Open Letter from Port Truck Drivers

For more information on Occupy the Ports, see the official site.

From “An Open Letter from America’s Port Truck Drivers on Occupy the Ports:”

Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?

We love being behind the wheel. We are proud of the work we do to keep America’s economy moving. But we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part time at a fast-food counter. Especially when we work an average of 60 or more hours a week, away from our families.

There is so much at stake in our industry. It is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. We don’t think truck driving should be a dead-end road in America. It should be a good job with a middle-class paycheck like it used to be decades ago.

We desperately want to drive clean and safe vehicles. Rigs that do not fill our lungs with deadly toxins, or dirty the air in the communities we haul in.

Poverty and pollution are like a plague at the ports. Our economic conditions are what led to the environmental crisis.

You, the public, have paid a severe price along with us.

Why? Just like Wall Street doesn’t have to abide by rules, our industry isn’t bound to regulation. So the market is run by con artists.

Now go read the rest!

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23 Responses to Open Letter from Port Truck Drivers

  1. 1
    Susan says:

    My father-in-law, now long deceased, a Teamster, would heartily agree.

    The virtual demise of the union movement is bad news for us all.

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    According to the studies I’ve read, port drivers earn about $12 an hour with no or limited benefits if they are contractors, and about $16 an hour if they are employees with some (not very good) benefits. The contractors also have to make a big capital investment in the truck which they own, so their effective return is less than $12 an hour, but they do own the asset so they have more freedom to choose a different line of hauling work.

    Neither situation seems to me terrific, even taking into account the fact that – sorry, teamsters – truck driving is basically unskilled work in a modern economy, requiring little education and a skillset that pretty much every American has the fundamentals of by the age of 18. The working conditions also seem to be pretty crappy.

    That said, the comparison of these wages to part-time burger-flipping in the quoted segment (which would be about $10k a year, versus the typical $20k to $40k of the drivers who tend to work 50 hours plus) is risible. The comparison of these wages to “third world” wages made in the linked piece goes beyond risibility, to being offensive. Hint for people in the industrialized world, even those with shitty jobs – your job is a fuck-ton better than the job of the guy who collects scrap metal in minefields and makes $500 a year doing it.

    This kind of language may be inspirational to those already in the cause, but it makes people like me – who are strong supporters of the rights of private workers to unionize and form whatever business associations they wish – really just not give a shit about whatever real problems may exist. Once you start comparing yourself to people who, literally, would risk death to change places with you, well, my GiveAShitOMeter drops down into the negative range. It makes me not interested in, or even worse, skeptically disbelieving towards, the other claims (which may be true) of objectionable working conditions that I *would* find objectionable or worth protesting/complaining about/trying to fix.

  3. 3
    Susan says:

    truck driving is basically unskilled work in a modern economy, requiring little education and a skillset that pretty much every American has the fundamentals of by the age of 18.

    I’m OK until you get to this part. I drive the interstates a lot. Watch some civilian driving a motor home towing a car – a rig perhaps 2/3 the size of a loaded semi and hauling a whole lot less weight – and see what the average ability of the untutored population is to drive anything bigger than an bicycle. Then look at the pros, the guys and girls driving the big rigs. It’s night and day. The former drivers, with the best intentions in the world, are on average a hazard on the highway. The pros are fabulous, I wish everyone would drive that well.

    Jobs can be unconscionably bad in this country without being as bad as collecting scraps in third world minefields for $500 a year. That there are people doing the latter work does not justify treating other workers badly, even if they’re not being treated quite that badly. What is this, a race to the bottom? As long as you can corner 1200 calories a day you can’t complain, because some people somewhere can’t?

    The bottom line is, I thought we were trying to build a society where an honest day’s labor at an essential job (try, just try, living without trucks) pays an honest wage, enough for a worker to have a home and a family. Not private airplanes, but a decent place to live where children are safe; enough to eat; leisure to enjoy it all.

    Perhaps this means that we all might have to pay a little more for the next shopping cart full of stuff that we mostly don’t need in the first place. If so, I’m willing to pay that.

  4. 4
    Susan says:

    Re paying more for stuff if truck drivers (and a lot of other folks) were fairly compensated …

    I fell in love in high school in 1963 with the exchange student from India. When he went back to India (it was all very Casa Blanca, and my heart was broken) we lost touch. Then, three years ago, up he pops on facebook. He and his wife were in this country visiting a son who works at Intel, and I had them down for five days. We did the tourist thing.

    Vijay is pretty well off by Indian standards, though that culture doesn’t accumulate stuff with our verve exactly. That he and his wife flew here says volumes. They live well at home, so far as I can tell (skype). But the three of us were driving up from Palo Alto to San Francisco one afternoon, and my old friend said, “What’s with all these ‘Storage Units’? What’s that all about?” (Of course such things had not been invented yet when he was here in 1963.)

    I said, “That’s where we stuff all the junk we don’t have room for in our huge houses.” (Our homes are huge, and hugely overfurnished, by his standards.) Later we stood on the Golden Gate Bridge and watched a big container ship come in under us, and he wondered out loud what was in it. I said, “likely enough, more junk from China that we can put in our Storage Units.” Vijay laughed out loud, and shook his head.

    My point is, most of us are drowning in junk, and low-quality mostly worthless junk at that. Perhaps we could pay more for stuff that wasn’t quite so junky; perhaps that would be an economy in the long run. If we did that, maybe we could pay the people who make and transport all this stuff a decent amount of money.

  5. 5
    Robert says:

    Port drivers do not drive the Interstate. (Well, maybe briefly as part of their route.) They drive from the docks to the railhead or distribution warehouse, which is usually in the same city and almost always in the same state. Long-haul trucker owner-operators make $60k or more net, and are indeed pretty skilled workers. Interstitial driving is not even close to the same job, which is why they don’t make nearly as much.

    And I didn’t say that you had to be at third-world conditions for it to be reasonable for you to want to improve your job, or reasonable for people to feel that your conditions ought to improve. I said that when you’re earning a modest wage in bad conditions in an industrialized-world job, comparing yourself to a third-world worker is not a strategy that is going to win you sympathy.

    An honest day’s labor should indeed pay something like a living wage. $20 or 30,000 a year is long way from a palatial income, but it’s the wage that the people’s skill set, and the value of the work they do to others, and the premiums above that value that the employer has to offer to induce people to do the job, commands. If you want to spend more on your groceries so that the delivery driver can make more money with his or her high school education, you go right ahead.

    I don’t think these people’s work is valueless, or that they shouldn’t be treated fairly with regards to contracts and wage rate negotiations, and their complaint about being forced to be owner-contractors at 12 bucks an hour may well have some validity – companies do like to push workers into contract roles (gee, it’s almost like classical liberal warnings that larding employers with union superstructures and “job protections” and other well-intentioned mandated benefits would drive employers to find alternative methods of getting the work performed, weren’t totally off base!) and where that is done illegally or unethically they have my support.

    But by and large people get paid based on the value of what they bring to the table, and proposals to pay people more than that value are beneficial to the specific worker being singled out but detrimental to the other participants in the society as a whole. Great, you can afford to pay more for your shopping cart full of stuff. The lady next to you in the checkout line makes $8 an hour, not $12 or $16, and she’s trying to feed her kids just like the port drivers are. Why should she pay more, at the behest of a third party like you or I with no skin in that particular game (I too can afford to pay more for stuff), so that someone who was already better off than she is can make more money?

    There’s a reason that market wages and market prices are embraced even in socialist-leaning economies. Once you start reallocating wages on the basis of who has a better narrative or who can put together a more compelling argument about why their job is actually worth more than what people are willing to pay to have it done, you end up with a politically privileged class and a politically disadvantaged class, with salaries distributed accordingly. Liberals and leftists complain, and with justice on their side, when this kind of politicized distribution benefits the owners of capital rather than the owners of labor; what makes a truck driver worthier than the cleaning lady, or for that matter the architect?

    Nothing, except that the truck driver is the one who currently has a spotlight on him and a story to tell. We can repeat the cycle endlessly, profession by profession, until every job in America pays $80k with full medical, and nobody actually has any of the jobs because no employers can stay in business making the payments.

    By all means fix the injustices in the contract system and make companies fulfill their promises – but fiddling with the wages because someone’s plight tugs at the heartstrings or stirs the chords of “my daddy did that for a living and it was tough” is just a recipe for unemployment and economic stagnation.

  6. 6
    Robert says:

    Perhaps we could pay more for stuff that wasn’t quite so junky; perhaps that would be an economy in the long run. If we did that, maybe we could pay the people who make and transport all this stuff a decent amount of money.

    There is absolutely nothing stopping you or anyone else from buying stuff at any quality level; stuff is available in a seamless continuum from utter rubbish to hand-crafted artisanal bespoke goods. Go right ahead.

    The majority of the junky stuff is bought by people who cannot afford artisanal hand-turned cheese whittlers and who get by with a $2.99 knife from MegaloMart. You are quite correct that people buying stuff is what pays the people who make and transport it; egregiously wrong that it is the low quality of what we buy that keeps many people in poverty. Poverty is complex and not subject to glib one-line analysis, but wages are comparatively simple – they’re based on the value of what people do, to other people.

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    I’ll grant you that I, personally, would be a danger on the road if I got behind the wheel of a semi. But how long would that last? How hard is it to learn to drive a semi?

    Truck drivers are skilled in what they do. But there’s a lot of people who have mastered the skill, and it’s not hard to do relative to a lot of other skills that – as one might figure – mastery of results in a higher paying job. Mastery of a skill neither guarantees nor entitles you to a living wage using it. Would that it were so – but it’s not. There are a lot of useful skills whose mastery does not guarantee you a living wage.

    I have no problem with truck drivers forming a union. Private unions are fine by me. If they can form a union and get their employers to pay them higher wages more power to them. The problem here, I suspect, is that if these drivers struck against their employers – or the people they contract to – the freight handling companies could easily simply replace them, especially in this economy. But that’s between them and the freight handlers.

    I do agree that government has a proper role in ensuring that trucks hauling toxins and other hazardous materials do not pose a threat to the people driving them. I also figure that a driver who can’t take care of personal hygiene will not be able to properly concentrate on their job. Those seem like legitimate grievances to me.

    It is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations.

    I’d be interested in seeing the statistics behind that assertion.

    We don’t think truck driving should be a dead-end road in America. It should be a good job with a middle-class paycheck like it used to be decades ago.

    Why? Times change. Skills that provided a middle-class paycheck 20 years ago don’t now. Skills that provide a middle-class paycheck now won’t in 20 years. Hell, the skills I used to get a job in IT 20 years ago are ancient history now. People have to change and adapt. Mastery of a skill entitles you to nothing.

  8. 8
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    How much should truck drivers get paid an hour?

    $10?
    $15?
    $20?
    $25?

    $25 seems high to me but it’s probably a pretty solid number for middle class with house and family. Is that what we’re talking about here?

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    And who will decide what the premium is for drivers who do long-haul work (hundreds or thousands, days upon days of being away from their family) versus milk runs from Dock 34 to Warehouse 51 and back again, four times a day?

    And which environmental or hazard conditions draw extra pay? You have to pay people more to drive I-70 in a January blizzard than to run from Des Moines to Topeka in a September idyll. The guys carrying plutonium rods are a lot more stressed than the guys carrying feather pillows; you have to compensate them for that. Or do you? Maybe it should all be the same.

    How will experience factor in? Should it be a steady increase in wage per year? How about if your productivity is flat or even goes down when you get older? Should you get paid less? Do accidents that you cause through negligence hit your wage rate, or just your insurance premium? Do you get a bonus for safe but slow driving, or for fast driving and damn the Minis you crush under the front bumper?

    Should family men and women get a premium over bachelors? For the bachelors being on the road for ten days straight might be an adventure. The happily married gals hate it. The miserably married are probably a wash. Who’ll work all that out?

    The beauty of a market price or wage, rather than a fiat price, is that all of these factors and many many more tend to get folded right into the price. The downfall of a fiat wage is that either someone has to figure out all these variables, and take into account the fact that different people have different preferences – and every variable left unfactored causes shortages or surpluses of available labor. Drop a decimal point in the bonus you pay to the guys carrying arms and ammunition through the desert, and suddenly half of Arizona’s Wal-Marts don’t get their rifle shipments.

    It’s trivially easy and emotionally satisfying to say “Job X doesn’t pay enough, they should get more!”, crushingly difficult and economically (generally) very disruptive to actually set a wage or price in a way that both reflects the real costs so that the demand curve gets intercepted, and that doesn’t create horrible shortages or ludicrous surpluses. “Hey guys, they made the Florida-Louisiana run $10 an hour more!” and suddenly Ohio is going without soda and ding-dongs while truck stops in Baton Rouge are choked with idle drivers.

    We can get away with some market distortions and interventions. Economists have more or less concluded that (I must admit, in defiance of my own personal inclination and theory) a modest minimum wage has minimal disruptive effect. But when we’re talking about people making twice that wage, and making big changes to their compensation, we’re way outside the zone of that kind of minimally-damaging intervention. Making an employer pay another dollar an hour on top of what they think the market would set the wage at might shrink the employment base a little bit or drive the less-qualified workers out of the workforce as better people come in to take the incremental gain…but (say) bumping truck driver wages up to $25 an hour is going to have major effects. Suddenly a decision to ship via truck for $1000, versus shipping via train or ship for $1200, becomes a decision of $1300 vs. $1200. (Assuming the longshoremen, who do a lot heavier work than truck drivers, don’t get in on this sweet Susan’s Cash gig.) And suddenly there’s a big run on surface ships and port and long-haul drivers are both shaking their heads in the coffee shop and wondering what’s happened to their runs.

  10. 10
    Susan says:

    wow, I never understood before what an elitist gig this blog is. Wow and wow.

    The majority of the junky stuff is bought by people who cannot afford artisanal hand-turned cheese whittlers and who get by with a $2.99 knife from MegaloMart. You are quite correct that people buying stuff is what pays the people who make and transport it; egregiously wrong that it is the low quality of what we buy that keeps many people in poverty. Poverty is complex and not subject to glib one-line analysis, but wages are comparatively simple – they’re based on the value of what people do, to other people.

    Oh man. My mom in the 1950′s saved for months to buy a mixer. (I still have it. It still works.)

    How much should truck drivers get paid an hour?

    $10?
    $15?
    $20?
    $25?

    $25 seems high to me but it’s probably a pretty solid number for middle class with house and family. Is that what we’re talking about here?

    Oh man, what world are these commenters living in? My kid, a nanny, makes $25 an hour, and it isn’t enough, she’s living with us. What are you-all making the hour? And what you are doing is worth more than driving a truck??

    xx

    Longshoremen have a different gig, thanks to Local 10. (Assuming the longshoremen, who do a lot heavier work than truck drivers, don’t get in on this sweet Susan’s Cash.

    )

    The longshore is organized. As in, unionized. Has been for generations. This strategy is recommended to all.

  11. 11
    Susan says:

    You’re so rich, Robert, that you don’t even understand how rich you are. wow and wow.

    Enjoy it all, until the fall.

  12. 12
    Jake Squid says:

    From my experience with truck drivers, there are those who want OTR jobs and those who don’t. Their skills are the same, their desires are not.

    I know that OTR is a preferable lifestyle for some and not for others. I know that there is no shortage of people looking for OTR jobs and there is no shortage of people looking for in-town or day run jobs.

    You know what skill truck drivers need? They need the ability to pay attention to the road for hours at a time, four to six days a week. They need to focus on the act of driving – one small mistake in a car can be a monstrous and fatal mistake in a tractor/trailer. You can’t start thinking about your family or your fantasies unless you’re one of those rare people who can be truly focused on multiple things. You also need to be able to be happy spending a lot of time alone. The hours generally aren’t close to 9 to 5, either. It’s not as easy as some of you seem to think.

    There aren’t that many independents any more. The combination of diesel prices rising by 200 to 300 percent and the credit crunch killed most of them off. That’s great for our company since we pick up business and are able to hire experienced drivers with safe driving records quickly and easily as our business grows, but the owner/operators haven’t seen much hope for at least the last 3 years.

    I’d welcome comments from folks who actually drive trucks for a living about what the major skills and challenges are.

  13. 13
    Solo says:

    @Susan

    My kid, a nanny, makes $25 an hour, and it isn’t enough, she’s living with us.

    Your kid already out earns 78% of the US population. According to the US Census in 2006, the median incomes for full-time wage earners by education level were:

    Educational attainment
    Annual income
    Hourly income (@ 52 weeks, 40 hours/wk)

    High School
    31,539
    15.16

    Associate’s degree
    40,588
    19.51

    Bachelor’s degree
    56,078
    26.96

    Doctoral degree
    79,401
    38.17

    PS. Sorry, I need to need to figure out how to do tables in comments.

  14. 14
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Um, thinking that $25/hour is a lot of money to pay a truck driver is now supposed to be elitist?

    That’s $50,000 per year! That is a lot more than a lot of people make, in a lot of fields. It’s what I was making as an attorney not so long ago. It’s more than I was making for the first few years of working for myself. It’s what a lot of attorneys get paid for contract work. It’s a lot more than a lot of my friends and family make. It’s more than I used to make at almost all my jobs before that, many of which were highly productive in a society-benefiting kind of way, and which also required a fair bit of expensive-to-get technical skill or expertise. It’s more than 2.5 times the minimum wage in my state.

    I’m sorry that your daughter can’t make ends meet on $50,000/year. But if you think that’s not much money you’ve got your own elitism problem. Or perhaps you live in L.A. or downtown NYC., which would make sense if your daughter is getting paid $25/hour to be a nanny. This is a national discussion, not a “only applicable to people in the highest cost areas of the country” discussion.

  15. 15
    Susan says:

    That daughter, like so many, is not working full time. I mean, she IS working full time, but she’s not getting paid for it.

  16. 16
    Susan says:

    You want to raise a family in the SF Bay Area on $25 an hour? Half time? That’s $25,000 a year. Your spouse had better be prepared to make a lot of money.

    If we were not living in a wealthy urban area it would be less, a lot less, than $25 an hour. They got ya coming and going.

  17. 17
    Robert says:

    Susan, I am well aware of how rich I am, particularly in world-historical terms.

    I have been unemployed for a year at a stretch, living on unemployment benefits of around $400 a month and stretching out ramen noodles with chopped onions my landlord grew in the woods where my barely-heated (only the back third), unplumbed schoolbus shell was parked.

    I have worked as a delivery driver for a pizza restaurant, making $6 an hour or so and taking full advantage of my extremely kind manager’s regular profferings of surplus pizzas at the end of the shift so that my three kids could have a hot meal without us having to scrape money out of the change jar, again, in order to visit the grocery store after the WIC for the month ran out.

    My daughter was born at the taxpayer’s expense, because I was unemployed after the tech crash and my wife had to register for Medicaid so that Steph could be born in a hospital instead of at home; two-time-previous mom was game for doing it the cheap way but after a stern talking to from grandma – “you’ve paid taxes for years and that program is there just for people like you, and you need prenatal visits and a lot of other things” – we both caved. When your arms are full of children, you haven’t a hand free to carry pride.

    I didn’t register, because you only get so many years of eligibility, my health was generally good, and we thought it would be better to save the eligibility in case the unemployment outlasted my good luck in the health department.

    So I have been poor, Susan, poor at a level that I suspect might be alien to someone who thinks their $50,000 a year nanny daughter is part of the struggling class.

    I have also been rich, by world standards, and modestly well off by American standards. I’ve had stretches in the tech economy where I pulled down $60, 70, 80k for one very good year. And I’ve had stretches where I pulled down in the mid $20s, was able to make bills and rent and have a little left over for beer money, but if I’d had a family I would have been screwed – and I knew I was lucky at the time not to have one, at least in the responsible-economics department.

    In the last ten years my income has gone steadily up because I started my own business and have worked hard at it. We started at zero, during the very worst unemployment period. It was supplemented for a couple years with a drudge job at the state, making about $24k plus very modest benefits. Last year I brought in about $60k net, and finally reached the point – after a decade of striving with absolutely no job security, and earning less money than your basement-dwelling five figure daughter, and supporting them all in a home without public assistance or needing to live with my mom. This year is looking to be pretty decent, although the $20k in divorce-related legal bills and the $10k in support payments to my family means that my personal disposable income is pretty thin on the ground – but it is enough that yeah, I could afford to pay a bit more for the plastic crap I get at WalMart. Clothing boxes, laundry hampers, kitchen stuff – you know, the luxury goods of us global elitists.

    I am grateful as hell for my material circumstances. I got a killer education largely at public expense, I got adequate if uninspired medical care from the Defense Department thanks to my dad’s military service, I was gifted a good brain and a mostly healthy body from my parents and/or God – your choice – and I’ve had the dual good fortunes of stumbling into good social networks that have helped me in building a business, and finding good employees and contractors who have helped me to build it. And I’m extremely grateful to my clients who pay my bills and who hire my company to do their work. I won’t say I cheerfully pay my taxes because I grumble like a son of a bitch when I do it, but I am well aware that those taxes go to pay for soldiers just like my dad and their families, to help people just like me who need a break when a baby comes at the worst possible time to people who wouldn’t consider abortion under any circumstance, to pay for the teachers just like the ones who taught me and who teach my kids to this day. I am, despite years of libertarian rhetoric and genuinely felt conviction that government governs best which governs least, grateful for the government that has helped me in many ways and helps other people in the same way, and I’m glad, however grudgingly, to pay the bills.

    And it would not cross my mind in a million billion years, whether I was working in pizza or scrounging veggies from my landlord’s vegetable garden or writing code at Microsoft or not-all-that-gently guiding idiot college students through registering for their classes or pounding out catalog copy about auto parts, cash on the barrelhead – it would not cross my mind in any of those circumstances to expect, or to ask for, any greater remuneration than my work would bring in a fair market. I’ve been lucky – other than a brief period in high school when I had a training-wage type job, my wages have always been pretty decent for the work I was providing, I’ve never had troubles with dirty bosses or thieving companies or dishonest clients, I’ve always gotten paid and I’ve always delivered value for what I was paid for.

    I know other people aren’t always so lucky, which is why despite my general inclination to think that businesses are honest and people who complain are likely just malcontents, I am always ready to listen to people who say they aren’t getting a fair shake, because I know that sometimes people only hand out a fair shake to others when they’re being watched by people like me. That’s why despite the poor-me, poor-me I-work-in-a-heated-vehicle-and-don’t-lift-anything-and-only-get-paid-20-times-what-a-genuinely-oppressed-person-makes boo hooing from these truck drivers, I’m sort of kind of willing to listen to them if they say they’re getting ripped off on contracts or screwed out of decent conditions or whatever the litany of the day is. It’s possible. There are bad employers out there, and even whiners are really getting the shaft sometimes.

    But whether I’m sitting in my comfy house and doing my now, after 10 years of toil, very easy job and enjoying a very decent lifestyle, or hoping that the $5.52 in the bank account will be enough for milk for the kids and some hamburger for tomorrow’s dinner and getting ready for my 6 hour delivery shift in a vehicle that doesn’t have heat because it broke and paying the insurance bill came first so that I could stay on the road in the job that was holding my kids’ body and souls together – whatever the circumstances, I have known that work is work, that I am not owed anything other than basic decency in personal interactions and honest trading in commercial ones, and that the money I bring in to the household is money that is earned by the value of what I am contributing to the enterprise paying my salary.

    Pizza drivers don’t make $6 an hour because evil elitists are scarfing down the $200/hour in surplus value that the drivers create, and using it to fund their yachts. They get $6 an hour because that’s about what their work is worth to someone who has to pay for it in cash. Truck drivers with soft routes that never take them more than 30 miles from home don’t get $12 an hour because the 1% has closed their libraries and held them at gunpoint to prevent them from going to community college and getting the data processing training that might get them a $17/hour job; they get $12 an hour because that’s about what their work is worth to the people who have to pay for it in cash.

    G&Ws legal clients didn’t pay him $50/hour when he was starting out – which netted him about $50k a year rather than $100k a year because every billed hour generally required another uncompensated hour doing crap work, traveling, continuing his legal education, or trying to market himself to new clients – because they were banking the other $350/hour that a fairly top-tier lawyer is worth; they paid him $50/hour because that’s about what his services were worth to them. And on the occasional amazing day when I net a quick two grand for an hour’s worth of work – an hour whose performance is predicated on the 100 hours of uncompensated programming and development time I put into the software that runs my business – I am perfectly well aware that the client who is buying the work product might make $2k on it or might make $20k on it, and I don’t bitch that I’m not seeing the other $18k because my client is the one bearing the risk.

    *I* am trading my time and energy for cash. The person who has the cash is taking the profit, or the loss, because they are the one with the enterprise that bears the risk, and they pay me, and everyone else who does work for them, what that work is worth to them. Is it sad for people with crappy educations that the fact that there are a million other people just as nice, just as deserving as they are, but willing and able to do the same work, means that their individual labor isn’t worth more than a few bucks an hour to anyone who’s willing to hire them? Sure it is. And there are ways that society can try to push the numbers higher, mainly by either working to push the education levels up a bit so that the people’s work is worth more, and by working to make sure that the system is fair and that employers aren’t colluding to hire everyone for 80 cents on the dollar of their fair wage, aren’t snaffling the checks and “forgetting” to make the pension deposits, and so on and so forth.

    Society has a major, and profoundly important, role to play in ensuring that workers are treated fairly. (It’s equally important to assure that employers don’t get fucked over, but those rules are usually better followed, mainly because Joe Sixpack can only steal so much from the company, while the company could theoretically steal some from each of its thousand employees; the company has a bigger incentive to rip people off, so that’s where we focus most of the attention.) People not getting to use the bathroom? Hey, I can see that’s an issue. Companies are putting one figure on the contract that you see, and recording another figure on their real account books? Fuck those guys, let’s get some rope and start a bonfire. I’m there. Some skeevy general contractor is breaking the law by hiring illegals, putting local citizens out of work, and then scraping half the already-illegally-low wage rate off their checks under threat of calling ICE? Man, let’s boil that motherfucker in oil.

    But “I don’t make as much as I want to make”? “Susan, who thinks that people making $50k for domestic work are horribly oppressed, wants the $8/hour cashier nurse’s assistant who washes shit off of paralyzed old people to pay a dollar more for her toilet paper so that the $12/hour truck driver can get another couple bucks an hour”? “Angst-torn liberals heartbroken at the thought that someone with no marketable skills and/or a shitty attitude about the value of their time and their relationship to their employer are weeping because the aforementioned deadweight can’t find a job paying more than minimum wage”?

    Fuck all that noise.

    There are people in the world who are genuinely economically oppressed. They’re slave laborers, or they are trafficked under false pretenses and then held as virtual hostages. They are sex workers who have a pimp who beats the shit out of them daily and takes 90% of their money and leaves them just enough to pay for a squalid room with three other victims, if one of the girls sucks off the sleazy motel manager for a discount. They are people in Sudan who troll through old minefields looking for scrap that they can sell to a broker who regularly gives them short weight and tries to fondle their kids when they bring in their own pitiful scraps of found wealth.

    Those people, you are damn right they are getting a raw deal, whether by crony capitalism, the good old fashioned free market type, some commie tinhat dictator, or whatever the system. People who are really being oppressed, I am with it, ma’am. You want to shoot that scrap merchant and bring a little rule of law to that particular piece of hell, I support you. Hell, give me a few more years of good times and I’ll buy the guns and charter the boat to take your little army over there to do some freelance wealth redistribution the old-fashioned way.

    High-school educated, at best, truck drivers with literally the easiest job in drayage – people whose Internet defenders think “but they have to concentrate on, like, doing their job, for like HOURS at a time!!!” is a compelling argument for why they should be earning what college professors at State U would consider a decent pay package – don’t make what some seriously deluded-about-the-value-of-labor lady on the Internet thinks is a decent enough wage? In a reasonably free market where the cops actually come around if workers show up missing or dead? In a country where they can walk across the street and work for someone else anytime they darn well please? Where the government paid for 16 years of half-decent education and offered low-interest financing on another 4, 6, or 8 for anybody capable of pulling a C average? Where even the people who are barely able to find their own ass with both hands in a well-lit room are entitled to a minimum wage that puts them at about the 80th percentile of paid employment worldwide, and where the government regularly funds and promotes programs to get employers to give the walking durrr a chance, because of the real possibility that some of them do have potential and just need an opportunity and some structure to unleash it? Where they are free to join organizations and advocate for better wage rates, to collude with their fellow members of the profession to withhold labor as a tactic for getting more money or better conditions? Where their property is secure against theft, and the legal structure sufficiently robust that they can actually arrange, for a near-nominal fee, cash compensation if some thug or alkie comes along and steals or trashes the capital asset that supports their livelihood?

    Big frickin’ whoop.

    People are paid what the people paying them think the labor is worth. The worker’s freedom to move jobs, move houses, move states, combined with the employer’s actual factual need for people to help him or her with the giant pile of shitwork that every business requires be done, combine to make those wages, in a country like ours, a reasonable benchmark approximation of what the work is actually worth. The value of a thing is what the thing will bring, and my time and yours is a thing.

    And if you think that makes me an out-of-touch elitist, while your five-figure nanny daughter squats in your house and persuades you that the 78th percentile of the richest big country on earth is some kind of fiery interregnum in the fifth circle of labor exploitation -

    Well, you know, I think I can live with it.

  18. 18
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Susan says:
    December 14, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    You want to raise a family

    in the SF Bay Area

    on $25 an hour?

    I knew it!

    Half time? That’s $25,000 a year. Your spouse had better be prepared to make a lot of money.

    Did I suggest that you should be able to raise a family in your own home, on a single income of someone working half time?

    No.

    So I’m not sure what this is doing here.

    If we were not living in a wealthy urban area it would be less, a lot less, than $25 an hour. They got ya coming and going.

    Damn.

    I cannot believe that you choose to live in fucking SanFran with a daughter making $25/hour as a nanny–poor her, which expensive college did she attend, I wonder?–which probably means that your house is worth many multiples of my annual salary, and that you dare to call me an elitist.

    Are you for real? You’re surrounded by so much money you don’t even realize how rich you are. Don’t try to put that shit on me.

  19. 19
    Jake Squid says:

    Each comment is as bad as the last one at this point. I think we can still get much worse.

  20. 20
    Elusis says:

    But the three of us were driving up from Palo Alto to San Francisco one afternoon, and my old friend said, “What’s with all these ‘Storage Units’? What’s that all about?” (Of course such things had not been invented yet when he was here in 1963.)

    I said, “That’s where we stuff all the junk we don’t have room for in our huge houses.”

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

    Storage units are where a lot of my friends, who are in their 30s and even 40s who rent one or maybe two tiny bedrooms in a shared house with anywhere from one to five other roommates, keep things that don’t fit in their 10×13 bedroom, because they live in San Francisco and that single room is all they can afford even working a halfway decent job. It’s where my friends keep their things when they get laid off for the third time in five years and have to go from a 700-square-foot apartment to that 10×13 bedroom, or to another round on friends’ couches (that was my plan when I was unemployed last year and I started to see the bottom of my savings coming up fast.)

    The narrative about what a privileged over-consumptive bunch Americans are is really easily available, but it’s also a really lazy one.

  21. 21
    Robert says:

    Elusis, about eight years ago I did some work for a client that was starting a new storage unit company. (You’ve probably seen them around – PODS, the units that they will bring to your house so you can fill ‘em up, and then the truck comes back and takes the unit to the warehouse, where they get stacked up like Lego bricks in a truly impressive pile. Unlike a conventional unit where you can walk in any old time, use your key, and rummage through your stuff, with PODS you have to make an appointment to come in (or just walk in, and wait) and have them pull your Lego brick out of the stack and bring it to an access area so you can take stuff out, put stuff in, etc. But mostly people use it for long-term storage of things they don’t need for the time being, and only access the stuff twice – once when they put it all in at their house, and again when they take it all out at a new house, or wherever.)

    In the course of that work I found out that the people who use such services, whether conventional or the PODS type, are an amazingly variegated group of people. There are folks like Susan, who do fill their units with all the unneeded junk they’ve accumulated but for whatever reason can’t bear to throw out, sell, or give away. There are folks like you and your friends whose economic/vocational situations undergo dramatic shifts, and who need a place to store their permanent household goods temporarily while they transition to a new job or look for work or move to a new city or what have you. There are business people who use the units as a highly flexible and extensible, if somewhat more expensive than conventional, warehouse for their inventory of goods. There are drug dealers and manufacturers, and other criminal entrepreneurs, who use them to hide illicit materials, raw chemical stocks, small-scale processing operations that only run intermittently, bales of cash that it is temporarily inconvenient to launder or process, and – no lie – dead bodies. (Needless to say, the dead bodies and the meth factory usages cause enormous headaches for the people running the storage places.) There are outdoor recreation afficionados, who use them as a place to store snowmobiles in the summer and small watercraft in the winter. There are investors who use them as a secure place to hold bulky things like antiquities, books, and high-value or designer furniture, while they wait for the price to go up. And about a dozen other unique and idiosyncratic uses.

    There is even a cottage industry of folks who go from storage company to storage company, participating in the auctions that the companies periodically hold to clear out units whose owners have disappeared, have stopped making payments on, have died intestate, or have experienced a number of other, usually depressing, fates. The company generally has no idea what’s in the units (this is the time when the meth labs and stacks of liquidated former business partners tend to pop up on the radar) and sometimes they have the legal ability to open the unit, sort the stuff, and sell it retail; other times they just do a bulk auction, sight unseen, and people bid relatively small amounts for the right (and responsibility) to dispose of whatever they find behind the Mystery Door. Sometimes the bidders make out like bandits, paying $200 for the contents of Bay 19 and finding that it was stuffed with antique French furniture whose coke-dealing owner abandoned when he fled to Bahrain; sometimes they really take it in the shorts when it turns out they’re the proud owner of seven tons of rotting used kitty litter. I think there’s even a TV show about the auctions on one of the “learning” channels.

    All of which is a very long way of agreeing with you that yes, that narrative of mass overconsumption is facile, and also a totally inadequate gloss on far more complex, interesting, and human economic and social story.

  22. 22
    Julie says:

    Okay, this thread has gone beyond ridiculous and I should have stepped in the moment I read the word “GiveAShitOMeter.” DO NOT attack other commenters based on where they happen to live. DO NOT attack people for not knowing how rich they are. DO NOT make assumptions about how much some hypothetical person not involved in this conversation deserves to earn each year.

    I posted this letter because truck drivers and their families are breathing toxic fumes and getting paychecks for under a dollar. And this is how people respond? I don’t even know what to say.

  23. 23
    RonF says:

    Each comment is as bad as the last one at this point. I think we can still get much worse.

    Don’t worry, Jake. Robert is doing such a good job that the “No ‘me too’” rule is causing me to mostly lay low.

    Robert – the show is called “Storage Wars” and I watch it sometimes. Apparently if you have a way to sell off random goods (say, you own a second-hand goods store) or you know a bunch of different people who sell different kinds of goods or to collectors you can actually make a living doing that, or at least materially upgrade what you earn from your day job.

    Julie:

    I posted this letter because truck drivers and their families are breathing toxic fumes and getting paychecks for under a dollar. And this is how people respond? I don’t even know what to say.

    People are responding positively to “I have to haul toxic crap without proper protection” or “I don’t have a place to take a piss at work.” No arguments there.

    What people are responding negatively to is “I’m entitled to make a middle-class wage”. No, you’re not. If a skill is readily mastered by a group of people that is >> than the demand for that skill then you’re not going to be able to make a living wage at it – unless you can organize a union that can artificially restrict the supply. More power to you if you can arrange that, BTW, I won’t stand in your way as long as it’s in the free market and not a governmental function. The concept of entitlement is what sets people off; the presumption that since you have earned a college degree or have mastered a skill or have done anything else you are therefore entitled to be paid more than what your labor is worth on the open market. And, that since this is not so a) you have been dealt an injustice that b) must be addressed by government action (i.e., the money is taken from other people and given to you by some means or another).

    Oh, and I read the “Open Letter”. Where did it say that people were getting paychecks for under a dollar? I missed that.