Jerry Yang, Yahoo! and ‘Elysium’

Dear Jerry Yang:

Have you and your family seen the movie “Elysium”? You must have wondered why there were no East Asians in that movie. After all, you were born in Taipei, Taiwan. Your wife, Akiko Yamazaki, was born in Japan. You’ve both done quite well for yourself. You’ve even retired from Yahoo.

In case you haven’t seen “Elysium,” let me tell you what it’s about. The year is 2054 and Los Angeles has become one poor barrio without any of the joy or flash that the current Latino culture enjoys. More on that in another article. In this future, the very wealthy live in a space station that hovers over Earth called Elysium. Elysium is a rocket journey away and hangs ever present in the Los Angeles sky it seems, like a satellite or a moon that never moves toward the horizon.  For poor people, like the white orphan (Maxwell Perry Cotton) who grows up to be Matt Damon’s character, Max Da Costa, it seems like paradise. As a child, he promises his best friend, Frey Santiago (Valentina Giros as the young Frey and Alice Braga as the grown up version), he will take her there.

Max loses touch with Frey. He goes to prison, gets out and tries to work as a working drone slave at a factory that has never heard of OSHA. He’s exposed to radiation for doing what he’s told to do and the company gives him painkillers for the rest of his five-day life expectancy. Max is determined to reach for real medical treatment available on Elysium, medical bays that can cure anything. Frey also needs to get there because her daughter is dying of leukemia.

Max teams up with what in today’s terms would be called a coyote, Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider gets people into space and hopefully, if they aren’t shot down on the orders of Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (a clench-teethed, steely cold Jodie Foster), they will become illegal aliens in Elysium.

Delacourt is the brawn and brains at Elysium with the only Asian face, Elysian president Patel (Faran Tahir) as the puppet top political figure that she pretends to listen to. Shades of the Raj or just all of Asian prior to World War II?

Of course, Max will get to Elysium and take Frey, as he promised and her daughter, Matilda. There will be a happy ending, one that satisfies our feelings of justice and democracy.  Let’s not dwell on the only white non-Latino person in the orphanage becoming the hero in another white man saves the world scenario.

“Elysium” may be heavy-handed, but like Upton Sinclair’s 1906 “The Jungle,” it is about social justice. Right now, the haves have medical care. They don’t have to worry about going broke or falling under the crushing debt and certain poverty when a major, long-term or terminal illness hits them or their family. The have-nots watch their dreams crumble, tossed aside by morally bankrupt companies and their managers.  This is why I thought of you, Jerry Yang and of Yahoo.

I was one of those underlings that helped you build your empire. I was at a company named Overture that Yahoo! bought up in 2003 and turned into Yahoo Search Marketing. We made you a lot of money. Your policies made me permanently partially disabled.

When I saw the movie “Elysium,” I thought of you because I was treated poorly. I might as well have been talking to an android when I spoke to Lynne Secrest, former Senior HR Business Partner at Yahoo! She now works for Boston Scientific. When I first turned to her, I was being harassed unfairly by a senior manager named Jae Sung. He was forced to move on after it was revealed that he was breaching your contract with me by ridiculously enforcing a no-weekend off policy with me. I was able to search a white co-worker’s past requests to show that some workers were allowed to take more weekends off. Secrest wouldn’t listen to me, but when I sent his email to your headquarters, no one would speak to me and suddenly, a month later Jae Sung was off to MySpace in July 2006.  He’s at CareerArc Group now (as of 2010).

Suddenly there were complaints about the number of phone calls I made, my performing the physician-recommended and the Yahoo-provided software suggested ergonomic exercises and my doodling during meetings.  I am very proud that I stood up to the whole department when other people just smoldered under the often unfair working conditions. I spoke up. The health and welfare of your employees wasn’t on your mind or your management’s minds. Cover up likely was.

Then there was that project Panama–the project that had Yahoo Search Marketing’s ergo department slammed.  Repetitive motion injuries aren’t like radiation, but having your management team tell other people to stop talking to me and attempting to pressure me into stopping my workers comp claim was like having a set termination date for my life at Yahoo.

When I saw Matt Damon’s Max talking to that robot about his case, I thought about the manager, Lena St. John who asked me repeatedly in a one-on-one conference, why I wasn’t more productive on the very day I made my formal workers comp complaint–the day I waited to see someone for the ergo department before I visited the doctors. I was handed arm braces that didn’t help because they were too large and had to return for ones fitted to my actual arms. St. John, also no longer works for you, asked me why my productivity was down for that day and the days I was trying to work in pain with the ill-fitting braces.

I was beyond being bullied in the traditional Yahoo style into sacrificing my health and lunches and providing hours of unpaid overtime in order to fulfill unreasonable demands.

When Max is determined to be terminally ill and given pills, I thought of the addictive painkillers I was handed by the doctor, a supply that wouldn’t carry me until my next scheduled appointment. I do not believe in covering up pain in order to further injure myself. Working while numb to the warning signs of pain isn’t wise, but it seems to be the way of Yahoo and, to be fair, many other companies. However, not all of those companies attempt to pass themselves off as fun, hip and all around good guys.

I used to have stock in Yahoo which I sold off as I waited to have my claim heard.

My workers comp claim was filed in February 2007, the same month of my birthday and the month that one of my dogs died. I’m sure that wouldn’t matter to you. That was about the time that Terry Semel stepped down and you became CEO (June 2007). You were having your own problems. You were hiding things from Congress and eventually a lawmaker called you a moral pygmy. Nothing that has happened since 2007 has changed that.

Your company is now daily changing your Yahoo! font, but really what Yahoo has needed is cultural change over superficials like a font change and a photo shoot with Vogue magazine for your current CEO. What Yahoo needs is integrity. By the time you stepped down as CEO in January 2009 I had been moved into a new position that was terminated from your company. Your company moved me to a position that after 30 days, they knew I could not perform without re-injury. I was informed of my layoff mid-February after my doctor had pulled me off of work and while I was still waiting for the HR person to reply to my mid-January request. Basically, that new position was canceled after less than three months.  Do I think your company can’t plan past three months? Not when all the managers were fleeing to safe positions.

After I was laid-off, miraculously, the HR person began to cautiously reply to my emails. I wouldn’t sign the clause that would prevent me from saying negative things about your company. That meant I gave up some money at a time when the workers comp people you hired were determined to bleed me dry in order to prevent me from moving forward.

So by the time you stepped down from you CEO position, I had cashed in all my stock and my 401K because the people handling my workers comp made appointments that they knew I couldn’t keep and, when I finally has cashed in my last amount of money to pay rent, the person mishandling my account, Laura Charlton-Lamond, forgot to send any documentation to the doctor whose office was then forced to cancel.

I’ve had to deal with the legal team losing documents that they were handed in person and even pretending to lose documents that a third-party had record of making for them. Imagine declaring to the judge that I had obstructed the receipt of documents that the insurance company had paid a company to go on-site and copy. If I hadn’t happened to have been at the office that day, I am sure the lawyers of Murphy & Beane would continue to make that claim just as they claimed they had received no documents from my doctor (even when they made replies via email).

Yet I know my case isn’t the worst. A co-worker was intimidated into working overtime without pay and paying for her own care because she wanted to keep her job and she kept it only about a year longer. Yahoo isn’t the only company that attempts to intimidate their workers into silence.  I met with other people. One woman told me all her fellow workers blamed her for increasing their workload. I met people whose cases had dragged on for years. One woman warned me that ignoring the problem would make for a miserable retirement–she could no longer grip things with her hands.

Yahoo attempts to sell itself as good and a fun place to work, but look at the company this company keeps. You have a dishonest legal firm and insurance company that stalled and lied. If I didn’t have the correspondence with the company hired to copy those documents, my case could have been stalled even longer. As it is, I paid for my own health care until I got an attorney in 2012, the very year you stepped down from Yahoo. My case is on-going.

“Elysium” is about people like you. You might defend yourself and say you didn’t know, but you should have. You had that open door policy. We all had your email which you in faux humility signed in all lower case. When I could not get Secrest to reply when one usually expected a two-day turn-around, I sent an email to you in my last month working at Yahoo in January 2008. After all, sending an email to Headquarters HQ, over Secrest’s head, had been effective when I was being bullied in plain view of my supervisors and managers by Jae Sung.  My only reply from management was two weeks later when I was laid off.

As a Yahoo, it wasn’t that I didn’t distinguish myself. I was co-chair of the volunteer committee at the Burbank campus. I helped bring the first volunteer fair there. I was the person who implemented the old cellphone collection to donate to victims of domestic violence.

So Jerry Yang, I don’t know if you believe in karma. I do not know if you believe in doing good as much as you say you do. I’m not sure if you’ve learned ethics since your time at Yahoo.  You might still be in the bubble created by your wealth. You don’t have to see the kind of destruction you caused since there’s no lawmaker taking you to task.

“Elysium” is a warning to people like you who have built industries and wealth while crushing people and allowing their employees to be mistreated by bullies and by having an unwritten company policy that pressures people to not report workers comp. You weren’t worried about our futures, and no amount of superficial font changes can hide that.

Working for Yahoo was once a kind of Elysium for me at first. Who wouldn’t want to work for Yahoo! or Google? A few years later, that became who would want to work for a company that was publicly labeled moral pygmies and could not even mount any defense against that charge? Six years later, I’m still waiting for Yahoo to do good by me and I can’t help but wonder how many more people did Yahoo grind into the ground during all those years and how many of them under you, Jerry Yang?

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