Thursday Morning Ramblings

It frustrates me that conservatives are so entrenched in their own beliefs that any attempt by working people to assert our rights is automatically labeled as communist, Marxist, socialist, or anti-capitalist, especially when these same people hide behind religion to give them the illusion of holding moral high ground.

Here’s a quick story to illustrate my personal experience and why I believe we need reform.

Over the years, I’ve worked on and off delivering pizza.  In between undergraduate and graduate schools, I did it for two years.  The money was pretty good, and the hours allowed me plenty of time to write.  When I first finished graduate school, I went back to the job while I searched for a teaching position.  During my teaching career, I’ve gone back three or four times to make ends meet.  Just in that industry alone, I’ve firsthand witnessed a major shift in how employees are treated.

When I first started, all drivers were paid an hourly wage (usually minimum) and then commission on their nightly deliveries.  The commission was tiered so that the harder you worked and the more you delivered, the more money you earned.  If memory serves, less than 10 deliveries equaled 6.5% commission; 10-19 equaled 7.5%; and 20 or more equaled 8.5%.  There was a very clear, very tangible motivation to work harder, and everyone was making money.  Most nights, I was earning about $15 an hour total, which for a 22 year old kid wasn’t bad.  And the store was very profitable, too.

Then, when I got out of graduate school in 1999, I learned that the commission structure had been changed from a percentage to a flat rate of $1.25 per run.  This was great on small orders because it was a nice increase, but on normal and large orders, it was a noticeable decrease in pay.  Instead of being able to average $15 an hour, it became more like $12-13.  The interesting thing, however, was that the store was doing more volume at that time.

When my oldest was born and I went back to the job for the last time, things had really changed.  The per delivery pay had been decreased to $1.00, and employee meals were limited to “mistakes” that couldn’t be sold.  At that time, on a good night you might average $10 an hour.  Right after I left the position, one of the drivers informed me that the commission structure changed yet again.  Instead of a flat $1.00 per delivery, it became linked to the number of deliveries per trip out the door: $1.00 for the first, $.75 for the second, and $.50 for the third.  Where’s the motivation to work harder?  The crazy part is that the store was selling more than ever before.

To me, this is an illustration of what’s been wrong with this country for the last decade.  I guarantee the CEO and top executives of the company didn’t endure a 33% reduction in their pay while the price of food, gas, healthcare, and rent were spiraling upwards without control.  I’d be willing to bet their pay probably increased, but when we complain about that, we’re labeled as communists.

I happen to like the free market.  I happen to believe that consumers should be the ones to determine which companies flourish and which flounder, but I also understand that you can’t have a consumer class without having a strong viable middle class that earns a fair wage and can afford more than the basic necessities for survival.  I also understand that treating employees as a disposable commodity does not follow suit with the tenets of most major religions.

It’s not about throwing out capitalism.  It’s about refining the system to be more inclusive to the average person who is willing to go to work and put in a hard day’s work for a company that is making a good profit.  I strongly and firmly believe that every person who works full-time and performs up to reasonable standards should earn enough money to afford food, shelter, healthcare, education for their children, and retirement for themselves.  If that makes me a radical Marxist, then so be it, but that is what I believe, and I shall beat on that drum as long as there is breath in my body to do so.

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