portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary oregon & cascadia

economic justice | human & civil rights | labor

Minimum Wage: Does It Buy Work or Workers?

Minimum wage work offers the most oppressive work environments, with the highest level of paternalistic behavior, of all jobs in America. I have come to realize that bosses seem to think they are renting ME for minimum wages, not my WORK. I do not see it that way.
Minimum Wage: Does It Buy Work or Workers?
By Kirsten Anderberg

Minimum wage work offers the most oppressive work environments, with the highest level of paternalistic behavior, of all jobs in America. As a person who has wage slaved in minimum wage jobs this lifetime, so that someone else can take the profits from my labor, not me (which is the beauty of capitalism), I have come to realize that bosses seem to think they are renting ME for minimum wages, not my WORK. I do not see it that way.

I always thought that the employment I signed onto was for work product, not personhood, but when you look at the way most minimum wage bosses behave, apparently they think they are buying personhood, not product, in the contractual agreement. I think this seriously needs to be addressed. If the workers think they are contracting out their LABOR, but the bosses think the workers are contracting out the workers' THEMSELVES, there is a problem with interpretation of the employment contract and clarification is needed.

Let's say I am hired to do data entry in a cubicle alone. I figure what they are paying me for, is to enter data, period. So what is up with all the drug testing, dress codes, supervision, etc.? If I do not enter the data properly, they can fire me. They do not need a drug test to see I am not entering data properly! They do not even need to closely supervise me to establish I am entering the data correctly! If I dress in jeans and a t-shirt, I can enter data BETTER than if I am in some stiff business attire. If I am not given mandatory hours, but am allowed to just do the work in a certain time frame, I also perform better. I perform better when I am not treated like a child in a paternalistic manner. I saw a comic once that had a plumber saying to the guy hiring him, "It's $100 an hour if you stay, $50 an hour if you leave." I could relate. It is bad enough corporate owners are taking the profits from workers' labor. The least bosses can do is allow workers dignity, privacy and comfort.

When I worked for the City of Eugene as a Minutes Recorder, I was assigned a few meetings to cover a week, and that was almost the extent of my interaction with my boss. I looked at the roster for assignments and went to them. I processed the notes into minutes for the city, when I wanted, by a certain deadline. I felt the way we were treated was dignified. Much of that was due to the manager of the minutes recorder office. Often the manager or boss on duty can establish whether a job will be oppressive to a worker or not.

Bosses who think they OWN workers for the time they are working, treat workers differently than bosses who think they are paying for the LABOR of the workers. This distinction is very important. When I was a nurses aide in convalescent homes, administrators acted like they owned us, not just our labor, during our shifts. They told us what we were allowed to think and talk about on shift. When I was a cashier, I would stand at an empty register, while being forbidden to do a thing. I could not read, or write, just standing and staring was allowed, which made me less alert over time than if I kept my mind engaged during slow times. When I worked at a "alternative" bakery, we were not allowed to sit down while bagging hundreds of buns and rolls a day for some unknown, but control-driven, reason. There was no logic to it. I even was insulted beyond belief when I was the bookkeeper for a business and the owner gave everyone but me, the lowest paid worker, a Christmas bonus, figuring I was poor anyway so I did not need a bonus, and then told me to ENTER IN all the OTHER WORKER'S BONUSES onto the books, as if I would not NOTICE everyone but me got a bonus. I threatened to quit over that, and the creepy boss finally coughed up a bonus for me too. But how rude is that? When workers begin to feel treated like slaves, with a lack of dignity, and overbearing, inhumane bosses, it is time they reassess what they are selling. Are they selling their LABOR or THEMSELVES? There is a profound difference between the two.

homepage: homepage: http://www.angelfire.com/la3/kirstenanderberg
address: address: Seattle, Wa

language in context 30.Mar.2004 01:29


this may seem nit-picky and irrelevant (especially to the substance of the article) but i think the assertion that "Minimum wage work offers the most oppressive work environments, with the highest level of paternalistic behavior, of all jobs in America." is demonstratably false.

Minimum wage jobs are just that: jobs with a minimum wage. For thousands of migrant workers throughout this country there is no minimum wage. Farmworkers, such as those that supply the minimum wage workers at taco-bell with beans and rice generally follow the harvest season, gaining work where they can, often under the table without a guaranteed wage or legal recourse should they not be paid. this is one example of a type of job that could arguably be as opressive than a minimum wage job.

While the oversight may have been accidental i think it has language that makes such pitfalls almost unavoidable. the adjectives "most" and "highest" create the illusion that the plight of the minimum wage worker is the greatest of tragedies. when reading it, a farmworker, prostitute, homemaker or other person who is exploited in ways minimum wage workers are not may feel their unique positions are ignored and invalidated.

eliminating "the most" and supplimenting "the highest" with "a high" creates a sentence that reads: "Minimum wage work offers oppressive work environments, with a high level of paternalistic behavior, of all jobs in America". This sentence clearly expresses the problems prevalent in minimum wage work, without negating the opressiveness of other work.

I hope this critique of the opening of the essay is not read as a criticism of the whole article. Large, encompassing statements can often miscommunicate your intentions to an audience that otherwise would be sympathetic.

I agree 30.Mar.2004 06:19

Kirsten Anderberg sheelanagig@juno.com

You know, I thought of what you are saying when I wrote the article and I agree. But, I decided that that was a whole other article, the difference between wage slaving and the underbelly of American capitalism that goes even lower than minimum wage. YOu can only fit so much in each article. I actually thought, as I wrote this, that these min wage jobs and situations are still superior to what the farm workers in Ca and Wa or sugar cane workers in FLorida are subjected to in America...and the farm worker situation is hidden, really, from mainstream America. In high school, some people from my Catholic high school were going to picket supermarkets in support of farm worker rights, to support boycotts of lettuce and grapes, and I literally DID NOT believe what my friends were saying about the conditions. I said if that was going on up the way from us in California, I would have known about it. So they took me to the campesino, and my god, did that change my life. I am PISSED OFF at the way we treat the people who pick our food! I am PISSED OFF at the way we have subjugated a whole industry to damned near slave labor conditions. I have used the farm worker situation in America to exemplify how capitalism SUCKS. And how the LAZY ONES are NOT the low paid workers, but the bosses and owners! If you do not believe in capitalism, like me, then you see this as outright robbery. I agree wholeheartedly with this critique of my own writing!

Happy Birthday Caesar Chavez! 31.Mar.2004 21:51


March 31 is Caesar Chavez's birthday.

Self employment all the way 01.Apr.2004 03:53

3 5 0 1 2 5 Go velo_rapide@hotmail.com

I've spent a good amount of my working life working for others who profited more off my time than I did. I hated it, and it drove me insane to think about it.

Thankfully, I've been blessed by Whoever with marketable skills.

I fought and struggled for a few years to make something on my own. I wanted to work for only _my_ benefit and receive the exact sum of my labor. Now, I'm very fucking proud to say that I work for myself. In a capitalist economy like ours, the only true way to get along is to work in collectives and cooperatives or to be self employed. If you work hard enough, you'll be the best boss you've ever had.