Employees Paid For Doing Nothing In Motel Room
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ Bob Deatherage is paid about $100 a day to sit in a small motel room for eight hours, reading, watching television and playing cards.
For some, that sounds like a perfect job. But Deatherage says it’s boring and the company’s way of harassing him into quitting.
Deatherage, a 31-year railroad veteran, and two other Burlington-Northern employees get paid for their time in what they call the ″rubber room.″ Burlington-Northern calls the worksite an alternative work location.
″It does sound great, but it’s not,″ said Deatherage, 49, a railroad clerk. ″It’s demoralizing. It’s depressing. You are totally useless down here. ... It’s the company’s way of harassing us.″
The three have been reporting to work in the 8-by-10-foot room at the El Bandera motel in Yakima since Oct. 13, when Burlington-Northern sold a division that employed them as clerks.
Under their union contract’s job-security provisions, Burlington-Northern had to keep paying the veteran workers, but could not require them to transfer to another job unless it was within 35 miles.
″This is happening throughout the system,″ said Ray Pfliger, a union official with the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks in Pasco.
Howard Kallio, a Burlington-Northern spokesman in Seattle, said the company sends about two dozen of its employees to do essentially nothing at locations in Seattle, Yakima and Livingston, Mont.
″We are within our rights to require them to show up even if there’s no work,″ he said.
He said the rooms are not intended to bore employees into quitting.
″We are living up to our end of the agreement,″ said Kallio. ″But we aren’t going to let them go off and play golf.″
He acknowledged the arrangement encourages the workers to accept financial offers to quit or retire.
″It’s not a good situation and we try to negotiate an equitable solution. Generally, that’s a year’s lump sum,″ he said.
Deatherage said he’d settle with the company if it would offer him 60 percent of his regular wage, as he said Burlington-Northern has done with some former employees.
He said he doubts he could find a job in the area that pays as much, and the boredom is not enough for him to take a job elsewhere.
″My wife works here. I own a house. I’d have to sell it. Besides that, I have the guarantee,″ he said.
But the prospect of spending the next 13 years of his working life, until qualifying for a full pension at age 62, in a motel room doesn’t have much appeal either.
″I don’t intend to waste the rest of my life down here,″ he said.