I had an interesting conversation with one of my employees yesterday.
Guadencio (whom we call Felix for reasons I've never known) needed a ride home after work, so I dropped him off in Canby on my way to Oak Grove. His English is not so good, though it has improved in the three years he's been with us. We puzzled out something of a conversation.
We talked about the weather. We talked about his brother-in-law who works at the gas station. We talked about my old house. We talked about his other brother-in-law who works for a nursery. Felix told me this fellow had been working for the same nursery for seven years.
"How much does he make working for the nursery?" I asked.
"Seven dollar," said Felix. This seemed low for someone who'd been at the same place for seven years.
"How much was he paid to start?"
"Seven dollar," said Felix. "In nursery, pay always the same. Start at seven dollar. Pay seven dollar seven year or ten year or twenty year."
This was hard for me to believe. "Really?" I asked.
"Si," he said. "Maybe seven-twenty or seven-fifty but more seven dollar."
"Does he get insurance?" I asked.
Felix nodded. "Insurance is free."
"What about vacation?"
Felix shook his head. "No vacation. Vacation is free. No pay vacation. Sometimes there no is work," he volunteered. "For Christmas, he no work two weeks and only pay for one day. For Christmas."
"That's terrible," I said.
Felix shrugged. "Is not so bad," he said. "No family, no wife. Only him. Is okay."
But is it really?
I understand that there are certain jobs in our society that do not — and cannot — pay well. Entry level jobs in fast food and retail and, yes, farm work are just that: entry level jobs. They're not meant to be careers. They've always paid poorly and they always will.
But something feels wrong about this fellow's plight, though I can't put my finger on it.
I've never been a minimum-wage activist, and I've always found the concept of a living wage, well, a little silly. If the minimum wage is raised to that of an arbitrary "living wage", a chain of events occurs that makes this living wage no longer adequate. Minimum wage jobs are not meant to be careers. They're entry-level positions. They're the first step on the way to bigger things. A person stuck in a minimum wage job is stuck there for a reason — lack of education, poor work habits, poor life decisions — or that's always been my belief.
But something about the situation Guadencio's brother-in-law finds himself in grates on my nerves. He's in a dead-end job, fine. But no raises in seven years? No paid vacations? This is just preposterous, no matter what kind of job. I'd expect someone who's been flipping burgers at McDonald's for seven years to have received a couple of raises and to be getting paid vacation, so why not this guy?
After I dropped Felix at his home, I called Nick to see how much we paid him. We pay him $10 an hour, which is 25% more than we paid him when he started. He gets ten days of paid vacation a year. He gets health insurance (though it's not "free"). He gets profit-sharing amounting to at least one dollar per hour throughout the course of the year. He gets periodic bonuses when the company does well. We'll pay for one class of his choice every term.
Felix is one of our lowest-paid Mexican employees.
I called another friend who's involved with a business that employs a lot of Mexican workers. For the positions these employees fill, his business pays $10 to $13 an hour with full benefits. I told him why I wanted to know. "You know," he said, "farm work isn't the same as my business or yours. There's a different set of pressures. The U.S. can import food cheaply from overseas, so farms and nurseries can't pay as much."
There's a lot to think about here...
On this day at foldedspace.org
2004 — Peace Talks I tried to compromise. 'What about this? How about you ants get free access to the garbage and to the compost bucket, but you stay out of the cupboards?' 'What about fresh fruit on the counter?' asked one of the ants. 'Fresh fruit is off limits,' I said.
2003 — The Toolies One thing that really pisses me off is when people tell me how far out in the country Custom Box Service is (or, for that matter, Canby).
2002 — Book of Remembrance Inside the package I found examples of the McClellan tartan and brooch and badge. But the gem was a "Book of Remembrance" by my great-grandparents, Frank and Mabel Watson.