Workin’ For a Living

Happy Labor Day! Enjoy some tunes that tells it like it is:

[Downloands no longer available] 

Huey Lewis and the News “Workin’ for a Livin'” Download HERE

Loverboy “Working for the Weekend: Download HERE

Dolly Parton “9 to 5” Download HERE

Devo “Working in a Coal Mine” Download HERE

They Might Be Giants “Minimum Wage” Download HERE

If you work in an office, drive a truck, work in retail, or, simply put, “work for a living,” you all know that you often feel screwed by The Man when it comes to the job you do. Often times, you give more to the job than your paid for, and many times those little “extras” largely go unnoticed by the Powers That Be. It’s nothing new, and you don’t have be a Marxist scholar (That’s Karl, not Groucho. Though, being a Groucho scholar may lead you to the same conclusions) to know that the more you do on a job that goes beyond your job description, the more a company derives in profits from your efforts. There’s a delicate “dance” that goes on between you and your employer, and if one dance partner is leading you in a dance that results you working a lot harder for nothing extra, well then, you know the feeling of getting screwed.

However…

Yes, yes, yes, there are laws on the books to protect you, the worker, against any excessive screwing. And yes, yes, yes, we all know there are certain legal recourses available to us if we decide that we’ve been unfairly treated.

The legal route is expensive, but if you feel you’ve truly been wronged (or screwed) by The Man, you can easily find some lawyer willing to take the case (and your money) as you pursue a lawsuit. It’s all there. It’s just up to you and your lawyer (you know, the one you can afford?) to battle an organization that has deeper pockets than you. Seems a bit hopeless the way I sketched it, but there are many times that David does slay Goliath.

But said “organization” is also not just some faceless, corporate monolith. It’s a place where you’ve not only given your talents, abilities, and hours of your life in exchange for money (and if you’re one of the lucky ones, benefits as well), but it’s also a place where you have forged some human-to-human relationships that go beyond the facade of professionalism. Many times, some of your co-workers are your friends.

So, when a conflict over money arises at work. What do you do? You don’t run out and hire a lawyer (though, there are some who have). You talk to your manager, right? Right. If that person cannot resolve your dispute, then you take it to the next level and the next until it’s either resolved, you drop it, or you’re headed to court. I’m sure I’m missing some steps here (I don’t, after all, work in human resources), but the point is there’s a process most of us have in place whereby monetary disputes can (and most of are) solved within the confines of a place of business.

But what happens when you work in an industry where most of your co-workers are migrant laborers? Sure, you work with them in the fields for a short period of time — and who knows, maybe you’ll work with them again at your next gig. But, what happens if the company that hired you to do a job at “Farm X” decides to stiff you on your pay? Where do you go if this company folded up shop and disappeared into the night with your money? No human resources department in this lived reality kids! If you have advocates for your labor plight, you may have folks who know the political system and will work it to get some protection for you in the form of new laws that go after labor contractors who absconded with your money.

That’s exactly what’s going on in Sacramento right now. It’s a farm labor bill that seeks to protect farm workers (You know, the folks who pick the fruits and vegetable that you’ll be enjoying this Labor Day?) from so-called “independent contractors” who sometimes cheat laborers by simply not paying them.

Today’s LA Times summarizes the problem thusly:
[T]he measure points to a sweeping transformation in the state’s agricultural labor force, about half of which is now brokered by independent contractors — up from 20% two decades ago, said UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin.

Growers operating on thin profit margins clamor for the best deals on labor. Meanwhile, some contractors cut corners by fleecing their farmhands, undercutting the honest players and driving prices down.

Though nimble brokers have eased strains on farmers by matching them with ready-made crews on short notice, the trend has its downside. Noted Martin: “There’s a long history of labor contractors taking advantage of newly arrived workers.”

Arnold is not sure if he’s going to sign this bill into law, but if he does then we’ll be one step closer to providing some needed regulation (Yeah, I said it! Reg-u-la-tion) to an industry that is a vital part of our existence and one where the people to do all the heavy lifting need a process in place so the screwing is kept to a minimum. Hope that’s not too preachy.

By the way… J also has a great post on what Labor Day means to us who are “Takin’ What Their Giving ‘Cause We’re Workin’ For a Livin.”
–PK