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21

A Worker’s Struggle Never Ends

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Greenhouse, S. (2019). A Worker’s Struggle Never Ends. In Greenhouse, S. Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor. Knopf Publishing Group, pp. 21-32

23

Wise grew irked about the economics of the job. “We took in $1,200 the other day at lunch hour at my Burger King,” he said. “The six workers there cost them $60 or so for that hour.” To be sure, the franchise owner had to pay rent, insurance, franchise fees, and the wholesale cost of the meat, fries, and other food, but Wise was convinced that the franchise owner could pay his workers considerably more and still show a tidy profit.

Wise was haunted by the enduring frustration that his life was in ways a rerun of his mother’s. He grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and for years his mother, JoAnn Wise, juggled two restaurant jobs—at Hardee’s and Waffle House. “She went to work every morning, early in the morning,” Wise said. “She was immaculate in her uniform. Sometimes I’d see her at work; I’d see her at the counter. She was very quick and always smiling, and everybody knew her name, and everybody loved her,” he said. [...]

“At the time, I didn’t know, but our parents shielded us,” Wise said, noting that many months they still didn’t have enough to pay the bills. “You’d look at my mom, and you’d think she was just happy and life was great. But sometimes I’d go home with her, and the lights were off because we couldn’t pay the electricity bill. Sometimes I’d sign for the food stamps book at our door when the mailman brought it when she was at work. Some days all there was to eat was the loaf of bread on top of the refrigerator.” His mother worked at Hardee’s for twenty-one years but retired from there without any savings, pension, 401(k), or health benefits.

[...]

He concluded that his life and studies would be easier if he moved out. While in tenth grade, he and an eighteen-year-old friend from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes took an apartment together. To help pay the rent, Wise took two fast-food jobs, at Wendy’s and Taco Bell, while going to high school. “I worked thirty hours a week at each one,” he said. “At Wendy’s, we would close at 2 a.m. and then you clean up. Busy nights, we’d work until 4. I’d just stay up, not going to bed. That’s better than going to bed at 5 and waking up at 7 for school. I took lots of Monster energy drinks.”

Wise quit his exhausting Wendy’s job because he was falling asleep in class and falling behind in school, but he ended up dropping out because he couldn’t balance school with his thirty-hour-a-week job at Taco Bell. He was soon facing eviction. That Christmas, an uncle, a union bricklayer in Kansas City, heard about Wise’s plight and invited him to move in with him.

[...]

After quitting high school, Wise landed his best job ever—at a Red Lobster. As a charming, efficient waiter, he received his highest take-home pay ever: for thirty hours’ work, he made $500 a week, including tips. Myoshia also worked there; that was where they met. She became pregnant, and they moved in together into a nice apartment, but then the Red Lobster closed, and it was back to the fast-food grind. He took a job with Burger King and then one at Pizza Hut, too.

“My thinking was, I’m going to go back to school before I’m thirty,” Wise said. “Me and Moe would make plans: she not work for a year and go back to school. Moe was studying to be an LPN [licensed practical nurse]. She was supposed to go back to KU [the University of Kansas] the next year, but she couldn’t afford it.” They abandoned their plans.

fuck

—p.23 by Steven Greenhouse 4 years, 2 months ago

Wise grew irked about the economics of the job. “We took in $1,200 the other day at lunch hour at my Burger King,” he said. “The six workers there cost them $60 or so for that hour.” To be sure, the franchise owner had to pay rent, insurance, franchise fees, and the wholesale cost of the meat, fries, and other food, but Wise was convinced that the franchise owner could pay his workers considerably more and still show a tidy profit.

Wise was haunted by the enduring frustration that his life was in ways a rerun of his mother’s. He grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and for years his mother, JoAnn Wise, juggled two restaurant jobs—at Hardee’s and Waffle House. “She went to work every morning, early in the morning,” Wise said. “She was immaculate in her uniform. Sometimes I’d see her at work; I’d see her at the counter. She was very quick and always smiling, and everybody knew her name, and everybody loved her,” he said. [...]

“At the time, I didn’t know, but our parents shielded us,” Wise said, noting that many months they still didn’t have enough to pay the bills. “You’d look at my mom, and you’d think she was just happy and life was great. But sometimes I’d go home with her, and the lights were off because we couldn’t pay the electricity bill. Sometimes I’d sign for the food stamps book at our door when the mailman brought it when she was at work. Some days all there was to eat was the loaf of bread on top of the refrigerator.” His mother worked at Hardee’s for twenty-one years but retired from there without any savings, pension, 401(k), or health benefits.

[...]

He concluded that his life and studies would be easier if he moved out. While in tenth grade, he and an eighteen-year-old friend from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes took an apartment together. To help pay the rent, Wise took two fast-food jobs, at Wendy’s and Taco Bell, while going to high school. “I worked thirty hours a week at each one,” he said. “At Wendy’s, we would close at 2 a.m. and then you clean up. Busy nights, we’d work until 4. I’d just stay up, not going to bed. That’s better than going to bed at 5 and waking up at 7 for school. I took lots of Monster energy drinks.”

Wise quit his exhausting Wendy’s job because he was falling asleep in class and falling behind in school, but he ended up dropping out because he couldn’t balance school with his thirty-hour-a-week job at Taco Bell. He was soon facing eviction. That Christmas, an uncle, a union bricklayer in Kansas City, heard about Wise’s plight and invited him to move in with him.

[...]

After quitting high school, Wise landed his best job ever—at a Red Lobster. As a charming, efficient waiter, he received his highest take-home pay ever: for thirty hours’ work, he made $500 a week, including tips. Myoshia also worked there; that was where they met. She became pregnant, and they moved in together into a nice apartment, but then the Red Lobster closed, and it was back to the fast-food grind. He took a job with Burger King and then one at Pizza Hut, too.

“My thinking was, I’m going to go back to school before I’m thirty,” Wise said. “Me and Moe would make plans: she not work for a year and go back to school. Moe was studying to be an LPN [licensed practical nurse]. She was supposed to go back to KU [the University of Kansas] the next year, but she couldn’t afford it.” They abandoned their plans.

fuck

—p.23 by Steven Greenhouse 4 years, 2 months ago
26

Eleven weeks into their strike, these workers—780 had walked out initially—were holding strong against one of the world’s most powerful manufacturing companies, a behemoth with more than $45 billion in annual revenues, famed for its mighty yellow tractors. The strikers were furious that Caterpillar, in 2012, when it was crowing about record profits, was insisting on a six-year pay freeze for the factory’s more senior workers, representing two-thirds of the workforce. Caterpillar was also demanding a pension freeze in perpetuity for these workers as well as a hefty $3,800 increase in each worker’s annual contribution for health coverage. If acceded to, Caterpillar’s demands meant that the strikers, members of the International Association of Machinists, would have their take-home pay chopped by 20 percent over the life of the contract, after factoring in inflation.

[...]

For Williams, the walkout had taken a toll. After all these weeks on strike without his regular paycheck, he couldn’t even afford the $40 equipment fee for his eleven-year-old to play Little League. Williams, sporting a bold, thick mustache and a black baseball cap that covered his shiny, bald pate, was both worn down and riled up. Before the strike, he was solidly in the American middle class, earning $26 an hour after nineteen years at Caterpillar, $54,000 a year before overtime. In previous contract fights, Caterpillar, unhappy about blue-collar paychecks that large, had pressured its labor unions into allowing a lower wage tier for newer workers, which started at $12 an hour and topped out at $19. Some of these younger factory workers lived in trailers; some needed food stamps to feed their children. In this fight, Caterpillar was refusing to promise raises to even these lower-tier workers, hinting that it might grant them pay increases, depending on vague “local market conditions.”

[...]

To Williams, Caterpillar’s latest push for givebacks was a galling insult. The company’s record profits that year amounted to $45,000 per employee, nearly as much as his base pay. “It’s ridiculous. They’re giving the CEO a 60 percent pay increase, and the employees who make the product are being asked to sacrifice,” Williams said. “This is part of the climate across the country. Corporations are pushing to eliminate pensions and drive wages down.”

—p.26 by Steven Greenhouse 4 years, 2 months ago

Eleven weeks into their strike, these workers—780 had walked out initially—were holding strong against one of the world’s most powerful manufacturing companies, a behemoth with more than $45 billion in annual revenues, famed for its mighty yellow tractors. The strikers were furious that Caterpillar, in 2012, when it was crowing about record profits, was insisting on a six-year pay freeze for the factory’s more senior workers, representing two-thirds of the workforce. Caterpillar was also demanding a pension freeze in perpetuity for these workers as well as a hefty $3,800 increase in each worker’s annual contribution for health coverage. If acceded to, Caterpillar’s demands meant that the strikers, members of the International Association of Machinists, would have their take-home pay chopped by 20 percent over the life of the contract, after factoring in inflation.

[...]

For Williams, the walkout had taken a toll. After all these weeks on strike without his regular paycheck, he couldn’t even afford the $40 equipment fee for his eleven-year-old to play Little League. Williams, sporting a bold, thick mustache and a black baseball cap that covered his shiny, bald pate, was both worn down and riled up. Before the strike, he was solidly in the American middle class, earning $26 an hour after nineteen years at Caterpillar, $54,000 a year before overtime. In previous contract fights, Caterpillar, unhappy about blue-collar paychecks that large, had pressured its labor unions into allowing a lower wage tier for newer workers, which started at $12 an hour and topped out at $19. Some of these younger factory workers lived in trailers; some needed food stamps to feed their children. In this fight, Caterpillar was refusing to promise raises to even these lower-tier workers, hinting that it might grant them pay increases, depending on vague “local market conditions.”

[...]

To Williams, Caterpillar’s latest push for givebacks was a galling insult. The company’s record profits that year amounted to $45,000 per employee, nearly as much as his base pay. “It’s ridiculous. They’re giving the CEO a 60 percent pay increase, and the employees who make the product are being asked to sacrifice,” Williams said. “This is part of the climate across the country. Corporations are pushing to eliminate pensions and drive wages down.”

—p.26 by Steven Greenhouse 4 years, 2 months ago