Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

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Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby fgalkin » 2012-02-28 12:44pm

Very long article from Mother Jones:

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Not at work, thankfully, since that's evidently frowned upon, but later, when I explained to someone over Skype that it hurts, oh, how my body hurts after failing to make my goals despite speed-walking or flat-out jogging and pausing every 20 or 30 seconds to reach on my tiptoes or bend or drop to the floor for 10.5 hours, and isn't it awful that they fired Brian because he had a baby, and, in fact, when I was hired I signed off on something acknowledging that anyone who leaves without at least a week's notice—whether because they're a journalist who will just walk off or because they miss a day for having a baby and are terminated—has their hours paid out not at their hired rate but at the legal minimum. Which in this state, like in lots of states, is about $7 an hour. Thank God that I (unlike Brian, probably) didn't need to pay for opting into Amalgamated's "limited" health insurance program. Because in my 10.5-hour day I'll make about $60 after taxes.

"This is America?" my Skype pal asks, because often I'm abroad.
Indeed, and I'm working for a gigantic, immensely profitable company. Or for the staffing company that works for that company, anyway. Which is a nice arrangement, because temporary-staffing agencies keep the stink of unacceptable labor conditions off the companies whose names you know. When temps working at a Walmart warehouse sued for not getting paid for all their hours, and for then getting sent home without pay for complaining, Walmart—not technically their employer—wasn't named as a defendant. (Though Amazon has been named in a similar suit.) Temporary staffers aren't legally entitled to decent health care because they are just short-term "contractors" no matter how long they keep the same job. They aren't entitled to raises, either, and they don't get vacation and they'd have a hell of a time unionizing and they don't have the privilege of knowing if they'll have work on a particular day or for how long they'll have a job. And that is how you slash prices and deliver products superfast and offer free shipping and still post profits in the millions or billions.


Lots of people are "temporary" pickers and sorters and shippers year-round. Annual internet retail sales in the United States are estimated to hit $197 billion at year's end; they're projected to grow 10 percent every year to $279 billion in 2015. And during the holidays a lot more people sign up—to handle the Christmas rush, the biggest retail-shipping warehouses hire thousands of extra employees each. That's each warehouse mind you; Amazon for example had 52 in 2010, with plans to complete another 17 by 2012. And because Christmas is a deadline that consumers take very seriously, peak-season temps have it a little bit worse. Often, they can't request any time off during the holidays. If they miss Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve, they can be fired. Overtime is generally mandatory, even if that means five 12-hour days in a row. Doing anything for five days of 12-hour shifts is tough, but particularly when that thing is standing in one spot at a conveyor belt repeatedly stuffing inflatable air pockets into boxes, or running up to 15 miles a day around a vast warehouse in order to retrieve the items for those boxes, bending over to grab them off floor-level shelves literally hundreds of times a day, while supervisors meticulously keep track of how many items every employee picks and let them know when they're not moving fast enough, not good enough. Hurry up, customers are waiting. Santa's special helpers can't be permitted to take personal time off, or time to go to the bathroom except during a couple of 15-minute breaks, or to have enough off-work hours in their day to get laundry done or eat dinner with their kids. It's Christmas, goddammit.


In the books sector, in the cold, in the winter dryness, made worse by the fans and all the paper, I jet across the floor in my rubber-soled Adidas, pant legs whooshing against each other, 30 seconds according to my scanner to take 35 steps to get to the right section and row and bin and level and reach for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and "FUCK!" A hot spark shoots between my hand and the metal shelving. It's not the light static-electric prick I would terrorize my sister with when we got bored in carpeted department stores, but a solid shock, striking enough to make my body learn to fear it. I start inadvertently hesitating every time I approach my target. One of my coworkers races up to a shelving unit and leans in with the top of his body first; his head touches the metal, and the shock knocks him back. "Be careful of your head," he says to me. In the first two hours of my day, I pick 300 items. The majority of them zap me painfully.

This has to be in China, because America would never dare treat its workers so. Right?

Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby K. A. Pital » 2012-02-28 01:12pm

The contractor system allows to treat people like a piece of shit even in Germany.

I still remember when those large employment agencies were first introduced by governments as a "panacea" to cure joblessness and trumpeted as the "ultimate achivement" of employment technologies. Now many people working for them damn the day they signed up for it. It's insulting enough that they're paid lower than fully employed and lose a good part of their potential wage income to the agency.

And this bunch of worthless leechers allows big-name companies to avoid labour disputes. Heh.
We want to achieve a new and better order of society: in this new and better society there must be neither rich nor poor; all will have to work. Not a handful of rich people, but all the working people must enjoy the fruits of their common labour. Machines and other improvements must serve to ease the work of all and not to enable a few to grow rich at the expense of millions and tens of millions of people. This new and better society is called socialist society. The teachings about this society are called socialism.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Mr Bean » 2012-02-28 02:03pm

I remember reading this the other night, wanted to bring the topic here but I was not sure how to frame it. One of the biggest issues this article points out is the fact in America a "temporary" worker can be temporary for years. There used to be laws back when temporary category was created you could not be a Temp worker for anything over 90 days. This resulted in some companies starting a hiring/firing cycle at the 89 day mark. This resulted in yet more laws to correct this before most of the laws in question were overturned in the Bush I years. There are still some states which place limits on how long someone can be a temporary worker.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby K. A. Pital » 2012-02-28 02:17pm

It's not just America. You can be a temp worker (lease worker, heh) here for years as well.
We want to achieve a new and better order of society: in this new and better society there must be neither rich nor poor; all will have to work. Not a handful of rich people, but all the working people must enjoy the fruits of their common labour. Machines and other improvements must serve to ease the work of all and not to enable a few to grow rich at the expense of millions and tens of millions of people. This new and better society is called socialist society. The teachings about this society are called socialism.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Rahvin » 2012-02-28 03:11pm

I worked briefly at the US Post Office, whose local sorting warehouse employed several dozen "seasonal" employees who had been working contiguously (with no raises, benefits, PTO, vacation, paid holidays...) for years. In at least one case, more than a decade.

Fuck staffing agencies. Hope I never need to use one again.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby cosmicalstorm » 2012-02-28 03:29pm

I worked for one in my early 20's. For me that was great, lots of money and no difficulties landing the position. I was sent into the Swedish car industry. I made even more money than I do now after 3 years of uni-education. But there was very little in terms of employment safety, they did fire and rehire me several occasions.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Irbis » 2012-02-28 03:57pm

It's the same here. We even have that big discussion in the media about 'trash papers' (how temp-like jobs were dubbed here). Right in the middle of EU. Did anything changed after all that bickering?

Oh, yes, lot's of paper rolls were covered in ink. That's about it. And assholes responsible for that after 1989 still claim economy flexibility and jobgiver's (I'm not kidding, it's the term they use) convenience is paramount :roll:

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby PhilosopherOfSorts » 2012-02-28 05:13pm

Mr Bean wrote:There used to be laws back when temporary category was created you could not be a Temp worker for anything over 90 days. This resulted in some companies starting a hiring/firing cycle at the 89 day mark. .



There's a place in my town that is notorious for this. The company itself offers nice benefits to its employees, but everybody there starts out working for one of the temp agencies that handles the company's staffing, so they're not eligible for any of them for their first 90 days, after which the actual company is susposed to hire them on. This rarely happens, the majority of the people who work there make it about 85 days or so, then get fired for some stupid bullshit reason. For example, I got fired for keeping a bottle of water in my pocket. In most cases they'll bring you back through one temp agency or another to start the same cycle over again. I personally can't go back, (because of my criminal record from about a decade ago) but that's okay, because I make better money delivering pizza then I did working in that factory.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Dalton » 2012-02-28 05:28pm

The staffing agency I worked for before I got hired on had a rule that after a year of full-time work, you had to either drop down to part time (<20 hr/wk) or go on "probation" for six months. A friend of mine used to have our boss "fire" him at the end of the year, go work freelance for the NBA and then come back six months later.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Stark » 2012-02-28 08:10pm

In AU the attraction of these arrangements stems from the difficulty of firing people and the benefits they must be provided if permanentd. What's the motive in America?

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Kanastrous » 2012-02-28 09:03pm

Stark wrote:In AU the attraction of these arrangements stems from the difficulty of firing people and the benefits they must be provided if permanentd. What's the motive in America?


Increased profit margins. But you already knew that.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Dalton » 2012-02-28 09:09pm

I think he's referring to why people would go for the gig in the first place, not why companies utilize these agencies. And when you're stuck out in Bumblefuck working on a degree or in a field where the jobs have dried up, it may be the last recourse for many other than a McJob.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Kanastrous » 2012-02-28 09:15pm

I read it as 'what's the attraction for the employer,' since Stark seems to frame it in terms of stuff like reduced/no benefits and firing-at-will. But I guess he'll clarify.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Stark » 2012-02-28 09:25pm

Holy shit t ate my reply.

I made a post about what I see in AU (people seeking flexibility or trying to gain experience in a new industry, especially the public service) and what seems to be the bizarre disparity between modern American management theory and contemporary American management practice. That the practices described able are used beyond unskilled roles is bizarre to me.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-28 09:55pm

What do you mean about the theory?

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Stark » 2012-02-28 10:03pm

Huge volumes of extremely high-quality management theory is produced in the USA on issues like retention, development, culture, even things like responsibility and ethics. The rest of the world uses these ideas. And yet America itself seems to but run in short-sighted and self-defeating ways. It's a mystery to me, in particular the attitude towards labour pools.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-28 10:17pm

My working hypothesis is that wherever you go, managers will default to the same kind of behavior. If you don't make them work to build a strong culture with low worker turnover, they won't bother. It takes a lot more effort than just periodically sauntering through the workplace threatening to fire people if they don't increase output by 10%, then carrying through and letting someone else worry about the problem of bringing the thousandth new guy up to speed.

Especially for blue and menial-white collar jobs, where a manager can feel smugly superior to his employees because of the way the American class system works. High-end white collar work is still a partly sheltered niche, because it's not so easy to find new people with an M.S. in engineering at the drop of a hat. But anyone with a management degree is probably going to think of themself as some kind of demigod when comparing themself to the ignorant idiots who haul stuff around in a warehouse. So fuck them, why bother trying to make them happy when life is cheap and ruling by fear is entertaining? If they want to be treated like human beings instead of defective, vaguely hominid robots, they should get a damn MBA like everybody else!

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby The Yosemite Bear » 2012-02-28 11:15pm

here in yosemite we are unionized but during the summer we have a lot of temp workers coming in but since the summer month peak time is just under the limits for the max time for temp workers before they become union workers.
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Stark » 2012-02-28 11:16pm

Did you just reply to 'it is done differently elsewhere' with 'I bet it's the same everywhere'? I mean shit even stuff like setting KPIs to encourage desired behaviour rather than encouraging managers to game the system in useless or destructive ways is both core to HR practice and largely based on American published research.

Your description of manager behaviour must be considered a farce.


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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby The Yosemite Bear » 2012-02-28 11:26pm

fairly strong, but the massive influx of guests during june through august needs more people, and the temps just never get brought on whole. However if they come back next summer they get union benefits (guess what the temp agencies make sure that the same people never work two consecutive summers)
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby The Yosemite Bear » 2012-02-28 11:36pm

This is CA on the left coast, on one hand we're pro union, on the other hand, we have people we treat as sub human in this state. (hey they were still lynching hispanics during the depression)
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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-29 01:40am

Stark wrote:Did you just reply to 'it is done differently elsewhere' with 'I bet it's the same everywhere'?
Not quite.

I mean shit even stuff like setting KPIs to encourage desired behaviour rather than encouraging managers to game the system in useless or destructive ways is both core to HR practice and largely based on American published research.

Your description of manager behaviour must be considered a farce.
No, I mean that managers will behave like assholes unless you put something in place to stop them. Most countries do that, the US doesn't, because of stupidity in our corporate culture.

If other countries were dumb enough to stand by and whistle while managers acted as they pleased, then they'd have the same problems. But they're not. Instead, they make managers act smarter and create a better corporate environment.

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Re: Wage Slavery: Alive and Thriving

Postby JointStrikeFighter » 2012-02-29 02:18am

No dude, a good manager will never act like an asshole because it's counterproductive to meeting organisational goals.

Turns out america has no good managers :V


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