Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Conscience Would Be Beating Me Like a Drum

Our kitchen sink was stopped up, so I headed out to our local big box store to buy a snake to run down the drain.  I was wandering around trying to find the plumbing section when I spotted the clerk I’d bought some paint from on my last visit.  “Hey, Don,” I said, “can you point me toward the snakes?”

He jerked a thumb toward the north.  “I expect you could find some along the river there,” he said.  “We don’t have any cottonmouths in this part of the state, but the copperheads like swampy places and rock outcrops.”

“I didn’t come in here looking for reptiles, Don,” I said.

“Well, one of the managers is a snake,” he said.  “And another is a weasel.  You can find them in the office back there.  Careful.  They both bite.”

Everybody is a comedian in hard times.  “I’ve got a drain stopped up,” I explained patiently, “and the plunger wouldn’t do the trick.  I need one of those coiled wire snakes. “

“Ah,” he said.  “In the trade we call those handheld augers.  Come on, I’ll show you where they’re at.”  

As we walked, I said, “You’re not in the paint section any more?”

“Nope,” he said.  “I’ve moved on.  I was temporary part time there.  I bid on a permanent part time job in the electrical section, and got it.”

“You’re retired and working part time to supplement your income?”

He snorted and gave me a look.  “I’m an engineer, and my company cut its work force twenty percent two years ago.  I’d been with them for twenty-four years, had great evaluations, but that didn’t mean jack.  I spent a year and a half trying to find an engineering job, with no luck, and now I’m working two part time jobs to try to hold on to our house.”

“Why don’t you work full time?”

“Did you see those jobs posted on the white board as you entered the store?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I didn’t pay too much attention to them, but there must have been five or six.  All part time.”

“That’s the way it works,” he explained.  “They hire you temporary part time.  You’re completely disposable, and you don’t get any benefits.  You can bid on jobs as they come available, which is how I moved up to permanent part time.”

I frowned.  “What about full time jobs?” I asked.  “Aren’t there any full time jobs?”

“A few,” he said.  “I don’t know what the percentage would be.  Most of the jobs here are part time.  We bid on the few full time jobs that come up, but everybody wants those.  Odds of getting one are pretty slim.  They like keeping people part time.  That way they don’t have to pay any benefits.  In fact I’ve got a second part time job at Walmart, so now I’m working sixty hours a week at two jobs with no benefits.”

“Ouch,” I said.  “That’s terrible.”

“Get used to it,” he said, glancing at me, “that’s the new American economy.  It’s the Walmart model, and it’s spreading everywhere.”

“I read that a Walmart store in Ohio organized a food drive, setting up plastic bins with a sign saying, ‘Please donate food items here so our Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner’.”

“I saw that too.  Pretty thoughtful of them, wasn’t it?” he said.  “Of course another approach would be to pay people a living wage and allow them to work full time.  But that might cut into the Walton family’s living standard.”

“They could probably still manage to live comfortably,” I suggested.

“I don’t see how,” he said.  

“Why not?” I asked, puzzled.

“The Waltons have a net worth of over $144 billion dollars--more than the combined worth of 40 percent of the entire population of the U.S.  Think of that for a minute.  Could you live comfortably, knowing that your employees didn’t have money for health care, for Thanksgiving dinner, for a decent place to live, for school clothes for their kids, while you roll in a level of luxury an emperor would envy?  I couldn’t.  My conscience would be beating me like a drum.”

© Tony Russell, 2013

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