Monday, January 1, 2024

In Answer to Some Questions ...

I was asked some questions privately by someone on what my cryptic post means two posts below.

Well, as mentioned, I started a new job in November as a transcriptionist, transcribing health-related phone responses to automated questionnaires, initiated by voice actors.

A new AI product was about to be launched where once one of our voice actors provides a single voice sample, their voice can be used to virtually say anything written in a script for outgoing calls.  

It's very cool software, but also scary - thus, all of us appeared to be worried about the ethics of it - what could happen with using anybody's voice to have them say anything.

As a transcriptionist only, I was asked to lend my voice as an internal test sample demo only, for an internal presentation  of the new AI voice product.

I agreed, but specifically said that if for some "far-fetched" reason, the client were to actually choose my voice versus our actual voice actors for their product, we might need to discuss my job description further, but of course I would, if I can help the company with an INTERNAL presentation, because I'm grateful for this job, want to be a team player, plus it was fun to do.

My supervisor said in unfortunately an unrecorded call that if that were to happen, instead of altering my job description and having it assessed for new monetary value through HR, he'd draw up a contract for me as a voice-actor contractor, like the other voice actors - separate from my current job responsibilities.

The problem is, as I said - he said this in an unrecorded Teams meeting :( 

Because what happened next is that he told me in Teams chat on Friday that the client actually DID ask to use my voice to be their public-facing outgoing voice versus our contracted voice actors , he approved it, and they launched the product. 

I was never asked if my voice could be used on an actual client product versus actual voice actors, they do not have my permission, voice acting is not in my job description, and I was not compensated for doing so. I was only ever asked to provide a test demo sample for internal use for a presentation.

My my supervisor also had said that in the unlikely event they chose my voice over the actual actors, he'd ask me first, then draw up a voice-actor contract.

That did not happen. 

My supervisor told me in chat on Friday - after it was already done. 

I was floored. I didn't know what to say or do. So I decided to just politely ask questions trying to understand what happened.

So I responded to my supervisor that I was flattered, honored -  but asked what happened, I thought he was going to ask me first, in the "far-fetched" scenario this would happen? 

He said there was no time and he was on vacation when they asked. 

(I highly doubt this - everybody was away for the holidays, including likely the client, except me as the new girl - so I highly doubt the client closed any deals during that time.)

Then I gently asked him: "Isn't this something we'd normally use one of our voice actors for?"

He got mad and said:  "I wouldn't complain, if I only had two hours of work a day, right now, if I were you."

So I said, "X, that isn't fair  😔 I have no control over the work flow during the holidays, and you said to just hang out and claim the hours anyway, it would all even out after the New Year, - but I refused - I told you it felt dishonest and wanted to save labor cost. It's all right here, in this thread."

"But I'm so sorry -  I didn't mean to sound like I was complaining, my intent was to just ask questions because I'm confused as to what happened. But I've clearly offended you and made you mad, I'm so SO sorry, forget I said anything, please?"

Then he said something about "not having enough regular work for me to justify my current position anyway" (work had dwindled during the last two holiday weeks, but would surely pick up again) - a sort of threat that I wasn't worth my keep anyway and this would justify him keeping me on.

He also said that "assistance with audio editing in your current job description could be construed in this way."

Then I said, "Okay, but have we thought about how we're going to bill this to the client?  We personally have to enter time with a code into the billing system to bill the client.  How are we going to bill them for this?  This isn't a free service for the client, so our company itself loses money if we don't bill them correctly for this."

He said that is "Above his pay grade, that wasn't his problem, the account manager could figure that out."

That isn't true - like I said, we personally have to enter anything we do for each client into the billing system with a specific code down to the half hour. 

So, I just stopped talking to him after that, in chat, did my job, and logged out.

I thought if nothing else, the last thing I said in chat before telling him the transcription report was completed was how to bill the client for this in the system and him telling me it wasn't his issue, it was the account manager's. 

At any point, if he had said "I effed up, I'm sorry, let me fix this" -or sounded remorseful in any way, we wouldn't be here.

But he didn't.  Instead,  he tried to make me worthless, my job pointless, and like I was whining for even asking what had happened.

All of this after previously being so kind to me, singing my praises  to myself and others about finishing work ahead of deadlines, taking so much workload off himself, etc.

In fact, I had said to my husband about a week ago:  "He's almost too nice, like he has an angle. I hate to say that about anyone, because kindness is a rarity, and I've been a very vocal advocate for it, but in his case, it's odd.  Because he has said many times already that he has no heart or empathy for other people, and that life is survival of the fittest, the strong will survive, the weak won't. He loves animals, but hates people - but then he's overly nice? .  

"I told him I didn't believe him because he was so nice and had empathy for cats, so he must have SOME heart. But I can't help  this feeling that if that's at least somewhat true, so he's being OTT nice because he wants something.  And what happens when he asks for it and does not get it?"

""Maya Angelou said, 'When someone tells you who they really are, believe them.' "  

Shouldda trusted my instincts, huh?

Regardless, at first, I had found myself apologizing profusely for making him mad, offending him, or seeming ungrateful or something, that wasn't my intent -  I wasn't trying to complain, I was just asking questions because I was confused about how this stuff works. 

I told him I was so grateful for the job, I would clean toilets, if that was in my job description, but it wasn't - and this is a completely separate job we're talking about and my actual literal voice - and I thought we'd talked about what would happen if this occurred, but we didn't. 

Then to ease the tension, I jokingly said "Well, can I at least put voice actor now on my resume lol?

He said "You can put that you're an astronaut on your resume" - as in "Doesn't mean it's true." 

I laughed to keep the peace, but these were really mocking, devaluing things he was saying now, trying to make me believe my job was worth nothing, my voice was worth nothing, and I was worth nothing. 

Things that, to be honest, would never fly with a man - a man would've punched him right in the face lol. 

But at first, as I said, his guilt-trip and devaluing tricks worked on me, because of my history -  and I found myself apologizing profusely for even questioning, agreeing that I was nothing, should be grateful, etc..

Then when he left Teams to go do something else, I just sat there, stunned - and I realized what he was doing - exploiting labor he already had rather than using the higher-paid voice actors he contracts with, and belittling me as to being worthless, threatening me that I wasn't needed anyway, if I didn't go along with it - and I started to get mad, but said nothing.

Instead, I called my little sister, who is successful at business, as well as our honorary son, B (who works in AI for the DOD), my brother-in-law, who is VP of Finance for NBC/Universal (although he's on a ski trip and hasn't replied yet), and my old boss. (Well, I still work for her when there's spillover work on contract.)

I asked them if I shouldn't be looking at things this way - was I looking at this like an entitled Karen or was this as wrong of him as it seemed?

My sister said "OMG, why did you keep apologizing to him? YOU haven't done anything wrong, he's totally trying to take advantage of how grateful you are for the job and how hard you work! I was worried that when he told you to fudge your hours as work dwindled during the holidays, saying it would all pan out in the end, but you refused, saying it wasn't honest, and would save the company labor cost.  I was worried that's essentially telling him he can take advantage of you, that you don't value yourself .I'm not saying this is your fault, you understand, I'm just saying he took that and ran with it, because men like him will."

"Well, I know why you reacted that way at first, because of your history. But this is HIS eff up, and he knows it, so he's just trying to blame you, devalue you, bully you, and semi-threaten your job over it now, because he knows he effed up."

"This is not what you signed up to do and not in your job description, this is a completely separate job, he's exploiting you - and he offered you job description changes if this were to occur or a separate contract, but now he's reneged."

"He has lied to you all the way through this, wants to own your voice for AI to say anything he likes for free, and then subtly threaten your job if you don't do it? He's sensed that you don't value yourself and is working it, but he's taking advantage of you, Chrystal. I'm glad you're getting mad no
w, it's warranted. Push back!  "  

I said:  "Yeah, but I didn't finish my degree, like you did. This is the world of menial labor.  This what happens when you don't finish your degree - you get hired as essentially a low-level admin/secretary and get exploited all the time.  And I'm 55, now, what options do I have?"

"I've done many things all the time that weren't in my job description, just to keep a job, including literally cleaning toilets, running personal errands for bosses, covered for them to their superiors when they no-showed for days, watched them snort coke right in front of me and dare me to tell anyone, done things that weren't company policy that could even be illegal because they told me to, put up with sexual harassment, being called a dumb bitch, had charts thrown at me, you name it, I've seen it/experienced it."

"And you don't call HR, they're there to protect the company from lawsuits FROM you, and will not protect you from retaliation.  So  if you want the job, you do it, right?"

"And although you're right about cutting my own hours during the holidays when work was dwindling to save the company labor cost is devaluing myself and sending the message that guilt works on me, in the end, I'm glad I did it and that it's in our chat thread - because he can't play the greedy card with me, we have proof otherwise."

She said "Yeah, but you're not alone anymore, a single mom and desperate now, , and this is a completed unrelated and separate job to your current job, it's like doing side art work, and this is ownership of your actual, literal  voice without your consent, Chrystal, gained under false pretense, without your permission or additional compensation - don't let them."

But I reminded her that "I'm a new employee, he's the boss.  He's a man, I'm a woman.  The first thing he'll say is that I'm crazy and made it up to discredit me. And like I said, HR is there to protect the company, not me. They have millions of dollars put aside for any legalities, I have nothing, so they will win despite the truth or how wrong it is, we know this, we've all seen it time and time again except in high-profile cases. Only people with money get true justice, and in most cases, they escape justice."

"Plus a legal precedent has not been set yet for use of AI images and voice, that's what the SAG strike was over, only at least they had contracts already for this type of work, I didn't.  In fact, that's what the NYT is suing ChatGPT and Open AI for, right now, aggregating their articles as a database without paying for them.  There is no precedent set."

"Do I really want to put myself through that battle and the "she's crazy, she's a Karen, she's a gold-digger wanting to bring the company down" backlash?  No."

"And think of people of color, they get exploited and guilt tripped all the time, they would never even think of suing because they don't have money for an attorney and they know they'd lose.  It's a very white-privileged, "I-already-have-power-and-money" thing to do."

(This is why I called M, my bro-in-law, to ask him my rights and what was owned under my current contract, but he's on a ski trip in a place with sketchy cell reception.)

B said he's 100% with me, this is someone he would not want to work for (and keep in mind, he works for the Department of Defense lol) - but as far as my voice belonging to the company now, my supervisor may be right, even if it was gleaned under false pretense and didn't have my permission, it's now company property - that it'd be a legal battle that he knows I won't want to fight and might lose because in the end, anything that's produced as an employee belongs to them, even if gleaned under false pretense and without permission, but he's not sure there's a precedent on it yet..

My old boss, who owns a very successful business in NYC,  said that this was a truly shitty thing to do,  and now my only choices are to shut up and take the paycheck, but never trust him again - or resign.  But if I stayed just to take the paycheck, that would be sending him the message he can exploit/take advantage of me any time he likes?

So I chose the latter - resignation, effective immediately, because it was already clear he was preparing for a war that would not happen, and that he would clearly be a retaliator if I told HR and stayed.

I do NOT blame the company itself - they didn't know until my resignation letter  - and they have otherwise been a dream company to work for.

No,  I blame my unethical and shady supervisor, whom I trusted to just use the voice test sample internally as a demo only, not sell it to the client without my permission or compensation. 

In my resignation letter, I told HR why I was quitting, to prevent this from happening to anyone else and to alert them that someone with a strong sense of ethics is needed to head this AI voice program.

Then I reminded them of the company's stated core values, and then I asked for them to destroy my voice sample. 

Because with this new product, all that is needed is one sample of your voice and a script they write, and they can make you say anything -  even the actual voice actors we currently have will not be necessary anymore, at some point - all they need is one sample of their voices.

I told them I don't want to fight - I know how this goes - I'm a new employee, he's the boss - I'm a woman, he's a man - and HR is to protect the company, not me. 

So I would only ask out of simple good faith, as this happened without their knowledge, for ownership of my own voice back rather than  them claiming it as company property

If they do that, then this post goes down - if they don't, it stays up forever.

And should they have any designs on suing me over this post, to get it removed  - without  providing me with proof that they've destroyed my voice sample - even though I mentioned no names - THAT is when I'd get legal,

Because at that point, I'd launch a countersuit about permissions and ownership of my voice sample, proving it was gleaned under false pretense in writing, to help set a legal precedent on ownership and accountability in these AI cases. 

I'm not very litigious, I think it's a white-privileged thing that only people with power tend to do - so only if I were to be sued, would I ever do it, in countersuit. 

But I don't think it will come to that.

 I think they genuinely didn't know and will just delete the voice sample, all of us having learned lessons in this new AI territory - and we go our separate ways with no hard feelings.

Let's just hope when they do find out, they will do the right thing - and if nothing else, they will have their legal ducks in a row beforehand, now, so this doesn't happen again and prevent their own legal headaches in the future, as well as most importantly, I hope they reconsider putting someone without ethics or morals in charge of an AI program that, in particular, would need someone with a very strong sense of ethics to engineer, even more than most jobs.

Who knows, though - if they don't delete it, you may get a call from a very large  international pharmacy company, telling you, you have a refill, asking for your email address or other personal information, or if you're satisfied with  their service,  and it may be my voice - only I never said it, never gave my permission, and was not compensated..

Happy New Year to me, right? 😆

And I was SO happy there, completely blindsided by this news on Friday. 

I'm quite sure he did this on purpose now, while everyone else was out of the office for the holidays, hoping I'd just keep my mouth shut and stay for the paycheck.  😏

It's interesting, because this was like the ultimate test of everything I've been through in life - personally and professionally.  Everything I've been through in life has brought me here.

So what have I learned?

Because I used to just let people more powerful than me "punch down" on the powerless nobody that is me, throw me  under a bus, or even off a cliff, just to hide what they've done, and I'd just walk away, not even try to fight back, there was no point.  

(I often speak up for others, but really become terrified to speak up for myself.)

So I guess what I've learned is, I still won't fight back, knowing I have no power -  or do anything vindictive later about it  - but if they try to abuse their power and make me the fall guy for their mistakes and throw me off the cliff  - I might just grab their dirty white collars and take them down with me 😉😂

 No worries - I have gone back to my old employer, who said she was "thrilled" to have me back full-time (I was already still available for  her for spillover weekend work, etc. - so all good) 😊

I won't be making as much and work is scarce, these days, but I trust my old boss completely, she values both my work and me as a human -  and that is worth all the money in the world to me 😊

Scary world we live in, folks, with AI now.

Some of the males around me are chomping at the bit to now go kick the living shit out of this sleazy coward, who imagines he's the strongest in "survival of the fittest" as his bogus battle cry - but that would solve nothing and only make things worse.

My husband especially wants to do this because he knows I had no other real option, staying would only be complicit in my own exploitation - but we lost an income that would've taken us out of debt entirely within three months, and I've lost a real retirement fund now, when I already have none from being a contractor for so many years, at 55 - so he's SUPER pissed, the coward sleeze ball did this.

But in the end, though I cut my losses as left, it's not like sleeze ball wins either, really - because he took a big gamble by thinking I'd just comply with he's devaluation and threats, because I needed the job - but he lost, too.

Because at the very least, even if HR doesn't do anything about him, there's no one else to transcribe now, but himself  😏

And there is no one to blame for that, but himself.

Thus why I said in that post: "Whosoever seeks to screw me over, may find  himself screwed."

And I'm okay, no worries - I've seen and been through myself way worse.

And like I said below, "Never let them steal your joy."

Yes, the powerful can abuse their power and steal everything else from the powerless, and there is no justice except for the rich and powerful - but there are two things they can never steal from you - - your education - and your joy 😊

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