What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

hiking (for a nominal advance on wages already earned...)

So I ended up finally getting an email out to my boss at the hiking store.  I tried to delicately explain my stance and why I should be paid.  His response was, frankly, appalling and literally sent me calling the national lawyers guild.  He didn't seem to see anything wrong with not paying me.  He had told me that I couldn't count on this job to be my main source of income, thus felt like he was covered and fine in not paying me on time.  He also questioned how he could possible pay me ahead of people that had been with him longer, and been waiting to get paid longer.  Yes, fair enough... they deserve to be paid as well!!  But what arrangement you've made with your other employees is between you and them and none of my business!  If you want to come ask me if I will do the same, fine, lets have that conversation.  The fact is though, that when you said that work would be sporadic at the store and I shouldn't count on it as my main source of income, you said I wouldn't be getting steady HOURS!!  You didn't say that when I did get hours I wouldn't be getting paid for them!  I mean, the audacity to even think, nevermind assume, that your workers would just be fine with working and not getting paid.

I waited till the next day to address it in person.  It was a struggle right from when I walked in the door though.  I saw my other coworker and the boss together.  The cold shoulder was evident from both of them.  The kind of fake smile and handshake where you are really thinking under your breath: "I hate you, you dirty bastard".  It seemed to me that my boss had obviously spoken to my colleague, sullying my name there for simply demanding to be paid for time I'd worked.  I can only picture how that story went: "tim is demanding to be paid before you!" "You've been here a year!" "The audacity!"

This is the way ownership gets us.  A political game that turns us against each other.  We are not supposed to talk about things like this, salaries, conditions, etc.  You know how this works.  We're NEVER supposed to ask other people what they make.  But why not?  Because we might all realize we are getting treated very differently?  Screwed even?  This is the heart of the idea behind collective bargaining and unionizing.  It is not so we can get extra days off a year and retire at 40.  It is so that there is communication amongst workers.  So that we will know if we are all being treated fairly.  As individuals we can be hired, fired, and taken advantage of, but as a collective group we can ask to actually get our pay, we can ask for humane working conditions, for dignity and respect in our daily tasks, and maybe even  a wage we can live on.

Yeah, frankly I don't trust this guy anymore.  I mean, I like him personally I guess.  But it is what we do that defines us, our actions, words, and how we treat people.  When I spoke to him, it was just as if he was trying to find a way to keep me on for the least outlay, with the least amount of integrity.  He agreed entirely to what I was saying bout it all, probably thinking: "yes! he's not actually going to ask for his full salary!"  I mean, he basically negotiated me out of demanding full pay for work done.  In this whole process he gets to pay me late.  Yet somehow I've accepted this.  Implicitly or not, I have agreed to getting shafted.  He also slipped in there at one point that this week he'd be paying February's wages.  This is of course what he said to me about last week as well.  But it still hasn't gone out.  But the worst thing about it all is that he doesn't realize that this is what he teaches us to say to customers about out of stock supplies and bills.  Like we don't recognize ourselves in these narratives.  Then, after all this, he then has the audacity to send an email out about a mandatory training a couple Monday's from now (yeah it'll be "paid").  Sorry bro, I'm nannying that day.  Working somewhere where I will get paid.  Your store is now at the bottom of the totem pole.  I will work for you when I can.      

There is one other thing that I want to bring up regarding this, which is pure speculation and may be completely colored by a singular and horrible experience in my past.  I mentioned that not getting paid like this happened to me once before.  That incidence was much worse.  The company owed my $29,000 in back pay, was stalling my work visa for that country, and was giving me just enough cash keep above water, but not enough to leave the country.  I was trapped and in a situation that was malicious in so many ways.  I was promised bonuses and a percentage to offset the situation, yet nothing was materializing while the owner lived it up, stealing money from the company.  I eventually got my pay back, but that's a looong story for a book!  No matter though, here I am again, with this hiking company getting screwed.

There is one thing that the two men that owned these outfits had in common: they were both long term military men (one British, one America).  The way they spoke, the calculations they seemed to take, the rationale they ultimately used, it was all so incredibly similar.  It's as if loyalty is a one way street that goes straight down the chain of command.  General to private, owner to worker.  As if hierarchy knows no bounds; resting upon its highest of peeks maintaining no moral ground from which to look down upon us from.  Neither of them seemed to stop paying their rents, their salaries, and their bills. 

But anyway, who knows if that is the case here.  All I know is that I don't have enough cash to pay a bill that's due this week and be able to eat over the next two weeks.  Yeah, I'll get some cash, but I won't get what I'm supposed to, thus my budgeting matters not.  But, I've learned something.  I've learned not to trust ownership (again) and I've learned to be wary of military ownership, especially those falling on hard times.  It also should go without saying that I've also gotten my daily fix of reiteration that our system is fundamentally flawed.  But let's just keep moving forward with that one.  One step... 

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