Outsource this.

They wanted help with outsourcing some jobs to Mexico. I helped.

I was a temp worker, doing brainless clerical work in an office. In the back of the same building, the company had their factory, churning out medical equipment. It wasn't a high-tech product, because nobody manufactures high-tech in America, but it was 'junior high-tech', used by doctors, dentists, and medical technicians.

The guy who'd invented the device had founded the company, long ago, and for years it had been a mom & pop operation with a solid reputation. Then the founder/inventor died, and as these things invariably seem to go, the company was sold, and became a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a huge international conglomerate.

No matter where on earth you live, you almost certainly have the conglomerate's products in your bathroom, kitchen, and/or linen closet. But you've probably never heard of the medical device that was made in the factory behind the office where I was working.


Any day on a temp assignment can be your last day, and you might not know it's your last day until the last five minutes. Temp is short for 'temporary," as every temp knows, so when the boss called me into his office I thought it was to say goodbye.

Instead he said that he'd recommended me for another temp assignment in the same building, working directly for one of the three Vice Presidents of our tiny subsidiary. Woo-hoo. Temp jobs suck, but a job is better than no job, so I walked upstairs to meet the VP who'd be my new boss.

VP gave me a limp, oily handshake, but before he would explain what the new project was about, he said I'd need to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Well, that's out of the ordinary. No job had ever asked me to keep my mouth shut before, because I'm generally a quiet man, especially at work. No chatterbox, me.

It was one page, with printing on both sides, all in legalese, but they didn't provide me with an attorney. SoI read through the document:

• It said I'm not allowed to go to the media. As if.

• It said I'm not allowed to discuss any aspect of the project with anyone else in the company, except 'authorized personnel'. "Who's authorized?" I asked. "Pretty much just me," said the VP who was sitting across the table from me. Hmmm.

• It said I can't "disparage the company", during my employment or afterwards. (Spoiler: I have disparaged this company many times, during my employment and afterwards, and I'm about to do so again.)

"And I'm supposed to sign this before you'll tell me what the work is?"


"OK, if I sign this you get my silence, but what do I get from signing?"

He said I'd get a guaranteed three-month engagement as a temporary worker on this super-secret project.

My present temp assignment was ending, and a three-month promise sounded good. I'm addicted to eating, OK? So I signed their non-disclosure agreement.


Now came the big reveal: VP told me that the company I'd been temping for was going to go full NAFTA — North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Most of the factory work that was being done in the back of the building here in the good ol' USA would soon be done in Mexico instead. The office at the front of the building would remain open, but everyone in the back of the building would be phased out, replaced by lower-paid foreign workers building the same devices. In exchange for the layoffs, the company would get a tax break, because outsourcing is the whole idea behind NAFTA.

My mission, if I chose to accept it, would be to pursue all the myriad federally-required documents, establishing the country of origin for every tiny component, and every tiny component of every tiny component, of every medical device the company manufactures and sells.

The company made a dozen products, each built from hundreds of different components, so we'd need thousands of documents, all signed by representatives of other companies in other countries or on other continents, and also signed by the despicable VP who was looking at me.

If I'm remembering this correctly, the company's tax-break would be based on what percentage of these components were sourced from North America, vs other continents. The more outsourced it all was, the lower the company's taxes — your American government, encouraging American unemployment.

VP was asking me to handle the logistical and clerical documentation that would enable the company to lay off everyone in the back half of the building. Bear in mind, having already worked in the building for a few months, I knew some of these doomed workers by name.

Would I take this distasteful assignment?

You're damned right I would. 

If I'd said no, they would've found someone else to do it — someone who had no qualms. Me, I had qualms coming out the blowhole, and I'd already decided that I was going to do everything I could to slow down and generally fuck up this outsourcing project. I made it my goal to do at least three things every day that would set the project back, and most days I met that goal.


My new temp gig started on Monday, but the Thursday before, I'd already told two people in the manufacturing section what was up, and they discreetly spread the word.

Remember, I wasn't an executive at this company. I wasn't a manager. I wasn't even an employee — I was a temp. What the hell do I care about a non-disclosure agreement? 

If they fired me I could have a new assignment somewhere else within a week or two. If my temp agency blacklisted me, who cares, there were seven other agencies in town. If the company sued me for breaking the NDA, what would that get them? I had maybe $1,000 in the bank and a ten-year-old Chevy. Sue me, fuckers.

I am proud to report that this three-month project took almost a year to complete, largely because of me. 

How did I intentionally screw it up? Let me count the ways: 

VP had an Excel spreadsheet tracking everything, but his password was literally on a post-it note beside his mouse, so data tended to inexplicably drop off his spreadsheet.

I fiercely enforced the "authorized personnel" requirement, too. Any time anyone called from anywhere in the world — North America, South America, Asia, anywhere — to inquire about NAFTA crap, I'd ask them to fax or email me a copy of their badge or ID, to establish that they were 'authorized'. That was always good for at least a half-hour's delay on any question, and because of the different time zones the delay was often overnight.

The VP even told me that he liked that extra layer of security I'd invented. Security? Nah, just doing what I could to apply the brakes.

If incoming documents arrived by FedEx, scanned and tracked all along the way, there wasn't much I could do about it. But documents that arrived by ordinary mail — meaning, with no tracking number — were quite easy to lose, and say they'd never arrived at all.

Documents that arrived by fax, I would re-fax and re-re-fax to myself, until they became completely illegible and needed to be re-requested.

Documents that arrived as PDF attachments? "Gosh, I'm sorry, but these docs just won't open."

When I realized that the VP wasn't checking my work very closely or often, I started sometimes forging the required signatures, often very legibly signing as someone in South America who didn't exist. If any agency ever audited our paperwork someone somewhere would have some 'splaining to do, Lucy, but it wouldn't be me explaining anything — I was just a temp, gone in a few months.

When VP was in a conference call with some rep from China or Mozambique, it was easy to mess with the connection, or disconnect the call — "damned phone company".

Most of the time, though, VP wasn't even on the phone with me; he had me represent our branch in many of the conference calls, so I recorded some 'static' sounds off the internet, and there was often mysterious noise on the line.

He never quite knew why the project was moving so slowly, and I don't think it crossed his sluggish mind that I was gumming up the works. See, I'm a pretty good employee if you treat me right, but I've done enough corporate work that I know how to screw stuff up and get away with it, and still seem like a great worker.

What pleases me most is that most of the factory workers were able to find new jobs, and one-by-one quit before they were laid off, because I'd tipped them off.

This also had the effect of reducing quality, even before the outsourcing was done. By the time the company announced the layoffs, most of the people who worked in the factory were rookies, who'd been there for a few weeks or months.

I had played a role in their layoffs, though. I'd intentionally done plenty of things wrong, broken laws, and delayed it as much as I could, but I was also the guy who'd gathered the required signatures, gotten the legal documents signed and notarized, and answered many people's questions — often correctly. I felt crappy about that, and still do.

I was the best/worst person they could've found — anyone semi-competent could've done in 3-4 months what took me eleven months, and I take some solace from that.

It was the worst job I've held so far in my life, and I gave it my worst effort. It won't surprise me if the next job is worse, though. That's the nature of employment in a corporate-controlled global economy.


Outsourcing ought to be illegal for ethical and economic reasons, but in addition to being bad for the workers, bad for customers, and bad for America, it's also bad for the companies that do the outsourcing. They're just too stupid to understand that. 

I've clicked around the internet to find some reviews of the products involved in this tale, products which are now manufactured in Mexico. The recurring theme in the reviews is as you'd expect: "These ██████████ used to be very reliable, and I don't know what happened, but they're not as good as even a few years ago ..."

Republished: 8/25/2023   

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