Political Economy

American Family Values

Today, my Father was fired from is thirteen year position as Claims Adjuster for American Family Insurance, based in Phoenix, AZ. He has twenty-three years experience in claims. He even managed a small office in Tucson. His characteristic even mood and thorough manner of talking with people did not match up with the hasty, superficial, fast-paced world we have today.

When the spiritualist author writes, “if you want to increase happiness in life, start by accepting what is”. I call bullshit on that. Who’s the publisher? Who edits that? How much money do they have? When we just accept our lives as-is, sure, anxiety might reduce when you don’t challenge what-is, but do you think that our richest spoiled-rotten citizens simply accept their life as-is? Believe, they are not satiated; there is no being-rich-enough — at least not for them.

My Father worked for American Family Insurance. He was a dependable tortoise that never took a sick day. In 2008, I was visiting the parents when the economic crisis struck day one; it was midnight in Tucson but morning news was on BBC. By morning, it was a worldwide phenomenon. He lost $80,000 from the 401K and $100,000 in home equity. Of course that money never really existed for anybody, did it? But, your dreams are mounted on that illusion — so what are our lives about, anyway?

When you have a billion dollars, liquid, you can buy any product available anywhere. How can you relate to the person who devotes their entire income to provide a stable home for their family?

“It’s your fault!” scolds the established class.

For this reason, our middle and working class are being hacked down to the lowest possible income bracket by impractical and unstable behavior from the established class. It has now become standard practice for the executive to carve their bonus out of corporate restructuring plans. So, every five years, upheave everything and shake another bonus out of the tree.

“Okay, how can we do this? Lets see… okay let our senior staff go, close an office, save a few million dollars, invest in to technology for automation thereby increasing company assets. Alright, that’s a good start. A plan that’s good for the stockholders is good for me, stocks will rise, and I’ll take a six figure bonus for all the smart thinking.”

American Family decided to close fourteen offices in five years and consolidate all services in the region to Phoenix. Then, they turned up the heat on workers by increasing workload while decreasing workers (who are now scared shitless), meanwhile experimenting with new systems and requiring quick adaptation — essentially testing new management techniques and computer systems on their employees. My Father was fifty-nine years old when all this started happening.

Luckily, he kept his job as an Adjuster. He is service industry, working from a cubicle in the processing of insurance claims — merely one small but important step up from the calling center. He was buried with work. There was unrest in the offices, workers started talking. Management had issues with the fact that workers couldn’t keep up, workers didn’t like that either, but the opposing armies disagreed about fair solutions. Management called a meeting. It was a motivational meeting. The message:


This they told to adult men and women who simply felt buried by this unreasonable workload and unstable environment. When I first heard this, I was confused. Initially, I was caught by the motivational, uplifting aspect of it. Sounds good, why would I want to tell myself I can’t do something? I have the power. But then I thought of the work these people are doing. They’re selling their life out to handle insurance claims. If they really cared about the people, they would tell them, “you can do it, you can write that novel … you can direct that film … you can be anything you want, you don’t have to adjust insurance claims!”

Then I realized the self-referencing aspect to it in the context of preparing for the motivational meeting. The Board must have assembled a committee to tackle this problem of low morale. The chairman starts the meeting by saying,

“Workers aren’t accepting all these changes like planned. We want to motivate them, but we can’t hire new workers, it’s just too costly. Nope, we can’t do anything but continue on our path and get them to do their work. We’ll have to explain this in a meeting. How do we conduct it?”

“Well, we can’t just tell them that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s demotivating. They don’t want to hear ‘we can’t hire anyone’, after all, they’re logic is ‘more work more business,’ right?”

“But we’re trying to reduce the cost of business, and besides, they don’t know anything about business.”

“I know, I know, you’re not getting me. Hearing the word ‘can’t’ will demotivate them, they will focus on that word and argue back. They need to feel like we are their Father figure, that we provide more to them than their own family, that we can handle our business, you see? We can, it’s them that can’t.”

“Ah, so don’t let on to our strategies, just shift blame to them!”

“Exactly, tell them there is no room for the word ‘can’t’ in the workplace. They’ll spend the next week discussing whether or not they can or can not handle the workload, and the best of them will turn around and believe that they can — in fact they’ll challenge each other. And they’ll hurry through their files with a fury. Like a little boy trying to impress his Father, he will never question us.”

“What if they ask why we can’t hire new workers?”

“We tell them that we can, in a few years when the economy improves.”

So when I revealed that point of view to my Father, he didn’t see it coming.

“Wow, someone in management must have uttered the word ‘can’t’ prior to making the decision that I am not supposed to say ‘can’t in the office.”

This is only one particularly obvious slice of hypocrisy that I have witnessed from AmFam. I suppose the fact that my Father’s job actually can’t truly support an American Dream, that is another piece of hypocrisy. In any case, I do not hate them, I am okay, I am happy for my father. He is freed from slavery. He can obtain unemployment and slide right in to retirement. Or else, we can risk his 401k on a final business venture. We shall see. Either way, I am here to help my family be the best we can be and to utilize this moment as an opportunity to live a better life. I hope I can emancipate my Mother now, who commutes almost an hour every day for ten dollars per hour and 2nd-rate Arizona state health benefits.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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