Sunday, May 20, 2012

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Ryan Young and the Idiocracy at Safeway

Simmering on the back burner: a piece on identity and self-identification that will, I suspect, re-affirm my status as curmudgeon and annoy the hell out of those who think that I should be a good little progressive and roll over for the likes of Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren just because I generally agree with them politically. Roughly 2/3 written: an update piece covering several stories I’ve talked about in the past couple of years.

But today’s topic: the saga of Ryan Young. The utterly incompetently written piece linked here nonetheless communicates the essential information: Mr. Young was working as a meat clerk at a Safeway in Del Rey Oaks, California when he saw a man beating up a pregnant woman. So he did what any normal, ethical person would do: he intervened. Here’s Mr. Young’s own description of the events:
Every few seconds he would turn around and push her and then he actually kicked her. I told him to calm down and he was just irate. I saw no one was intervening in the situation and I just became afraid for her safety and also other customers safety. The guy was out of control and pretty much lost it in there.
Is it heroism simply to do the right thing? When there’s risk involved, I’d say yes. But at the very least it’s a net plus.

So what does Safeway, in its infinite wisdom, do? Why, suspend him without pay, of course! There’s apparently some rule—no one will really come out and say so—that the correct thing to do is to call security or a manager. Morons. These people are the enemy. I mean that. They were the ones sniping at Columbus, at Galileo, at John Hancock. Pythagoras probably had to endure them. You know Confucius did. And Einstein. And Nelson Mandela. And James Joyce. And Susan B. Anthony.

These are the people who can’t wrap their head around the idea that we need to be smarter than the rules, that sometimes you have to act, and that a young and apparently strong employee like Mr. Young might well be better suited to controlling a violent batterer than a pudgy middle-aged manager would be. More to the point, Mr. Young took action because it was necessary. Sure, if there was a threat of violence, he should get someone in authority on the scene. But this wasn’t some “gee, wouldn’t it be awful if…” scenario. This was real. And it was right now.

Everyone on the planet—except the buffoons at Safeway, of course—seems to understand that Young acted appropriately. The police chief thinks so. The witnesses think so. Even the store’s loss prevention manager thinks so. There is Internet outrage. There’s a fund-raiser. There’s a petition with a whole lot of signatures (I was #149,605). Meanwhile, the Safeway silliness squad execs have dithered for over a month, while Young, an expectant father, languishes without a paycheck.

Safeway is a definition by example of the Peter Principle, the idea that every employee rises to the level of his own incompetence. In any sane universe, everyone who contributed to Mr. Young's suspension, from enacting it to begin with to not over-turning it when given the opportunity to do so, would not only be fired—not suspended, fired—but be paraded through the streets in stocks and pelted with eggs bought at one of Safeway’s competitors. Any pregnant woman would be allowed to punch and kick every one of these idiots, preferably in the groin. Mr. Young’s own pregnant wife may also use a crowbar. The woman who suffered the beating in the store: a sledgehammer.

But this isn’t a sane universe, as you know all too well, Gentle Reader. I am, if nothing else, reminded of the sage advice I once received from a dear friend when an employer terminated me without following their own rules, let alone due process. She said, and I can quote it exactly although it was long ago, “You could sue them, and you’d win, but then you’d have to work for those assholes.” Yes, it would be good for Ryan Young to get his job back, and the company had damned well better pay him for his extended leave of absence while they tried unsuccessfully to extricate crania from anuses.

But what should happen, what would happen if I managed a competing grocery store, would be a conversation like this:
Telephone rings.

Ryan Young (into phone): Hello?

Me: Hello, Mr. Young?

RY: Yes…

Me: This is Curmie, the manager of Curmie’s Grocery Store.

RY: Yes?

Me: I’d like you to come work for me, in the same job you had at Safeway. I’ll pay you half of the money you lost by getting suspended at Safeway as a signing bonus, and I’ll pay you 10 cents an hour more than they were paying you. You interested?

RY: Of course!

Me: There’s one catch. I want you to do an ad for my store. I’ll pay you for that, too, but you’ve got to agree to it now or there’s no deal. OK?

RY: What do I have to say?

Me: Here’s the script: “Hi, my name is Ryan Young. A few weeks ago, I stopped a man from beating up a pregnant woman. Safeway suspended me without pay for it. Curmie’s hired me because of it. So… who would you rather have make a profit from your grocery purchases?” Deal?

RY: Deal.

Me: See you at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. Wear a tie; you’re gonna be on TV.
Game, set, and match.

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