It’s been quite some time since we wrote about SAIF Corporation, Oregon’s quasi-public state-owned workers’ compensation insurance company. Long time readers will recall we dedicated an article or two (or fifty-six) on the John Plotkin affair. In 2014, Plotkin, a newly installed CEO whose new and open policies were not apparently appreciated by the old guard at the company, was essentially the victim of a coup. While out of town on a business trip, some of his underlings mounted largely fictitious accusations against him, and the governor-appointed board of directors, completely failing in their obligation to conduct a legitimate inquiry, unceremoniously fired him, despite the protests of hundreds of SAIF employees.

That is a very simple description of what was a long and sordid affair. Over the course of two long years, all the people behind the scandal left the company, and Plotkin received a $1.7 million settlement as a result.

Today, SAIF, perhaps reflective of the government that owns and oversees it, is described to me as a largely “woke” corporation, with leadership apparently willing to offer guidance and share progressive pearls of wisdom to the many minions in their employ. In November 2016, then CEO Kerry Barnett is reported to have sent a “Thoughts and Prayers” email to all employees the morning after Donald Trump was elected president. And sources tell me that during the Covid pandemic, the pressure to conform to an accepted viewpoint was particularly strong. It has been told to me that anyone who posted alternative experiences or views to “accepted” vaccine or treatment protocols on an internal company communication tool called “Yammer” could be subject to “legitimate bullying” on the system. 

Despite the fact that most employees were still home-based, SAIF instituted a vaccine mandate, and numerous employees lost their jobs over their refusal to “get the jab.” Some quit or retired over the issue, and at least 2 are said to have been terminated by the company. The company also, in line with Oregon government mandates, enforced a strict masking rule for all employees in any group gathering or situation. Masks were required for all in-office and company gatherings. Period. This was in accordance with state requirements.

Which is why some SAIF employees were surprised to find this picture on Facebook, which was apparently posted on March 10th when the state mask mandates for all public gatherings were still in effect (Oregon mask mandates ended Saturday the 12th).

Unmasked SAF executives
Photo Source Facebook

This is most of the executive leadership team of SAIF Corporation, in what is apparently some sort of team-building exercise. Current CEO Chip Terhune is third from the left. The picture was only online for a short time, however, when it was changed to this.

Redacted photo
Photo Source Facebook

I suppose some risk managers may refer to this as “damage control.” Nothing quite like drawing a big black splotch over the gate after the horse has left the barn.

According to posts on Facebook asking why the faces were now blacked out, the shop replied that, despite an apparent clause in their contract that photos could be posted on social media, “one person” did not want to be shown. The shop owner wanted to keep the photo, but also wanted to “keep everybody happy.”

Do they look happy in that second photo? I’m thinking not, since the entire post now seems to be removed from the shop’s Facebook page. I am also not sure why all faces had to be blacked out if only one person objected; unless, of course, the SAIF executive team is similar to Star Trek creatures known as the “Borg,” and they all speak in one collective voice.

That’s not very likely, I suspect. But it is, after all, Oregon.

This was not a “lose the mask for a group photo” situation, either. Other photos of the group showed the decorating process, with nary a mask in sight. And it is not like this shop doesn’t work with groups that do follow state rules.

Photo of masked cake bakers
Photo Source Facebook

Why is this important? Because some of the people in that photo were instrumental in ending the careers of other people who didn’t follow their rules, yet it appears that the rules they set for others may not have applied to them. They are not alone in this, of course. The pandemic has produced tremendous divides in this nation, not between the “Haves and Have Not’s,” but rather between the “Must Do’s and Don’t Have To’s.” And many of us are sick of it.

We’ve watched politicians, celebrities and other elites flaunt Covid era rules while the “servants” in the background remain masked and muzzled. We watch a State of the Union Address, in a room with hundreds of unmasked politicians, yet we sit in equally voluminous airport terminals as masked and obedient subjects. “Rules for thee but not for me” is a hypocrisy that has become all too prevalent in this country.

To paraphrase a (misapplied) quote from that paragon of diplomatic nuance, Marie Antionette, “let the peasants eat cake.”

And at SAIF, they can actually bake you that cake. 

It is pretty obvious that someone involved with that group likely recognized the inherent issues with the photo. That is why the faces were quickly covered, and then apparently completely removed. Just like other situations that unexpectedly go awry, it is the attempt to change or cover up the issue that seems to draw the most attention. And believe me, I can tell you first hand that SAIF employees have taken note.

In a Yammer post to employees late Friday afternoon, CEO Terhune acknowledged the event, saying the “ELT [Executive Leadership Team] was very excited to take the opportunity to get together Wednesday evening for an off-site and after-hours gathering.” He explained it was to celebrate hard work and accomplishments during a difficult time, that they took a cake decorating class, and had dinner together afterward. He took extra effort to explain, “Though we did remove our masks at this private gathering, each member of the team was either fully vaccinated, or had submitted proof of a negative COVID test.” 

Except, the mask policy this same group imposed on others was that all SAIF employees were required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status when at the office, in field visits, and at in-person functions where social distancing was not possible. There were, as far as we know, no exceptions to that rule.

Unless, of course, you’re special. Or a member of the ELT. Or perhaps both. Maybe there was a fine print clause that exempted leadership at cake decorating classes.

Actions matter. Integrity counts. And reputation can suffer if those points are not honored. Hiding from or excusing your actions only compounds the problem and shows, to paraphrase an old adage, you cannot necessarily bake your cake and eat it, too.

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