Three Bad Employees

My wife Barbara and I were off to our daughter’s wedding. The trip started poorly.

I pulled over to the curb at Oakland Airport whereupon the traffic control officer, Gerald Boyakins, said, “No curbside check-in. You have to bring your things in.” There was no skycap in sight and we had a lot of luggage plus gifts, so Barbara and I lugged the stuff in. No sooner did we get inside when Boyakins walked over to us: “A guy’s about to give you a ticket.”

With Boyakins close behind, I raced out to find an officer, G.D. Perkins, just then pulling his summons book from his pocket. I said to Perkins, “Thank you, officer. I’m leaving.” “Don’t you go nowhere!” he barked, in a tone perfect for addressing an armed robber.

Perkins ordered Boyakins to stand in front of my car so I couldn’t move. I pleaded, “But he told me I had to bring the bags inside. I was just in there for 30 seconds, and you haven’t started writing the ticket yet. Please!” Boyakins, perhaps because he didn’t want to disagree with a co-worker in front of a “customer” (me), did not come to my defense. Perkins started writing the ticket whereupon a third traffic control officer wandered over to watch the festivities.

At that point, Barbara came out of the terminal and saw the trio clustered around me with Perkins writing the ticket. She pled, “We’re going to our daughter’s wedding.” Perkins kept writing. She continued, “Don’t you people have a heart?” Perhaps defensive about what they were doing, the third officer snapped, “What do you mean, ‘You people’?” (All three officers were Black.) We were dumbfounded: He was implying Barbara was being racist. We stood in shock as Perkins finished writing the ticket and handed it to us saying, “You wanna fight it? You have 21 days to appear.”

Lessons for Employees

Boyakins knew we didn’t deserve the ticket: He told us we had to take our luggage inside. He did not tell one of us to stay with the car. and indeed he watched the two of us go in. Yet in front of his colleague, he refused to defend us. He violated a key principle of the good employee: ethics first.

Perkins’ errors began with his very first utterance. He said, “Don’t you go nowhere!” in a tone that escalated the tension. In any job, from cop to doc, IRS agent to technical support person, a cooperative manner is invaluable.

Despite the absence of curbside check-in, despite our insisting that Boyakins told us to go inside the terminal to check in, despite our having left the car for just seconds, despite knowing that we were off to our only child’s wedding, and despite Perkins not having even started to write the ticket, he chose to issue the citation. He thereby violated another key principle of the good employee: think; exercise good judgment. What would Jesus (or King Solomon or Mohammed or Judge Judy) do? Would they have issued that ticket?

The third employee (We were too flustered to notice his nametag) committed the most egregious error by claiming racism when race had absolutely nothing to do with the situation. Too often, people play the race card to gain power in a dispute even when they know that no racism is involved. In other cases, people claim racism because they are hypersensitive to racial slights—perceiving a statement as racist when it is not. The wise employee reflects carefully before making an accusation as inflammatory as racism.

That third employee shouldn’t even have been there. Already, two employees were ministering over the issuing of a mere parking ticket. A third employee was not necessary—especially since all he did was watch and then make his absurd racial accusation. He thus failed to fulfill the good employee’s most basic responsibility: do your job.

The good news is that after the trip’s bad start, our trip went wonderfully. When the judge pronounced my daughter Amy and her wonderful husband Mike, man and wife, they both cried tears of joy. So did Barbara and I.

© 2007, Marty Nemko

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Marty Nemko holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. He is the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in (NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on . 400+ of his published writings are available free on that website and is a co-editor of Cool Careers for Dummies. and author of The All-in-One College Guide. E-Mail.

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