So, you think it's fun dealing with the National Magazine Exchange as potential customers. Try actually working for them.
I am a former employee of Special Data Processing Corporation a.k.a. National Magazine Exchange. I was terminated from my employment without just cause on Wednesday, April 2, 2003 by the then Director of Partnership Sales and Program Manager for Special Data Processing Corporation (hereafter SDP or the company) and the Senior Human Resources Manager.
I was not given a rational reason for my termination when it happened, it was not presented to me in writing nor was I given a post-employment interview. The questions I had regarding my dismissal were then largely ignored and when I was able to pin them down, a third party was blamed. The person who they said made the decision (allegedly the corporate attorney who has since resigned) did not face me, to explain her reasons. I was not then and have not been offered a severance package.
I have been the victim of harassment and a hostile working environment brought about by my pointing out and reporting unethical, immoral and possibly illegal conduct sanctioned by my employer in the workplace and making other employees, and the authorities aware of such. These complaints were filed as both in house grievances, letters, memos, and meetings with supervisors and management over a period of nearly eight months.
I was rehired at SDP on November 26, 2001; I previously worked for the company from March 1991 July 1992; and again in April 1995. A committee now makes the decision to rehire or not, based presumably on the previous employees past record of performance. I was provided an employee manual at this time stating the terms and conditions as an employee of SDP as of that point in time.
At some unknown, undetermined date after my hire, this manual was withdrawn and NO substitute was ever put in its place. One or two dress code updates were added to pay envelopes from time to time as well as information on insurance, vacation pay benefits, 401k items etc. We signed a form allowing the Quality Assurance Department to monitor our calls. We were told in training this was for our protection in order too prevent customers from putting the company into legal trouble for things we didn't say. We were also told this was for training purposes to help us improve our presentations and our sales techniques.
I wondered at the time however, why there was no written criteria presented to us as to what the companies exact performance expectations were beyond the basic scripts and rebuttals. It was not a written requirement to say these verbatim except in the confirmation process for closers. In other words, no specific expectations or rules regarding calls we had to read and sign existed (apart from a very few guidelines regarding no call no mail policy and profanity in the Code of Ethics). I took them at their word at that point and let it go.
It would be months later that I would find out the truth about the actual scope and authority of the Quality Assurance Department. I also signed a copy of the aforementioned Code of Ethics agreeing to abide by it.
The company claims to have specific policy that it goes by in making disciplinary policy decisions, but employees do not have a copy of them. The reason employees do not have a copy of them is because they are not written down anywhere with the sole exception of the dress code and Code of Ethics (as I said, written in a general manner and open to wide interpretation in many instances). In fact, the rules are largely a matter of management whim, loosely interpreted by assistant supervisors, managers, and most importantly the Quality Assurance Department (hereinafter QD) I referenced.
QD also has the authority to issue progressive disciplinary action on all telesales employees; this was not something emphasized in training. The Blue Envelope is a dreaded sight for telesales employees who can be given any form of discipline from a simple advisory to verbal warning to written warning to Level One to Level Two to termination depending on the violation and/or the whim of the Department Manager. Calls were randomly monitored by different QD employees with differing levels of highly questionable experience and ability on a random basis. I say highly questionable because most rank and file QD employees are failed SSR's and Verifiers, in other words this was their last stop before a trip to the unemployment office.
This random monitoring effects every telesales department, SSA, Verification, Customer Service, One Switch, etc. in the company. On occasion employees would receive envelopes for between call comments that QD could not absolutely attribute to a specific employee because of microphone sensitivity. Not only does the company not have any potential liability risk on non-calls, but also on occasion the wrong employee would be disciplined or even fired for these arbitrary QD rulings. This is nothing more than eavesdropping.
At the same time, you could also be disciplined for not saying things or omitting certain truths. For example in the script for the SSA's it was written that the Sweepstakes is held primarily for major credit card holders when in fact the Sweepstakes is valid for anyone who calls in. The implication here of course, if not in words is that you have a better chance to win if you have a credit card. The obvious psychology is to encourage cardholders not to lie and thus avoid the sales pitch. The preferred customers for the magazine promotion are credit card holders whose cards we immediately go for if they pick magazines.
A pay by check department also exists but this is the less desired route because of low collections and slow turnaround. The cancellation rebuttals are misleading and deceptive, but if you are caught not reciting them, or telling customers that they can cancel, you can be punished (except for OneSwitch, which is forced, by federal contract, to be honest). Callers are pushed into providing phone numbers, but it is not revealed that these will be sold and used for future telemarketing purposes by SDP and others.
In all fairness though the company strictly maintains a no call, no mail policy when the customer is savvy enough to see through that smoke. QD is also used by Department Managers to weed out various troublemakers and undesirables at random by running profiles (selective harassment).
I too on several occasions came under the dubious scrutiny of QD. It was requested but not required in any disciplinary or counciling session that the employee sign the disciplinary form, if not necessarily to agree with but to acknowledge the situation, and that it had been addressed with the employee. In virtually every situation I was involved in I made it a policy not to sign, absent a written regulation I violated and/or proof that there was intent to deliberately mislead or maliciously defraud the company or customer.
In no situation whatsoever was any written regulation produced. I would usually follow up these situations by filing an in house grievance for the Blue Envelope or counciling, again requesting justification. No justification or regulation was EVER provided, because none of these grievances were ever formally addressed.
In many instances, since August 2002, I spoke to management regarding QD's abuse of authority. When I would point out that many of these corporate irregularities may violate the law and may feel compelled to seek assistance from a public agency, it was plainly stated that this would have a negative impact on my career and longevity with the company. When I was in the R & D (Research and Development) Department certain disciplinary actions were reviewed and removed from my file as unjustifiable. A particular Manager in that Department told me that if I withdrew my grievances, not file any more, and not make waves while in R & D, I would not be troubled by QD again. He kept his word during that period. When I transferred out of R&D and went back to OneSwitch in March 2003, the QD harassment began again. In a routine meeting with the then current Manager of OneSwitch and a Supervisor of OneSwitch, I was told that I could be again in QD's sights now that I was out of R&D. I told them both that QD needed to back up its decisions with facts. I said that I would tolerate no further harassment unless QD could prove I violated a documented rule or demonstrated a deliberate attempt to defraud and would take real action if I was bothered again without just cause.
Predictably, I was profiled and I received two more unjustifiable Blue Envelopes in OneSwitch (on March 27) and finally had been harassed enough. At this moment, I concluded that at the time of my re-employment, the company had concealed pertinent facts regarding company practices, which may have had, at the time a bearing over whether or not I would choose to come back. When they did not replace the Employee Manual, a total void was left except for sexual harassment, dress codes, and the equally weighty issue of spill-proof cups rules for which policy was re-issued in writing. This constituted a fundamental change in the hiring conditions.
These oppressive conditions did not exist in 1991 or 1995 when I had also worked for the company. The company had lost all respect for its employees. I prepared a memo revoking QD's permission to randomly monitor my pre-sale calls for the purposes of profiling, but not managers or supervisors in the ordinary duties or the Sales Auditing Department who's responsibility it is to insure Federal TSR laws are obeyed. One of the Directors asked me if I would withdraw the grievance. I told him I would if he would investigate and withdraw the envelopes and Level One by April 2. He accepted my condition and said he would look into the matter ASAP and would get back to me no later than April 2. I told him if he needed more time I would extend my deadline, he said April 2nd was time enough.
I reminded him that in no instance when I filed grievances against QD were any of my points addressed, or even acknowledged. This told me that the company had something to hide. He told me that he wanted us to work together to fix this problem in the company. He said this to me in front of two witnesses. I told that Director that as a company Director, he was perfectly capable of fixing any problem that needed fixing with or without my participation. That Director, did not at that
time; indicate that my job would be ended if I went through with my promise to revoke my signature with QD, although he then had a copy of it in his hands.
On Monday, March 31, the Director asked me if I had withdrawn my grievance. I asked him if the Blue Envelopes and Level One had been reviewed and withdrawn, he said he hadn't gotten to it yet, I said he had to my deadline and if he kept his word to me I would not take further action, he agreed to hurry.
By the afternoon of April 2, he had not fulfilled his promise and I gave the memo of April 2 to the Director of H.R. shortly after 1PM. Shortly after 2PM, Director #1 came to me at my workstation requesting a meeting. We met in a private office; the Director of H.R. was also in attendance. Director #1 said that he was under instructions from the legal department to separate employment, because without QD's ability to monitor my calls he couldn't protect the company.
When I asked, protect the company from what? he would not respond. I pointed out that I restricted QD only, but again, not managers or supervisors in the ordinary duties or the Sales Auditing Department who has a clear legal mandate and purpose. All he said was again he was under instructions from the legal department to separate employment. When I pointed out that I had offered to withdraw the memo if he kept his word, he apologized and said he had been too busy on other projects and it was too late. I pointed out he had made the offer himself without any prompting from me. I asked him point blank three times, if I was being set up and actually fired for asserting my rights in the workplace and accusing the company of illegal sales practices and threatening to turn the company in. His response was the same mantra. My Security badge was collected and I was escorted off site by the Director who apologized to me repeatedly and said he had no choice. I told him that I thought he did, but he chose not to take it.
My long standing complaint is that Special Data Processing Corporation has no written rules or guidelines for its employees to follow as pertains to any activity that QD can discipline the employee for. This is not hair-splitting, semantics, or my personal crusade, it is VERY significant. I will give you two examples of what I am talking about: you can be disciplined up to termination for badgering a customer, but no definition exists anywhere as to what constitutes badgering. In a sales organization, where does salesmanship and closing the deal end and badgering begin? Is the definition different for an SSA, a Verifier, or a One-Switch representative?
Another, even more serious example: Pennsylvania, for example, is one of about nine or ten no rebuttal states. This means that the Telemarketing Laws in those states are written in such a way that if a potential customer says No at any point of the presentation to the salesperson, they are required by that states law to warm close them and say good-bye. No rebuttal states are not mentioned or referenced in any training, script, or sales document that I have ever seen at SDP. If a sales representative is being monitored by QD and not rebuttaling a Pennsylvania caller they could be written up, given a Level, or terminated.
Telesales jobs are safe at SDP if employees violate the laws of other states that management deems as inconvenient or non-profitable. Employees aren't informed of such state laws, unless SDP is caught and fined by that state. I will not follow rules or regulations that are illegal or immoral, written or not. That is not employee misconduct, it is employer misconduct. The State of Oregon caught up with SDP and levied a stiff fine. Since April 2, I have personally made the Attorney General of Pennsylvania and many other states aware of these and other possible irregularities. Several of these states are now conducting their own investigations.
My complaints were never answered, except with unwritten, vague promises of future action. I was threatened with termination if I made my complaints public. This was the real reason I was separated. My April 2nd memo was the reason they used to attempt to give the termination an aura of legitimacy.
Since my departure, the blue envelopes are now red, and an internal movement to organize a labor Union (Communications Workers of America) within the company has begun. The rank and file within SDP are also disgusted, their pay is constantly cut the benefits are a joke and their treatment is as you have read, horrendous. The success of the Union within SDP should help clean up their act.
Incidentally, Pat Haines is not just a marketing name the company uses. She was one of the co-founders of the company along with her son Randy and William H. (Bill) Hood, III. She gave the company permission to use her name on the mailers for a fee. I was a member of her SSA team when I initially joined the company in 1991.
Special Data Processing Corporation (D.B.A. National Magazine Exchange, D.B.A. OneSwitch)
16120 US Highway 19 North
Clearwater, FL 33764
Palm Harbor, Florida
U.S.A. Click here to read other Rip Off Reports on National Magazine Exchange