Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We do what we can, when we can

With Occupy Wall Street in mind, I challenged the small corporation I have been working for, at home, since March 2010. About a week ago, they asked me and my co-workers to re-do work that we had lost due to problems with their software, without compensation for the time we spent on the work that was lost.

When the news came down, I was so angry that I cried what can only be called tears of rage. As it is, we are not paid for at least 30 minutes a day for work we do because this is a "production-oriented work environment," where we are only paid for the lines of dictation we produce (picture farmworkers being paid for how much lettuce they can pick in a day). There is a long list of tasks we do that are considered part of the job but which don't produce lines and for which we are not compensated.

Who, you ask, would work under those conditions? This was the only job I was able to get at age 60, and until last week I considered myself fortunate to be working in a time when many people my age will never be hired again. From what I know of my recent co-workers, they are generally young women with children, women near retirement age who have lost their well-paying hospital jobs due to hospitals outsourcing to companies like this one in order to save money, and disabled people who cannot easily work outside the home. These are desperate times. It is not easy to get a job.

When I calmed down enough, I emailed the Human Resources Director and the Vice-President of the company, saying that I was not going produce lines without compensation, that their request was likely illegal, and that I was not going to fill out my time sheet until they compensated me for my time. It is my guess that they must have talked with their lawyers because it took several days before they responded to my email. The Human Resources Director told me that I would hear from the Vice-President with the company's decision. The Vice-President emailed me saying that I would be given what is basically a $3.25 credit for my time, but said nothing about changing their policy, which means that every time their software fails, I have to use unpaid time to get credit for time worked in good faith, while making less than $10/hour.

Because I am 62 now and can collect early Social Security, I made a decision on October 11 to retire rather than continue to fight a daily exhausting losing battle for near poverty wages. Medical transcriptionists who work at home need a Caesar Chavez. What was once a profession where a person could make a decent living has become something like being a farmworker before Caesar Chavez. I'm no Caesar Chavez, although I wish I were.

My Social Security benefits will put me below the poverty line. My challenge now is to find a way to make a living for the rest of my working life, which may be the rest of my life. I'm feeling shell-shocked. And relieved to have made a good decision.

I do what I can, when I can.

From The Novice: A Story of True Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

...We began with what we knew and the few resources that we had. We did not expect anything from the government, because if you wait for the government, you will wait a long time.

...Sister Tri Hai practiced walking meditation all night so she could keep herself together and not lose herself in the fire. She went back to her true home within herself. Her true home is not in Paris, London or Tra Loc, because that home can be bombarded or taken away. Your true home is within yourself. The Buddha said, "Go home to the island within yourself. There is a safe island of self inside. Every time you suffer, every time you are lost, go back to your true home. Nobody can take that true home away from you." This was the ultimate teaching the Buddha gave to his disciples when he was eighty years old and on the verge of passing away..."

I read a mixed and somewhat sarcastic review of this book in Tricycle magazine. This is not going to be a bestseller. This is a story from Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, retold by Thich Nhat Hanh. The Dalai Lama says, "He shows us the connection between personal, inner peace, and peace on earth." I agree.

(At the top of this post is "The Typist," by Dubuffet. These days everyone is a typist)


Anonymous said...

i find your post to be another example of life of the corporation by the corporation for the corporation. this runs alongside recent seattle times articles on the koch brothers and their business practices. i am sorry for your troubles and sorry for the state of this country. wisconsin was another mole hill adding to this mountain. response to wall st. protests is right out of Agnew's playbook. good for you to stand up to the bastards. kjm

The Solitary Walker said...

A good and brave decision, am.

am said...

kjm and Solitary Walker -- Thank you for your support and encouragement. I'm shell-shocked but not alone with that these days.

Loren said...

I've been raving about much of this on Facebook but been sparing my Blog readers. Although I'm insulated from this because I'm retired, the anger it invokes wears at me.

It's pretty clear that without the power of unions behind workers that companies will continue to maximize profit for owners and managers at the expense of individuals.

Take care of yourself. Maybe you'll have more time for art.

am said...

Yes, Loren. Time for art and a new direction, but with anger wearing at me, too.

There was a time some years ago when transcriptionists were approached by SEIU (Service Employees International Union) at the hospital where I worked. At that time, we were paid well and had excellent benefits and didn't think that we needed a union. Time has proved us wrong.

bev said...

Wow, how infuriating! I believe you have done the right thing. Now that you have made the decision, I hope you will be able to let go of the anger as quickly as possible and move on. Anger is like a poison to creativity. although the circumstances of my life are so different, I have found that walking away from something bad is not "running away" but usually the beginning of walking toward something better. I hope that is how it will be. I'm sure you have found that the transcription work has been robbing you of the time and energy you need to create art. Maybe this event is a gift in disguise. I hope so.
Take care, bev

Anonymous said...

I applaud your decision. I know it's not an easy one, but it's one that keeps your sanity intact. Always a good choice. These are really tough times, and I don't know how people make ends meet. My sister is facing a similar dilemma, although she is four years away from being able to collect social security.

I wish I had answers.