As I drove home from work – my choice – this past Labor Day holiday in the U.S., the one thing that struck me was how many stores full of low-paid workers were open, while most corporate offices were closed. Some of those working today did it for the extra money, but for the majority, it was just another scheduled day, on a holiday that celebrates all the labor movement has done for this country. It clearly has a long way to go.
I used to love it when people said to me, “Quit complaining about your minimum wage salary! You should get another job if you don’t like it!” Really? Then I guess those folks thought I worked a physically demanding job behind the counter of a nationally known retail store four years ago because I could get another job, and was just too lazy to find one. Seriously? It was that job or nothing. Before I was hired there, I got turned down by several other large retailers who are not well known for generous pay rates. So many in fact, that I lost count. Forget the better paying and corporate jobs I applied for. 99% of them didn’t even bother to tell me that they weren’t interested. Incidentally, I’m a college graduate and IT professional.
My employer was not a union shop, so they could do wonderful things like never give you two days off in a row, schedule you for a late PM shift one day and an early AM shift the next (no sleep?), schedule you to work holidays, not even tell you your next week’s schedule until a few days before it was supposed to begin (great for planning personal life and doctor’s appointments), and fire you when you got a herniated disk – oh yes, that too.
I was left alone to do two people’s work one morning and had to lift something that was more than a third of my body weight, and snap! There went my back and my job.
I couldn’t even get another minimum wage job. No one was interested in someone with a back problem. Then, by a stroke of luck, I found the job I have now at JayStar. It wasn’t skill, determination, or persistence. It was pure luck, and about as likely as winning the lottery.
I now work for a company where the owners are intelligent enough to realize that their employees are their major asset, and they treat them accordingly. In fact, as of the date of this posting, no employee has ever voluntary left JayStar since its inception eleven years ago. My co-workers are productive, hard-working, and downright fun, and our company is growing as a result. It’s because we are all being valued both financially and personally.
Sadly, for one person like me with a happy ending, there are hundreds of thousands out there that will never be so lucky.
So, I thought, Happy Labor Day, America. Don’t get too excited about how much you saved in a sale today or how little your meal cost. Think about some of the folks who served you, and understand that they could have higher pay and benefits, and better lives, without impacting the cost of your purchase. Remember that our unions keep fighting for better wages and working conditions for us all. It is, after all, good business sense to appreciate and reward your employees. Just look at JayStar to see the proof of that.