Monday, August 24, 2015

The New Reality: You MUST Always Work

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I didn't work at all, at any of my jobs, on anything for a couple days last week.

I had one of those weird sudden gastrointestinal illnesses that leave you unable to do ANYTHING.

I was lucky. I had the day off from my regular job, and even if I didn't they would have been understanding had I called in sick, and it wouldn't have threatened my future prospects at the company.

I'm also self employed at another job, and now I've fallen behind. But I'm catching up with that now,   so I'm lucky there, too.

But my bit of good luck with jobs and illness is going away fast for the rest of us, it seems.  The way I see it, getting sick to some minds in corporate America is a fireable offense, and falling behind on work, even if no human can do the amount of work demanded in one day, is another Off With The Head crime.

If I were to believe a lot of what I'm reading lately, you are a scumbag if you do not work 24/7. I know that's not true in reality, but in order to survive in this country nowadays, it IS true, unfortunately.

Don't get me wrong. Working very hard is terrific. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. You earn a little cash. You have a sense of pride for contributing.

Everybody must pull their weight. I don't have patience for lazy people, either. So work hard, everyone!

However, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing, and there's a lot of "too much" out there.

That was highlighted last week by that New York Times article on the workplace culture at Amazon that made such a splash.

Apparently, white collar workers at Amazon have to be superhuman. One employee felt compelled to work four all nighters in a row.   One person was pretty much fired because she had the temerity to contract thyroid cancer.

Oe woman was forced to go on a business trip the day after her miscarriage.

NPR, discussing the article, said, "One ex-employee's fiance became so concerned about her nonstop working night after night that he would drive to the Amazon campus at 10 p.m. and dial her cellphone until she agreed to come home. When they took a vacation to Florida, she spent every day at Starbucks using the wireless connection to get work done."

Of course, the white collar workers at Amazon have it easy, compared with some of their past history for blue collar workers in their warehouses.

Amazon had warehouse workers toil in overheated summertime warehouses where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. Instead of cooling the air and giving the workers a few chances to recover from the heat, Amazon famously stationed a few ambulances outside a Pennsylvania warehouse to cart out heat stroke victims.

Then, they'd just replace the victims with somebody else, unless the poor overheated souls made a quick recovery. Pretty sickly Darwinian, no?

An emergency room doctor finally called federal authorities to report an "unsafe environment" after he treated several warehouse workers. Under pressure, Amazon finally put in a littl air conditioning. At least sort of.

Why did these workers put up with it? Or at least try to? There weren't many jobs in the area, especially when this problem peaked in 2011. So they took their chances.

I guess that's the way things are nowadays. You do what you have to do, given the stagnating wages and iffy job prospects for most of us who aren't in the 1 percent.

Also, despite Jeb Bush's assertion, most Americans really do want to work hard. Again, that's a virtue. But when does it become too much?

As the New Yorker pointed out, the white collar grind at Amazon isn't unique. Employees at elite investment banks and law firms often put in 16-hour days and work weekends.  They get paid a lot, so you can't feel as bad for them as beleaguered minimum wage workers, but still.

Workers at various dot com and other industries are increasingly saying they are being exploited. You know work around the clock, be on call all the time, but not being rewarded enough financially for their efforts.

The Guardian's economic editor, Larry Elliot, cites the decline of unions as a symptom of a return of the extreme pressure on workers last seen in the 19th century.

Unions "were originally formed as a respose to exploitation by 19th century mill owners..... (Keeping) a cowed workforce under the lash with non-stop pressure, bullying and psychological warfare, Bezos is the 21st century equivalent."

Which makes me wonder if the seeds of a new labor movement are starting. It's hard to tell, but I do see news of more and more unionization efforts at various workplaces.

At last check, unionization rates were still declining, but for how long?

It seems like the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders has really taken off in large part because of his long standing campaign to raise the fortunes of workers and to reign in the 1 percent.

It's morning, and I'm getting ready to go to work now. I'm looking forward to it. I want to have a very productive day, and not slack on the  job. Most people feel this way about their work.

The company I work for is being fair to me. Maybe because it's employee owned and we're all in this together?  Maybe my choosing to work for an employee owned firm is a bit of a rebellion against the 1 percent taking everything from their workers, I don't know.

I know it's kind of bad form to whine about the boss man making so much more than you do. But there comes a time when you don't want to cross the line from being an employee to being a slave or indentured servant.

That's why there's so much excitement about Bernie Sanders, and such a strong reaction to that New York Times Amazon article.

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