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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Without having collected any data on the subject, my guess is that most Americans view Labor Day quite simply: a day off from work (unless you work at any retail store in the country).  Further, I suspect that most folks do not spend a great deal of time recognizing the unapologetic and irony-free connection between the labor movement and this day free from, well, labor.

Ten years ago (!), while peddling foam fingers and other miscellany at a picturesque minor league baseball stadium in Rochester, New York, I wrote (poorly and haphazardly) about one of my first interactions in the labor market.  Now, as a general rule, except for the days when unsupervised children would literally try to nickle-and-dime me (by negotiating for items with nickles and dimes), I was quite content with my summer employment situation.  However, I never could completely understand a justification for the sizable gap between the value that certain employees brought to the organization versus the amount of money they were paid for their services.

By the end of the summer, I had written what I considered to be a professional letter to Red Wings management.  At the time, my definition of “professional letter” revolved almost entirely around the use of single-spaced Courier font.  Also, lots of commas.  And no swears.  In the letter, I lamented a to-be-implemented policy whereby the distribution of meal coupons to certain employees’ (including those who work gift shop) was to be discontinued.  We relied on those meal coupons.

Copied from the letter, the crux of my argument was as follows:

Many times, if we are having trouble making sales,
employees are sent home after about 3.5 hours of work.
That makes that day’s tangible income equal to $20.13
(3.5 hours x 5.75 = $20.13).  Subtract my required
purchases of $6.75 ($4.75 for food and $2 for parking)
and the grad total for working one RedWings game is equal
to $13.38.  The point here is that by taking away our meal
tickets, you also take away 1/3 of our daily earnings at
Frontier Field.

Ultimately, the story — not a fairy tale — ends exactly how you would think:  The Red Wings never got back to me. Employees continued to work.  The meal coupon policy was indeed rescinded, and I made a few less dollars that summer than I believed I had bargained for.  Luckily, I still had a blast working at the stadium and will fondly remember my time as an employee of a real live baseball team.  But that by itself does not diminish the fact that my fellow employees and I were ignored and a fringe benefit removed merely because management had no incentive to listen.

As we age, I believe we begin to see ourselves primarily through particular social and political lenses.  But as a mostly-clueless high school graduate working in a minor league gift shop, I was too naive or too distracted to recognize where I fit on a socioeconomic or political spectrum, or whether — and the extent to which — these classifications impacted my understanding of the position I held as a team store employee.  In retrospect, I realize that what bothered me about the situation is that employees were not linked arm-in-arm and we did not operate as a cohesive unit, but at the time, all I saw was a vague injustice.

Of course, I know I’m not exactly sailing into uncharted territory here, but my experience that summer as a low-level employee has stayed with me, especially on Labor Day.

Diego Rivera, "Peasants"

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