The Myth of Manufacturing in America

Personally, I think the next president was decided ages ago, by people with far more money and influence than the average American. She’ll oversee the next 8 years of (yes, eight) increasing wealth divisions in America. There will probably be a brief economic uptick at the half-way mark of her terms. Things won’t change much.

(edit: how tragically wrong that prediction was. USA didn’t go with the status quo, or populism, or progressivism; but with racism, fear, and capitalism on steroids.)

The US will continue to decline as a world power, primarily because we do not invest in strong social nets that benefit our citizens through tax funded programs such as equal-opportunity education, social aid for needy families, on-the-job training and in-company promotion, paid vacation policies, requisite living wages, and labor protections for all residents regardless of citizenship documentation (if you protect all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, then it makes it easier for workers to organize and increase their wages and protect their benefits, which makes it harder for employers to fuck them over).

According to the July 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund, US growth is lower than before the Great Recession, and the USA needs to invest in policies that incentivize work, raise productivity by investing in infrastructure and innovation, and reverse the wealth income disparity.

Although the IMF survey says the US economic forecast is good in the short-term, in the long-run our decreasing labor force participation, low productivity gains, and increasing wealth disparity/ high poverty levels is going to fuck us over. The IMF report did not say “fuck us over.” It said, “solid continued growth hinges on addressing long-term issues of falling labor force participation, weak productivity, rising income polarization, and high poverty rates.”

Basically, if we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to stop fucking over the working class.

One problem (as noted in the IMF) is the lack of production/ innovation. Although we’re slowly rebuilding (largely machinated industries, now), the USA doesn’t have the infrastructure for manufacturing that it used to. Our factories, long unused and fallen into disrepair, are out of code and filled with machinery that’s out of date. We outsourced manufacturing to other countries for lower costs, and as a result are two generations behind every other manufacturing country.

I’ve heard people say the solution is to bring manufacturing back, and sure, I agree. That’s definitely one solution, and one we do need to invest in over the long term. What bothers me is when its presented as the only solution, or as though manufacturing alone is a panacea–like manufacturing and high wages go hand in hand. As though service work, retail work, domestic labor, restaurant labor–these things are somehow not “worth” high wages, benefits, and secure hours in the way manufacturing is. See, service labor is here, now. These jobs are available here, now. They don’t have to be “brought back”. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt. All that has to happen is:

  • Increase wages to a living wage
  • Write schedules two weeks in advance–no more of this on-call shit. They’re service workers, not medics.
  • Provide benefits and paid vacations.

But manufacturing/ factory work is hard, and dangerous! It’s skilled labor! That’s why they got living wages, and benefits, and protections!–is usually how the arguments goes.

I kind of want to scream when I hear it. Because first off–that wasn’t manufacturing. That was unions. Employers didn’t give those benefits out of the compassionate goodness of their hearts. Workers fought for those benefits! They were dying in the factories and mines–they lived in corporate towns, where the employers paid them in “company money” that could only be spent on company grounds and on company goods! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was an industrial disaster that helped launched the workplace rights campaign into the mainstream US consciousness!

Hell, since Reagan broke the unions, a lot of manufacturing jobs today are shit-work! Employers abuse their workersdeny them breaks, and nowadays will even outright sell the company and void the union contract/ gut the pension. It’s not like manufacturing work has some special protection from employer abuses.

Once, manufacturing was seen much like service work is today–as something low-skilled, that uneducated people did when they had no other options in life; not as a means to a middle class life or long-term job security. When contemplating the history (and present) of manufacturing, and the attitudes of people toward so-called unskilled labor, it’s almost laughable (in the laugh or cry way) that people look at our current situation–having outsourced all our productivity infrastructure and set our manufacturing tech back by generations–our national response is to say, “You know what? Instead of giving service workers living wages, predictable schedules, and benefits, I think we should do our damndest to get manufacturing back over here,” like that’ll help. Like it’s a magic wand that we can wave and make everything better. Like we’re not still actively fucking over manufacturing workers right now, in this day and age.

The manufacturing industry isn’t a magical bean that equals living wages and a middle class life! That was unions. It’s unions people are really thinking of when they say “manufacturing.” They’re thinking of organized labor, of all the things unions won in the manufacturing industries. They’re thinking of pensions that allowed their grandfathers to retire at 50, their bodies bent and broken from years of labor, but their finances secure. They’re thinking of affordable healthcare plans, of companies that trained their own workers (instead of requiring them to go outsource training, and pay for it out of pocket), and then promoted from within, and raised their wages annually according to cost-of-living increases. That’s what they’re thinking of.

But instead, they say, “manufacturing,” and think they mean factories and skilled labor, as though people who stand over boiling oil or work on warehouse floors with electric pallet jacks and forklifts aren’t doing skilled labor. As though people who deal with the daily psychological abuse of entitled customers aren’t engaged in skilled labor. As though the presumed lack of a college degree somehow, someway means the person behind the counter deserves poverty wages, unstable hours, and no benefits.

Fuck that. All labor has value. Someone who thinks that burger slinger at the fast food place doesn’t deserve a living wage? They need to go home and make their own goddamn burger. Spend their own precious time and materials making their own food. Don’t demand the labor of other people if you’re incapable of even respecting or valuing the fact that it is labor–human labor–that is being purchased.

All labor has value. Any labor purchased is purchased because, for whatever reason, the customer does not or cannot do it on their own. They don’t have the skill, the materials, or the knowledge, so they are buy the labor/ skill/ knowledge of someone else. People denigrate service workers all the time, but I tell you what–service workers are the fucking backbone of our society.

Service workers dominate the labor industry. Nearly every US household is touched by service work–someone in their family has worked, is working, or will work in the service industry. They face psychological abuse on a regular basis from entitled asshole customers, and often lack protection from management. Worse, service workers often find themselves on the receiving end of bullying and abuse from coworkers and management, as well, without any sort of substansive corporate infrastructure set up to help mediate the situation.

We’re told this is a “new, mobile workforce,” and that people don’t “like” to stay in one place, with one company anymore. Meanwhile, HR representatives in reddit threads discuss the problems with hiring and promotion: Companies will offer large entry offers, but small or nonexistent wage increases over time. They don’t tie wage increases to performance, either–the most effective way for an employee to increase their wages over the course of a career is to bounce from company to company, as an employer will “match and increase” with their entry offer the salary of the previous company.

Obviously, that doesn’t really work at the service labor level, where wages are set according to state hourly wages, and employees are hired and fired at the whim of management rather than moving according to their own needs or desires.

I smile darkly at the assertions that we in the US are a new and mobile workforce. It seems to me that our employers just stopped investing in us, and got the right to fire us when-the-fuck ever. It’s not that the American worker is “mobile,” (which sounds so free and breezy), it’s that we’re cast adrift.

We were told to get college diplomas to enter the middle class, and now people with Masters and PhDs are applying to service-level jobs. College diplomas are the new form of job training. Now most jobs have substantial job training; just an afternoon or a day with a more experienced employee who shows you the ropes and then abandons you to find your footing.

Bonus for the employer: They don’t bear the costs of job training. Too bad for the employee: They are thousands in debt for a degree they don’t need, because they’ll learn on the job.

We were told 401ks were better than pensions, and employers all shifted into 401k/ stocks, and now we’re all fucked for retirement. Bonus for employers and the banking industry: Modest cost savings! Too bad for the workers: No security for retirement.

We were told unions were stealing our wages, and employers want to give us our whole paycheck; that they want to negotiate employer-to-employee. Bonus for employers: No unions to negotiate with! Too bad for workers: No consolidated power and voice to negotiate with the powers that be.

We were told at-will employment was beneficial to both parties, because it allowed either the worker or employer to terminate an employment contract for better opportunities at a moments notice, for no reason whatsoever. It allows for a more mobile society, see? But in practice, workers don’t have quite the access employers do. Workers provide 2 weeks notice, and train their replacements. Employers fire, and escort their discarded employee out with guards.

This is a mobile society, yes, but largely not by the choice of workers. It was because, for the most part, employers chose to stop investing in workers. They chose to stop training them–requiring, instead, that workers bear the cost of their own training. They chose to stop promoting from within and offering good benefits–forcing workers who wanted higher wages to seek work elsewhere, bouncing around their industry in an attempt to increase their wages and benefits.

Basically, USA employers (by and large) chose to stop investing in their employees, and then have been shocked by decreasing labor participation, an increasingly unstable/ mobile labor market, and an ever-growing wealth disparity, then scratch their heads and pout at each other as they hrrrm and huuuuuhhhh over how on earth such a thing could have possibly happened.

Like, wtf? Big picture, people! Do you ever step back and look big picture? Ever? For a moment?

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summer days

Last summer was a long stretch of heat, burning through the days in a glare of endless sunshine. This year, the days are greyer and softer–a lazy passage of time, often humid with rainshowers. It’s hard to believe we’re still in the midst of a drought, when the sky is horizon-to-horizon with clouds.

For past week and the next several weeks, John has been/ will be scheduled frequent long weekends, which is nice–little mini-vacations, almost. We popped down to Portland on a whim this last weekend and wandered around the city, window-shopping and catching pokemon, before eating at an insanely delicious Greek food truck and heading back home. The next day, we took the dogs out to Soap Lake in Eastern Washington.

About once a month, we have a family game night with the in-laws. I was hoping we’d be able to do it more often in the summer, but somehow work schedule hadn’t lined up that way until recently–hopefully we’ll get a few more game nights over the rest of July and into August, although there is camp and our motorcycle trip in August.

Usually, we play Catan, but recently we picked up a copy of Munchkin, as well as the card game Gloom (based on recommendations from Tabletop). I do feel kinda bad, because I think my niblings are a little bored while the adults are engaged with our board games (based on the question my niece asked me: “Why do you always bring board games when you come over?”).

I think I have a solution, though–when I was a kid, mom had an activity bag to entertain us during sacrament meeting, and it was actually pretty effective. Also, the toys at our sitters house–despite being pretty objectively ho-hum–were freakin’ amazing to me, as a kid.  Why? Because they weren’t regular-time toys. Mom wouldn’t let us touch the church activity bag anywhere except church, and the toys at the sitter’s house were only available at the sitter’s house. So I have this little doll suitcase/ trunk, and I’m going to start packing it with a rotating surprise selection of toys and activities for my niblings. Hopefully it’ll keep them occupied and happy until they’re old enough to play the big people games with us.

Kidling is old enough now that he’s asking me to drop him off with his friends, which is both cool and heartbreaking. Also weird, to ferry him around town and drop him off at the places I used to go, to do the things I used to do. Skateland, Lakefair, Library events–ha, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I am trying to work on my book on the days John is working. It’s difficult to focus. It took a few months to get the drafts/ feedback back from my readers, and in that time I had a lot of ideas on how/ where I wanted it to go.

I feel like my biggest problem at the moment is that I wrote it on a computer, honestly, without an outline. It feels unwieldy. From now on, all books I write will have outlines. My next four are already outlined by hand, in notebooks.

So I finished the whole thing, and it’s a book. It has a plot, with a beginning, middle, and an end … but I hated the end. So I rewrote it. Then I cut the wordcount down from insanity to manageable, and chopped the first three chapters of backstory. Sent the resulting draft to my reader volunteers. Specifically, I asked for feedback on:

  • Readability
  • Character development/ growth and relatability
  • Subplots (too distracting? Barely noticeable?)
  • Worldbuilding (too much foreignness? infodump problems?)
  • Overarching plot (hints too obvious? too subtle?)
  • Overall impression?

Each reader called/ messaged about a week after receiving their draft and said they’d finished it and really loved it, found it very engaging, and now they were going to re-read it and notate it fully and send me back a notated copy. About three to four months later was when I began getting more specific feedback, most of which aligned with my own concerns/ issues. Primarily, I didn’t like the beginning (I’ve since rewritten it). It felt choppy and info-dumpy, and I just … I was really dissatisfied with it.

There was also an incident that happens about 1/3 of the way in and then isn’t addressed again, and I felt like I’d kind of brushed off the significance of it, initially–that it was just hanging there unresolved and weird, and it needed to be either addressed or completely removed. None of my readers mentioned it, but when I asked what they thought of the incident, they did all say, “Oh, yeah–that was weird … why did they just ignore that?”

And, universally, everyone hates the title–which is fine, because it’s a working title. I’ve given up trying to explain that titles are nearly always decided by the agent and/or publishing company, and the shit title on my draft is just a placeholder. I think next time I’ll just call it Working Title, or Placeholder, or Shit Title.

So now I’m engaged in yet another round of edits, and it feels just endless. Like swimming through jell-o, honestly–but I have a vision in mind, a set end point. I know what the final book is supposed to look like. I know where these characters are going. I know the plot, the world, the story arc. It’s just frustrating, because it’s a lot of rewriting–which isn’t as fun as writing–and I feel like I’m re-treading ground I’ve already walked when I’d hoped to be moving onto the next phase by now.

Also, my work schedule is the same as John’s work schedule–he’s at work, I’m writing. He’s at home, I’m not writing. On one hand, this is great (excellent family time!). On the other hand, summer scheduling is super uneven and apparently ADHD brains work best on consistency, haha. I keep joking about renting a hotel for a week straight and unplugging all the phones so I can blast through these edits. The only concern is that I forget to eat when I’m writing.

lil old outspoken me

It’s funny, sometimes, how the way we see ourselves and the way other people see us can be so radically different. This is something I’ve often pondered, since I was a teen–the old song line, You never know just how you look/ through other people’s eyes comes to mind–but it was recently brought home again when I attended a recurring social event and someone (who’s only met me twice, and in the context of talking about books!) referred to me as a person with “strong opinions.”

It’s not the first time I’ve been described as such–though mostly since my mid-to-late 20s–and it always makes me laugh, because it’s really not how I think of myself at all. I guess when I think of people with “strong opinions,” I think of people who aren’t willing to listen to guidance, or cede an argument when presented with new information? Or, maybe, people who enjoy arguments and intentionally try to foment dissent at social gatherings as a form of, like, amusement, and that’s not my bag at all.

I consider myself more of a pacifist–a mediator and negotiator in personality, someone who prefers to avoid conflict if possible, but if it becomes unavoidable, I prefer to opt for communication resolving in peaceful resolution first and foremost. I have what’s often been called a naive belief in the innate goodness of humankind, and I truly believe the majority of people mean well, it’s just, we have different ideas of how to achieve it.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize the behaviors I exhibit which are often described, “bold,” or “outspoken,” or, “strong-minded” are just enthusiasm. I get really enthusiastic about things … books, Harry Potter, income inequality, motorcycling history, labor law, Star Trek, board games, writing, the publishing industry.

Like, super enthusiastic. And when I get enthusiastic about a topic, I research it backwards and forwards and up and down, like a super nerd. I read about it, I think about it, I talk about it. I daydream about it, come up with theories, and link it to other things I’m enthusiastic about.

Now, just like anyone else, I don’t randomly bring up this stuff at inappropriate times–I’m not sitting at, like, work functions rambling on about esoteric factoids regarding labor law history to a bunch of dull-eyed coworkers and/or clients. No.

But … I mean, yeah, I have been at, say, book club, and waxed intense about my feelings on a book. Or book series. Occasionally in a very detailed breakdown of the plot structure and the flaws therein (like writing a book where the overriding relationship question was resolved in the first THIRD of the book, thereby completely nullifying any plot tension for the remaining 2/3 of the book, OUTLANDER 2). 

Also, I’ll plead guilty to, say, standing around at some dull social function, participating in make-nice chit-chat, and I hear someone make a reference to a shared topic of interest, so of course I gravitate over, because hey. Interesting conversation thataway.

And sometimes I’ll share an interesting factoid–like, maybe telling a fellow motorcycle fan that the Indian Motorcycle company was a casualty of WWII, and explaining why; or mentioning in addendum to some anecdote about marketing or customer service that, The customer is always right is actually based on a 1920s marketing slogan rather than any sort of overriding consumer ethos, because my general assumptions are that history is cool, trivia is fun, and most people enjoy learning new things.

I think this is where the bold/ outspoken/ opinionated impressions come from. It’s interactions–like casual social gatherings, or seminars where we’re explicitly discussing reactions to readings, or classroom settings where discussion is encouraged–where I feel comfortable, because of the context of the situation, in voicing my opinion and why I believe as I do.

When I was a kid/ teenager, whenever I wanted to do something my parents were uncomfortable or ambivalent about, my dad’s thing was for me to argue my case. I guess it’s a lawyer thing. He would tell me if I could come up with a convincing list of pros and cons–because a good lawyer has to understand both sides of the situation in order to rebut the opposing argument–then he’d consider my request. That’s actually how I negotiated most of my teen concessions.

So I do feel pretty comfortable examining an issue thoroughly, from all sides, and coming to a conclusion regarding my stance. Thanks to great parents and some fantastic professors over the years, I’ve also learned how to organize my supporting arguments when participating in a discussion so I can support my stance, and I’m comfortable revising my stance in light of new information which may alter my perspective.

All that said, I really do not like debate or disagreement, especially outside the specific parameters of the classroom (where it’s moderated and all are working from the same base reading material). This is one of the factors in me deciding not to pursue a law degree (though hardly the only).

I know that might seem incredible to someone who’s only knowledge of me is this blog, but it’s important to recognize the words on this screen are on stream-of-conscious, largely unedited personal blog–this on-the-fly verbiage represents my internal world, and while the values of fairness and equality espoused herein aligns with my real-world values, beliefs, and general behavior, there’s a pretty key difference–I’m a lot more polite and in real life.

Call it esprit de l’escalier, or a lifetime of gender conditioning, or empathy from having been bullied myself. Whatever it is, the sometimes pointed language I use on this blog when venting about disagreements doesn’t come into play during personal disagreements. I believe there’s no need to get insulting or derogatory during a conflict–any resolution to the disagreement will hinge on the facts of the situation, not he said/ she said opinions on character.

So it’s funny, because when someone describes me as, “bold,” or “opinionated,” or “outspoken,” I hear “argumentative,” or “rude,” or “disruptive,” and I automatically flinch away from those descriptions–they feel weird and uncomfortable to me. I pride myself on my ability to be civil, pleasant, cordial, and generous in personal interactions. Sure, I’ve sometimes felt frustration at walking away from an encounter where someone was rude or derogatory to me and I didn’t yell back–I’ve thought to myself, coward, wimp, chickenshit.

But far more often, I’ve felt satisfaction at my ability to not only remain calm and collected in response to instigation, but when I’ve successfully de-escalated a potentially explosive situation. Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not more of a fighter. But mostly I’m glad I gravitate to peacemaker. But I suppose it’s all in interpretations–here I’ve been thinking bold/ opinionated/ outspoken equates to argumentative, when really, those could just as easily describe traits of enthusiasm and mediation. After all, enthusiastic people will come across as opinionated and outspoken, and a mediator personality has to be able to have strong boundaries in order to mediate–its impossible to mediate if you can’t negotiate, set, or enforce fair boundaries. So those are strength characteristics, too.

random thoughts | 2 months into 2015

I’ve been spending almost every spare writing minute working on my book. It’s coming along. My goal is 4k words/ week, but I’m usually hitting 3k. I’m currently sitting at 63,906 words total (first draft). The first draft is going to be a bit long, I can already tell — I would say that plot-wise, I’m maybe mid-way through. Word-count wise, I should be in the third act, nearing the wrap-up. I want it to be a 70k word-length book, 80k max — appropriate for YA. So I know the first draft will need to be heavily edited down.

~*~

Kidling turned 13 this month. I should probably start calling him Kiddo in the blog, because he’s definitely not my baby boy anymore. He’s growing into quite a mature and thoughtful young man. I’m really proud of him, and I feel so lucky to have such a great kid.

~*~

Lately I’ve been missing my mom. I wonder what she would think of my life. I bet she’d be super proud of Kiddo. I wonder if my parents would still live nearby if mom hadn’t died. I wonder if my siblings and I would still talk, or if I would have lost mom, too, when I left the church.

~*~

I’m thinking about applying to be a paraeducator. Apparently one does not need a Masters in Teaching, just a BA (or AA, depending on the position). I could fit it around my writing schedule and Kiddo’s school schedule, it would be a way to keep my resume update, and it would be some income to sock into savings.

coming up on the end of the year

This has been an interesting month. John has been promoted, which means his schedule has been upended. This is good (more time with husband!) and bad (less time to write!). Luckily, the good more than outweighs the bad, and I have an amazing son and husband. They’ve done their best to create space for me to write.

In fact, my son and I agreed that on Sundays, we would turn off the tv and gaming systems and focus 100% on reading (him) and writing (me). This last Sunday, I wrote 2000 words. Today I wrote 3000, when my husband left the house for the entire morning to get some shopping done. They’ve both been incredibly considerate and helpful in doing what they can to help me reach my goal of writing and someday publishing a book.

John is helpful in other ways, too — a week or so ago, I was venting about how I’d lost the thread of my story and it had become a dystopian action adventure. I said I needed to backtrack about 25,000 words and start re-writing. He asked why, and I explained that about 25,000 words ago, I had taken a lazy shortcut and said something like,

It didn’t take long to settle into a routine, especially with such familiar work to do. Merci often griped that they weren’t allowed to go on patrol yet, but Bex was secretly relieved at the extra time it meant for research. She managed to wrap up two unsolved cases by the end of Harvest, much to Merci’s amusement.

Obvious shortcut is obvious. With three short sentences, I manage to skip past months of character development and world-building, and my entire plot suffered because of it. I’m not trying to write another futuristic dystopian sci-fi about a corrupt totalitarian government, but by taking that shortcut I ended up having to manufacture action and drama in order to try and flesh out the plot. It jumped from a sci-fi vision of a future with a functioning government worth defending to another generic no-hope post-apocalyptic fiction, all because I got lazy one afternoon.

So I was bemoaning the fact that I would have to backtrack by about 25k words and start over, when my husband made his brilliant suggestion. He said, “Why do you have to start over? Just go back and add in the character and plot development for that time frame, then use what you have for the conflict arc, then wrap it up. You don’t have to tank 25k just because it doesn’t work right now.”

It was perfect advice. Whether or not I end up trashing those 25k words of plot, my husband took the weight of making the decision at this point in the process off my shoulders. My daily writing counts skyrocketed after that — I was trailing down to about 1100 words a day when I was struggling with the realization that I’d lost the plot, but now that I have the story back to where I intended, I’m averaging about 2500 words per writing day. I’m feeling pretty stoked right now.

Aside from writing, life is going well. I’m still walking the dogs every morning and trying to get in regular every-other-day exercises (squats and push-ups). I’ve lost about 15 lbs since I started my #exercisealifestyle goal in September.

My sister in law has inspired me, too, and I’ve begun making homemade yogurt after she posted her results online. We both like canning and home food prep, so it’s pretty cool to follow her recipes and see what she’s trying. It gives me some new ideas. We went shopping together last week and I picked up some kefir grains so I can try that too — I’ve recently realized I’ve developed lactose intolerance as I’ve gotten older.

It’s cool, because I never really liked milk in the first place, but it does mean that I can’t eat cereal or drink milk with cookies/ cake when I wish to. That’s kind of annoying. Also, ice cream appears to be a bad idea. Mostly I’ve dealt with it by … not dealing with it. I and my family have been subjected to my intense gastrointestinal distress the rare times I do drink milk. Then I discovered kefir at the store, and when I realized it was essentially drinkable yogurt, I figured I could make it at home just like I can yogurt. I’m super excited to try this.

I signed up to volunteer at my sons school, too. I did it partly because I want to contribute to the school, and mostly because I felt bad that John is always surrounded by people. As an introvert, I get the necessity of quiet/downtime, and how even when other people are simply being in the same room (or house), there’s still a sense of … personal intrusion. Of expectation. Of needing to be “on” for other people. I get that you can love/ adore someone, and still need space away from them, time to mentally and emotionally recharge.

Recently, I realized that while Kidling and I both get quiet/downtime to mentally and emotionally recharge, John doesn’t. He gets up in the morning, and we’re both here. He goes to work, and is surrounded by his coworkers. He comes home, and both his wife and son are here. All day, every day, people surround him. There is no privacy, no sweet solitude. So I signed up for volunteering at the school to give him at least an hour a week of time alone.

The days are odd and jagged, stops and starts of busy quiet. I will have no plans for days on end, and then abruptly discover I have a full calendar of appointments and social activities. I often whittle away the hours on things like shopping, baking, and writing, and when the sun sets I wonder where the day has gone. I don’t feel particularly productive, yet an assessment of my activities composes a satisfying list of daily accomplishments. Or minutiae. I’m not entirely certain.

For example, today I vacuumed, washed/dried/ folded two loads of laundry, took out the trash, emptied the little box, walked both dogs, took a 2.5 mile walk with my husband, baked a batch of cookies, wrote 3k words, crocheted two rows on an infinity scarf, oversaw Kidling’s homework, and cooked schnitzel and spatzle for dinner. I also plan on making yogurt tonight.

So was this a waste of a day? Minutiae? Or were these necessary and useful activities? I often wonder where the line is. All these activities are rolled into the useful and bland title, of “homemaker,” which calls to mind anti-feminist stay at home moms enjoying leisure hours.

But these activities are also things that are outsourced or abandoned when I was working. When both John and I were employed full time, the daily chores slid. We often debated hiring a weekly housecleaner to handle the chore load while we worked 40+ hours/ week each. Neither of us created homemade meals, either — the closest we came to “homemade” were quickly heated freezer or deli items from Costco, like their pre-made frozen lasagna. Now, I make lasagna from scratch. It saves money and is healthier, but it takes an investment of time and know-how. There is a trade-off to be made.

When I worked full time, my writing and personal interests suffered. Rather than craft homemade gifts and spend time with my son, I came home and napped on the couch while my son played videogames. His homework suffered as both John and I were too distracted by the demands of work and household to maintain a regularly watchful parental eye to keep him on task.

So when I fill my day with these tasks, I am aware that the investment of my time, talent, and skills is saving our household money. I am aware that I am not, in fact, wasting time and filling out days with minutiae. I am aware that if I were to disappear or cease existing tomorrow, somehow that slack would have to be picked up. Perhaps my husband would hire a maid, perhaps he would find another partner. I know I am not useless. I just don’t really get that message from our culture.

In America in the 21st century, the middle-class stay-at-home parent is many things: A status symbol signaling financial stability; almost necessary to the smooth running of the household; a replacement for outsourcing cooking and cleaning. What the middle class stay at home parent is not is valued by our culture. Sure, certain conservative religious factions praise the stay-at-home mother for her fortitude and maternal nature, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not bemoaning a lack of benevolent sexism in the culture at large; I am bemoaning the fact that being a stay-at-home parent is still so often seen as (somehow) a cop-out, a lazy shortcut. I am bemoaning that it isn’t validated and financially reinforced through workers’ rights legislation, targeted tax rebates, and similar measures taken by other developed countries to support families and stay-at-home parents.

what dreams may come

Since Kidlings been back in school, I’ve been focusing on writing a book (finally, ha!). I mean, I’ve known since I was knee-high to a grasshopper that I’m a writer at heart, and that someday I will write a book. It used to be a deeply held dream of mine, a necessity of validation to prove I was “really” a writer.

Then, at some point in the journey of my life and the various sidetracks I ended up on, I realized it doesn’t matter if I am a published author or not. That’s not why I’m a writer. I write because I have to. It’s how I relate to the world; the lens through which I view it. I write because without the written word, the world around me becomes dull and flat and incomprehensible.

Strangely, realizing that I’m not doing this to make tons ‘o money or get published provided me with the freedom to focus on my writing without fear of failure. Unfortunately, the arrival of said freedom pretty much exactly coincided with my time at Evergreen, so it took me another two years or so to find space to write full-time. Right now, if I keep up the pace I’m at, I hope to have the first draft done by late January or early February. Then I need to run some edits and look at releasing an ebook copy by June or July. Maybe I’ll try cold submissions to publishing houses, but I don’t know how valuable that method is anymore.

I found a quote somewhere online that says,

“Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months.”

So I set myself a Jack London-sized goal, with aspirations to meet Stephen King levels of production. There’s just one teensy difference — I only write on days that both John and Kidling are out of the house. So it’s usually just Tues-Fri, when Kidling is at school and John is working. Right now, I’m meeting or exceeding my daily word count goal, which has me stoked.

When I’m not writing, I try to keep myself engaged with the book and the world by sketching. These are three of my characters:

bex Lash Merci

I swear, the drawings look better in person. I think.

characterization and blah de blah

So, I graduated. Well. In a manner of speaking. I went through the graduation ceremony and completed all my credits … but due to unforeseen circumstances (unexpected death), I have not yet received my final evaluation, credits, or diploma. That’s just a paperwork delay though — all the courses are completed and requirements fulfilled. As a result, my days are no longer filled with classes and homework and commutes … which I love.

My son is in school. My husband is at work. And four days a week, I have almost 7 full hours of completely uninterrupted time to write. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays are still an utter wash when it comes to having uninterrupted time to focus on writing, but Tuesday through Friday are fantastic.

So I’ve been averaging between 1000 – 1500 words a day on the work in progress. It’s a sci-fi/ futuristic thingy, which has spun me for a bit of a loop in terms of diversity. I was reading something online, I forget where, about diversity in characterization. The problem, of course, is that you can’t simply call Dr. Smith a different name, like Dr. Yu or Dr. Tanaka, because it’s all about social location.

Consider that Dr. Jane Smith, raised in 1940s America would be different from Dr. Jane Smith raised in 1940s England. One would have been raised at a distance from a war that devastated the world, while the other would have been in England during the infamous London Blitz. Consider how changing Jane’s gender to John also changes the dynamics and background of the character; how they would have been raised and the expectations put upon them by society.

Writing Jane or John Smith is still something that comes easily and naturally to me, with minimal research. British Jane likes eggy bread and coffee with milk for breakfast. As an adult, British Jane still remembers the way the wool stockings of her school uniform itched at the back of her knees as she waited on a crowded train platform to be shipped out to the country.

American John doesn’t like to eat breakfast, but his mom used to insist that he eat a bowl of Cheerios every morning. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she would say. His mom was full of sayings like that. He can still remember her carefully counting pennies to purchase war bonds, telling him that a penny saved is a penny earned.

These are historical narratives I was steeped in my entire life. They are the stories of my parents and grandparents, the storybooks of my childhood, and even though John and Jane are not me, they share a cultural background with me. This makes them easier to write, like slipping on a new coat. It’s different, a new color and a cut I don’t usually wear, but it’s still a coat. A coat is a pretty basic garment. Not hard to figure out.

Now, consider that simply shifting the time drastically alters the character background, not even taking into account location and gender and class and education. By bringing Jane or John forward or backward 50 years, their entire upbringing and expectations shift … yet it’s still a basically familiar cultural background to me.

Now add a twist. What if Jane’s last name is Tanaka? How do I write an American Jane Tanaka in the 1940s? She would be in the American Concentration Camps. Is she a first generation Japanese immigrant, or a second-generation one? Does she come from California, which had more intense discrimination, or Washington? Which camp did she stay in? All these factors influence Jane’s experience, background, and character. They change the level of suspicion she was treated with, both by the government and other Japanese Americans. It even changes how long it took her to be released. And on top of that, I need to know the culture of her family, and how it infused her worldview.

Again, to draw comparisons, consider my own background. People look at me and see a white American girl. They do not see the Norwegian flags that were strung on my childhood Christmas tree, or the dirndl or bunad that I used to wear to church for fun. They do not taste the weinerschnitzel and spatzle I ate at family dinners. They do not know that my worldview, my character, my interactions with the world are infused with a deep love and connection with my personal family history.

I speak a little bit of German. Not enough to really converse, but a little bit. My parents lived in Heidelberg for 5 years, and my German accent comes from that area. Apparently, this is subtly different from the dialect/ style of German that is taught in most German courses. If you’re an American, consider the regional linguistic differences between North and South America, or the West and East coasts … it’s not simply accents, but colloquialisms and localized slang. And even though I haven’t been to Germany since I left 4 months after my birth, the little bit of German I know carries the localized accent and slang from my birthplace.

So if I am writing Jane Tanaka, or John Tanaka, I need to figure out things like that. If I write a Jane Smith from London or a John Smith raised in Birmingham, Alabama, I don’t have to think quite so much about their linguistic history and colloquialisms … these speech patterns, while not inherently natural to me, are closely aligned enough with my own experiences that it’s just less challenging to write.

But for the Tanakas, I have to learn enough about Japanese culture and history to write their background, without getting lost and overwhelmed in the research. I need to take into account their social location when I write their characters — how the social structures would shape their personalities, like ivy forms to a wall. Or, perhaps more aptly, how a bonsai tree is shaped by the restrictions of the environment and the needs of the socially powerful (the artist).

Anyway, I guess I’m thinking about all this because … well, because I’m not sure how the setting in my book affects the character building. It’s a diverse cast, but the social location is so entirely different as to render a lot of these concerns as moot. It takes place on a different planet, almost 500 years in the future.

Think about that for a moment. Five hundred years ago, it was 1514. Slavery as we now understand it, with its distinctly racial component, had not yet been invented. A successful colony had not yet been established in the Americas. It would seem, from the present state of research, that the plague which wiped out up to 90% of the Native Americans prior to European colonization had not yet occurred.

In 1514, King Henry the VIII was still married to his first wife. He had not yet split with the Catholic church to create the Church of England. Hell, most of the current map boundaries we think of when we imagine the European countries hadn’t been formalized yet. The world of 1514 was so completely different from our modern world as to be unfathomable. They pretty much did not even speak the same language as us! If time travel became a thing, communication would not be easy or intuitive, and the social mores and expectations were just eons apart from our modern beliefs. If time travel became a thing, we would be further hindered by our mistaken beliefs about the past, especially in regards to race and gender.

So as I write these characters, 500+ years in the future on a different planet altogether, I don’t really consider our current social location in their character development. The ongoing disparate impact of racialized systems of control in the 21st century Western hemisphere is an extremely minimal factor in who they are and how they interact. It is a thread in their shared history that is woven through the tapestry of humanity and influenced their current place, but it’s one of those threads that is worn pale and thin in seeming importance by the winds of time.

The planet these characters live on was colonized roughly 300 years before the start of the book, with a formalized government coming into play within 75 years. This is roughly analogous to the timeline of the colonization of North America and inception of the U.S. government; an intentional parallel. Similar to the myths, imagery, and debates regarding our own (highly documented) national backstory, the everyday lives of my characters are heavily influenced by the founding events of their society.

The thing is, my characters are predominantly people of color in a position of social privilege. This creates a bit of  quandary for me. On the one hand, I strongly believe in the value of a diverse cast of characters for readers to identify with. On the other hand … am I taking the easy route and participating in cultural erasure by creating a situation where the current expectations of discrimination and social privilege are upended? Do the same rules of character development apply in futuristic sci fi?

I dunno. Honestly, I’ll worry about it later, during revisions. Right now, I want to focus on finishing the book. Then revising it and editing it and revising some more. Then submitting the manuscript to publishing houses and dealing with rejections until I can’t anymore, or it’s picked up by someone. If it isn’t picked up, then I plan on revising and editing it some more for self-pubbing.

reassessing my future (again)

So, as anyone who has spoken with me in the past 3 months is aware, I was thinking about giving law school a try. One of the professors (a lawyer and former judge) in my Law and Outlaw class was very insistent that I am an ideal candidate for law school. She really strongly encouraged me. I was a little on the fence, because I’ve heard some rumors about the state of the legal field … but then again, maybe they were exaggerated. And this professor seemed really certain that I would be in the highest percentage of my law class, a contributor to the Law Review, and that I would get a judicial clerkship. It was flattering.

I spoke with a recent law school grad who cast cold water on my budding inclination by telling me the cold hard facts of the matter. Jobs, she said, were thin on the ground. Debts were high. She had a scholarship all through law school, and through her LLM education. She was top of her class, and a contributor to the Law Review. She was everything my professor promised would ensure success, and she was struggling to find work. It sounded grim.

More accurately, I hate being homeless.

But then I had the opportunity to set up a few informational interviews, and after speaking with numerous government employees the State Attorney General’s Office, I decided I’d go for that degree after all.

I figured I’d just get a job with the government, earn some experience as a prosecutor, and have my debt forgiven through the Federal debt forgiveness program tied to public service. Every lawyer and secretary I spoke to assured me it was the quickest route to success, and they should know! They were wrapping up 30+ year careers!

So I purchased some books, began studying for the LSATs, and happily began informing people of my now-arranged future.

Then I read this article by Paul Campos in The Atlantic, titled, “The Law School Scam.” It echoed everything my recent law-school grad friend had been telling me. Kinda freaked me out.

I visited his blog, Inside The Law School Scam, and that sinking sensation in my gut got worse.

I bought his book “Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk,” ($4 through the Kindle app, $6 paperback — unfortunately, not available through Nook) today, and read the whole thing in an hour.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Holy shit.

As it turns out, the availability of legal positions has actually been shrinking over the past 30 years (yes, including for lawyers). A lot of stuff lawyers used to do is now done by paralegals or technology, or (even worse for the profession) DIY legal work by those who used to rely on lawyers — for example, when that guy hit John and broke his jaw, and I filed the restraining order request and both parties had to present their sides before the judge? People used to hire lawyers for that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, law school tuition and class size has been increasing, while standards have … dropped somewhat. A little. The ABA holds law school to some basic standards, but the rise of for-profit colleges and their willingness to allow low-LSAT scorers into their ranks has resulted in a correlating decline of LSAT score valuation at nonprofit schools. So, basically, law schools are churning out more grads than there are jobs, and those grads are carrying massive and non-dischargeable debt.

Oh! The debt! Campos explains that really well, too. Those so-called “scholarships” are apparently just higher-tuition students subsidizing the costs of lower tuition students. It’s this whole thing where if the tuition is actually $100,000/year, but half the students are offered a scholarship that allows them to attend for $50,000/year, then the reported “average tuition” would be $75,000/year … but really it varies wildly, and the scholarships are often tied to performance. Plus, the average reported debt the law schools usually quote to potential students doesn’t include the 3-4 years of accrued interest acquired by non-subsidized loans while in school. 

So all that is super duper discouraging on its own, and then you get into the fact that apparently government work — promising both stability, experience, and loan forgiveness — turns out to be incredibly in demand! Starting wages of $60,000 is nothing to shake a finger at when it includes loan forgiveness!

So, to recap: My plan is basically the plan of most potential lawyers, meaning the competition is intense, and most lawyers are unemployed.

New plan, new plan.

Apparently law schools are trying to combat this by trying to claim that a law degree is totally versatile … like, you can be a journalist or a writer or any number of things that don’t require a fucking law degree. Because the only, I repeat only thing you need a law degree for is to practice the law. It’s like getting a medical degree to become an aromatherapist, by all the gods.

At one point in the book, Campos points to a bit of data that compares the graduation/ employment rates of doctors vs. lawyers over the past 30 years, and a depressingly high percentage of bar-accredited lawyers are unemployed — something like 60%, if I recall correctly — but pretty much everyone who studied to become a doctor is currently practicing as a doctor.

Again: DEPRESSING.

Speaking of depression! Campos then cites data that law students and lawyers are more likely than any other profession to develop severe and debilitating depression. I was like, “Pshhh, my daddy was a lawyer, and he’s the happiest man I know.”

Then I read this bit (bolded parts mine).

“Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression? The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment.”

Holy shit, sounds like some law offices I’ve worked in.

  • Intensely hierarchical? Check! (One employer paid a BA-toting paralegal more than the HS-diploma-toting but longer-employed paralegal who trained him).
  • Emotionally cold? Oh, ye gods, check. (One of my bosses was worse than Elsa’s emotional breakdown in Frozen.)
  • High-stress environment? Yup. (Let’s just say that after I had a boss who was so bad, that after 8 months dealing with her, I was literally contemplating hanging myself in her office.)

Oh, wait, Campos’ quote continues? Ye gods. Okay, then.

” … in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.”

There is a lawyer/ SBO owner I knew, swear to gods, not exaggerating– she would literally sneer at anyone she considered beneath her, even clients. I do not ever, ever want to be like that. She was, literally, the worst human being I have ever had the misfortune to know– including some seriously fucked up racist misogynistic assholes. I rank her worse than them just because she studied social justice and labor law in law school and still maintained that elitist classism, whereas in my experience, racist misogynistic assholes are (by and large) historically ignorant.

She wasn’t awful out of ignorance, like so many of the racist, classist, sexist idiots I’ve run into over the course of my life. She was awful knowing full well the repercussions of her behavior, and believing that her “superior” education entitled her to treat people like shit.

So, I finished the book, and all information considered … I think I’ll just keep looking for entry-level government work, and take the time to focus on writing while I have it. ‘Cause that shit? Is cray.

Feminism and Immigration Law: A Silent Majority, Behind Closed Doors

The Intersectionality of Feminism and Justice at Work | Part III

The History and Law of
Labor, Discrimination, and Immigration
Through a Feminist Lens

This is part III of my final paper for my 2012-2013 Justice at Work course, split into 3 parts for my blog. (Parts I & II).

Although the Equal Pay Act and Title VII changed the face of the workforce for many American women, there were two large segments of the workforce that did not benefit from these changes in U.S. law. Cesar Chavez helped bring attention to the plight of the immigrant farm workers, but the experiences of immigrant women and domestic workers has largely remained behind closed doors, silenced. Their voices are relegated to the forgotten edges of policy debates, and when domestic labor is addressed at all, the value of the work is discounted. How hard is it, after all, to clean a room? — or so the thinking goes. Domestic workers have faced a long and challenging battle trying to gain recognition and protection under U.S. Law.

indentured servant advertisement34The first domestic workers in America came as indentured servants to the Virginia colonies. In Between Women, Rollins says that, “from it’s (sic) beginnings, domestic servitude in this country has embodied a . . . contradiction between principles and behavior that did not exist in seventeenth- or eighteenth- century Europe, a contradiction between the value of egalitarianism and the actual class and caste stratification.” (Rollins 48)

DomesticSlavewithPlanterFamily330After the Revolutionary War, the experience of domestic servitude split along the Mason-Dixie. In the North, domestic servants were free persons engaging in voluntary paid labor. Often, they were of the same race and community as their employers. (Rollins 50). In the south, “domestic workers,” or house slaves were the most numerous of the slaves. The 1848 Charleston, South Carolina census shows that out of a population of 7,355 adult slaves, 5,272 were labeled as some form of domestic servant. (Dawson 30-48).

irish domestic helpIn the mid-nineteenth century, the rising fortunes and opportunities for middle-class white women led to an increase in demand for domestic servants. Despite the increase in labor demands, domestic work was still seen as a low-status occupation, and white women eschewed it if at all possible. During this time, domestic workers were primarily comprised of immigrants from Ireland, Scandinavia, and China. Following Emancipation, Black women joined the ranks of underpaid and under-appreciated domestic workers. (Raaphorst 33)

Domestic workers have long been drawn from the subclasses resulting from discriminatory laws. As such, these workers have been historically silenced and cut off from any avenue to protest employment abuses; a reality that persists even today. Early attempts to organize domestic workers were largely unfruitful. In 1881, Southern domestic workers attempted to organize, demanding better pay. They held strikes in Galveston, Texas and Jackson, Mississippi. A few years later in Chicago, a 1901 effort to organize domestic workers sputtered out due to lack of community support. (Caldwell)

In 1880, the number of immigrants entering domestic service began to drop. This trend continued into the 20th century, and as both native- and foreign-born white working women opted to move into manufacturing or the garment industry rather than join the ranks of domestic servants. The space left by their departure was filled by Black women migrating Northward to get away from the tenancy system, Jim Crow laws, the boll weevil infestation, and a series of heavy rainfalls and flooding in 1916. By 1920, 46 percent of employed Black women were domestic workers. (Allen, Harris, and Schuylder)

In 1934, the Domestic Workers Union was established, headed by Dora Lee Jones, a Black domestic worker. By then, well over 50 percent of employed Black women were domestic workers. The DWU was affiliated with the New York City Building Service Union, Local 149, but membership was low. In the end, the DWU fizzled out, as had previous attempts to organize domestic workers. Union Maids Not Wanted explains why it was so difficult for domestic workers to effectively organize:

“Ignored by labor unions, discriminated against, neglected, and at best patronized by their government, domestic workers once again attempted to form independent unions . . . like all other previous individual attempts at a collective action, [it] was at best locally effective and short-lived.” (Raaphorst 289)

In 1935, the National Labor Relations Board Act of 1935 was passed, protecting the right of workers to organize, participate in collective bargaining, and engage in strike actions. It was an unprecedented legal action on behalf of worker’s rights, yet it excluded large swathes of the working population. Among those excluded from the protections of the NLRA were domestic workers and farm laborers. When the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was passed and established a minimum wage, reduced workweek, and increased compensation for overtime for American workers, it also excluded domestic and agricultural workers.

black servantYet despite both the government and union organizers discounting the value of domestic workers, demand from employers continued to rise. By 1940, a full 60 percent of Black working women were employed as domestic workers. It was only after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the percentage of Black domestic workers began to drop.

In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there were more employment options becoming available to Black women. Yet these same laws, intended to address discrimination based on race or gender, once again did not extend to protect the rights of domestic workers. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, which virtually excluded every domestic worker in the United States.

In 1974, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to provide some minimal protections to domestic workers, such as requiring minimum wage and overtime pay, but the amendments specified that babysitters and companions to the elderly were still excluded. By 1979, only 32 percent of employed Black women were in the domestic service industry. Meanwhile, the percentages of Black women employed as clerks or “other service worker” were rising. (Rollins 56).

tumblr_m6lr1xB6n01rt1tqoo1_500As Black women left the domestic workforce, Latina women filled the void they left in a reprisal of the role played by Black women 60 years previous. Once again, the face of domestic labor in America was changing.

One of the unique challenges in domestic work is the intimate nature of it. Difficulties arise in any employment situation, but a domestic worker must learn to navigate a work environment headed by a boss who often does not realize they are heading a workplace. The normal work and social boundaries constraining the employer are subconsciously dropped in the familiarity of their home. Rights that are expected in “official” workplaces, such as regular breaks, working equipment, days off, or regular wages are treated as unreasonable, selfish, or thoughtless demands. In response, domestic workers tend to fall back on non-professional behavior and psychological manipulations, such as threatening to quit in order to get a raise. The success of this tactic is by no means guaranteed, while the risks are extremely high. (Romero 158)

Perhaps it is the influence of 20th century ideas, such as an “illegal person,” or the perceived necessity of a patrolled border, or the existence of a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department, but it is acceptable both socially and legally for an employer to use the threat of deportation to ensure obedience in the workplace. Undocumented Latina women, or documented Latina women who are supporting undocumented friends or family, learn all too quickly how willing an employer is to utilize that threat. When David Bacon, author of Illegal People, interviewed Luz Dominguez about her retaliatory firing, he described how she perceived her employer’s shift in attitude:

“When Dominguez describes what happened at the hotel, she is still so angry that her voice trembles. “She [Smith] told us we’d have to show her our Social Security Cards so they could check the numbers,” she recalled bitterly. “Before, they’d tell us sometimes they’d received a notice about our numbers not matching, but they never required us to take any action, or told us we couldn’t continue working.” (Bacon, ebook)

These women, who live and work in communities affected most by immigration policy, have not merely been left out of the conversation; they have actively been restricted it from participating. Policymakers have framed the immigration debate as one that must be resolved by American citizens and their duly elected representatives — even though undocumented immigrants contribute to the community through both taxes and labor. In restricting the conversation to “citizens only,” politicians are attempting to silence the voices and stories of thousands of undocumented U.S. workers. In response to this culture of suppression, the Latino community has organized and participated in May Day Demonstrations, protest marches, and even union organizing, despite the threat of deportation.

logoAt last, the perseverance seems to be paying off. In 2007, the National Domestic Workers Alliance was founded, and started a grassroots campaign to pass a domestic worker’s bill of rights in New York State. Six years later, the organization is the nation’s leading advocate for the rights and needs of domestic workers throughout the United States, and boasts 39 affiliates serving more than 10,000 people.

In 2010, the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, championed by the NDWA was signed into law. It is the first bill of its kind in the country, and provides the domestic workers of New York state with the right to overtime pay, one guaranteed day off per week, three paid days off each year, protection under New York State Human Rights Law, as well as the creation of a special cause of action for domestic workers who suffer sexual or racial harassment. (“Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights”).

In 2012, California voters approved a similar Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In May 2013, Hawaii approved a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights which makes it illegal to discriminate against domestic workers on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation and brings domestic workers under the state’s wage and hour laws. As of the writing of this paper (2013), it still needs to be signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The time is ripe for major legislative change. In 1866, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act which extended citizenship to emancipated slaves. This was followed by four more Civil Rights Acts, which approached and addressed the question of racism in a scattershot and piecemeal manner. Within a decade, the pushback of business lobbyists had undermined the promise of Reconstruction, and the infamous institution of Jim Crow spread across the south in place of slavery. It would be nearly one hundred years before the question of racial equality in America was legislatively addressed once more.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not so much unique in the intent, but in the scope, which is what needs to happen now. The United States needs major legislation that does not tweak or amend existing workers rights laws, but upends it and throws it angrily out the window.

The rights of the U.S. working class rests upon three pillars: The right to organize, wage parity, and anti-discrimination laws. Regarding organization and wage parity, the two pieces of legislation proposed to address how pro-business interests have systemically chipped away at worker rights, The Employee Free Choice Act and The Paycheck Fairness Act, have repeatedly been stalled or rejected. (HR 438, “Employee Free Choice Act Bill Summary”). These bills need only popular and Congressional support, and the addition of language that explicitly extends their protection to undocumented workers. It is time to make a serious positive change in the rights of the working class residing in the United States of America, both documented and undocumented. It is time to truly proclaim solidarity forever.

 

The Intersectionality of Feminism and Justice at Work | Part I

The History and Law of
Labor, Discrimination, and Immigration
Through a Feminist Lens

This is my final paper for my 2012-2013 Justice at Work course, split into 3 parts for my blog. 

Introduction

We have discussed the concept of our “lens” quite a bit this year, and how our personal lenses impact our understanding of the world around us. As we have moved through the readings, films, and discussions over the year, I have sometimes felt confronted or defensive because of the information presented. This is where the lens I utilize has enhanced my learning experience, as I rely on my personal experiences as well as my understanding of feminism in order to both process and relate to the information in question.

Clearly, feminism is not my sole lens, nor even the only lens I have relied on to process information. My LDS upbringing provided me with the lens of distrust for mainstream historical accounts, as such accounts neglected the Mormon influence on American history. When I left my childhood faith and began identifying as atheist, I began to view the world through the lens of understanding that just because I want something to be true does not actually make it a true thing. New information can be shocking and difficult to hear, but just because an idea confronts my understanding of the world does not negate its value. Being misdiagnosed with Bipolar depression as a teenager and my involvement in the mental health community equipped me with the lens to better understand the experience of discrimination and microaggressions.

These lenses, and many others I have either not identified or am not aware of, interact to influence my reactions to and understanding of the material presented throughout the year. I choose to concentrate on the intersection of feminism with Justice at Work because it is the lens I most actively and consciously relied on in order to connect with the material, language, theories, and issues that have been presented over the year.

Further, the lens of feminism allowed me to connect with the material on a more personal level, by focusing in on aspects of the material we were only able to briefly touch on in class. In fall quarter, I looked at the relationship of feminism and labor law, and how the promise of the Equal Pay Act has been implemented. In winter quarter, I examined the role of sex-plus discrimination and how it led to the burgeoning legal field of family responsibilities discrimination. For spring quarter, I will look at the history of immigration and worker rights as they apply to domestic work.

Fall 2012: Feminism and Labor Law
Equal Pay for Equal Work

Congress passed an unprecedented and landmark piece of legislation 50 years ago. Nothing like it existed in prior United States legislation. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) made it illegal to pay men and women different wages for performing similar jobs under similar working conditions.

equal-work-deserves-equal-pay

One year later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, or sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act specifically addresses discrimination in employment. Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate because of race, religion, color, or sex in the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Congress incorporated the EPA’s affirmative defenses into Title VII, which states that an employee who claims they have experienced pay discrimination due to their sex must show evidence that different wages were actually paid to opposite sex employees; that the employees in question were performing similar duties under similar working conditions at the time; and that the positions in question required equivalent levels of skill, effort, and responsibility.

women's pay 1960 to 2009Taken together, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII should protect the covered categories of employee from discrimination in wages, promotions, transfers, or job assignments on the basis of sex. Instead, these anti-discrimination measures have faced such strong resistance from employers and business interests that parity in wages has not yet been achieved, more than 50 years after the passage of the EPA.

The EPA was preceded by the National War Labor Board (NWLB), which was re-instituted during World War II and ran from 1942 to 1946. During World War II, women were entering the work force in greater numbers while the men were away fighting.

Norman-Rockwell-Rosie-the-RiveterAlthough women made up a greater part of the workforce, they were still being paid less than their male counterparts. The NWLB supported the unprecedented policy of equal pay for equal work because of the many negative impacts unequal wages had not only on the worker, but also on their financial situation and the community at large. In 1942, the NWLB urged employers to make, “adjustments which equalize wage or salary rates paid to females with the rates paid to males for comparable quality and quantity of work on the same or similar operations.” (Jaffee)

Unfortunately, since the NWLB was an advisory committee, backed by neither legislation nor the enforcement of law, they had little long-term success in implementing their recommendations. In fact, few employers heeded the NWLB’s call during the war, and after the war ended, the majority of women were summarily dismissed in order to create employment opportunities for the returning veterans. The briefly shining light of equality in working conditions, personified by the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, was also dimmed.

equalpay-finalUp until the 1960’s, want ads for men and women were categorized according to gender. Higher-paying jobs ran almost exclusively under the male category listings, while the lower paying and administrative “pink collar” jobs ran under the female category listings. In some cases, identical jobs would be advertised to both men and women, but with differing pay scales. From 1950-1960, full-time female workers earned an average of 59-64 cents for every dollar men earned in the same job. (The Wage Gap)

The EPA, though intended as a step toward income parity between men and women, was not comprehensive. It exempted women in administrative, professional, salesperson, or executive capacities from coverage, as well as domestic workers.

Nine years later, the Education Amendment of 1972 expanded the promise and protection of equal pay to women in white-collar professions by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to exclude the EPA from the professional workers exemption of the FLSA. This action extended the coverage of the EPA to white collar working women, but continued to exclude domestic and agricultural labor.

Since the EPA was passed, many employers have cited apparent loopholes in the law in order to defend disparate wages. One such loophole was closed in the Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co. case of 1970, when the court ruled that jobs need to be “substantially equal,” but not “identical” to fall under the protection of the EPA. This essentially means that if an employer hires two employees to do the same job, one male and one female, but gives the male a different job title than the female, they cannot pay based on the job title. They must pay based on the work itself.

In 1974, Corning Glass Works tried to defend paying their male employees more by arguing that men would not work for the low rates women would accept. This idea of a “going market rate” was deemed in violation of the EPA by the court’s decision in Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, and another loophole was closed.

Although the courts have frequently upheld the EPA, they have also ruled in direct contradiction to the intent and scope of the Act. A recent example is the 2007 case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.. The plaintiff, Lilly Ledbetter, was employed by Goodyear. After 19 years with the company, she was nearing retirement when she learned she was being paid significantly less than her male co-workers who held the same position. Ledbetter filed suit for pay discrimination under the EPA and Title VII.

The District Court found in favor of Goodyear on the EPA claim, stating that the EPA allows for pay differences based on merit. Ledbetter also said she had been evaluated unfairly due to her sex, and these unfair evaluations had contributed to the discriminatory pay. The District Court allowed this complaint under Title VII to proceed to trial.

Goodyear responded by stating their evaluations were non-discriminatory and focused only on worker competence, but the jury found in favor of Ledbetter after evaluating the evidence and testimonies. The District Court awarded her back pay and damages for the lost wages.

Goodyear appealed, arguing that because the 180-day statute of limitations had passed, Ledbetter’s case was void. The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with Goodyear, and reversed the District Court decision. Ledbetter then sought a writ of certiorari, which the Supreme Court granted. After hearing her appeal and Goodyear’s defense, the Supreme Court found in favor of Goodyear.

In his opinion, Justice Alito said Ledbetter could have and should have complained of the unequal pay within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck. He reasoned that because she had not complained and had continued to accept the lower-wage paychecks from Goodyear for the next 19 years, her complaint was invalid.

In an unusual move, Justice Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench. She felt the Court’s interpretation was “cramped,” and incompatible with the remedial purpose of the EPA. Ginsburg argued that pay discrimination tends to occur piecemeal over large periods of time, and the 180-day statute of limitations for discrimination complaints should not be applied as the Court was interpreting it. She also argued that pay discrimination differs from other forms of employment discrimination, as information about coworkers’ wages is usually unavailable for comparison. It is therefore extremely difficult to recognize pay discrepancies within the allotted 180-day time frame. Justice Ginsburg was supported by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer in her dissent.

In 2007, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was proposed to address the loophole exploited by Goodyear and signed into law in 2009. This Act revised existing law to say that if a present act of discrimination pertains, prior acts outside of the 180-statute of limitations for pay discrimination can be incorporated into the claim — essentially, the 180-day statute of limitations restarts with each paycheck.

Employers will always exploit loopholes, and the EPA still boasts a rather substantial loophole: An employer can defend their discriminatory pay practices if they can prove the disparity exists for a “legitimate factor” other than gender, such as experience, training, or education. Despite the apparently neutral language, this leaves a rather wide gap in the EPA through which an unscrupulous employer can squeeze a significant amount of savings at the cost of their female employees.

This is, without a doubt, a major contributor to why women in America are paid less on average than men. In 1960, women were paid 60 cents for every dollar men earned. After the passage of EPA and Title VII, the gender wage gap began decreasing by about half a cent per year, but persists even today. The National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) recently released their 2013 reports on the gender wage gap. Full-time American working women are paid a national average of 77 cents for every dollar paid to men; a 23 percent income gap. This only skims the surface of the vast income disparities between men and women in America as the NPWF explained:

“The wage gap varies by state and metropolitan area. In Wyoming, for example, women are paid 67 cents for every dollar paid to men, while in Vermont, women are paid 87 cents for every dollar. The wage gap persists in the country’s largest cities. It is greatest in the Seattle area, where women are paid just 73 cents for every dollar paid to men.” (“Fact Sheet” April)

Another factor affecting the gender wage gap is, unsurprisingly, race. On average, Black women in America are paid 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Latino men. American Latinas are paid just 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Latino men. The Simple Truth, a publication released by The American Association of University Women (AAUW), further elaborates on the impact of race and gender on economic inequality:

“. . . within racial/ethnic groups, African American and Hispanic or Latina women experienced a smaller gender pay gap compared with men in the same group than did white and Asian American women. . . . Because white men are the largest demographic in the labor force, they are often used [as a benchmark]. . . .”(Corbett)

Corbett goes on to elaborate that in comparison with white men, Latina women experience the largest pay gap at 59 percent of white male wages, while the salaries of Asian women show the smallest gender pay gap at 88 percent. Corbett also explains that intra-racial gender pay gaps is entirely due to the fact that Black and Latino men are paid substantially less than white men.

In other words, we still have a long way to go before achieving the promise of the Equal Pay Act of 1964. Despite the initial incremental gender wage gap improvements post-EPA, it has become increasingly apparent that wage parity will not happen any time soon without legislation to address existing loopholes in the EPA. In 2009 and 2012, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would uphold the EPA but add the requirement that it is the burden of the employer to maintain documentation supporting pay discrepancies, was proposed in Congress. Each time it was voted down. In January 2013, it was introduced once more to the Congressional Committee, and is currently under review. (H.R. 438)