Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Reality of Wage-Labor Workers in America ...

 (Edited - content added).

So without going into too much detail, "someone" new is trying to run a tighter ship where my husband works. 

Which means that even though he's on salary, and works 9 hours, every day, this person wants them there at 8:00 and not a minute later, doesn't like them to take lunch and thus often schedules meetings at lunchtime, and if they're 5 minutes late for work or lunch, that person will come in the room and tap their watch.

Now, I get why this is annoying, especially for someone with a master's degree on salary, who works later than his eight hours every day, of course I do.

But at the same time, this was par for the course for me, for years - because this is the daily reality for American wageworkers, every day - and worse. 

In fact, during the recession - and even before, in some cases - we were discouraged from taking any breaks and working through lunch, even though that was illegal.   

Though I could give many examples, especially during the recession,  one second job stands out (I transcribed in the day, waited tables at night), after a new state law had been implemented regarding being server and minimum wage.

The new state law stated that if you didn't have enough business for your servers to make any tips - either because it was the recession and no one was eating out, or because of inclement weather, a snowstorm, etc. - then the restaurant had to pay their servers minimum wage of $7 an hour, instead of the usual $2.15 an hour (plus tips).

HOWEVER -  the manager didn't want to have to pay us minimum wage if we had no customers, because it increased his labor costs to regional office.

So he decided to make a rule that if we had no customers and thus no tips to report, we would be written up for "failure to perform job duties" - and after three write-ups, we'd be fired.

And if we quit, fine by him - someone was waiting to take waiting in line to take your spot, during a recession, there were hiring freezes everywhere and the jobs that were available weren't full time  - and he knew they couldn't file unemployment as a server and they were too poor to get a lawyer and fight it legally, plus complaints from the labor board took months to even begin to investigate.

Thus, this resulted in servers literally physically fighting over one customer coming in for coffee  - one server would get the customer, the others would be written up.

I was neither fired nor fought anyone - especially my fellow coworkers in the same boat.

Instead, I watched the parking lot - and as soon as I saw a car pull in, I grabbed a menu and seated them myself, instead of waiting for the hostess to play favorites, after she was promised opioids later, by some of the servers, if she seated any customers in their section ;)

Like I said, I was never fired - but I watched person after person get fired - however, after one particular snowstorm that lasted two days, I was written up twice, for two shifts where we had no customers during a snowstorm!

Luckily, by that time, the hiring freeze eased on a few businesses, so I quit and went elsewhere.  I was already transcribing part-time in the day (as I said, no full-time hours were available for anyone), so this was my second job to try to make one-full time job, and another restaurant was finally hiring.

Though this sort of thing was the worst I've ever seen it, during the recession, it wasn't exclusive to the recession.  

Well before the recession, in the mid-1990s, I had been working at a small convenience store for over a year, because it was super close to where I lived and my daughter was a toddler.   I worked on Christmas Day for them, once worked 24 hours straight for them when short-handed, and I'd even caught two shoplifters for them, as well as caught several "drive-offs" for gas, by getting the license-plate numbers.

One day, though I've been pretty healthy most of my life (knock on wood) - and if I did get sick, going to work anyway (unless the fever was too high) -  I suddenly developed severe diarrhea and dehydration that lasted for weeks.

Though we know now about "serotonin syndrome"  from over-buildup of serotonin from SSRI antidepressants -  which sometimes manifests as severe GI distress -  we didn't know that then. 

After the third visit to the ER and having an IV placed in my arm - after my shift, of course -  a GI consult was called, and I asked if it could be the meds, but they said this combination wasn't known to cause problems, and I'd already been on the Prozac for two years, and the blood pressure med didn't cause it, so it had to be something else.  

After a full upper and lower GI series, stool testing, celiac testing, and autoimmune-disease testing, they found nothing.  

Finally, a student doctor on the GI team,  also suspected a medication reaction, as I did.

He did a little bit of research on his own and found some just-emerging studies about a buildup in serotonin causing severe GI distress, so he suggested that I try going off both medications - that it wasn't just one medication or the other, but perhaps it was the combination of the two that may be causing a synergist reaction and a buildup of serotonin, causing GI distress.

This did the trick - it all stopped - within 24 hours of stopping both medications:)

However, as I said, this took about 3 weeks for them to figure out - so until then, I went to work, I barely ate to avoid getting sick, drank Gatorade all day, but to no avail - every two days or so, I went to the ER after my shift, and ended up with an IV in my arm at the ER from dehydration. 

While they were investigating it, I returned to work as always, because I needed the money and they were short-handed - with a gallon of Gatorade, having taken Imodium beyond the recommended daily allowance, with a doctor's note, that if I needed to go to the bathroom, I could go.

However, the assistant manager didn't want to have to cover me at the cash register - she wanted to play PC games in the office and talk on the phone - so she  flat out refused to cover the register,  when I asked.

I explained that if I didn't, with stool literally pouring out of me like water, there'd be an accident on the floor, and then I'd need to go home and change, which would take even more time off the floor, and a 5-minute trip to the bathroom would prevent all of that - plus there was the doctor's note.  In fact, I literally begged her before embarrassing myself and the store.

But she refused, and she didn't care.  She said if I went to the bathroom, I was fired.

 Unfortunately, the owner and general manager over her weren't there, that day, it was just me, her, and the kitchen staff in the restaurant part - so she knew she could, then make up a story and get away with it. 

PLUS - she was in training as a state trooper - who wouldn't believe her over me?

So I held as long as I could, but then I went to the bathroom to got sick - so she fired me.

At that time, I didn't fight things like this, I just accepted it.  I didn't even file unemployment, I just walked away and moved on.

After refusing to speak up for myself for years (because bad things happened when I did), years later, I finally relearned to speak up for myself, and I pick and choose my battles now - but luckily, I don't need to now -  I love my boss and job now!

Months later, I needed something quickly, so I went in the store. The owner, D,  was sitting at a table and called me over.

See, right there is the difference between how the owner and the general manager did things versus K - they did most of their paperwork at a table, out on the floor, so they could keep an eye on the store and back up their employees if they needed help -  versus K, who hid herself away in the office playing video games, looking up occasionally through the window on the floor. 

So the owner called me over - and this is exactly why I hadn't gone back in the store since. So I took a deep breath and went over to her.

Owner:  "So this has been bothering me a while, and I finally get the chance to ask you - why did you backtalk K, that day?"


Me:   "LOL! Is that what she told you? "


Owner:  "Yes, she wrote down "insubordination" as her reason for firing you, told us you left the floor without permission and sassed back at her when she called you on it.  I told her firing wasn't necessary, we write up with warnings here first, but she said it was really bad.  However,  it was just you and her, that day.  B was in the kitchen, but said she didn't hear or see anything, but did say she doubted this was true." 

"It shocked us, because that hadn't ever been our experience with you, in over a year.  You worked on Christmas Day, and  I remember that time you worked 24 hours straight for us, when short-handed, with a smile, never once complaining, though you had to be exhausted.  But then we never had a problem with her either at that point.  We thought maybe because you had been sick for a few weeks, you were  just out of sorts or something?"


Me"So I had a doctor's note for a temporary medical condition to the bathroom when sick,  so instead of getting sick on the floor, I asked if she would cover me while I went to the bathroom, but she refused, so I went anyway - so in a way, it was "insubordination,"  I guess? lol."


Owner:  "Seriously, that's what happened?  Why didn't you tell us?"


Me:  "I did work up the courage to call you, a few days later, but she answered, so I hung up.  Then I figured what's the use? She was the manager, I'm an employee, her word versus mine, no witnesses -  plus she's in training to be a state trooper -  so  good luck with that, right? "


Owner:  "You said you had a doctor's note - do you still have it?"


Me"No, I threw that away afterwards, months ago, it was useless.  It's okay, I'm back in school now."


Owner:  "Well, I'm sorry that happened.  I wish you'd told us then.   But you're right, I'm not sure I would've listened, at that time, she was new and the whole "training to be a state trooper" thing was on her side." 

"But she always did have a weird thing about you, almost like a competition with you, did you know that?  And we're finding some other stuff out and documenting her."


Me:  "No, I didn't know that, I just thought she didn't like me, I thought it was because of my politics lol.  The weird thing is, up until that day, I really liked her.  She's funny and smart, I encouraged her being a woman in a man's field as a state trooper, but I could tell she wasn't fond of me.  It's not really worth it to me to get that involved, now, seriously.  I  just wish you had called me when it happened, though, and asked me then."


Owner:  "Me too.  I almost did.  My gut said something was off.    I'm not a huge fan of your politics, either, but that wasn't it lol.  I'm from Eastern Kentucky, where you'd better be Republican lol.  But I can separate the person from their politics - and  you made some really good points" 

"I get you, you really care about people and have a big heart.   I just believe private business can take care of people, you believe government should help, that's all it boils down to."  


(Aside:  Ah, remember the good old days, when the basic difference between Republicans and Democrats was mostly about whether private business or government law was the best method for caring for our own people?)


"We loved you here, you knew that, right?  We miss you,  Customers ask about you all the time." 

"Your politics may have been part of it, but she's just really unnecessarily competitive anyway, with certain women, I've noticed.  It's like she has to have all the attention on her, I dunno, it's weird.  Now her target is P, who replaced you.  K was new, back then, plus yeah, the whole her training to be a state trooper thing did help her case, I guess, but she  clearly knows it and takes full advantage of it." 
"Anyway, sounds like you're better off now, glad you're in school.  I always told you, you were sharp.  Keep going with it, okay? I wish you and that sweet baby girl of yours the best."

Those are just two of the horror stories I can tell you, but there are many more, especially during the recession - power abuse was rampant.

In fact, I think upon leaving that first situation, the server job, when I  finally quit, I actually said to that manager:  "You know, right now, it's an employer-driven market; however, what you're doing is highly illegal and you're taking advantage of your employees being too poor to fight it.  One of these days, the market is going to change and you'll be begging for people to work for you - and after going through so many employees in this town, they're going to remember and work elsewhere." 

Well, it took 10 years, but enter COVID - now these same jobs can't find enough people to work, and our offering $10 to $12 bucks an hour, just to work at McDonald's, literally begging people ;)

So instead of saying "People are lazy, they don't want to work" - I say, it's karma, or what comes around goes around - you treat people like slaves or workhorses during their hard times, they're not going to work for you, during your hard times, when you more workhorses - sorry."

They always say, "No one wants to work" - but the truth is, either no one wants to work for YOU, under those circumstances AND face catching COVID as well.

Now, you would think that working at home as a medical transcriptionist and independent contractor, the rules would be a bit more lax - and they used to be - right up until they started outsourcing to India in about 2006.   Now, it's a dying field with strict competition with India and EHR systems.

So now,  you still clock in and clock out, or show up on chat, you have a productivity rate, and with current  aforementioned competition, you're lucky if you make $4 an hour.

On top of that, you have to be perfect in your accuracy, and being verbally abused over it is the least of your worries - the last time I worked in that field, three years ago, they would actually charge YOU - take a dollar out of your paycheck for each error they found - so of course, they found as many as they could as a way of making more money for the company.

Unfortunately, it's entirely legal, because you're an independent contractor and the same labor rules don't apply - you want to work as a medical transcriptionist from home, you do it, or train for some other career, at an age where most of us can't just suddenly up and change careers.

(Thank God I got lucky and have the job I have now, no longer in that field - a related field, but it's truly IC, and I have the best boss I've had in 20 years, no lie.)

My point is, although power abuse is rampant everywhere, I'm fairly certain that it's not this bad in Europe, or even other parts of America - the closest countries might be India, Middle Eastern Countries, Southeast Asia, or Mexico.

But especially in the American South, as a wage worker, you better follow their strict rules, never be late, never take a vacation or day off, or ask to be an hour late, to see a doctor, never take breaks or lunches (despite this being illegal) -  or your pay will get docked or your hours reduced.

I think that's something that professional people in America don't understand or don't remember from menial jobs in their college years; thus,  they tend to buy in to the "nobody wants to work" or "they're lazy" mentality, without realizing how many hoops that America wage worker have to jump through for pennies versus the requirements for them as professional, salaried people.

In fact, it's amazing wage workers are actually able to jump through all the hoops and be perfect, when most professional people would never abide by those rules or revolt if they had to, or they'd sue (because they can afford to) lol.

My husband is just now getting a small taste of that ;) 

Me"Honey, I get it, it's completely unnecessary and annoying, but to be honest - and not to sound unempathetic - but this is normal.  Welcome to the real world, this is how most American laborers have to live their lives, every day. " 
"That shows you just how privileged most professionals and people born with opportunity have it  versus  hourly wage earners, who are treated like this, and MUCH worse, every single day". 


Mark:  "Yeah, but I have a master's degree and am on salary, and I work well over eight hours."   


Me:   Okay - so I hope you're not saying that somehow makes you a harder worker or more valuable and more deserving of the right to a lunch break, or the right to go to the bathroom without having to ask, than wage workers, right?  And you can forget about  ever taking a paid vacation day off, even to see the doctor, if the company even offers them because paid vacation days are not a requirement in America for wage workers.  
"That is what is backwards about this whole economic system, why it's broken.  They work physically harder than professionals with more restrictions, and yet we pay them less.  And if you don't do it, or can't do it, you are too sick or poor to fight it legally with the labor bored, you're chalked up as "lazy" and SOL."
"This is the reality of the average American worker - and believe me, it could be much, much worse.  In fact, you've seen much, much worse in my prior job experiences.  In addition to all of that, you made it through all of that, were even promoted, but then could still be group bullied over a stupid typo in your report or fired for going to the bathroom, despite a doctor's note and sick, when you could've just called in "  
"You always say you're amazed at my work ethic and what I'm able to pack in, in a day, at  home, with nobody prompting me or watching over my shoulder and no time clock - well, now you know why.  It's because I've been trained to work my ass off, skipping meals and breaks, it's conditioned in me, even when I don't have to live like that anymore lol." 
" Plus it helps to be treated like a human being again, like L does and has, for almost three years now.  Been a long time since I was treated like that.  Makes you want to work harder than you already do for people like that, you appreciate them more.  Bet you appreciate B even more now, huh, for not being like that?  " 

Begrudgingly, the reality check was finally realized ;)

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