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Over Easy: Inducing labor in 2021

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 6/18/2021 10:24:23 PM
Modified: 6/18/2021 10:24:33 PM

Is work necessary?

I’ve been chewing on that question    lately, coming back to it again and again like a cow and its cud. I don’t know what cows contemplate (next meal, weather, neoliberalism?), but the current state of labor is what I’ve been ruminating about.

Everywhere you go in the Upper Valley signs proclaim that businesses are hiring. I saw one the other day with three exclamation points, which means the proprietor is serious!!!

“No one wants to work anymore,’’ observers lament, blaming generous unemployment benefits, as if Great Depression soup lines would have been good for those slackers. But I wonder instead if there are too many lousy jobs — thankless tasks, crummy pay, bosses like comic book villains — and the pandemic pause gave people time to wise up.

Maybe there’s a slow-rolling strike, unorganized but real, moving across the country. We’ve had several decades of little wage growth, as pensions were jettisoned and good health insurance abandoned, all while corporate profits boomed. Workers just aren’t feeling it anymore.

The current state of affairs lacks the drama of the Pullman Strike of 1894, or the Textile Workers Strike of 1934 (consult history for details), but this is how we live now. We’d rather go to Starbucks than a union meeting.

Some businesses are raising pay, but I doubt that they are willing or able to rethink the whole employment thing. Maybe some would do better if they advertised jobs that reflected what people really do much of the day. It might go a little like this:

HELP WANTED

Cell Phone Monitor: In between occasional work assignments that can’t be ignored, monitor Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, texts, newsfeeds, emails and other sources for essential messages from friends, family, celebrities, old classmates, etc. A primary responsibility will be sharing scintillating content without delay, e.g., cute kitten videos.

Gossip Coordinator: Improve the efficiency of the internal gossip network using informal face-to-face and electronic means as appropriate. Need a self-starter who knows the difference between routine content and high-quality material, e.g., “juicy stuff.”

Weekend Debriefer: Improve the work/life experience of co-workers by sharing details of your weekends and interrogating them about theirs. Will act fascinated when colleagues reveal that washing the car or buying grapes on sale at the market were the highlights of their days off. Must use discretion to “hold back” when the weekend gap is too wide, e.g., you jetted somewhere exciting and met people more exotic than in-laws who have a new gas grill.

Zoom Discombobulator: Responsible for sending non-working Zoom links and for resending links with appropriate “sorry’’ message with alleged correct link. May sometimes send second “sorry’’ message along with an actual working link. Third “sorry’’ message is pushing it. May also contribute to confusing email chains and sow confusion by emailing the wrong person, or sending messages before finishing them, at your discretion.

Lunch facilitator: Coordinate employee takeout lunch decisions. Must be familiar with Thai, Indian, Italian, Chinese cuisines, tacos, sushi, pizza and similar options, and occasionally doughnuts. Must weigh competing interests and food allergies and find compromises. Must be good at math (splitting checks) and human relations, e.g., satisfying picky eaters. Advanced gluten awareness necessary.

Recycling Overlord: Increase enthusiasm for recycling by means of helpful suggestions, clever posters, team-building exercises or, if necessary, bending noncompliant colleagues to your will. The end will justify the means.

As for my own work history, I have had the good fortune, after a series of mundane jobs during high school and college (my biographer will call them the hamburger-flipping years), of finding employment that felt useful and good. But I cannot deny that there were moments when I didn’t think that sharing a beach with starlets in Monte Carlo or luxuriating aboard a yacht off Newport, R.I., wouldn’t be just as good, if not better.

Unfortunately, choices made by my ancestors and my own particular skills and qualities were not likely to transform me into a billionaire or anything close to it.

The Gatsby life was not for me. Work was necessary.

“If any would not work, neither should he eat,’’ said the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians. And so my career began half a century ago when I donned my white shirt, black pants and paper hat at Howdy Hamburgers and then Burger Chef in Rhode Island, where I both worked and ate — fulfilling, I suppose, my destiny.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.




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