Today a friend sends a labor mail out of Houston with a link to a story about a woman who lost her job after participating in a strike for a boost in wages up to $10. The story is compelling enough but what stunned my friend the most were the mean comments by people who obviously hate common people, see themselves as superior in deed and rank, and of course have to drop in their obligatory racism regarding “illegals”.
The story revolves around janitor workers in Houston. Texas is a very anti-union state with the ironic title of “right to work” state. There is no “right to work” in Texas under “right to work”. You have a right to shut the fuck up according to Texas law. Don’t like how your employer is treating you? Tough Shit says Texas as it also tries to claim to be a ‘pro-jobs’ state.
But that isn’t what was galling about the article. You see, there is a population of Americans who support these anti-human laws and practices with all their heart. They have bought into class warfare that was taught to them and to you.
“Want to be a ditch digger when you grow up? Nobody wants to be the trash man, so you better finish your homework.”
I even used variations of this ‘fear of the bottom’ method for a little while when I was a young parent. I learned, thank god, that this was a terrible way to teach motivations and lends itself to a very abusive view of necessary labor. We wouldn’t function as a society without these workers. Our policies would be useless if we didn’t have the labor to fulfill the basic needs for water, food, sanitation, education, and safety.
Yet, if you look at the political sphere every day like I do, you can see where this is reinforced in the ongoing attack on workers as leeches of the master race of owners. They are also the first to criticize anyone who uses the term “class warfare” because they know that means they are vulnerable. In their heart of hearts the wealthy know that they are nothing without their serfs.
Lets look at the rhetoric of one of their typical posts:
“The market dictates wages. Why is it that a union should create an artificial wage for this particular minimum wage, unskilled job? The plight of these individuals in not the responsibility of the companies that employ them. If they want a raise, how about doing what the rest of the free world does and do something to EARN a raise? That’s what I have to do. I imagine that’s what most other Houstonian’s do as well. Why do they want something for doing nothing more than they are doing now? They receive wages AND benefits for part time work. When part time janitorial work is paid $10 an hour, I imagine that the people who hire janitors can then afford to hire much more skilled individuals – maybe with language skills and legal status. The janitors had better be careful what they ask for – they just might get it.”
Well, that’s a pretty big mouthful of hateful spew but aside from that, it is woefully ignorant of the reality faced by workers.
1. The Market Dictates Wages – Oh?
If this person who works for 9 years can’t get an increase in their income outside federal minimum, it isn’t because “the market” did anything. It is because the owners didn’t find the value in their base level workers but instead applaud their own ingenuity for all the gains and kept the majority of the gains for themselves. They took home the dough the company earned and only obligated themselves to the minimum dollar required to get “service a” accomplished. It isn’t the market that dictates a wage, its greed. Greed dictates wages.
When I go shopping, I’m almost hated by my wife for the endless calculations I put into saving money. I don’t look at the big sticker price at food stores, I look at price by ounce for coffee, rice, pasta, etc. After that I look at the quality and then I omit brands I won’t support like Georgia-Pacific. I can do this all very quickly after learning it 40 years ago and always practicing it. She’s used to shopping for the generally speaking good buy and I’ve demonstrated several times that those ‘good buys’ are not really good buys once you recalculate what you’re getting. They are just good ads.
Then there is the monthly service bill for all sorts of companies for both my work and my home. I am always on it with a magnifying glass looking for the fees that shouldn’t be there and asking for others to be dropped when I didn’t get a service for that fee. This too takes up a good length of time but is worth the dimes saved. Many companies add fees that you aren’t supposed to notice and jack up your bill $5.00 to $9.99 per month. But you keep paying it.
So…I get what it means to pinch and pinch. But I’m not abusing workers when I do this. I’m holding a company to its terms and negotiating across several companies for the lowest prices in services. In return, they have to be cautious about their prices while offering quality. In return for a great deal to the customer, the company already deflates the impression of the cost while inflating the gain of the product.
This is basic market economics. But it isn’t the same thing as the worker inside these companies suffering at poverty levels while the owners live comfortably. That isn’t even in the same ball park when it comes to a topic of need. When you don’t invest properly in your people, you actually deflate your own income eventually. You have helped suppress the economy each time you fail to pay a worker a livable and proper wage. They aren’t the same thing as reams of paper, boxes of files, warehouses of stuff. They are living people. They require a certain amount of care that transcends the ‘market’ itself.
Wages are dictated by the balance in an owner between his/her needs and the hired help. When the owner values the workers of the company, the balance shifts away from the owners needs and wants and considers the workers needs and wants. This is good business, frankly speaking, and a big part of what is fucking the economy now is the greed being lauded by the Republicans and their TeaParty schills. “cut, cut, cut” they scream. They don’t care the consequences.
If I continue to only buy down, then the companies have only a couple of choices….never raise their prices and keep taking hits until they fail, and they will due to inflation, or steadily increase the price and allow me to get accommodated to the new level as inflation also increases my income (my financial experience shows that my income increases and decreases almost exactly in line with the national economy.) Workers are no different. You can’t keep paying them 1975 minimum wage and expect our economy to improve though you might like to.
2. Why is it that a union should create an artificial wage for this particular minimum wage, unskilled job?
First, this is a misstatement of union aims as it aims to diminish union action in its line of questioning.
All wages are artificial. All wages are based on what a company thinks they can get away with. I know that in several fields I’ve worked in, I have seen vast ranges of wages for my skill sets. Most depend on the location and cost of living, but some are in the areas that are so specialized that people have jacked up the rates to highlight how specialized they are. If I’m only one of 1000 board operators and they can’t even begin to find another who operates their vintage gear or could fix their gear, why can’t I just charge what I want?
All wages are artificial. They are set by companies to create a strata of implied responsibilities. But they are really no different from the ploys used during feudalism to maintain serfs instead of having insurrections. If the serfs are starving, they’ll burn down your goddamn castles, promise.
Unions work to establish livable wages, safety standards, and training standards for their members. While one might want to attack union leaders as out of touch, it is indisputable that what a union does is seeks to keep individual workers from being exploited by owners by forming collective power. This collective power is used to make sure no members of the worker level are abused. This came as a direct consequence of poverty, maiming, and death to the gain of owners who didn’t have to care. We know that the fanatical right wing has been working over time to destroy all the progress made by unions. What many didn’t expect was that the attacks would come from within their family, from their neighbors and from anonymous comments in news papers that rail against workers as greedy. If the workers are so greedy, why are the owners in the yachts? If the laborers are so greedy, why are the CEOs on vacations?
Lets look at the second part of this ignoramus comment: “for this particular minimum wage …job” (we’ll talk skills in a moment)….
So there you have it…there is no need to discuss an increase in wage because you are simply never going to be qualified to get an increase in wage. You are going to forever be at the very federally or state mandated bottom because you simply don’t deserve it unless you show a “skill”. We don’t care if the economy dictates that you need more money because you don’t have ‘skills’ and therefore are worthy of only the bottom minimum wage.
This is the message of these conservative assholes who think themselves the captains of industry, the barons of self-fulfillment and the soothsayers of what makes a good economy. This is the plan for prosperity, to fleece labor for as little as possible while claiming that it is the “skill” that makes the man.
So lets talk …”skills”…..
Rarely do skills related to wages. Wages relate to hired responsibilities. That means you might have someone who served 15 years as a plane technician but can’t find meaningful work in that field, cleaning up your buildings as a last ditch effort to feed their families. The use of “skills” as a measure of worth isn’t ridiculous as those with more skills are inherently more valuable. But the blind accusation that people are unskilled and therefore only worthy of being janitors is false.
3. The plight of these individuals in not the responsibility of the companies that employ them.
This is exactly what is wrong with our country now. The gross irresponsible treatment of workers comes from this idea that you aren’t responsible for those who rely upon you for their income. They are leeches then. If the company takes this attitude, then there is no confidence in the firm. Is it the responsibility of the customer to make sure the company is still there? If the customer values the company it is. Ever had your favorite local restaurant or performance hall close down because the patrons stopped coming for various reasons? Shortly after you’ll hear the cry of people who didn’t know the place was at risk. They thought someone else would preserve what they liked as the owners closed shop. This irresponsibility transcends workers and managers…it is a larger question…am I my brother’s keeper?
The “plight” of individuals who work for you is important to be responsible towards. Responsible…the ability to respond, the duty to respond, is a very important part of managing and owning a business. If you aren’t responsibility for your employees, then you simply the leech. The author of this comment has never been responsible for many employees. I have. You have to do lots of things for your employees as an owner and as a manager.
I have one employee I remember who was being denied disability benefits for working too many hours over the state amount. But he wasn’t working too many hours. They were wrong. I knew, because I paid him. So I spent my days off for 2 or 3 weeks going down to the office with him to explain to them they had it wrong. I don’t care if you think this is not the responsibility of the employer, but it goddamn sure is. The consequences of not doing so have demonstrable effects on the community and the economy. Confidence is reduced, work output slows, and companies falter from this sort of abandonment.
Take in account all the inherited companies like Walmart who had great reputations under the original owners and then as the snot nosed kids of the owners inherited the services their fathers and mothers created they start firing the workers who served those companies, fleecing the gains for themselves, and destroying the legacies built by their parents; all for a buck. I pay attention to these stories as a former manager and a business owner. I am cautious in how I teach business to my children for that very reason. If they can’t do what I do for a living, best that they don’t inherit my services to others as their duties. Let them do what they enjoy and fully participate.
We are responsible for the economy by how we treat each part of it. Abuse workers and their wages and the economy will kick you in the ass. It is doing so now and the only answers lie in restoring confidence between workers and the areas they work. Pay people so they can infuse the economy with money and all boats rise.
4. “If they want a raise, how about doing what the rest of the free world does and do something to EARN a raise? That’s what I have to do. “
Notice how this writer and others like him think that janitors, sanitation workers, basic labor doesn’t “do something to earn a raise”. This arrogance, this dismissive attack, and this culture of ignorance is exactly why our economy is suffering. They don’t even recognize the work. They don’t even see the work that goes into doing these jobs and they have the nerve to say “DO Something!”
See if any of these assholes would clean 80-100 offices every night for $480 every two weeks. The answer is no.
This isn’t new. You’ve heard this sort of attack lobbed blindly at the black community, as poor people, at the people who didn’t get a college education bought by wealthy parents. What is pathetic isn’t the comment alone, it is that the people who make these comments suffer from anti-social narcissism and self-importance. They think their “skills” multiply their labor to a productive level that warrants maximum pay and as they gain seniority they actually seek to do less labor for more profit. Yet…their message to labor is…”you don’t deserve more money after 9 years because you haven’t changed jobs and sought more for yourself and given more to us than picking up the trash every night for 9 years.”
What a fucking message to tell people who actually do more labor than you do, bucko. What a grand insult to the workers who pick up the refuse of these pig-headed monsters who have so bought into their own self-pitch that they can’t even show dignity to people who work without rewards and yet keep doing the job. They are really what America is built on.
5. “I imagine that’s what most other Houstonian’s do as well. “
Not really if you think that labor shouldn’t ask for a raise. Most of Houston is not very wealthy. The wealthiest Americans might live in Houston but that doesn’t make Houston a very wealthy town when it comes to its residents. In fact, lets look at the average incomes in parts of Houston and see how goddamn segregated that city is:
If you notice, the wealthy tend to live together, in Memorial, River Oaks, and small enclaves away from the rest of the vermin. The average family income in 2000 was $40, 000 while the per capita was 20,000. In many areas, the per capita was less than $10,000. In River Oaks it was $84,000. In other words, the owner class was taking in 8 times more pay than their workers in other areas of town.
Cost of living in Houston is relatively low. But for the poorest, it doesn’t matter. They have no choice but to take jobs at the bottom because that is how they are viewed. They have to transport themselves across the city on shitty transportation system (petroleum burning buses). It is amazing that the British outlawed this sort of nonsense in India when it had a name, the caste system. Most of the economy in the city is based in low level service jobs and it is part of why the ‘millionaire’ boom is available. You can go there and buy workers for cheap. It isn’t something to be proud of no matter what Texas says.
But in America, we have an unspoken caste system. If you look at incomes by maps, clearly the serfdom of America can be seen. We have been programmed to applaud the owner class as we once applauded the lords. Romney calls them “job creators” and rejoices with “I love job creators”.
The reality is most of Houston is just at poverty level or slightly above it barely holding on. 19% of the population of Houston lives below the poverty line. So clearly Houston labor works and gets little in return while the wealthy take home the resources for themselves.
And yet, Forbes recently named Houston as the article says: “noting that Houstonians on that privileged rung of the economic ladder grew by 9.6 percent in 2010, and by 29 percent the previous year. Some 96,000 millionaires call Houston home.”
So poverty of the city is at 19% and yet millionaires are booming. Do we actually ask millionaires to justify their income? Hell NO! That would be communism say the apologist for the lords.
Lets move on…
6. Why do they want something for doing nothing more than they are doing now? They receive wages AND benefits for part time work.
This twit obviously knows nothing about business if he can’t understand asking for a raise after 9 years and an increasingly hostile economy in terms of inflation. The guy didn’t read the article obviously. Lets remind ourselves of the person in the article
Chronicle: “Rita Soto is paid less than the federal poverty level for performing six hours of labor that should take eight. After taxes, she takes home either $480 or $430 every two weeks (the pay period varied). Her husband also works, washing cars for a car dealership.
On their two salaries, they pay $540 a month in rent, and their electric bill can top $200 in the summer.”
Why in the world would Rita Soto ask for a livable wage? Who in the hell does she think she is to step up as a mom and ask for a raise when she can’t buy her daughter a pair of shoes. Has she no shame?
The truth is, this is a reality for many families and in that same reality is a clique of people who have been programmed to hate her for daring to ask for a livable wage. I don’t care if the guy hides behind a cute pseudonym as much as I care that we have malcontents in our society who hate workers and for reason that make very little sense, blindly jump into to attack them as leeches.
This man represents the voice of a large part of the modern conservative movement who have made it their calling card to be as mean as possible to people who work for a living while claiming to be wanting to vitalize the economy.
When an average worker can’t rest at night for fear of losing their lights, home, health coverage if they have it, they are not producing very well at work. We loose as a consequence. Harming them any further only harms the national economy. It is anti-social and borders on sociopathic.
7. When part time janitorial work is paid $10 an hour, I imagine that the people who hire janitors can then afford to hire much more skilled individuals – “
Lets look at what the article says she does and ask any CEO to do the same work, every day for only $480 over 2 weeks. They’d say hell no. That would be harder work than they just did pushing papers and talking about themselves.
Soto was responsible for cleaning two full floors of 80 to 100 offices a piece. Each office had to be dusted and vacuumed, including blinds, and waste bins cleaned. Two large areas on each floor had to be mopped daily. She did not stop for a dinner break and consumed only water from a bottle on her cleaning cart.
“much more skilled” is another code worded phrase. It means, “I’ve decided I’m more valuable.” But who gets to anoint that title? It isn’t the worker obviously. Also note again that this comment reflects “imagine” again. A clear sign of ignorance when stating facts. I imagine that this guy rides a unicorn and mounts elves, but …alas, I have no facts to support that. Imagining anything about workers and people that isn’t based in facts lends to prejudice and ignorance.
I remember a regional manager for a sales company came to a meeting with my company back in the 90s and we had this big old meeting in Kansas City, MO. The maintenance crew had to be called in to fix a meeting room lighting issue. The main guy came in with a tool kit, wired up a new panel and left. He was almost silent as he did his job and the meeting was able to continue. Yet, nobody thanked him. Nobody even cared. They went forward as if he didn’t matter. Yet, they couldn’t have if he hadn’t done his basic job. He didn’t ask for a CEO’s check to do so, he was basic staff for the facility. He had a title that gave him authority over a small crew and just enough of an income to warrant doing the job. Yet, the heady managers couldn’t have done their job without him that day.
At the end of the meeting, one new young manager said to the rest of them, “I want us to remember who works for us and that we need to make sure they come to work with confidence. I’m afraid in all our planning I heard little of what I needed to know as a new manager. I learned little from the last few days that I didn’t already expect from the company, as far as growth, new plans, and how great we were.”
A higher up said, “what did you want to learn from this?”
“I have a bunch of employees who are endlessly dealing with life events that they try to keep out of the workspace. I want to help them manage both if I can so we get their full focus at work and a rested life away from work. Right? I’m confused.” and she nervously laughed as if asking the stupidest question.
The higher up said, “what do you think we should do?”
“If we’re making so much more this year over last, why am I being told don’t give a raise unless it is someone who I must retain. (must retain meant they were either very useful or very dramatic) I understand trying to tell everyone don’t expect a raise but they hear we’re making this much more and aren’t getting a raise, they quit. Then I have high turn-over. I’m just trying to get it right.”
The higher up really didn’t have a response outside of “I understand. We’ll talk about how we should look at your situation. If you’ll call me next week we can find something to help you.”
“Ok, thanks.” she said, but not satisfied only polite. He left the ambiguity of how to handle this common problem in the space. The other managers of her level were equally left out of the cold and I was left with the first post in a long series of milestones in my path against this sort of business thinking.
This young manager asked the important question and failed to get a cogent answer in front of everyone. Instead the uppers would now have to justify their cheerleading for the company then tell the lower echelon of authority to lie to the workers about the status of the company. It was all done in broad sunshine. That company eventually was purchased by another and then another then dissolved. All those workers are gone. It had started as a 3 family companies and then because the lack of clarity in priorities the company ate itself.
8. maybe with language skills and legal status.
This is where we get to the meat of the matter. It is clear that this ignoramus doesn’t know and has never been in authority positions over lots of workers, or any workers. To assume that janitors don’t possess other skills is simply ignorant. Many are also electricians, mechanics, chefs, computer experts, and many other skills that just didn’t work out economically. I know many people who now work as janitors or ‘service industry professionals’ as some like to be called. They even downplay their own worth out of a sort of Stockholm syndrome with their oppressors. One guy used to fix my VCRs with such ease. I could have paid a pro-shop to do it for the price of it or pay him $50 to fix it and a few other items at the same time. He loved to do it too. However, he’s had this janitor job for over 20 years for a large hotel.
Prejudice anyone? Have we already concluded that we are dealing with legal status as part of Rita Sosa’s claim? I bet if her name were Betty Fucking White, we’d not be discussing that topic. Legal status should never affect wages. If an employer is paying someone who is not legally allowed to work in the country, they are already committing a crime. That is another topic all together that I will touch on one day. Make ready companies, lawn service teams, day laborers, and basic services are often performed by new immigrants and this “legal status” issue is used to harm workers.
I’ll only deal with those who are legally allowed to work. In these cases, they have to face the additional insult of being looked at as stupid because they don’t speak English as their primary language yet. Or if they are American citizens with poor education but work hard, they are looked down upon as stupid and relegated to the areas of least reward by those who have judged them. I needn’t rely upon my anecdotal references to this alone. The segregated maps by economy show this reality.
To call out “legal status” in a discussion of wages is to show implicitly that the value of the labor is never the issue. At issue is the amount of excuses one can come up with to fail to pay a livable wage while complaining about the failing economy.
9.The janitors had better be careful what they ask for – they just might get it.”
They might get a livable wage? or they might get fired? No worker walks in and says I want to be fired. They ask for better terms of employment and livable conditions. You won’t find one that comes in and says, “make me CEO and give me a fucking yacht!”.
The abuse of service workers needs to come to a stop. And it isn’t going to come from this vicious gaggle of hyenas. They are sociopaths and members of the fanatical right of America. They are milking anti-immigrant, anti-worker, anti-women, anti-children, anti-education, anti-safety, anti-environmental, and anti-social policies while claiming to love their country, to be proud Americans and aware of what it means to be “free”.
Frank Zappa said, “Free is when you don’t have to pay for nothing or do nothing, we want to be free”….
Thus, Janitors aren’t asking for freedom…but to work for something, get paid a livable wage, and to be treated with dignity.
As the idiot said, “If they want a raise, how about doing what the rest of the free world does”
Where is this…’rest of the free world’? There is no free world in America. You have to work, you have to work, you have to work, then you have to get that goddamn boot of your face to ask for a bit of crumbs to feed your family.