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Sixteen Tons and What Do You Get?

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I had to go out today, and I discovered that very few business establishments are closed despite it being New Year’s Day. I don’t recall another holiday prior to those late this year when so many places operated like New Year’s Day was just another day.

I first noticed back before Thanksgiving that every one of the fast food chains I patronize were not only going to have their drive-up windows available as if normal hours were in force, but they were going to open up their dining areas on the holiday at their regularly scheduled times, just like it was any other day. I don’t recall this happening last year. Later, when they posted their Christmas operating hours, it was the same – despite it being the “holiest” holiday in America.

Shouldn’t the Christians be screaming about this business decision being part of the war against Christmas? Has Scrooge finally gotten his way? The prisons never do close, and the workhouses are open for business. It looks that way to me, anyway.

But this observation got me to thinking about employee time off in general. More and more, employers seek to expand the work day any way they can. And just as Scrogge insisted before his numerous spiritual awakenings reeducated him, the law -civil or moral- be damned.

My son Bookseller reported to me that his managers regularly interrupted his breaks and lunch this year because “he was needed”. This went on until a former employee complained to California’s labor law enforcement. Because Walmart was such a flagrant violator of wage laws nationally, there is now a court ruling declaring that an employee has to clock in and out for lunch which protects that work break from management encroachment. The State audits the record monthly and it better tally lest an expensive fine be levied. Other breaks remain iffy due to a lack of mandatory record keeping, but I expect that “flaw in the law” will be remedied at some point.

This raises a question for the Tea Baggers who might be reading this: Are you getting enough time at work for tea when you expect to get it? Who is going to see to it that you do if you get rid of government enforcement? Your generous bosses? But I digress.

At my place of employment, should I not clock out for lunch by a certain time, even if I am on a hot job, I have to stop and take lunch, or else I suffer the consequences for causing my employer to have to pay a fine. In order to avoid this, most of us stop answering service calls at least ten minutes in advance of this deadline if we haven’t yet had lunch. “Screw ‘productivity’! I’m hungry! I’m not going to suffer for a vain effort to protect incompetent managers from their own ineptitude and poor planning!”

Lengthening the work day by hook or by crook isn’t the only way employers seek to get more for less. They are also making their employees afraid to take earned vacation time lest their jobs be at risk. A Reuters survey cited in this first article reported that 43% of American workers didn’t take all of their vacation time in 2010. An Ipsos poll cited in the second article supports that finding.

American employers and their sycophantic employees like to disparage European workers, and also to denounce the “socialist” governments that give their workers as many as 42 paid days off. Yet some of these nations are doing much better than the American economy is. Germany and France officially exited the global recession by August of 2009. In the US, we had just bottomed out by that time, attaining a flat point from which we have yet to rise despite all the Happy Talk emanating from Wall Street lately about the Dow-Jones index and lavish bond trader bonuses.

An American residing in Europe puts this difference into perspective:

59 million Americans who don’t have any medical coverage, 132 million don’t have any dental coverage, 60 million don’t have any paid sick leave & 40 million on food stamps.
I am in Germany. Did you know that in Germany most workers get a Christmas bonus as part of the social safety net as equal to a 13th month full wage? …[even] McDonald’s employees… [are] entitled to receive 4 weeks paid vacation, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave and complete medical and dental for them and their families. This also includes a prescription medication coverage. How come McDonald’s Germany can afford to pay for things but McDonald’s in America can’t pay them without crying bankruptcy.

…most of this [is] true across the European Union, which has a bigger economy and more people than America does.

But wait! It yet gets WORSE for American workers!

Ever call in sick just because you didn’t feel like going to work that day? Your employer doesn’t have to accept your excuses unverified anymore! Your company can now hire “private detectives and off-duty cops” to check up on you! The management attitude is that sick days are for when you are sick, and to use them for other purposes constitutes fraud. Soylent Green and one sick day per lifetime, here we come!

But employers don’t want to admit that they are in part responsible for their employees choosing to pay hooky. Joyce Maroney, Senior Director for the Chelmsford, MA workforce productivity firm Kronos, discovered that “57 percent of U.S. salaried employees take sick days when they’re not really sick”. This would be managers and other non-hourly workers, whose lower-level employees themselves usually can’t afford to take time off even when they are legitimately sick.

(This situation happened to me this month when I was told taking a day off could mean my job, so don’t tell me it never happens! Every day I took off this year was for medical reasons. I got no vacation. I went in sick two days in December rather than face termination.)

Ms. Maroney noted that, despite the threat to one’s job during The Great Recession, the use of sick days for other purposes stems from employees staying in jobs they greatly dislike due to a lack of other opportunities. If employees had jobs they liked better, she claims, there would be less abuse of sick time.

Needless to emphasize, employers are making sick day abuse investigations a growing industry. One such investigator commented, “…it’s great for business!” How better to cull the staff of disloyal serfs while improving the bottom line through a deductable service?

And what if you manage to get caught by your employer enjoying a late sleep-in with the Significant Other by claiming you’re sick? You lose your job, can’t find another for six month, apply for unemployment, reapply when it runs out, etc., etc., until you no longer have any unemployment benefits to collect. What do you do then?

Too many American workers are in this condition. They call themselves 99ers regardless of how many weeks of unemployment they were awarded. All that is required to belong is that one have no more unemployment to claim.

Faced with clear Obama administration obstructiveness, and a mood in Congress that might as well scream “Let them eat cake!”, some of these so afflicted have taken up collective action and have begun a 99ers website to do what they can to strike a blow for those who have no more means of financial support from their government. Check out helpthe99ers.com. You may need their help yourself at the rate the economy is “improving” and will then know where to turn. They may not have tea, but they have plenty of sympathy!

Once again, European workers have more rights to sneer than do their American counterparts. As our American living in Germany points out, unemployment benefits in the EU will never abandon the unemployed in an untenable condition as is done in America:

“…in Germany, when unemployment benefits 1 runs out, unemployment 2 also known as Hartz IV kicks in, and [this benefit will] never run out! Perhaps more interesting than that, is the unemployed and their families continue to have health insurance paid by the government.

Same thing in Britain, jobless benefits never run out, and the jobless and their families continue to have access to health care. Why can’t we do that in America?

Three words explain why: Wall Street Greed.

I see I’ve taken up too much of your employers’ time. Break’s over! Get back to work, you slacker, or your boss will find someone who really wants that job!

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  • STM

    And tell me I don’t deserve my seven weeks’ vacation a year when I’m rostered to work nights, evenings, weekends, early mornings … and every public holiday on the calendar.

    Luckily, it’s the law here, just like some of the conditions Realist enjoys.

    But if it were left to my boss, I’m certain it’d be less.

  • STM

    And unions? Yes, but only great in an environment that accepts them as a genuine part of the political process.

    Otherwise, who talks for the little man?

    Not always the little man’s boss, sadly.

    And, more importantly, who stands up to the little man’s boss when he’s only interested in talking for himself?

  • STM

    “legal abirtation”

    Make that arbitration … a function whereby an independent-minded individual (judges of the courts) makes a decision on wages, workplace practices, etc etc, as a member of an independent judciary is tasked to look fairly and by use of the law at both sides of the coin in any dispute between workers and private industry.

    And what it says, goes.

  • STM

    Our Seppo cousins on the other side of the big pond have been unable to benefit from the fact that the Labor movement in the US has never had any genuine political voice … ie, a Labor Party representing their interests.

    The reason Australia has things like a great education system, universal health care AND high wages and a standard of living now outstripping that of the US is because of the Labor movement’s engagement with both private industry and government since the start of legal abirtation on industrial/workplace/wages issues since the early 1900s.

    Aussies have a higher minimum wage, won’t go bankrupt if they’re sick (and the care they get is on a par to that of the US or Europe, and NO, I’ve never heard of a death panel in Oz because they don’t exist … the opposite, if anything), and don’t have to depend on tips to survive if they’re tending bar or waiting on tables.

    It is a classic example of a nation that has taken a slightly different course to that of the US, doesn’t take itself anywhere near as seriously and is every bit as good, or better, as a place to live and work.

    Problem is, since the left of any party representing the interests of workers (blue-collar and white) will attract the loony left, there are times when such a party loses its way and becomes sidetracked with bleeding-heart and Green issues that don’t resonate with the majority.

    For all that, Australia’s a classic example of how a genuine meeting of the interests of workers and employers has been able to combine to produce a life better for everyone.

    The classic examples are the blue-collar families earning big coin for the work they do, and the much narrower gap compared to the US between rich and poor. Meanwhile, the standard of living is virtually identical.

    Not only that, but it’s a classic example of how so-called “socialism” (most on the American right wouldn’t know real socialism as opposed to namby-pamby American chardonnay liberalism if it bit them on the arse) which is actually nothing of the sort, rather a focus on “community” can benefit an entire nation and still leave it with one of the world’s strongest economies – or would that simply be a better return from the government on the taxpayer dollar, which chooses to cater for the wellbeing of its people over expenditure on vast and now largely not-needed military budgets?

    Any doubts or scepticism over this, check the recent high value of the Aussie dollar (trading higher in value than the US dollar for the past two weeks) and the fact Australia not only survived the GFC, but thrived during the downturn.

    I’ll never understand why so many Americans can never seem to understand that if you absolutely have to have governments (federal and state), what they provide as part of the contract can be mostly good: and at least if you demand that, you get your money’s worth out of the bastards while working towards the good of everyone – not just the individual(although work towards that too, they aren’t mutually exclusive and shouldn’t be).

    And our experience in this country: if you let employers rather than legislation and specially created industrial courts decide who gets paid what and when, the average worker – usually the ones doing all the work anyway – always loses.

    That’s what governments are for and why we vote for them.

    They’re not things we vote for hoping they’ll stay completely out of our lives (or they shouldn’t be). Otherwise, what f.cking use are they?

    They’re bodies of elected representatives we look to to do our bidding. Their only function is to represent us in parliament (or whatever the legislature).

    But their main function should always be to work towards the wellbeing of the people who put them there expecting to run the nation capably, smoothly – and fairly.

    Sometimes, that involves taking a little bit from the corporations and giving a bit more to the workers in return for a decent day’s work and increased productivity. Win-win.

    America and Australia – and yes, I’ve been to the US on many occasions – are very, very similar, but for genuine peace of mind, a real feeling of freedom and a decent overall standard of living, there’s only one that I’d choose to live in for all the above reasons.

    The other place, while also still quite nice for all its faults, is populated by a great bunch of people – who we are, it must be said, still rather fond of – wasting too much of their considerable energy on polarised political standpoints and pointless navel-gazing and is in the northern hemisphere.

    This place is bordered by Canada and Mexico.

  • I have to side with Roger on this one as much as I would prefer otherwise. Despite being in a union, I have no faith that most of the members wouldn’t sell the rest of us out to benefit themselves. One former member even insisted at a meeting that being in a union was holding him back from what he was truly worth. When he got fired, he found out how little that really was.

  • Not really, Glenn, not in today’s market which is a buyer’s market. The American working class has long lost its gumption. They’ll sell their soul to the highest bidder and don’t you forget it.

    But what else can you expect in a country where dollar is king? Nothing but a nation of whores.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Realist –

    Great article…and a wonderful argument FOR unions!

  • Of course there are, Realist, but they’re few and far between. And they’re not the media darlings.

    As for myself, I’m self-motivated, I suppose the artist in me. The dumbness around me only inspires me to greater heights.

    They say that the genetic difference between a human and an ape is infinitesimal. I say that in this case, the difference in degree is a difference in kind.

  • @Roger:

    I have noticed the drop in material and response. I can’t attest to the conditions of the other’s morale and inspiration, but I know mine took a serious hit. I at least try to comment when I feel up to it.

    While I happen to think that the dumbing of America began shortly after Watergate, when disco became popular, there was still always an element of our society that seemed to be paying attention. It’s getting harder to find that element today, but I can attest that it’s still out there. For instance, I left a comment for the author of a post that I think should be more widely read, and he asked to publish my comment. You can read it here if you choose.

  • Boeke

    “…another day older and deeper in debt”.

    Until you’re too old and sick and broken to keep up the pace set by the young, even as you were once, and you owe your soul to the company store so you can’t leave.

  • An interesting twist to your tale, Realist. Notice the diminished quality of BC political writing and the paucity of comments. Dreadful is most prolific as of now, with two comments to his credit – trying to keep the site alive?

    Have the editors and writers become demoralized as part of the side effect? Anyway, it doesn’t promise to be a productive year if these signs are in any way indicative. Perhaps we’re going through another “dumbing of America” phase, including this edge-cutting website.

    Let’s only hope it’s a phase.