co-workers got an email that her ticket for the cruise had been cancelled and started asking everyone else if theirs had been cancelled too. He didn’t much like her, but even he thought that was a crappy way to find out she was being fired.

      1. Georgia Carolyn Mason*

        At a previous toxic job, people found out they were fired by typing in the code for the staff door and finding it changed. It was incredibly stupid: HR had to email the 50-60 people who weren’t fired with the new code; folks could still get in if they used the client entrance or walked in with a non-fired person; and it was often super cold so it could take many tries to hit the right number with frozen/gloved fingers, during which time more than one person freaked out because they thought they’d lost their job. I assume this was supposed to be timed so the people were asked to leave *before* the change, but it never was.

    3. Media Monkey*

      my husband has just started a new job and he was told that the person he was replacing had been ill and was still in the role but was relocating in the next month. he started this week and awkwardly she does not appear to know she is leaving and asked their bosses as one poiint yesterday if she is being replaced. he’s feeling awful about it and has no idea what to do (but it’s not making him feel amazing about the job/ company)

    4. not nice, don't care*

      A coworker once bought a house on assurance that there would be no further layoffs (after the surprise bulk layoff the previous week). The Friday he closed on the house he noticed a larger paycheck drop than normal, earlier than normal.
      Turns out his severance pay hit his bank before they could lay him off the following Monday.
      Fuckers then laid off another half of the company, myself included.
      Never ever trust any employer.

  31. Anon4This*

    I’m a manager currently handling a surprise re-structure that’s completely dismantling the team I’ve built up over 6 years. LW2, I just want to tell you that Sara is behaving absolutely abominably and I’m feeling pure contempt for her on your behalf. I’m over here pulling every remaining string I have to arrange internal transfers, protect compensation, and allow maximum flexibility for my people, AND very subtly keeping them much more informed than I’m probably “supposed to” about what to expect, while she’s jerking you around like that? You deserve better.

  32. I Am Not A Number*

    #5, since this is wildland fire, everything should be highly organized under the Incident Command System (ICS). Food should be under the Logistics section, same as medical. Information on the contract issues isn’t being passed along somewhere, but the good news with ICS is there are formalized ways to get your concerns raised. Who is your Unit Chief, Branch Chief, Section Chief? These people have regular briefings. Get your concerns listed in the Incident Action Plan. Consider talking to the Safety Officer.

  33. Cabbagepants*

    #2 This sucks hard. Something similar happened to me. The lesson I took from it was to only move or buy a house if I liked the location irrespective of a specific job or company. Sara was crappy here but even with a better boss, stuff like this can happen.

    Hindsight is 20/20.

    1. MrSquid*

      LW2 here — I had other reasons for the move (bigger city, culture/politics more in line with my own, friends in the area) and finding a new job is actually easier with the move. Still would have preferred to not have layoff stress added to moving stress!

      1. Jan Levinson Gould*

        Best of luck with your search – considering your positive take on the situation with the move, you deserve better than that company that jerked your around. Agree with Alison to take another job with them if offered, but accept something else if offered shortly after it’s worthwhile. Zero loyalty from that firm.

        I deal with offshoring and I don’t believe that management didn’t see layoffs coming. Setting up an off-shoring arrangement takes months of planning. It’s not something that is stood up in a matter of weeks.

  34. bigzootystyle*

    #2… At least you handled this professionally. I’m seeing red just reading your experience and I certainly would have lost it in that meeting. Best of luck.

  35. Captain-Safetypants*

    #5 – I’m pretty sure this falls underneath OSHA’s general duty clause, and that a call to them would not be out of line. Of course, OSHA is also notoriously underfunded and overworked, so a news outlet like ProPublica or Mother Jones might get you more immediate results. I’d make the OSHA complaint anyway, though, just to have it on the books that it was done.

    1. Captain-Safetypants*

      Rereading this, I can’t tell if the firefighters are government employees or contractors. Unfortunately, if they are government employees they aren’t covered by OSHA. I had been interpreting it as though they were contractors but now I’m not sure. If they are contractors, call OSHA. If govt employees (or contractors, really) I would go the elected officials and media route as well.

      1. doreen*

        Government workers aren’t covered by OSHA – but private sector workers in 20 or so states aren’t technically covered by OSHA but rather by OSHA approved state plans, which do cover government employees. Another 5 or 6 have state plans only for state and local government while OSHA covers private sector employees.

        1. OSHA OSHA OSHA (Jan Jan Jan)*

          But even state plan OSHAs don’t cover federal workers.

          Buuuuuut, even then it wouldn’t hurt to make a complaint on their behalf. Even if OSHA can’t do anything, they may refer the complaint to the right agency.

    2. Ms. Elaneous*

      Does anyone know how to find out how much the meal contractor is being paid?

      It could be a lot, and perhaps someone is skimming.

      1. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

        The bids are public record but it’s Sysco so it’s mostly just their business model.

  36. Ms. Feronia on 5th*

    #1. Please take Alison’s advice and implement it. A is poisoning the work place for your entire team.
    If you continue to cuddle and cajole A and there is no improvement in her attitude you risk alienating your entire team.

    My former boss handled a similar situation like you. Several team members spoke to her individually about how our coworkers negativity was affecting the whole team. Manager continued as usual. Within 1 year every other team member had found other jobs and grumpy coworker left too.

    Looking back I wonder if former boss wishes she’d made different decisions so she retained top team members instead of having to hire and train 6 new employees.

  37. HonorBox*

    OP2 – Keep looking. Take the paycheck you’re getting now, but do what you can to find something outside of this company. Sara sucks big time here, and I think it is altogether likely that she could have said ANYTHING to slow down the hiring process for a day. I side eye the company, too, but it is very obvious that Sara is not to be trusted. She may not have known that layoffs were coming, but she did know you needed a day to find out about the internal role and gave you affirmation that it would be OK. I’m not sure an internal transfer clears everything up, because if a company employs a manager like Sara, I’m hesitant to trust others in management to do the right thing for their employees.

  38. Nonanon*

    LW5, I do think contacting media is your better option (ESPECIALLY if you have a local media outlet that has run sympathetic stories on firefighters, up to and including raising awareness of local prison populations being recruited as firefighters, which has five different layers of problematic but not a discussion for today). One of the better ways to tell the actual contract writers that they need to renegotiate food is proving that any medical costs for foodborne/food related illnesses are outweighing the cheap meals provided by catering; technically your higher ups/the people actually in charge should have this information, but if it’s been a problem for a while, I doubt they’re doing anything and are just looking for lowest cost options across the board. Media is going to have the investigative skills needed to bring all this to light, and hopefully can incite enough outrage to make a change. Maybe bringing this to government attention will create a tangible change, but I trust government officials as far as I can throw them, and I can’t throw very far.

    Thank you for trying to do the right thing.

    1. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

      The provider is Sysco, and considering the lobbying they do and the chokehold they have with so many other government contracts, they have a lot more leverage in a contract negotiation than whichever department manages this contract. Ideally this would result in dumping the contractor, but I don’t think that’s a realistic path to change.

      Media attention, given how contentious this election cycle is, is probably the most likely to yield results. But even then, eyes open about how much influence our elected officials have to kill a story that will be inconvenient to them. And this would be a lot of nuance to ask of someone currently trying to appeal to the lowest common denominators of American voters. The People simply don’t care what happens to “criminals” here which is deeply messed up but part of the problem we’re contending with in how this is allowed to happen in the first place.

      Ugh. Sorry – I don’t want to be a downer about it but I don’t want LW 5 to break their own heart or feel personally responsible if they get defeated by the behemoth obstacles in front of their quest. I’m rooting for you LW 5 and I want you to try! I just want you to also know it’s not your fault if you don’t succeed.

      This sucks so much.

  39. Boof*

    OP1 – honestly it would be a real drag if someone was frequently negative about their usual work. I also agree, there’s an element of cognitive programming here; while one can only control emotions so far and one really shouldn’t attempt to talk themselves into believing all bad situations are just a product of Not Thinking Positive Enough, there is an element of truth that at a certain point that negativity is only helpful when it’s a motive for change, and it can easily become actively harmful if it’s causing folks to be miserable, or hesitant about giving A normal work, or feedback, etc. That could really hinder A’s trajectory in the long run, depending on their goals. So yeah, I think their negativity is going to need to be part of their evaluation, that the SHOULDN’T be venting so much, and if the work is really so intolerable that they have to, maybe this isn’t the right job for them. Some people hate monotony, some people love it and find it comforting.

  40. planet mango*

    LW1: Is there any way the grumpy and bored person can have occasional projects that AREN’T the boring and repetitive task? She should absolutely be sure to manage her moods and face at work since it’s effecting everyone else but surely someone can pass along something new once in a while. Humans aren’t machines and most people need at least some variety.

  41. Anxiously Anon*

    LW#1 –

    So I admit that I may identify a bit with the employee here, so grain of salt.

    One thing I noticed is you wrote that “The nature of A’s work can often be quite monotonous and she knew this ****might*** be the case when she joined.” I agree with the people who’ve said that all jobs have monotonous points/grunt work, and over venting is not good for anyone, but I’m curious how well spelled out the MIGHT portion was when she was interviewing, and if she was expecting a different ratio and therefore some other career growth things that the amount of monotony is preventing.

    Just my own experience, I took my current job because it sounded interesting in the interview, was a double title step up from where I was (which was a more accurate title for me in general), and on paper had the usual monotonous things. But when I joined it became abundantly clear they needed someone three levels below where I was to basically just do the monotonous work. I have had to fight tooth and nail to get even a fragment of bandwidth space to do anything I came here to do for my own career growth, and more often than not I’m just stopped (or told to work on side projects after hours). So a large amount of my grump tends to be lack of opportunities that are held up by the monotonous things. I’ll DO things, but I have made it clear where I am not thrilled about HAVING to do them because they aren’t what I came here expecting to do – even if I’ll do them because they need to be done.

    Dunno, just wanted to offer a minor reframing, since I think people are focusing on the negativity and are defaulting to thinking the only cause of the negativity is disliking monotony for monotony.

    1. planet mango*

      Yeah, I identified with the low morale employee too for the same reasons you listed. I know that boring things are also things that need to get done in order for any organization to exist, let alone thrive, but I’m really hoping this employee has at least some opportunity for professional development and career growth. It’s so unfair to just put all the “little” things on just one person and then not let them go anywhere else.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        We’ve no evidence that her coworkers are bothered by the monotony and routine negativity can be depressing for everyone around you – her coworkers probably see her as a problem they have to endure.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I took “might” as meaning some people might find the work monotonous; others wouldn’t be bothered by it, which sounds like the team the OP has.

      The OP has not said anything about a bait-and-switch, when this would be the most relevant point to mention when asking how to handle this employee.

      In your particular case, has fighting and expressing how unhappy you are with your work tasks prompted your employer to switch you to something more interesting?
      Usually it just means you stay forever at that level because it’s not the way to get raises or promotions. It can also put you top of the list if they decide to cut jobs.

      1. planet mango*

        Talking with my managers has lead to a broadening of my tasks and lightening up the monotony so I could expand my skillset and help the organization more – there’s got to be a way to diversify A’s tasks along with a “please improve your attitude at work” during a performance review.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          The OP has been very supportive of A – maybe too much from what AAM says – and would presumably already have diversified tasks for her whole team, not just A, if she could. Sometimes there just is nothing more creative/demanding until you rise higher up the ladder.

          You were lucky your manager/employer was so cooperative – constantly fighting back about the work given usually has really poor outcomes, not just in at-will USA.

      2. Anxiously Anon*

        How other people deal with the job isn’t the point. I have plenty of coworkers who are in a similar role as me, and they are quite content doing what they are doing, while I’m driven up the wall. The negativity needs to be dealt with, but saying that the negativity stems solely from her not liking the routine things is a simplification. Allison’s advice I think misses the mark in that it addresses the way to address the symptom, but doesn’t also make the point about maybe the manager might also have to look into a deeper cause. Ya’ll are making the assumption it seems in the comments about how jobs just suck sometimes and the inference is the employee is some form of lazy because they are being negative.

        As for the bait and switch part, the OP wouldn’t be likely to say it was a bait and switch – managers rarely realize that it is one unless it’s very much spelled out, and miscommunicated expectations is such a large fraction of the issues that crop up here, it’s something to point out.

        Also in fact fighting HAS lead to me being given things, but it’s literally been a battle to just be given things in the same category of what I’ve done for years in the past. The amount of energy I’m having to input here for these things is more than I really should need to put in when it comes to how the field sees my level and my own career growth. Frankly, I’m hoping to get laid off, because if I’m kept I’m MUCH more likely to just be told to do the monotonous tasks because of Company Need and that They Will Eventually Get To Me. Because honestly, I’m in a field that promotions and raises aren’t really given anyway without just leaving.

  42. Roscoe da Cat*

    For the firefighter one, definitely call the Inspector General’s office. There will be an 800 number on the website and make the point that this is both fraud (the contract is for edible food and I guarantee includes a minimum amount) and waste. They will investigate and probably force the agency to make changes in how they give out the contracts. They will also protect you under whistleblower protections

  43. Anon21*

    For letter 3, my take is file it away for future reference and maybe share it if a unionization effort starts up–while choosing carefully whom to share with and asking for discretion in making use of the information. Although the value of the information is not huge; you can basically always expect that your employer will engage in union-busting if presented with an opportunity, almost regardless of industry and mission.

  44. RPOhno*

    LW5, if the wildfires trigger the need for activating an Incident Command Structure (many are), then I’m sure the agency assigned to logistics or support would be *very* interested in hearing about which specific fires this has impacted.

  45. Database Developer Dude*

    LW2 – do what you must do to protect yourself. These people lied to you and caused you harm. If you have to lie to protect yourself, do it, and get out of there as soon as you can. This is a bridge that needs to be burnt. It’s not “professional” to mess with someone’s livelihood.

  46. Observer*

    #3- Anti-Union CC bill

    Sharing that information will be a career limiting move. Not only will you almost certainly get fired for this, but even if the official policy at you employer is to not give any referrals, I have no doubt that someone will make sure to let people know what you did.

    And the thing that they are going to say is not “Tried to help union organizers” which could be a problem for many companies, but would be illegal for them to consider. But that “Shared private information that they got access to because of their job.” I cannot imagine any accounting department that’s going to want to touch that with a 20 yard pole. (Or even with a 100mile one…) There are some fields where the ability to keep your mouth shut is as important as any other capacity, and accounting is one of them.

    The exceptions are all in the range of legal requirements, safety and / or whistleblowing. What you are proposing falls under none of those headings. As a union organizer, I would not trust you. Even though you want to help unionization.

  47. Babushka*

    #2 – How have you not told off this company/Sara yet? I get being professional but reading your letter made me sad, it seems like they’ve walked all over you! This should be a warning to all of us that companies don’t really care about us, and we shouldn’t trust any promises until we have it in writing.

    1. Elbe*

      Agreed! The LW is handling this in a very professional way, even as this company is behaving so poorly.

      I’m curious as to how Sara reacted to these “plot twists” and if she seemed to understand how negatively her advice/info has affected the LW. If the LW gets the sense that the company doesn’t really care about the incredibly poor spot they’ve put the them in, then they should just focus on finding a job elsewhere. At least the relocation may help with finding other positions.

  48. chzplz*

    #1 – I have an employee like this. What’s worse is:

    a) he didn’t want this job in the first place, his position was being eliminated and he was offered this one, otherwise he would be laid off.

    b) he’s approaching retirement age but can’t afford to retire. So he’s planning to work at least another 5 years.

    c) his negative attitude is well known throughout the organization, so he has no hope of a lateral transfer. He applied for a few earlier on, but doesn’t bother anymore. He’s decided he’s in a dead end position and plans to just wait it out, unhappily.


  49. Dandylions*

    #2 Ugh! If it weren’t for the size of your company I would assume you worked for my husband’s past company. They were a small non profit of just 3 people. After I was in a bad car accident, he was without a car as I needed his car to drive to work in the opposite direction. His work was completely doable as WFH but I also car pooled so he had the car 2 days for in office work.

    After 2 weeks of this his boss really started putting the pressure on for him to buy a vehicle and be in the office everyday. Again he could work from home!

    Well anyway we told them we would buy a car that weekend. Literally the next day, just like you, after we bought a car he came in and they told him they were laying him off.

    Unlike you he called them out on it (it was a married pair who co-owned the non profit). When he asked them why on earth they pushed him to get a car when they knew they were going to lay him off???

    It’s just business. You need to learn to take stuff less personally. Plus we wanted you in the office for the last 4 weeks of your layoff notice.

    So yeah they literally waited to lay him off until after he took out a loan for a car because they were afraid he would goof off during his notice period on WFH days!

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      They are utter scum.
      (and some people claim that nonprofit employees don’t need unions to protect them)

  50. Not legal advice*

    The False Claims Act was created because contractors during the Civil War were keeping all the money and giving substandard supplies to the soldiers. Even a lowest bid contractor would still be required to give edible food to the firefighters and not doing so while still claiming full payment could qualify as a false claim. Even better, the whistleblower (you, in this case) gets a portion of any award. It can take some time but may be way to effect change. I’d do some internet research and possibly contact a few lawyers (this is very contingency based because they get paid based off awards too) so it should be easy to find some who will talk to you for free

    1. Hurricane Wakeen*

      This is what I came here to say. This fact pattern is so similar to the origins of the FCA! I would really encourage OP to talk to an attorney about filing a complaint.

      1. FCA*

        Also came here to say this. Specifically look for attorneys who have False Claims Act experience and who represent “relators” (the term of art under the act for whistleblowers.

  51. Parenthesis Guy*

    #2: It’s clear that management screwed you. It’s also clear that Sara is at minimum unable to protect you and also potentially screwing you.

    It could be that Sara was told that there would be no layoffs on this team, only to find out right before it happened that the entire team was being offshored.

    Likewise, Sara could have thought that you’d have that extra day to decide which position you wanted, but someone higher than the people at her meeting asked about that position. When they heard you were thinking it over, they decided to give Sara a dictat to move on to the next person.

    So, I wouldn’t be angry at her necessarily, but it’s clear you can’t trust this org during this period of time. It’s a red flag to get out if you can.

  52. ADDAnon*

    The Incident Command System (ICS) is where you start, NOT the media. Bringing media into a base camp, even if you’re not co-located with the Incident Command Post is going to torpedo your career.

    I’m going to give specific advice – I’m in the Planning Section of one of our state’s USAR teams, and, I used to have a colleague who was a Food Unit Leader in California-

    So, going up the chain works, but since you’re in Operations and Food is in Logistics it’s gotta go up then down. To shortcut it…

    Every day at morning briefing an Incident Action plan is handed out / posted. In that IAP there is an Org Chart. That’ll tell you who your shifts Safety Officer (moldy food) and Logistics Chief (contractor management) are. The person who actually manages the contractor is the Food Unit Leader- they tend to be a safety conscious and passionate bunch.

    The contractor must provide a minimum number of calories per person, per meal. Unfortunately this does sometimes materialize as a bag lunch with an apple and 2 slices of bread with an inch of cheese slices in between.

    1. ADDAnon*

      I just realized there’s a lot of whistleblower advice too. Don’t do that. If you’re not on a federally managed fire, that isn’t going to do any good at all. Even if you are, by the time things get moving everything will have been over for a year.

  53. AQ*

    LW4, I am pretty sure I am in the same city and connected areas and had the same overlap during the incident. It’s okay to be anxious because it was a very upsetting incident!

    I found out our office had a safety officer meeting post-incident to discuss updating and reminding everyone of their safety plans in place (We are informed on fire, tornado/storm, active shooter, and bomb/evacuation plans). They even went through a “what should we do better?” If you feel comfortable, do reach out to your manager and/or HR and discuss how they are addressing their safety plans. Prior to the incident, they had a security person go through and designate “safe rooms” in case of an active shooter, so during lockdown our anxiety was lessened a little knowing where those places were. Many companies and the building managers /are/ thinking these things as well and it’s okay to ask!!

  54. Elbe*

    Wow, I feel for LW2. This is incredibly poor treatment.

    It could be that Sara isn’t at a high enough level to know about the layoff/hiring decisions. If that’s the case, she’s less of a villain but should have been more honest with the LW. She should have been clear that she can’t speak to layoff decisions or hiring timelines when the LW asked.

    Intentional or not, the LW is getting really bad information from Sara and other managers. If the LW has the impression that it’s a Sara or middle management problem, it may be okay to stay in the running for the other positions. If the LW has the sense that it’s an upper management problem, then best to avoid the company entirely, if possible. Upper management attitudes are very unlikely to change.

    Even in well-run companies, layoffs are sometimes unavoidable. Sometimes, you have to just chalk it up to “that’s business” and move on. But how a company handles layoffs speaks volumes about their general attitude toward their employees. In this case, the mishandling is so bad that I think the LW would be right to feel mistreated.

  55. PubIntAtty*

    Lw5- this is fraud on the part of the contractor and falls firmly within the authority of the Office of the Inspector General, either for Department of Ag or Department of Interior depending in the fire site. You can file a complaint online (the more photos/ documentation you provide the better). But also all the folks saying media and elected reps are right too… this kind of abuse needs to get sanitized by as much light as possible.

  56. theletter*

    Grump manager: I’ve found that with many boring tasks, there should be a constant and consistent effort to automate, distribute, or reconsider the value of the task. I’ve come across tasks that where grandfathered in from another group that the team no longer reports to, and tasks that once had great value but had become redundant. I’ve found tasks where the value was apparent to me but no one else. I once even found a task that was intentionally boring and arduous b/c the person who designed it wanted something monotonous to do at the end of the day.

    As a manager, you have the unique perspective and access to shape these activities. Could they be grouped and automatically assigned? Tackled as a team in the middle of the afternoon with snacks? Reconfigured as a training activity for new employees? Reduced to the point of insignificance? Don’t take ‘We’ve always done it this way’ as an answer. Lots of people will whip the horses into running faster and ignore the car that sitting in the driveway.

  57. Lyra Silvertongue*

    OP3 – if you’re looking to unionize, connect with an organization that can give you support in that. It’s only worth risking things for anti-union sentiment if your workplace is actively trying to unionize, otherwise what’s the point? Take risks that make sense. I would heavily suggest that you seek advice from a union and not a management blog on what you can do here. If you’re not looking to unionize….. why risk it.

  58. CommanderBanana*

    Someone who complains about a task but turns down multiple sincere offers of help with said task has lost their complaining privileges, IMHO.

  59. HungryLawyer*

    LW5, I would recommend reaching out to the Ombudsman/Ombudsperson office for the Forest Service (assuming this is a Forest Service/USDA contract). You could also reach out to your Congressional Representative or Senator’s office and ask the constituent services lead.

  60. FattyMPH*

    #5’s best bet may be to find a journalist who has previously covered structural issues in firefighting as an industry (i.e. use of prisoners as firefighter labor who then can’t get firefighting jobs when they’re released because they were in prison) and invite them to cover it. Typically things like this only get fixed with public pressure.

  61. Nilsson Schmilsson*

    LW 5, is it at all possible to take of few of the really boring, monotonous things off her plate and reassign to others? Perhaps find a few not-so-boring things for her to do? I do understand that this might not be practical, but I can’t imagine having a job that even my boss found awful.

  62. Coverage Associate*

    I haven’t read the comments. Re #5.

    Those contracts are set at the multi state region or national level, so it’s unlikely that anyone at the fire has authority to change the contract. If OP feels the chain of command isn’t taking this seriously, options – OP can contact:
    *OP’s congress person and senators, and ask their office to initiate an investigation
    *the Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture, who is tasked with monitoring the proper operating of the USDA, which is the department that handles federal wildfire response
    *any other whistleblower resources on the USDA’s website
    *the United States Department of Justice in the District where the fires were. Not meeting contractual requirements of a federal contract can be a crime (the most likely conviction is the company will face a fine and forfeit their contracts; very very unlikely they will go after a line cook or even CEO). District shouldn’t be too hard to find with google, or hopefully the FBI’s general tip line can help
    *a private attorney. Private citizens can often sue where they identify wasted government funds, such as overpaying for catering. The private citizen and their lawyer keep a portion of what they recover on behalf of the government

  63. Sally Sue*

    Mind blown that someone who works in accounting has to ask if it’s ok to share confidential financial information.

  64. Nudibranch*

    I’m near frequent wildfire areas.

    1)My impression is that firefighters are often interviewed by news orgs. That is the time to slip in something about substandard and inadequate food. People love and support firefighters, so I think you’d get some public interest and local outrage if that word got out. If possible have multiple ‘heroes’ refer to the problem.

    2) Local churches and non-profit orgs often host and provide food for firefighters and rescue personnel. Get the word out! If you’re not getting the support you should through government paid contractors, I have a feeling there are local people and orgs who be more than willing to help and host.

  65. Coverage Associate*

    For OP #5 and others interested in some non-technical and interesting writing about how those catering contracts work out, here’s a news article about how it’s hard to staff the catering and about these temporary villages that form at the edge of wildfires:

    My sibling also gets seconded to these villages as not-a-firefighter. My sibling says the “dead man’s plate” thing is not common, but the T-shirts are.

  66. SJD*

    LW #5 — The US Fire Administration is house under FEMA. The House Emergency Management and Technology Subcommittee within the Homeland Security Committee maintains oversight over FEMA. On the Senate side, the Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management within the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee “conducts oversight of the management and efficiency of government agencies and operations,” and “is also responsible for reviewing federal rulemaking and regulatory policies, as well as federal contracting and procurement policies.” Start bugging the members of those subcommittees.

  67. TLC Squeak*

    For LW #1, it might help to clarify that asking for help and support or asking for advice to navigate a difficult situation is always encouraged, but venting for the sake of venting is not.

  68. Hereforit*

    For LW #5 as a federal employee of a very different agency, it sounds like the one hiring the contractors is employing the lowest price technically acceptable evaluation for these caterers. Your best bet is to contact the agency, specifically the contracting officer if you can find out who is doing it. Congress won’t get involved in this scale. However in general, the government is trying to get away from LPTA, but smaller awards (under 250k) still use it frequently.

  69. America, yeah*

    How about the fact that no one can Google LW4 because too many incidents would come up?

  70. Caz*

    OP#2: Stop telling Sara things. Being in close communication with your manager is great so long as that communication is working *for you*. Right now every time you let her in on your thought process or whatever it going on in your life that is going to impact on your next decision, it is working against you. Continue to do your best to get out of this mess that she’s got you into, but don’t tell her any specifics of what you’re doing or what potential offers you’ve got going on until you’re ready to tell her that you’re leaving! Here’s hoping that day comes sooner rather than later for you.

  71. zelda*

    Hey #3! If there are actual unionization plans afoot, you can expect that the organizers assume that union-busting is inevitable and will be prepared for it. From my (union executive) perspective, the risk to you outweighs the benefits here–that potential union organizers be confirmed in what they know.

  72. The Unionizer Bunny*


    From how Alison describes the training, it sounds more like an external consulting firm that is trying to soothe a manager unduly fearful of unions by assuring them “look, it’s okay, just treat your workers like decent people and you don’t have to be worried about a union”.

    If a manager wants to find out how THEY can discourage unions from forming, and they put it on the company credit card, that’s basically “their money, their call”, and might not merit follow-up except to ask their higher-ups if the manager was directed to make this purchase. (This might encourage their higher-ups to approve the training for EVERY manager, which it sounds like you don’t want to happen.)

    It’s when they begin to mandate that WORKERS come in for anti-union propaganda, or they hire outside consultants to chat up employees probing for potential pro-union sentiment, that you may have legal financial-expenditure reporting duties.

    OLMS issued an LM10 Fact Sheet that you may be able to read better than me, but I recommend Jeffrey Freund’s entries on the U.S. Department of Labor Blog, in which he explains in very layperson-friendly detail the steps they’ve been taking to fully enforce the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 – your employer only has to file within 90 days of the end of their fiscal year, but the outside people they PAY must file within 30 days. This is intended explicitly to level the playing field by giving workers access to information about outsiders a company brings in to gain unfair advantage against a potential union. Education (of management) is not covered – it’s activities that seek to “persuade” workers, or “surveil” them (see their official guidance for a full list).

    If a manager has been making one purchase, they might be encouraged (in their training) to make more. You should keep a closer eye on unfamiliar vendors in their card expenditures. If one of those appears to be more aggressively anti-union, check the OLPDR page 30 days after, and if it’s not listed, THEN you may have grounds for a whistleblower report. (But not to other workers – to the government.) You shouldn’t just be looking to the future, though; is this the FIRST anti-union expenditure that manager has ever made? Maybe they heard about it from another manager. Has anyone in your company dealt with that vendor in a previous fiscal year? By law they must preserve records of those purchases for 5 years in case of an audit, and OLMS has the authority to subpoena those records. (It would be awkward if a consultant met their legal reporting requirements but the company was trying to cover it up. Though it’d be more likely that neither of them did.)

Comments are closed.