We wouldn't want that great economy to go down the shitter.
Worked Over and Overworked
New York Times, Business
Excerpted from “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker,” by Steven Greenhouse (Knopf, 2008).
In his job at a Wal-Mart in Texas, Mike Michell was responsible for catching shoplifters, and he was good at it, too, catching 180 in one two-year period.
But one afternoon things went wildly awry when he chased a thief — a woman using stolen checks — into the parking lot. She jumped into her car, and her accomplice gunned the accelerator, slamming the car into Michell and sending him to the hospital with a broken kneecap, a badly torn shoulder, and two herniated disks. Michell was so devoted to Wal-Mart that he somehow returned to work the next day, but a few weeks later he told his boss that he needed surgery on his knee. He was fired soon afterward, apparently as part of a strategy to dismiss workers whose injuries run up Wal-Mart’s workers’ comp bills.
Immediately after serving in the army, Dawn Eubanks took a seven-dollar-an-hour job at a call center in Florida. Some days she was told to clock in just two or three hours, and some days she was not allowed to clock in during her whole eight-hour shift. The call center’s managers warned the workers that if they went home, even though they weren’t allowed to clock in, they would be viewed as having quit.
Twenty-eight-year-old John Arnold works in the same Caterpillar factory in Illinois as his father, but under the plant’s two-tier contract, the maximum he can ever earn is $14.90 an hour, far less than the $25 earned by his father. Caterpillar, long a symbol of America’s industrial might, insists that it needs a lower wage tier to remain competitive. “A few people I work with are living at home with their parents,” Arnold said. “Some are even on food stamps.”
At a Koch Foods poultry plant in Tennessee, the managers were so intent on keeping the line running all out that Antonia Lopez Paz and the other workers who carved off chicken tenders were ordered not to go to the bathroom except during their lunch and coffee breaks. When one desperate woman asked permission to go, her supervisor took off his hard hat and said, “You can go to the bathroom in this.” Some women ended up soiling themselves.
Don Jensen anticipated a relaxing life of golf after retiring from his human resources post with Lucent Technologies in New Jersey, where he was in charge of recruiting graduates from Stanford, Cornell, MIT, and other top universities.
But when Lucent increased its retirees’ health insurance premiums to $8,280 a year, up from $180, Jensen was forced to abandon his retirement.
He took a job as a ten-dollar-an-hour bank teller.
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