Friday, December 31, 2010

White Boxes

The rumors had been flying through the organization for weeks. Ever since the election, a sense of unease had fed them, the uncertainty of new leadership along with budget woes and a hostile board of supervisors uniting to form the perfect storm of discord and speculation.

Although it was no surprise, the sight of the white storage boxes stacked outside the directors office did little to calm the fears of the supervisors and of the support staff. "Who's next?" and "Is this a budget issue or is it retribution?"  were the questions of the day.

Most of the likely targets had at least made an effort to look for other positions. Some had actually received offers elsewhere, but had balked at the lower salaries, ridiculous commutes and unknown situations at the potential new employers. They now doubted their decisions as they walked into the office and saw the white boxes tacked at the director's door.

A lucky few had found new positions and had already left, sparing them the trauma of the forced separation process. Everybody else stared at the boxes and pondered their fate.

When the people from supply showed up to load the packed white boxes onto dollies and truck them downstairs, even the protected ones - the members of the union, felt the unease rise in the pits of their stomach. They knew that even though they were protected, they were still at risk. Their protection was merely words on paper, requiring a process to be followed before being let go.

While returning from lunch, some of the staff couldn't help but notice a few investigators with armfuls of flattened white boxes stepping into the elevators. This further fueled speculation as no one could remember the investigators ever carrying anything upstairs unless it was directly related to the cases that they were working on. The white box symbolism didn't help matters either.

The afternoon was filled with conversation about how many, who and when. Someone with a contact on the fifth floor said that the rumors were flying up there as well. The most prevalent ones involved the procedures that were going to be followed for the unlucky ones.

The fourth hand scoop was that the affected employees would learn their fate when on Monday when they tried to use their access card and enter the building through the staff entrance. Their cards were to be inactivated over the holiday weekend. Should they enter the building through the public entrance, their now inactive card would not allow the elevator to go past the second floor. If they should somehow make it to their desk, their passwords would no longer work and they would not be able to log on to their computers. It was surmised that would be about the time an investigator would show up at the unlucky one's desk with the white boxes.

Needless to say, it is going to be an uncomfortable weekend for some employees of this unnamed law enforcement agency. Civilian employees, primarily management and supervision, are at risk. The new guy in charge has made it clear that blood will flow.

Some of the survivors will likely jockey for position and try to fill some of the vacated positions, especially ones that are a little higher in pay or authority. I would advise caution in this, there is a certain level of risk in being an "at will' employee. Just ask the people with white boxes sitting outside their cubicles.

I respect the new guy's authority to make changes, though I hope it is for budgetary and efficiency purposes rather than retribution for some people supporting the old guy. I suspect that the motivation for the purge is a little of both. Time will tell on that.

Although this little tale really isn't about a fire service organization, this and other law enforcement agencies occasionally work with us in various endeavors. Besides, we are all affected by what happens in the criminal justice system.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    Oh man.
    As one who has recently delivered a white box, I knew exactly what you meant.
    I hate to think of retribution being a factor. It's certainly inappropriate.

    Best of luck to your LEO partners over at the Kinda Big Police Agency. And to all LEOs and Fire Service employees over the Kinda Dumb New Year's Eve activities.

    Ann T.

  2. Cap,

    That's why I keep saying that anyone who takes a chief's job without being retirement eligible runs the risk of being held hostage. We're seeing it here, the chief is afraid of losing his job, and he has been muzzled by the mayor.

  3. I find the term "at will" as a kind of ambiguous double edged sword. It does allow for a streamlined management team all on the same page, but it certainly can be abused by a vindictive Chief Executive. It definitely is a condition that must be evaluated before accepting an "at will" position.

    Thanks for the comments.