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This Page Intentionally Left Blank – Just Like the Paychecks of the Workers

By Robert S. Swiatek This book is dedicated to those who have to choose between being homeless or being hungry while defrocked CEOs are stuck with a severance pay of a mere seven figures.
Introduction

Not long ago, 24/7 actually became a word. Don’t blame me; it certainly wasn’t my idea. I think it’s time to say Sayonara to it, since it just hasn’t worked and probably should more realistically be described as el toro crappo. How about replacing it with 30/15? The 30 represents the number of hours in the new workweek and the 15 stands for the number of dollars in the new minimum wage.

The sixty-hour week at the factory has only led to stress, heart attacks, stomach illnesses and other health problems as well as not really getting the job done. It really doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, no one can be productive putting in that many hours a week. People who lived a century ago would remark that sixty is nothing as they were forced to endure eighty-hour stints. That boils down to sixteen hours a day for a five-day week or in excess of eleven hours for working every day of the week ending in a “y.” I cannot imagine how they put up with those ludicrous hours. That is one of the reasons why our grandparents and great grandparents had such short life spans.

In Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time, Paul Rogat Loeb, states, “We should be able to earn a living wage without sacrificing our psychological, spiritual and sometimes even physical well-being by giving over our entire lives to our jobs.” Ro Donahue – my supervisor on the last contract I had – was right on the money when she said that family and home life came first and then work followed in importance.

Realistically, how much work do you think employers get out of those who are on the job for a “mere” forty hours a week? Even that number of hours is problematical and causes burnout. Since no one is physically capable of being truly productive for so many hours in a week – I’ll get to why later – why does management still insist on the practice? With technology, shouldn’t the length of the workweek have decreased over the years, rather than skyrocketed to such heights? I witnessed the shortening of those hours in my experiences on the farm, in the factory and in the office and this decrease seemed typical for a while. Unfortunately, once the minimum of thirty-five hours was attained, it didn’t stay there for long but instead started climbing back up and got to where it is today, which is over forty hours a week, even though the contract said forty.

The good news is that the Senate passed a bill for a thirty-hour workweek and the House was all set to do the same. The bad news is that Roosevelt felt it wasn’t a good idea. That failure was in 1933, so it’s time to pass this legislation, even if it takes three quarters of a century to do it. At the same time raise the hourly pay to fifteen dollars an hour, since the current one is minimal in every sense of the word, and it shouldn’t come in increments of a dime each year for a hundred years. There has not been a boost in the minimum wage in nine years – it hasn’t been raised since 1997. In that same period, the Congress has approved its own pay increases eight times. For their efforts over that period, I feel most of them should surrender at least part of their salaries.

Being the richest nation on earth, there should be no problem finding the dough to make 30/15 a reality. There’s plenty of cash available if companies can accept corporate welfare and give incompetent CEOs millions of dollars and say, “good-bye and don’t come back.” These departing, deficient dictators should be handed a pen as a souvenir and should be sued for back pay. Amazingly, the 30/15 concept can actually increase company profits, which those in management with butter beans for brains obviously haven’t figured out. Arguments by posturing politicians or money minded moguls of the business world against this progressive thought are nothing more than spin, which should be relegated to Wheel of Fortune.

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Obviously, much elaboration is needed and This Page Intentionally Left Blank – Just Like the Paychecks of the Workers will try to do that. It is a book about work, which evolved into social justice concerns of 30/15. In 2003, I had my third book published, Tick Tock, Don’t Stop: A Manual for Workaholics, which got some good reviews. I wrote it because I saw too many people struggling to stay ahead in the rat race. Some labored from dawn to dusk, even though they retired some time ago. Others stayed on the job while they could have easily afforded to retire. Unfortunately, the book described hasn’t sold enough copies because things in the business world have only deteriorated and people are still struggling, no matter how they try to make a living. The long workweek and the small paychecks have a great deal to do with that.

Today the gap in compensation between upper management and those who actually produce the goods – whether it is a product or a service – is higher than it has ever been. On the average, according to what I read, those at the top receive 411 times the salary of those in the work force – that multiplier is probably too low. The employees’ plight is so desperate that I am convinced that slavery was never abolished, as downsizing and outsourcing seem to confirm.

Laborers in the Third World, who endure endless hours today in the sweat shops creating goods that sell for hundreds of dollars in the United States while they are paid under a dollar an hour, are no better off than those who suffered in the heat on the plantations for too many years before the Civil War restored some of their dignity. You can be unemployed, underemployed or over employed and underpaid – working two or more jobs to pay for food and shelter. You could have a job but no home. Having to decide between being homeless or without food is not a choice anyone in America or anywhere else should have to make.

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People in corporate America are better off than workers who have to figure a way to make ends meet on anywhere from $5 to $9 an hour, but their lives are no picnics either. Many don’t have the luxury of joining a labor union when they really need one because those organizations are becoming as rare as slide rules and balanced budgets. Management won’t allow workers to even talk to the unions without being booted out the door.

Given the vast wealth of our nation, there is no reason for there to be poverty, homelessness, unemployed people, underemployed people or people working sixty hours a week and still not making ends meet. I have to ask these questions of the filthy rich, “How much money can you spend?” and “Have you no sense of decency or compassion?” Marian Wright Edelman remarks, “We are going to have to develop a concept of enough at the top and at the bottom, so that the necessities of the many are not sacrificed for the luxuries of the few.”

Our society cannot exist and prosper under the conditions that we see today. This effort will get more into social justice issues, for which the corporations and politicians seem not to care. I hope this book gives you a few more laughs than Tick Tock, Don’t Stop provided. I also hope that more people will get a chance to read it, although it’s not too late to pick up a copy of the book that was published in 2003. By buying either book, you may not be able to retire, but you should be able to do so sooner and you won’t become a millionaire, but you should have a richer life.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank is written to entice readers into action about the main thrust of the book. A replacement of 24/7 with 30/15 will go a long way to making our lives better. I add other thoughts that are tied in to the workweek and minimum wage, such as how to retire sooner. I talked to a friend of mine who said she was having a hard time adjusting to being retired. I told her that she probably loved her work too much and if she had hated it, she wouldn’t have had such a difficult time away from it. I hope she gets over this feeling, as this should be a better time for her. I talk to a lot of people after they retire that feel so good about the change that they wish they had left the work force sooner.

There are other issues I discuss related to 30/15 such as slavery, an alternative to hard work without laziness, married priests, where the money went, moving garage sales, why we despise work and why the hours in the week have gotten longer rather than shorter, especially with all those technological advances. This book also has thoughts on immigration, the idea of thresholds, artists as well as education and its impacts on work and some changes that we need in institutions of learning.

The book argues for a return of Sunday as a day of rest – I’m all for that and do my best to keep my PC (Pain in the Crotch) turned off on that day. I point out conclusive cases of where work can kill you and tell of speed bumps and potholes in the road, some of which you may not have been aware. I talk about materialism, health care, unnecessary work, which I especially despise, and offer some of my adventures and a few other topics to entertain as well as enlighten you.

The book wouldn’t be complete without some suggestions to help us change the climate in corporape (many workers feel violated) America to make our lives better, including an excel spreadsheet so you can see how much cash is flowing out your wallet. There are recommendations for government, unions, the press and corporations but I also add a few ideas for people as individuals. As bad as things are, there is the hope that changes can be made to improve the profits of the companies as well as the lives of the working class so that we can retire sooner and also have a few years to enjoy that time.

As far as the main title goes, those first five words are familiar to all of us. I first encountered them at Nestle Foods, v

when I was perusing computer manuals – I was having difficulty sleeping. We can probably thank IBM for the start of my book title, but if you’ve run into these words somewhere, you’ll realize that you can’t hand over the sheet of paper with those five words to someone who wants to borrow something to write on. It really isn’t blank, but apparently two things are: the brain of the person who came up with the idea as well as the supervisor who sanctioned these five words. If there is nothing on a page, I think people can figure that out and it doesn’t need explaining. Did the corporation actually pay these “innovators?” I hope not.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank has nothing to do with scandals in the Nation’s Capital during 2006, although the book, of necessity, isn’t apolitical. Those first five words of the title refer to the paychecks of the workers as well as the feelings of the average Joe and Joan on Saturday because the workweek is too long and the wages too minimal. It refers to the emptiness of the factories and businesses that have had jobs shipped to India and China. It represents the look of those in hospitals who have worked too many hours for too little pay. These words stand for the unnecessary work that people do while meaningful endeavors are put aside, never to be initiated.

The subtitle I originally thought about was, 30/15 not 24/7, which would have been fine, since that is certainly a theme here. This work is a plea for a drastic change to eradicate 24/7 from the dictionary as well as from our lives, once and for all time. The 30/15 is a much better idea that workers in the United States can live with.

I need to give a few other words of warning: some of the words you see in this book you may not find in any dictionary. One of the advantages of being a writer is the privilege of using clichés, alliteration and also the option of ending sentences in prepositions. This you could never get away with in English class. I can also use combinations of letters that actually aren’t real words. This is done for a few laughs, which are definitely needed at a time when there is so much despair in the working environment. Despite that, all is not hopeless as we have the ability to come with up solutions for just about any problem.

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Table of contents
1. The 60s and other reasons for hating work
2. A reasonable workweek
3. Minimum in every sense of the word
4. Make sure they have health insurance
5. Pick your own cotton
6. The more you spend, the more you save
7. Moving garage sales
8. Show me where the money went
9. A fence that’s needed but different 10. I’m quitting schule for this job
11. Sunday is a day of rest
12. Work can kill you
13. Thresholds
14. Women priests
15. Health care
16. Where did I find the time?
17. Nickel and dimed
18. Art Vandelay
19. Bumps in the road
20. My pothole adventures
21. Grocery freedom
22. Can he run again?
23. Get up and dance
24. It’s time for a new band
1. The 60s and other reasons for hating work

Each of us has a list of things that we absolutely hate. I hope this doesn’t get into more than four or five for you because if so, you may need to get some help; you’re a pessimist and your life is bound for trouble. If you are really concerned, remember that I used the word “absolutely.” I have four on my list, three of which are appropriate to the idea of work and the first two will be covered in this chapter. The first is the 1960s, with all the turbulence and turmoil. It was a time of unrest when we witnessed the Vietnam War as well as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy and Medgar Evers as well as a few other political leaders who may not have been favorable to certain governments. Remembering America: a Voice from the Sixties by Richard N. Goodwin is almost 550 pages long, but it’s a book about that bothersome decade that should be read by everyone, even if you aren’t older than dirt and weren’t around or simply were asleep at that time.

I hated the 60s for other reasons as well. Besides the issues mentioned above, it was a time when I began my college career and the majority of the decade was a time when I was in school. For some, college can be a fun time with all the partying and beer flowing but I was one person who didn’t believe in studying for tests and giving back everything that my teachers wanted to hear. Parrots are fine for pets, but they have no place in the classroom, unless they know the answers to the professor’s questions. I wanted the education I was paying for, not all that time that I had to spend doing unnecessary papers and projects, studying for tests and recovering from hangovers, but I will get more into that later – not the day after part.

In addition, I was working to help pay for my education. Fortunately, my parents provided me with food and shelter all this time and didn’t ask for a penny for these things during my years in college. I should also add that what I paid for one semester’s tuition then would not have been sufficient to buy the textbooks for my niece Elizabeth, who graduated in 2006 from the University at Buffalo, where I spent some time in the 1960s. The job that I had for eight long years all through undergraduate school, grad school and even when I got my first “real” job as a teacher was at one supermarket in Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo. I should mention that the second thing that I hate is the supermarket, and that may be because of my extended stay there, even though it was only “part-time.” Anyone who works and goes to school realizes that it has to get better than that! Unfortunately, there are very few people who aren’t trapped in that regimen.

Had I been a genius who could have gotten A’s without studying or going to class, things may have been different. Needless to say, I had to work at getting passing grades, both in college and graduate school. One factor may have been staying at home as it may have been different had I lived on campus. Of course, that option costs money so it really wasn’t much of a choice for me. The really hard part of this combination school and work existence is that there is no time to rest as school usually involves five days a week – Monday through Friday – and Saturday for me was eight hours doing the grocery thing. This left only Sunday, which was the day to catch up on schoolwork. There’s no rest for the wicked!

As bad as things might appear under these circumstances, it gets worse if you have to work on Sunday doing inventory at the store. That may only involve four or five hours but there were a few days in my freshman year in college when the supermarket was actually open on Sunday and I was scheduled to work eight hours. This leaves you no free time at all, even if you plan to ignore class reading assignments, studying and doing papers.

When I recall my undergraduate days, there was one time I really looked forward to: the mid-semester break. It was only one week long and I doubt that this anticipation was on my mind during my first two years in college. That’s because I was young and foolish and the “burnout” factor had yet to reach me. Junior and senior year were different, though. That one-week period meant that I had no worries about opening a book for class, studying for exams, doing homework or any projects. My only concern was the few hours that I spent in the grocery store. You might say my mind went on vacation.

My pet peeves are intertwined as is education and the work of our lives. We go to school to be able to get a “good job,” which on graduation may be difficult to land. Nevertheless, to be able to go to school, someone has to pay for it and that falls on the family. Most of us are not blessed with the resources to be able to attend classes without getting parttime employment. We just can’t glide through the process by going to parties in the dormitories – now replaced by the condominiums of student housing. That is not a financial possibility for the majority of students, even with a full scholarship. Just buying books will require going to the bank for a mortgage! That’s an exaggeration but paying for an education will require many months of loan payments once graduation day passes. In Downsized But Not Out in The Nation magazine of November 6, 2006, Barbara Ehrenreich and Tamara Draut state that those who borrow to pay for college are $20,000 in the red after they graduate. Keep in mind that this number is an average, so that what some owe will be much greater than that.

My hate relationship had to do with the number of hours that seemed to overwhelm me. Assuming I had twenty hours of class each week – that could be a bit low – and I worked the same number of hours at the meat market, you can see that the sum happens to be forty hours, which you might say isn’t bad at all. However, you have forgotten the fact that I may have been required to do some chores at home. Living with your parents isn’t always free! Suppose that involved two hours each week. The other consideration is schoolwork, which could easily be eight hours – I think that’s way too low for college – but as you can observe, I am now stuck with at least fifty hours for each seven-day period. I will spend an entire chapter later on the much too long workweek today and what can be done about it.

There are other reasons within our society why we hate work. One has to do with people looking over our shoulders – you probably know that I am referring to management. In my case I got hit from both sides as I had managers at work but also teachers who filled the same role. I had a myriad of bosses at the store and by the time I left after eight years, I noticed that many of them stayed out of my hair, but initially there were a few that made life difficult. One superior in particular was a bit deficient in people skills – something really necessary in that position. Perhaps, this was his first assignment as a manager. At the same time he wasn’t that great at ordering stock, which I expected was a minimum requirement for that job as a head honcho.

As far as teachers go, your life in college can be much more enjoyable if you have instructors who care about you and do everything in their power to make sure you succeed. These are the people who will bring you up to levels of achievement that you never felt you could reach. If you are stuck with lousy professors who care only about their salary, you will have a challenging time and you won’t look forward to class. Since there is a huge correlation between education and work, I will get into more detail in a later chapter.

Once you get into the work place after graduation, your boss returns as a factor. If he or she stands over your shoulder for every little thing, you may want to try to find either a new department or a new job. If he hired you because of your potential but doesn’t trust you to do the job yourself without direction, he doesn’t belong in management. The sad part might be that you saw great potential at this company.

Another reason for hating your job has to do with mismatches. Say you got a degree in mathematics and now you sign a contract to teach high school English; you may have a tough time. A person I know studied psychology and wound up teaching elementary school. I don’t think this individual was that happy there and would have been better off getting a degree in elementary education – at least prior to getting this assignment, or else a job in psychology or some related field.

Other reasons for despising work have to do with jobs that are boring, meaningless or created. As a consultant, I was usually stuck with the tasks that the full-time people didn’t want – the maintenance endeavors. One of the biggest projects of this kind was Y2K, which I saw as a great challenge. In my eyes, it should never have happened in the first place. On one occasion I worked for a company and developed the order entry system specifications and later returned as a consultant to actually do the programming. That was my favorite contract. Unfortunately, those situations are rare for a self-employed person.

For boring jobs and managers that are hard to take, a nice paycheck can ease the pain. The excitement comes in when one realizes that retirement may be around the corner, provided dollars are invested along the way, rather than as an indulgence in unlimited buying. Of course, there are many instances where money doesn’t mean much. Recently I was at a party and one of my classmates mentioned that he was offered a few thousand dollars to re-enlist. He decided that he had his fill of the service and no amount of cash would entice him to remain there.

Dissatisfaction with the job could have to do with the amount of compensation one receives. That will always be a factor, but as I mentioned, in many cases people understand that money doesn’t buy happiness and no amount of pay will get an individual to work at some particular job, based on various factors.

Another reason why we hate work has to do with “control.” I’m sure you’ve seen the “soup-nazi” episode on Seinfeld and realize what kind of hate was created in that restaurant. The same applies to work and something else enters into the equation: trust. If there is respect between the worker and his superior, control is present, but it is minimal and the worker will be pleased with his employment situation. After all, each of us – whether we admit it or not – wants to be controlled in some way. However, things get out of hand when there is too much control.

On many occasions I have heard full time staff denigrate the consultants, insisting they got paid more than they were worth. This is definitely true in some cases, but certainly not all. In reply, the contractor might have asked that person why she didn’t become a consultant, if it was so financially rewarding. The reason the accuser stayed where she was had to do with control, since her full-time job represented the amount that she was comfortable with. A consultant needs a great deal of discipline when his paycheck arrives. He must keep in mind that the current contract may end at any time. The salaried individual doesn’t want this worry, no matter what that alternate opportunity pays. There are other concerns, which I will get into shortly.

Apprehension affects us at home when we have a task that has to get done, even if we don’t get paid for it. In many cases we put it off simply because we can’t quite get motivated to do it. It may have been on our work list for weeks, but apprehension for some reason keeps us from beginning the job. We just may not have a comfort level, so we can’t begin. Once we get started, it may not be long before we are done and we might wonder why we hesitated in the first place. This same feeling hits us at the office when we have four assignments and we prioritize them – if our boss allows us that option. We do the job that appears easiest first. That will never change with the passage of time.

Politics and favoritism enter into why we aren’t too happy with some assignments. If you spend time with the company and do the best you can and someone else gets the promotion that you wanted even though she showed neither the drive nor effort to match yours, you won’t be too thrilled. It’s called politics, not one of my favorite parts of work. Luckily, being a consultant shields you from some of this aspect, but you can’t avoid it completely. There have been times when I felt like I was back in grade school based on some of management’s practices – maybe practices is a good word in this case since they’re still feeling their way. That approach won’t keep many employees around very long.

Getting into the work force can be done by being your own boss or working for someone else, but either will be a gross undertaking. In each, you will have to commute to work, not the greatest time before and after the workday, not with the congestion on the highways. There are other challenges as well, many of which I touched on previously in my first book on work.

Being self-employed means you have no boss except yourself, but what if you can’t stand him? You’re really up the creek without a paddle, which sounds like a good title for a book – I may want to add another word to it. The difficulty of working on your own is finding work as well as the adequate remuneration for your effort. That is where the consulting firm comes in, but now you have to share the billing with those sponges. On those many occasions, I felt I had two bosses. One was the manager at the corporation and the other was the dude from the consulting firm who got me the contract. In most cases, the latter didn’t even stop in to see me at the office – which I didn’t mind, as long as I got those checks. On other occasions, they showed up more than I felt was necessary – especially if they didn’t buy me lunch.

As a consultant I was rather lucky as there were a few occasions when my contract ended and the next Monday I started another. That may have been an instance when I would have welcomed a break but it just wasn’t an option. On the other hand, there were a few occasions when I had long breaks that I really didn’t want. I also had to get my own health insurance and there weren’t any paid holidays, sick time, personal days or vacation. If you didn’t go in to the office, you didn’t get paid for the day. The only time when you are allowed to not show up is in the event of death. You still needed to give two weeks notice. Such is the life of a consultant.

The consulting profession has a few unwritten rules, one of which is that contractors never take sick days. This is based on the way billing occurs, as I mentioned earlier. So even if she is suffering from some kind of flu or virus, her duty is to be at the office, no matter what. This appearance can be beneficial as full-time staff may wind up with exactly what the consultant had and have to stay home. The full-time staff can take a sick day, since they get paid for it. An extra added bonus is that this action could result in a longer stay at the corporation for the self-employed individual, since there will be a bit more work to get done with all the germs spread around by the consultant. By the same token, consultants should remind the full-time people of how bad work is and encourage them to take days off here and there, thus enabling the consultant to extend his contract even further.

You could also be self-employed and open a restaurant but I wouldn’t recommend that since your problems might be never-ending. That doesn’t even touch on the possibility of failure for lack of customers despite a great location, good menu and fantastic reviews. I love to cook – you can read about that in my first book, The Read My Lips Cookbook: a Culinary Journey of Memorable Meals – but I have no desire to open up an eating establishment. The hours are much too long, even if you are your own boss.

Going it on your own is tough. You have to find the clients who will buy your product or enlist your services. That has nothing to do with your degrees or sk