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CPSR - CPU, Issue 2

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Issue: 002 CPU: Working in the Computer Industry 5/1/93 + 12

CPU: WORKING IN THE COMPUTER INDUSTRY is an electronic publication dedicated to sharing information among workers in the computer industry.



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CPU is a project of the "Working in the Computer Industry" working group of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility / berkeley Chapter.

Editors for this issue: Michael Stack, Eric Auchard and Jim Davis.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the editors or CPSR. On the other hand, some do.


Welcome to the second issue of CPU. The response to issue #1 has been extremely encouraging, so it seems that there is indeed a desire to communicate with each other about the work we do. The various employer associations have their communication channels to share information about salaries and benefits and personnel issues; we'd like to see CPU help correct the imbalance.

Since, by default, subscribers' names on the CPSR listserver are private, we can only tell how many of you have subscribed, but we don't know any more than that. So we'd like to hear from you -- what are your workplace concerns? What's wrong or right about your job? What are the issues we need to be addressing? Send us noteworthy pieces that go by on the company email -- we'll keep the source confidential if you want. And finally, please re-post this newsletter on your local net -- we'd like to see it broadcast as widely as possible.

May 1 (well, this was _supposed_ to be out by May 1) is the traditional holiday for workers around the world. The tradition started in the US. after the Civil War, during the fight for the 8-hour workday, and then was adopted internationally in support of the labor movement here. (Labor Day was later moved to September to distance the labor movement from its militant roots.) So here's to Mayday, and hey, while we're at it, let's hear it for bringing back the 8-hour day.

Jim Davis


[Editor's note: Against a background of widespread layoffs, Boeing engineers and technicians staged a one-day strike on January 19 -- the first in the professional union's 47-year history. The action reflected rising concern about job status and pay rates within the ranks of the financially troubled aviation giant. Labor protest may seem a distant curiosity to Silicon Valley programmers, who labor in a work environment with little tradition of union activity. Yet the resemblance between working conditions at Boeing and large high tech employers in the computer industry bears many similarities.]

At Boeing, the Seattle Professional Engineering Employees Association (SPEEA) represents engineers, allied professionals, and supporting technicians. Currently, there are approximately 23,000 represented in the bargaining unit and 14,000 of them are dues-paying members. Boeing's stance on unions has been to keep them as small as possible and in this case they have tried to keep the membership weak by narrowly defining who is an "engineer". For example, there are about 10,000 people in Boeing Computer Services (BCS), one of three company divisions, but only about 500 BCS employees are allowed full engineer status, classified as paycode 4. One reason is that computer science degrees, unless granted by the computer science department of a Boeing--accredited Engineering School, does not count as sufficient qualification. This narrow definition is heavily disputed by SPEEA and individual computer professionals angered by this arbitrary distinction.

The problems with the 1992 negotiations started with the previous contract negotiations which took place three years before. In 1989, SPEEA refused to accept the contract but also refused to strike. The major issue for SPEEA members was the wage scale for their members compared to the manufacturing workers' union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Though many SPEEA engineers are required to hold technical degrees that other job classifications are not, there are frequent examples where the engineers are paid less than the IAM members whom they supervise. Maintenance custodians, for example, who require no previous qualifications, are paid more than some SPEEA technicians who must have technical academic degrees. It is this type of inequality that SPEEA wants addressed by Boeing, though the organization is careful to demand that pay equity not be achieved at the expense of manufacturing or other workers. In recent years, Boeing had responded positively by promising redress in the upcoming contract.

An indication that Boeing would be true to its word, were the results of the 1992 IAM negotiations. IAM negotiated a contract that most observers in the Aerospace industry viewed as very reasonable. This raised SPEEA's expectations of their own chances.

Negotiations started last September, yet by the end of 1992 it had become clear to the SPEEA negotiating team that Boeing was not going to budge. The negotiating team's initial reaction to the proposed contract was at first very negative, but nonetheless they narrowly voted to recommend accepting it. Having the whole membership accept the terms was another matter. The general membership convened in December and they were given a list of highlights from the proposed contract. Most people realized that the contract failed to address their concerns. As the negotiating team presented the proposal, the audience mood turned bitter, interrupting the speakers with boos, chants, and screams. A straw poll followed and the mass meeting voted not to accept the contract. For the first time since the engineering union was founded at Boeing in 1945, workers were ready to entertain a motion to take strike action. This dramatic step was ratified after an official mail-in vote turned down the contract offer and authorized a strike.

Boeing broke off negotiations, partially due to SPEEA's demand for assured cost-of-living pay raises rather than end-of-year, merit- pay bonuses, which many employees see as subject to manipulation by management. In mid-December, when bonuses are traditionally distributed (bonuses are negotiated as part of the contract), company officials declared that they would unilaterally implement the contract and distribute merit bonuses according to management evaluations. Arbitrarily assigned bonus checks showed up in SPEEA members direct deposit accounts at the Boeing employees credit union, adding fuel to their anger. SPEEA filed an unfair labor practice suit against Boeing for the unilateral implementation, but union lawyers advised them later to withdraw it and focus instead on last-ditch negotiation.

With a strike approved, SPEEA moved to call a one day action for January 19th. The one day picket-line was considered preferable to an open-ended walkout. After all, this was the first time that SPEEA had ever gone out on strike.

The immediate response to the strike was mobilization on both sides. The SPEEA members were upbeat and felt united. However, Boeing president Frank Shrontz declared that there would be no more bargaining because there was nothing more to negotiate.

"It's going to take something like this to get the company's attention," Marty Seagran, a strike captain on the picket line outside Boeing's Everett, Wash. facility, told a _Seattle Times_ reporter on the day of the strike. "When the professional work force get mad enough to walk out in January, it shows everybody's pretty disgusted." About 100 pickets showed up at 5:30 am as thousands of day-shift workers arrived and night-shift workers departed honking horns, the article reported. In all, engineering and technical workers picketed at 36 locations in the Puget Sound area, Spokane and Portland, according to SPEEA officials.

The feeling of solidarity gave way to frustration as the recognition dawned on members that the company intended to ignore the one-day work stoppage. Since design workers have little impact on the immediate production cycle, the company saw little threat in the walkout. "There was no impact on deliveries or production or customer support," said Boeing spokesman Russ Young. "No doubt there was work to be done that was not done."

An all-or-nothing mood took hold among members. It seemed that the only choices left were to accept the contract or to continue with an open-ended walkout. It was illegal to call another limited strike. Facing this short list of options, the SPEEA members voted on February 12 to accept the initial company contract offer.

This event made SPEEA realize that they might have to reconsider their whole tactical approach to be successful in the future. It also pointed out problems in the nature of their professional organization.

First, the organization's internal communication system proved inadequate for day-to-day action. The quarterly newsletter mailed to the entire membership had previously sufficed. But during the negotiations, communication from the membership to SPEEA was through SPEEA representatives. Not all divisions at Boeing had a SPEEA council member working on site. Many members said they felt that they were unable to communicate to the negotiating team.

Second, SPEEA lacks a strong and dynamic President. They have a capable Executive Director, Charlie Bofferding, who is in charge of running the day to day organization, but he lacks the charisma of an activist leader. His style contrasts with the local president of the IAM union, a flamboyant speaker who regularly confronts Boeing management and backs up his threats by organizing selective strike actions.

Several suggestions are being considered right now to make SPEEA a stronger union. The options being considered are:

1) Join another union or organization like the IAM. For various reasons, only a small minority appear to support this route.

2) Become more militant and outspoken. This option does not appeal to those members used to the collegial working relationships that are encouraged between professional staff and management.

3) Restructure the organization.

A couple of positive developments have or will occur that might affect the next contract negotiations. First, it appears that a lot more members are interested in taking an active role in SPEEA. Second, it is possible that a large number of BCS employees, including the previously unrecognized computer science majors, will be reclassified as paycode 4 this year, making them eligible to join the union. However, this latter development has been tabled by BCS Human Resources. SPEEA continues to try and force open the issue.

Aki Namioka

[Aki Namioka is an AI specialist working in natural language processing at Boeing Computer Services. Classified as "paycode 6," a computer scientist without company-accepted credentials, Namioka is currently denied membership in the union. Her article is based on an interview with Joe Gregg, an elected representative to the 140-member SPEEA leadership council. Gregg also works for Boeing Computer Services and has been a member of SPEEA for six years.]


I finished up a six-month contract at Apple recently, and I thought I should write up my experiences there. This was the first contract job that I had ever taken, and it wasn't my first choice of employment. I had been laid off from a software company when they stopped development of the product line on which I was working Revenues had been down, and my product was fairly marginal to the company, so it was an easy target for lopping off. I was optimistic about getting another job right away, but for various reasons that optimism turned out to be misplaced.

So one month dragged into two into three. I was getting the maximum unemployment check, about $230 a week, but that didn't even cover our rent in San Francisco. After six months of being unemployed, I got a call from an agency for a contract at Apple. Apple needed people to do test work on some networking product they were doing. A few months before, I would have said no, mostly because of the distance involved (Cupertino is about 50 miles south of San Francisco, not a particularly easy commute). But being out of work has a way of re-shaping priorities and preferences. The contract was for six months, so I figured I could at least tolerate the commute for that long (two-hours a day by car or four hours by public transportation -- bus to train to bus) and I could pick up some new skills and some useful experience at Apple.

Contracting has its own strange sort of consciousness. It's a state of not-being-quite-real. You know that your tenure is limited, and even if the contract can be extended, the most that Apple allows you to contract for is 18 months, after which you can't work there for six months. Apple seems very conscious about being clear that you are _not_ a "regular employee", and in fact, I had to sign a piece of paper that stated that if at any time I thought that I _was_ an employee, or being treated as an employee, I was to bring it to Apple's attention. Anyway, your days are numbered from Day One. You are, after all, a temporary worker (well, so aren't we all, in the final analysis, but contractors are more acutely conscious of this). The contractor in the cube next to mine had somehow managed to extend his stay to some 22 months, but then he had to leave. The other folks on his project were sorry to see him go; maybe there was a position at Farallon or they'd heard that someone else was hiring, etc. etc., and then he was gone. He was in his mid-40's I would guess, and had kids. The next day, someone else moved into the cube, a student intern.

It becomes obvious quickly that this is a two-tiered labor system. Employees have their stock options and their Apple store discounts and their profit-sharing and their special lectures and in-house training, and their company health club. The contractor has diddly. You could access Apple and site-licensed software off of the company server, and you could use the Apple library, and you could go to the periodic Friday afternoon beer party. (At Christmas-time, the department rented a movie theater in Cupertino, and the engineering staff was invited to see "A Few Good Men", I was told I was welcome to go as well, but of course I wouldn't get paid for that time.) But that was about it. You're out of work from Christmas to New Year's, without pay, of course (nor are you allowed to attend the Christmas Party). You're explicitly barred from product previews and from engineering lectures and other company events. It's not that these in themselves are things you might even want to go to, yet, nonetheless they serve as recurring reminders of another status. You are a second-class worker.

I've tried to mull over the logic of this. Why does it make sense to do these things for full-time people, and not for temps? For full-time people, I suppose it helps to buy loyalty and commitment, as staff turnover (especially engineering staff) is an expensive headache. But the traditional relationship of "you put in your hours, and you get your wages" is too clear when you are a contractor. I was not allowed to put more than 8 hours a day or more than 40 hours a week on my timesheet. I was there to do a very specific job. Obviously, I was a cheaper employee because they did not need to pay for all of the extra bennies for me. (And I can't help but wonder if I helped to keep pressure on the regular Apple engineers, that perhaps their position could be converted to contractor status someday.)

Still, I think that relying on temps and contractors is counter- productive in the long run, because, just as it's obvious that Apple has no intention of giving up anything "extra" (although, even with the perks, you earned them in the first place), you realize you have no reason to give anything "extra" to Apple. You do your job and that's that. There's no incentive to go beyond the letter of the instruction. So the dilemma between wanting to do a "good job", and of "just doing the job", always is resolved to "just doing the job." The guy who initially had to supervise me evidently had been through several people in my slot. He would bring the tester up to speed on what the product did, where the testing was at, what tools were being used, etc., and then the person would leave. He was obviously frustrated by the continuous turnover and lack of continuity on the job. Well, you get what you pay for, as they say.

On the two projects I worked on at Apple, one-third to one-half of the people were contractors. Some of the contractors did quite well, and one who did product development was very happy with his situation, and never seemed to be without prospect for work. Another contractor I spoke to felt that if you were still contracting at 40, you're life was somehow a failure, as if successful engineers had, by that point, either settled into project management, or had their own consulting firm of some sort.

The pay for contractors varied greatly depending on the kind of work you did, which of course would tend to color your attitude about the work. The people doing product coding were pulling in probably around $50 per hour, maybe more. It always struck me as funny that talking about how much you made was the great taboo at work. QA work (my description was "test engineer") is considered the least-skilled of engineering work, and paid around $25 an hour (and QA work can be the most boring kind of engineering there is). That's what I made anyway.

When my six months was up, I decided not to fish around for an extension. The money wasn't that good, the work wasn't particularly interesting, and the commute was a drag -- all three important categories for any job. Reflecting on the job there, I thought of something Dennis Hayes' wrote in his brilliant book, _Behind the Silicon Curtain_:. "[T]he itinerant worker travels from one company to another, finding work where it can be had and working fiercely until a layoff or another job looms. The itinerant worker spans the gamut from microchip fabricator operator to systems analyst, from assembler to engineer... Among workers, the professional etiquette of networking and the cavalcade of changing jobs dilutes interest in the enduring connections of class, why bother cultivating them? For better or for worse, a group of workers is no longer 'stuck' with each other at a workplace year in, year out." The mobility of the workforce, Hayes points out, works against the notion of a community, of collective identity, and organized response. Ultimately, we are all affected.



CALIFORNIA VDT LEGISLATION MAKES SLOW PROGRESS: ...but may pass after 10 years of delays. On April 21, the California State Senate's Industrial Relations Committee passed a bill (SB 832) by Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) that would require minimal safety standards for video display terminals. The bill is expected to make it to a floor vote of the Senate later this year. In 1989, a similar bill reached the desk of then Governor George Deukmejian, who vetoed it. A coalition led by the California Chamber of Commerce, and including computer manufacturers and the state's newspaper publishers' association, has managed to impede any effort to regulate VDT's since legislation was first introduced in 1984.... But cracks have appeared in the once united business opposition to the law. Last year, Pacific Telesis, California's largest user of VDT terminals, broke ranks and announced they could live with the Hayden-sponsored rules....Industry groups now say that they support in principle legislation to decrease the prevalence of RSI injuries, only they disagree over the exact language. But Kip Wiley, Sen. Hayden's director of legislation, told CPU that business interests show no willingness to agree upon any detailed language which would give teeth to the law. Impetus for a VDT law may soon come from Washington, however, where the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun to solicit input on regulations governing VDT usage.

MOVING TO SEATTLE? The _Seattle Times_ suggests that although there is a "very high-skilled work force available, in terms of BOEING layoffs, the bad news is that far more people will be looking for work than there will be jobs to accommodate them." APPLIED VOICE TECHNOLOGY, located in the Seattle area, a maker of voice processing systems, reportedly received 350 resumes for one software programming position advertised in the newspaper. One thing is certain, the story continues: "Most laid-off Boeing workers will not be going back to their old jobs in a couple years. Boeing is probably downsizing for the long term, even if jet production picks up." Instead, many laid-off Boeing workers face lower incomes at any new jobs they do find. Few of the high- tech company officials interviewed for the article said that their pay scales could match BOEING's, even for engineering positions. "Most admit they pay less," the article said.

WELFARE FOR INTEL: Ending an extraordinary bidding war among a half-dozen states, INTEL Corp. chose a suburb near Albuquerque, N.M., for the largest plant expansion in the history of the semiconductor industry: $1 billion for 1 million square feet of manufacturing space for 1,000 employees. (For the math dysfunctional, that's $1,000 per sq. ft., and $1 million per employee.) INTEL was swayed by a 10-month selling effort by New Mexico Governor Bruce King and other officials. The state approved a $1 billion industrial revenue bond issue -- largest in state history -- to provide INTEL low-interest financing, plus unspecified training funds, investment credits and three years of property-tax abatements.

WITH PUNISHMENT LIKE THAT...: Prosecutors in Santa Clara decided not to file criminal charges against former SANTA CRUZ OPERATIONS executive Larry Michels, who recently stepped-down as president of the company after four secretaries accused him of multiple incidents of sexual assault and harassment. Still, the company saw fit to give Michels a $354,000 "golden handshake" upon his departure, while among other ongoing compensations, Michel remains principal in two major real estate partnerships that lease office space to SCO. Settling the suit reportedly cost SCO $1.2 million... Diane Ritchie, an employment attorney, commented afterwards in the _San Jose Mercury News_ that, "They could have terminated him for misconduct. This shows the company didn't learn anything from this lesson. It's absolutely outrageous."

EVERYBODY'S DOING IT: The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in favor of BOEING Corp. in a recent decision where a male software engineer insisted on using the women's bathroom in advance of a pending sex-change operation. BOEING maintains that transsexuals must use the "anatomically proper restroom" and can't dress in blatant "contravention" to their current sex. The court agreed, deciding that "gender dysphoria" (discomfort with one's sex) is not a disability. At the same time, 18 other Boeing employees have inquired about the policy, indicating that they are also planning sex-change operations.

RHQVM20/GERSTNER IS OUR FRIEND: When Louis Gerstner sneezes, count on the business press to cover it in gooey detail. No gesture by the chairman and chief executive of IBM seems too small. An Associated Press story noted pointedly that during his first day on the job, the new boss wore a blue shirt rather than the traditional IBM white. This was evidence of a radical departure, the article explained, from "IBM's generally soulless, bureaucratic reputation." ... And witness the exaggerated importance assigned to a 7-paragraph e-mail message to company employees by the boss, or Rhqvm20/gerstner as he is known in- house. In his dispatch, Gerstner acknowledged the "painful... but necessary" downsizing that the company is going through. The brown-nose press followed up faithfully with a spate of feel-good analysis. Readers were told to expect a "new spirit" at IBM, one of openness and accountability, a reflection of Gerstner's personable style, his "candor," and "flair for diplomacy."

SOON THEY'LL BE MOVING THE COTS IN: BORLAND's new facility has racquetball courts, jacuzzi's, an Olympic-sized pool, personal trainers, juice bars, big-screen TV's (so "workers can catch a quarter of Monday Night Football while their program compiles"), take-out food service, convenience store, ATM, video rental and a dry cleaners. Construction was completed even as the company struggled to recover from a lay-off of 15 percent of its workforce several months ago.

LAYOFF REPORT: AMDAHL announced that it is to cut 13 percent of its workforce, approximately 1,100. These reductions follow a similar move in November, when 1,050 lost their jobs. When the current round is finished the company will employ 7,400... For the third quarter ending in March, DIGITAL laid off another 4,000 employees, bringing the company's payroll down to 98,100... Though featured as "Comeback of the Year" in the _San Francisco Chronicles_ March list of Northern California's Best Companies of 1992, NATIONAL SEMICONDUCTOR, announced around the same time that it was laying off 230 of the 1,300 positions at its plant in South Portland, Maine... CONNER PERIPHERALS INC., is cutting its workforce by 10 percent, or about 1,200 jobs... The Santa Clara- based mainframe computer maker HITACHI DATA SYSTEMS laid off 90 employees, or about 16 percent of its local workforce. The cut will leave 440 people at the headquarters of the company, which employs about 2,600 worldwide... DATA GENERAL has formulated a plan for eliminating 600 jobs over the next couple of months. DG currently employs 6,900 down from 17,700 in the 1980s when the company was the subject of Tracy Kidder's best-selling, "The Soul of a New Machine."... IBM Europe has begun eliminating nearly 10,000 jobs and told four plants in Britain, France, Spain and Sweden to cut their losses over the next 12 months. Within IBM's 11 plants spread over six European countries, 2,600 jobs -- about 10 percent of the total factory workforce -- are to be eliminated in 1993. Another 7,000 positions in marketing and administrative services are also to be cut. IBM Europe's workforce totaled 90,000 at the end of 1992.... Elsewhere in Europe, GROUPE BULL, the French state-controlled computer company, plans to cut around 3,000 jobs this year, almost 8 percent of its workforce... COMPAQ COMPUTER will lay off 150 field operations employees and reduce the number of US. regional sales offices from eight to five. COMPAQ already had announced last October that it would eliminate 10 percent of its worldwide work force, or about 1,000 employees... TOSHIBA AMERICA sacked 50 engineers at the San Jose plant in April, shifting development to Japan to save money... INMAC CORP., a Santa Clara based reseller of computer accessories, laid off 110 people -- 8 percent of its workforce. Most of their layoffs were in the United Kingdom and Japan... What some say is the first wave of downsizing at EGGHEAD SOFTWARE will come in the next few weeks when 13 in the chain's advertising division will lose their jobs as EGGHEAD transfers its advertising to an outside agency.

The _New York Times_ writes on the IBM Hudson Valley layoffs: "As he climbed into a green Volkswagen in the East Fishkill parking lot a 38-year-old man who declined to give his name said that the psychic toll of his layoff, which had occurred earlier in the morning, had already been devastating. 'I'm all washed up,' said the man, a divorced father of two boys who had worked at the plant here for 10 years. 'I don't know how I'm going to support them.'"... Meanwhile, Ex-Chairman John Akers took an early retirement, the only top executive at IBM to ever leave before reaching the company's traditional executive retirement age of 60. He will receive $1.2 million a year for the rest of his life. New chairman and CEO Gerstner receives $2 million a year ($38,000 a week).

[See a news story that belongs in CPU? Send it in!]


Here on the internet, usenet newsgroups carry job listings and discussion on the current state of computer work opportunities. Services such as the WELL and PeaceNet offer access for a fee, but there is nothing compares to (sinead o connor) news-reading on company time.

For example, the newsgroup "" carries all kinds of computing work. To help you navigate, the job listing's subject line usually follows a convention, packing in the most relevant information -- a short position description, company name and geographic location; state or country -- enabling easier weeding- out of non-pertinent postings (e.g. "Senior Software Engineer for 2 year contract at Bull Software, Texas"). Another group is "", which, according to the periodic explanatory posting offered by its moderator, was created "to foster exchange of information about employment on a contract basis, as opposed to employment on a full-time basis". All aspects of contract work are discussed in this group -- such as contract work tax implications -- but it is in the main a listing of contracts offered and wanted. "" is where those looking for work submit their resumes for review by prospective employers. "" carries often interesting discussion about computer work. Topics considered include such as "How much training does one need to become a NetWare expert?" and "Working abroad". The earlier-mentioned news groups have shown a marked decline in the number of listings. has carried commentary on possible reasons for sparcity. Here follows a sample recent posting:

In article 
(Leland Woodbury) writes: 

>I remember when had hundreds of new postings 
>daily, and I constructed a hefty KILL file just to sift through 
>them all.

>But for the past year or so, there have typically been fewer then 
>30 messages per day, about 90 percent of them from recruiters. 
>Have others observed this, too, and/or have any ideas explaining 

"It's the economy, stupid!"

 8-) -- Jurgen Botz,      |As for getting a working "df -i" on       |Solaris, your best bet is to upgrade to 
South Hadley, MA, USA     |SunOS 4.x"

If you know you have internet access at your site but do not know how to get access or how to subscribe to any of the above listed groups, contact your system administrator (The geeky looking one with the greeny-tinted skin). The first job of any sysadmin worth- their-salt is making sure the netnews feed is coming in smooth and steady.



Hello, we are looking for an individual capable of both hardware and software design. This person must have at least a Masters degree in both disciplines. They must know ALL programming languages and databases. They must know all hardware interfacing standards and be able to work on all platforms. The perfect person should have at least 20 years of experience building computers from raw silicon up and then programming them.

You must be willing to give up all of your personal life to eat, drink and breath computers 24 hours a day. If you have a spouse, go ahead and dump them now because you will never see them again. Please do not bring a personality with you to the interview, that is not a requirement and may be grounds for you not being hired. You must be able to "fit in".

If you are lucky, we may give you your own windowless cubical with a cheap chair. If you wish to have a telephone it will be deducted from your wages at your request.

If you think you have what it takes to join this fast paced team of robots at a company that is near bankrupt and don't mind occasional layoffs, you must be darn near suicide.

PLEASE... we do not take calls or E-MAIL for this job. You must contact us through the Vice Presidents nephew. And don't try to contact me either, because I will be out to lunch whenever you call.

******* Moron Inc. An Equal Opportunity Employer **********

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