Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently wrote an editorial that contrasts the few workers who get good benefits and the rest who are “replaceable.” Reich notes that Netflix and some other large companies are offering better work-life balance to their employees. However, these employees are considered “talent,” people who are hard to replace. Reich says this about the rest: “Employees treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed.” Rather than work-life balance, these people endure what Reich calls “work as life.”
Reich is not referring to low wage workers. Instead, citing a recent story in the New York Times, he is talking about Amazon and similar companies that ask employees to give up family and personal interests in the name of professional advancement. He notes that Sheryl Sandberg can advise young women to “lean in” because it makes sense from her privileged status as an executive. Some do enjoy good benefits. For most workers – even some with high incomes – the workplace generates stress and anxiety, offering little chance to live a balanced life. Once again, Reich helps us look beyond the headlines and ask critical questions about how we can manager our careers and our lives.
Of course, things could be even worse. Jan Mickelson, an Iowa talk show host, has suggested that any undocumented worker who does not leave the U.S. should become “property of the state of Iowa.” He adds that these people would be an “asset.” Was Mickelson joking? If so, the joke was vulgar. It further shows how some Americans have no respect for hard work and the people who do it. Work should be paid, not as Mickelson puts it, “compelled.”
Slavery is dead? A story has come out over the last few days about worker exploitation at a leading convenience chain.* The stores are franchised, and owners of 14 franchise locations in New York and Virginia have been arrested for worker exploitations. Undocumented immigrants were forced to work as much as 100 hours per week and given only a fraction of the salary they earned.
However sickening this story is, it also demonstrates how low some people will sink to make money. Unethical employers frequently mistreat low wage workers and undocumented workers. We need strong laws to protect workers – including those who are undocumented – against such exploitation.
This story reminds me that some conservatives argue against the minimum wage. Do they also advocate repealing the 13th Amendment? Do they have any value for the work people do?
* I’m not mentioning the chain’s name because it doesn’t deserve negative publicity in this case. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m not a fan of big corporations. In this case, however, it is not responsible for the problem. Going forward, I hope the corporation establishes some system to ensure that franchise owners treat employees properly – and pay them.
P.S. According to Laura Clawson in Daily Kos, there may be as many as 40 stores involved in the investigation. Clawson is less forgiving toward the corporation than I am. Her story is worth your time.