Change must happen, but if not NOW, then, WHEN?
My story is not so different from that of other women. It is, however, my story, and therefore, my decision to share it is mine, with the hope to affect change.
I had the cooking job for less than six weeks. At first, I was happy to shake hands with the fellow who hired me, as he said, “Well, you have not asked me what we pay. You said you wanted $10-12 per hour, which we cannot pay, but we can pay you $9.50 per hour. Is that a deal-breaker?” I said, “No, and I will look for a raise when you see how good I am.” It never occurred to me to have him put that figure in writing, signing off on the agreement that I would work this hard for $9.50 per hour.
At first, the fellow came across as helpful. Then he became increasingly critical and not friendly. By the third week, he no longer showed up while I was doing my 11-hour shift on Saturdays and Sundays, as I guess he figured out I could handle it.
I diligently did everything I had agreed to do. I cooked “from scratch,” and produced meals I hoped the elderly residents would find appetizing and satisfying, given the ingredients I had with which to work. I made certain I left the kitchen clean. It was difficult to find a time to take a short break from all of it, but gradually I forced myself to take a fifteen-minute break in the afternoon. It was always hard to get back in gear after sitting down for that long; it was better to keep moving. Once I clocked out at six p.m. and left the building, it took several hours to wind back down. In the rented room only a half hour drive from the job (as opposed to the two-hour drive to my home), I would get into the bed and lie on my back, keeping my knees bent to take the strain off of my back. My mind and body had the ache that comes with too much stress. My arms felt semi-numb, my hands stiff and arthritic. With my alarm on my cell phone set for 4:15 a.m., I slept fitfully for maybe six hours. Once up, as silently as possible, I left my friend’s basement apartment to go back to the job-site to do another 11-hour shift.
I had to work a whole month before seeing any paycheck. When I drove the two hours mid-week to pick it up, I was appalled to find the check for less than half of what they owed me. I needed all of it, and the fellow was grinning when he said, “I’m sorry! I made a mistake. Aren’t people allowed to make mistakes?” I told him, “It seems to me you are rather enjoying the fact that you just cost me gas money to come pick up a check that is not even for the right amount. If you want to drive me away, just say so. I will leave.” “Oh, no!” he says. “I would not have hired you!” When I asked about the rest owed me, he said he would call the owner and that the difference would be at the workplace on Saturday, the next time I was due in for work. I left, went to the bank, where I wrote in my last name on the check (the owner made the check out to “Mary.”) and deposited it. I had promised a creditor a payment on May 2nd. The amount I deposited covered that payment and left me with enough money for a little food and a tank of gasoline. I drove back home and worked on tidying my cabin, in anticipation of my son’s first visit in six months.
What bothered me, as well, about not receiving the amount due me, was that there was no information as to the deductions taken, etc. How would I know I was receiving the correct amount? A co-worker, who happens to be first cousins with the owner, told me that the information would come later, in a printout.
I worked the weekend my son was here, and a check was there for me when I got to the facility. Yesterday, two weeks after receiving the first part of that which was due me, I opened the envelope addressed to “Mary” and looked at the printout of the information regarding deductions. I saw right away that the information did not cover the first check, and that it referred only to the second check. Then I saw the word “rate” and underneath it was the number “9.” I called the fellow who had told me they would pay me 9.50 per hour. I reminded him that he had told me my pay would be 9.50 per hour, and he responded, “Nine.” I said, no, you said nine-fifty. I was angry. I told him, “You are a liar. I quit. You better get in here so you can fix these people lunch.” I clocked out. It was 8:34 a.m. I made a copy of the time cards, and then I informed my coworker I was leaving. I also went in to tell a couple of the residents that I would not see them again. They were sorry to see me go, but understood. I knew I was forgetting something. I was almost to the bypass when I remembered the paper bag with my vitamins and gluten-free bread in the refrigerator. I turned around and went back in to get it. When I arrived at the rented room, I realized my personal notebook with all my recipes was back at the facility. I called and asked the man (he must have driven in right away) if he knew where my notebook was. “Right here,” he said. “I am looking in it right now.” I told him, “That is my personal notebook. You have no business going through it. Close it RIGHT NOW.” He told me, “I talked to the owner, and you are no longer allowed in this building. When you get here, call me and I will bring it out to you.” I called when I arrived back at the place and my coworker answered. “Please bring me my red notebook,” I asked. She said she would be right out. When she handed it to me, I could see it had been gone through. “Is everything there?” she asked in her Iranian accent. I told her, “Yes, it is all here, I suppose. I will not know for sure until I look at it.” She told me, “Thank you for everything. Good-bye.” She was genuine; at least I believe she was genuine.
I spent the day with friends and did not arrive home until late last night. This morning I got up in time to see Bill Moyers on PBS interview an organizer, Marshall Ganz. (See the article in Wikipedia on Marshall Ganz.)
As I listened to them talk, I realized I need to no longer take the kind of treatment I received on this latest job, and that for the sake of myself, as well as others, I must actually do something about it. There is still time to be active, contentious, demand accountability, and get past the lack of structure that defeats change actually happening.
I will tell my story, typical as it may be, and tell it to the right people, I trust.
If I hope to see change come about, I must do this, and not shy away from the confrontation that is bound to ensue. There exist people who have no ethics, who bow to the “God” of Money, and they are accountable. To wait for another to confront these abusers, victimizers, is no longer an option. It is time for change, and if not now, then when? In my own life, it is NOW.