Labor Day

September 1, 2008

My day to post this entry will be Labor Day. That’s a day set aside to celebrate the labor movement and workers’ rights. It’s also a day many people see as the official end of summer – at least the more relaxed vacation season. For many it’s the start of the year, since school is back in. It’s back to work time! What a rich irony for those of us who are creating work around our lives instead of fitting our lives in around work.

Our older son has gotten an after-school job at the local grocery store. He has soccer practice and games (I think I’ve mentioned that a time or twenty) that limit his availability so he’s tried to be very clear about when he’s available to work. His one certainty was that he wouldn’t work on Sunday. It’s a family day and it’s very often a soccer game day so it was off the table.

When he checked his schedule for the week on Saturday it was the same as the previous week. He saw it while working that evening. When he came home he said he would have to go up after his soccer game Sunday to change it because of soccer practice conflicts. When he got home from his game on Sunday around 5:00, he had a voice mail on his phone saying he was scheduled to work from 3:00 to 11:00. He quickly showered and rushed off to work without any food – he hadn’t eaten since around noon on the way to the game – and without the chance to have water or a sport drink with him at work.

I don’t want my son hating his job. I want him to be treated with some basic respect and decency and I want him to connect earning money with his goal of having his own car. I even want him to see the value of increasing his earnings through education and specialization and entrepreneurship. But I don’t want him to hate this job!

We told him that, if they don’t get the schedule worked out where he won’t be working right after he’s been playing soccer, he’s going to have to quit the job. The scheduler said what she was told about his availability and what he told the manager during his interview were different, but it’s straightened out now. In one week of a part-time job he’s experienced the essence of the drudgery of corporate America. Poor communication, insincere commitments, and passing the buck so the lowest guy on the ladder carries the responsibility of other people’s mistakes. Eureka!

My wife told me many people she’s talked to in the past few months who have high school and college age kids working report similar stories. Their sons and daughters are given schedules that don’t match what they’ve said they’re available to do, and they’re expected to work or they’ll risk losing the job. A friend of mine has been hearing similar stories, as well.

I’m getting feisty! The labor movement brought significant improvements to the workplace, but it’s still a workplace. The sense of an adversarial relationship between employees and supervisors lives on in too many places. Even a high paying job with great benefits is still “a gilded cage,” as my friend Henry says.

I have a renewed passion for spreading the American revolution by helping people find their calling, discover how they bring value to other people, and make their living doing something they love. Whether that’s a creative job with a lot of freedom, self-employment, a small business, or multiple profit centers, it’s freedom from being treated like a number. It’s the freedom to respect what we do, and to work with honor and dignity. It’s the freedom to own our own work and take charge of our lives. The ultimate labor movement is entrepreneurship!

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey

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