Jordan Green asks- do big corporations care?

by Jordan Green

Do you ever feel like corporations in America don’t care about their employees?

It’s a tough question to ask, but I began to ponder it last week when I read about a railway worker who was recently fired for saving the life of a kitten. Yes, really.

According to LoveMeow, a blog dedicated to helping our feline friends, Chris Small was inspecting a line of cars for the Norfolk Southern Railway the night of Oct. 30 when he heard the sound of a crying kitten. It was dark, and a heavy rain was falling in the Louisville, Kentucky train yard where he worked, making it hard for him to determine just where the kitten was.

After looking in several cars, Small finally found the little one stuck in a tight spot on a tank car.

He saw that the kitten was tiny and that it likely wouldn’t be able to leap out of the hole. He said he “promised” the kitten that he would return to retrieve it once his work was done.

The kitten was still there by the time his shift was over, and so he went back to get it. To do that, he had to remove some trash from the crack in the car where the kitten was. Sadly, none of the kitten’s litter mates were alive. But the carman was able to safely remove the last one, and he placed her in the pocket of his overalls. (P.S.: She’s alive and well now.)

Small then went back to the yard shop, where his boss told him: “Congratulations, you have a cat, but you probably don’t have a job.”

The next day, Small received a call from the railway. He was told he had been fired pending an investigation. If he returned to work, he would be arrested for trespassing, the company said.

When pressed about the situation on Facebook, however, the railway denied that they had terminated the carman.

LoveMeow posted the story to their website and Facebook page, where thousands of people read the article and posted comments lambasting the company for firing the employee. So Sunday night, the railroad, facing a public relations nightmare, issued this statement:

“After a review of the circumstances of the events of Oct. 30, Norfolk Southern has determined that the employee’s actions do not warrant dismissal. The employee has been notified of his return to service. 

“We recognize the concerns raised and to underscore our long-standing commitment to the safety and well-being of animals, Norfolk Southern will be making a donation in the amount of $10,000 to an animal welfare organization in the Louisville area.”

That’s not exactly an apology, but it’s better than nothing. Still, why was the employee fired for doing the right thing in the first place?

Over time, changes in the culture of corporate America have arguably left employees feeling worthless. One reason, some say, is because corporations prioritize profits over people.

In Rick Wartzman’s 2017 book entitled “The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America,” the writer focuses on how major corporations have changed their focuses in doing business.

Shortly after his book was published, Wartzman discussed it with a writer for Slate. In the interview, he argued that companies didn’t care about maximizing profits 50 years ago as much as they do today.

“The four big companies that I use to tell this story are GE, GM, Kodak, and Coca-Cola,” Wartzman said. “There was a shift from a stakeholder orientation, where the CEOs of these giant corporations talked in terms of balancing all their constituents in this postwar era. They talked about taking care of their customers and the communities they operated in; they even bragged about how much they paid in taxes. Corporate America shifted to a model that is now largely centered around maximizing shareholder value. Investors have explicitly been put quite above all of these other stakeholders, so when you carve out the pie, a bigger share is now going to investors, and a smaller share is going to labor. That’s what happened.”

While Wartzman makes a valid point, greed isn’t the only problem.

In some cases, I don’t feel that large companies are intentionally trying to hurt their employees. Rather, I think they’ve become so massive and over-regulated that they can’t address employees and their situations individually. In this case, firing the employee wasn’t right, but it probably seemed like the easiest way for a lower-level manager to make sure that the corporate overlords didn’t jump down his throat about following the rules. Obviously, context is important here. But have you ever tried to explain something to a “big dog” who doesn’t care to hear what you have to say?

To me, this situation shows what happens when companies become too big to remember that they employ people, not robots. When you’ve got so much money coming in, you sometimes forget about the people who make that money for you – and you forget that human people do human things, like save kittens. And you forget that rules should be structured around allowing employees to do what’s right, not what drives up fourth-quarter returns.

No company that fails to recognize their employees as human beings will ever be successful, at least not in the long term. Why? Because people, not profits, are what run businesses. And people, contrary to the way that corporate leaders would like them to act, will almost always stop to save kittens.