Saturday, August 20, 2016

Life on the bottom rail

When you hear about professional athletes making $25 million a year, like Andrew Luck’s new contract, or what the Yankees are being forced to pay on the final year of A-Rod’s contract (not as a player, but as an “adviser”), does the average person really know what that means? It’s a lot of money, but how much is a lot? $25 million could be broken down in the following ways:

$1 million a year for 25 years
$500,000 a year for 50 years
$250,000 a year for 100 years
$100,000 a year for 250 years
$50,000 a year for 500 years
$25,000 a year for 1,000 years

We could break it down in other ways, like how many unemployed people could be working or be paid a living wage per year. Of course, we don’t want to begrudge anyone for simply taking advantage of their “market value,” although it certainly is indicative of where a society’s values and priorities lie.  It is kind of like the differing reactions to the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Theresa within a few weeks of each other; one was a media creation and basked in a royal life of leisure and privilege, and the other spent lifetime among and attending to the needs of the desperately poor in India. Yet whose life was the subject of unbalanced adoration?

Low-income people are often accused by the wealthy and right-wing politicians and commentators of not paying taxes. The state of Washington does not have a state income tax, but that doesn’t mean the low-income don’t pay taxes. If you throw in the health care premiums which I am required to pay per the ACA, 28 percent of my earnings are taken off the top—and most millionaires and billionaires don’t pay half that percentage, and that includes the Clintons, who the media has praised for paying a “high” percentage on their net income after their tax dodges are deducted. And that doesn’t even take into account the 10 percent in state sales taxes; that means that my “net” income is 65 percent of the gross. If I wash pans for another department for three weeks straight because they don’t have anybody “knows” how to do it (and judging by the badly stained condition they are in, that is probably true), do I have an expectation that I will at least be asked if I want to work overtime? I thought I’d just throw that in there.

One problem with income, especially for those on the lower end, is health care, and paying substantial premiums that take a large chunk of their income seems little benefit (until actually needed, of course). The current line is that “Obamacare” is in trouble, partly because the 18-29 group has not as expected acquired health insurance, and because of this and the fact that newly-insured people are actually using their benefits, insurance companies claim that it is impossible to maintain profitability under the ACA. This is plain denial, because before the ACA, health costs and premiums were rocketing out of control, and individuals were denied health care insurance even as their employers refused to offer group plans. This prioritizing of profits over people should tell us that we should be moving toward a single-payer system that cuts out the profit motive for all involved—insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and even doctors. And down at the worker level—more specifically for those already being paid at or near the minimum wage—people should not be given a false indicator of their actual earnings, meaning that businesses should pay 100 percent of premiums.

I confess that I’m not that ambitious, save to write. The closest I ever came to doing anything commensurate with my education, and was paid for it, was when I worked for the college newspaper and was paid $3 per story. And that was after I had served my country for seven years in the Army. But none of that means anything when you “look” like someone’s negative stereotype. It is not to the same degree in every workplace, and sometimes only within a particular ethnic clique, and the best policy is to keep your head down and don’t say what is on your mind, although that is sometimes hard to do. 

People like me always start at the bottom, regardless of education level. Whether it is washing pans—or pushing a broom all day. Once me and a black partner were sent to a company that made “aesthetic” table and overhead lamps. It is my perception that an employer often hires based on their political or social beliefs; this place had the “liberal” types, except as I mentioned recently, that can be “complicated” in practice. I pushed a broom and vacuumed up dust all day for a week, until I was allowed to do a little piece work to keep from becoming too bored; eventually I was “promoted” to constructing bases and stems. I heard one employee sarcastically say this was because the company was into “equality,” but I would hardly say that; from what I could gather from its hiring practices, before I arrived it apparently assumed only white people  were capable of doing anything above the intellectual capacity of a chimpanzee (OK, now I’m being sarcastic). The only time I ever heard anyone tell me I was doing a “good” job was when I had a broom back in my hand.

One day I observed that a white male was brought in, who I assumed was a new hire, because he was immediately trained in the construction of the lighting fixtures and was allowed to attend company meetings, from which me and the black guy were deliberately excluded from. It turned out that this new guy was a temp as well, but apparently a friend or a cousin of one of the employees, and set on the fast track to fulltime. 

This also only confirmed for me the company’s discriminatory hiring practices, and I quickly came to the conclusion that there was no future for us there besides doing their “dirty” work. My partner told me he had been driven away even from just viewing the photos taken by the owner during his recent “showmobile” tour; so much for being made to feel part of the “team.” Things came to a “head,” at least for me, when me and my partner were taken outside for a private “chat” and questioned about the smell of marijuana in a restroom, apparently upon the accusation of a full-time employee who had skipped a company meeting because he needed to “smoke,” and had denied he was responsible for the pot smell; we were likely the responsible for that, because, after all, we the only minorities in the place. I was of course outraged by this, and I stewed for a few weeks until I decided I couldn’t work there anymore. 

I had heard that the new Amazon Fulfillment Center in Kent, which pays $12.75 an hour to start, was hiring, and were actively seeking a “diverse” work force. Except that their human resources department was taking it a little too seriously; by the looks of people coming in and out of the place, it seems that Amazon has taken upon itself the social responsibility of reducing the black unemployment rate. I had first heard that they were hiring from a “brother” from among a group on a prison work release that an employer at another job site had brought in on the cheap. His girlfriend had done an on-line application for him, a just two days later she had told him that Amazon had actually called him for an interview; I wonder if his current “status” was discussed. What chance could a college-educated personal with a long work history have over such “qualifications”? It took me about eight weeks to find out: None, probably because I checked the “decline to say” box in the race or ethnicity section, which was a whole page long.

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