Grit Nation - The Building Trades Podcast

Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work is Killing the American Dream - Jamie McCallum

December 27, 2021 Jamie McCallum Season 3 Episode 9
Grit Nation - The Building Trades Podcast
Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work is Killing the American Dream - Jamie McCallum
Show Notes Transcript

Today I have the pleasure of speaking with professor of sociology at Middlebury College, workers’ rights activist, and the author of two books on labor, Jamie McCallum

Jamie’s latest effort titled, Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work is Killing the American Dream; addresses the loss of agency the average American worker has in managing their work - life balance and why labor’s next big battle may not just be about wages but about time too. 

We’ll start our conversation by understanding the give and take relationship labor and management have shared over the ages and how this paradigm shifted from the agrarian task-based formula to a “time is money” model with the advent of clocks. 

Next, we’ll investigate the 1970’s resurgence of Corporate Class Power and how it has led to the extremes in income inequality we see today and how this resurgence has led to a dynamic which enables a CEO to make over 350 times what the average worker does. 

Later, we’ll discuss the triple threat that is unique to US workers and how over scheduling, under scheduling and volatile work hours contribute to work instability and why the American Dream is alive in well in other nations but is falling further away from the grasp of many Americans. 

 And we’ll finish our conversation by discussing why Jamie believes “we should redesign our economy so that trading most of our waking hours for money, isn’t the only pathway to a dignified life,”

The Show Notes

Jamie McCallum
https://www.jamiekmccallum.com/

Worked Over
https://www.basicbooks.com/titles/jamie-k-mccallum/worked-over/9781541618343/

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Joe Cadwell:

Welcome to Grit Nation. I'm Joe Cadwell, the writer, producer and host of the show and on this episode I have the pleasure of speaking with Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College, worker rights activist, and the author of two books on labor, Jamie McCallum. Jamie's latest effort titled Worked Over: How Round the Clock Work is Killing the American Dream, addresses the loss of agency the average American worker has in managing their work life balance, and why Labor's next big battle may not just be about wages, but about time too. We'll start a conversation by understanding the give and take relationship labor and management have shared over the ages. Now this paradigm shifted from the agrarian task based formula to a time is money model with the advent of clocks. Next, we'll investigate the 1970s resurgence of Corporate Class Power, and how it led to the extremes and income inequality we see today. And how this resurgence has led to a dynamic which enables a CEO to make over 350 times what the average worker does. Later, we'll discuss the triple threat that is unique to us workers and how over scheduling under scheduling and volatile work hours contribute to work instability, and why the American Dream is alive and well in other nations, but is falling further away from the grasp of many Americans. And we'll finish our conversation by discussing why Jamie believes we should redesign our economy so that trading most of our waking hours for money isn't the only pathway to a dignified life. After this episode, be sure to check out the show notes to help you dive deeper into the topic. And now on to the show. Jimmy McCallum Welcome to Grit Nation.

Jamie McCallum:

Thanks for having me.

Joe Cadwell:

Hey, thank you so much, Jamie, for taking your time to be on the show today. Before we get too much into your book, Jamie, I was hoping you could tell the listeners a little bit more about who you are.

Jamie McCallum:

Sure. I'm a labor sociologist at Middlebury College. So I study work labor, unions, social movements, American politics, stuff like that. And worked over is my second book that I finished last year, it came out during the pandemic. And I'm working on another one right now about the pandemic. Your first book was also kind of touched on labor unions in particular, didn't it? So my first book came out 2014, which was about global union organizing, so transnational campaigns in the United States, South Africa, India, and how workers in different countries in the same company organized to win global agreements, global contracts, basically. All right. And, obviously, grid nation, the average listener to my show, is a union member, we're in the building trades. And I know we have a particular interest in always understanding more about organized labor and and the history of organized labor, and how it helps the working middle class of our country and Canada be successful. And so worked over in particular is a book that addresses some of the the problems that are endemic to the working middle class in our country when they gonna say when they don't necessarily have a labor to look out for their best interest. And what can you tell us about worked over? So especially from a trade union standpoint, I think your listeners would be, if not already informed, you know, the average length of the working day declined for like a century in America 1412 10. A, that was basically through labor struggles, reformers, trade unions, protest movements, anti child labor, law, stuff like that. Eventually, you know, after a century, we all started working a lot less. And then we reverse course. And so my book starts at that point, basically, in the 70s, when the hours of labor began to reverse and climb back up again. And so basically, the early question of the book is, you know, why that happened? And why how it was that those set those gains decades of gains of shorter hours without a corresponding reduction in pay, how that was reversed. Sort of the starting premise of the book.

Joe Cadwell:

Sure, and we'll get a little bit into what happened in 1970. But initially, as we know, the industrial age brought a lot of focus on labor and people were just being worked almost like machinery. They were expected to perform six, seven days a week. As you said, 810 12 plus Just hours a day, there was no life work balance at all. And it was all at the expense of the workers. The the industrials, the capitalists were the ones that were truly profiting from this and the people that were working in these sweatshops, so to speak, were, you know, put in put in harm's way, both physically and mentally. They were enslaved to some extent. And so how did the labor movements in your understanding come to begin to push back against that? What were some of the significant catalystic moments that that transpired?

Jamie McCallum:

Well, so the history is interesting. So if you look back 100 years, it looks like a capitalist capitalism has drastically reduced our work hours. Like it looks like that, because we've because it because it has because we have reduced during that during that time. Like we work less than we did 100 years ago, we just work more than we did 40 years ago. But if you look much farther back, if you look, you know, 250 years ago, the situation was much different. Like the introduction of clocks, to the work to the workplace, for example, was a huge revolution, all of a sudden, people were expected to show up on time, you couldn't show up on time before, before, there was no clocks in the factories. So there were bitter disputes, and bloody battles over who controlled the clocks, because employers who control them routinely set them back in the middle of the day. And there was no way anyone had a watch, you know, so no one knew, you know, and so there were there were a huge battles, to control labor time to reduce it. And the introduction of the clock actually allowed. The, you know, prior to that, the hours of labor were rather, like, they were long, but they were lazy, like you showed up when the sun came up, you took a long break, you had Saint Monday, which was, you know, another another added day of the weekend, because you're too drunk to come to work. That was totally acceptable, you know. And so over time, the sort of bureaucracy and the rationality, of timekeeping, created a created a schedule that was much more rigorous, much more intense, and much more under boss's control. And so that history is left, left out of a lot of sort of the history of capitalism, and labor.

Joe Cadwell:

And I could see that I can see, you know, before the advent of clocks, before the Industrial Revolution, we were more of an agrarian society, you know, we set our clocks, so to speak, by the seasons, or perhaps by the task, you know, we worked field. So when the sun was shining, you made Hey, you know, when it was raining, you had those down times, right? When the cows needed to be milked? That was the expectation that was asking, right, as opposed to, you know, by the hour by the minute sort of oversight. So, so that's interesting that clocks really, you know, played into that.

Jamie McCallum:

Yeah. I mean, there's plenty of studies of people of early agrarian, even pre capitalist work sites, when employers would try to coach people to work more. And they'd say, Okay, well, we'll pay you more, if you work more. And what workers typically did was just to stop working after a certain point, because there is no need to make more money, you know, what are you gonna do, like with your money in, you know, whatever is 1600, you know, and there's nothing to buy. So, so, you know, there is a real like, bosses, right, we're in some ways, a disadvantage. And we typically, you know, today we think of us having, especially Americans, some sort of natural, you know, in born in a Protestant value system, that just is the reason why we work, the volatility of ours and, and the volatility of the work ethic throughout history, just shows that that's not true. We never really endorsed a work ethic at a, at the same rate, as we did, you know, four or five decades, before or after. So, so that can't be the reason why. I mean, as you know, we said alluded to earlier, the main reason why ours crept up was power of management, the main reason they eventually crept down was the power of labor. And then the reason why they crept up again, the 70s was, again, the power of management. So really, you know, there's an easy argument to make that whoever controls labor, controls time, controls, when you take a break, when you see your friends and family, how many days vacation you have, how long your weekend is, etc, etc. And that is for that has long been the case. So my book just really focused on the last wave of that, of that, you know, changing hours kind of stuff.

Joe Cadwell:

So management, they're controlling time and Labour started pushing back. And that's when we started having those bloody battles you talked about to get rid of child labor to earn the weekend, we fought hard for Labor Day, not only in the US, but around the world known as Mayday. And eventually labour started pushing back and making some significant gains. Right around the the era of post World War Two in the 50s. And 60s, sort of the romantic golden era of the United States. You know, you could have someone who had a, a nine to five job, single parent going to work, raising 2.4 Kids, the atomic family, having a car having time for vacations, and having a spouse who stayed home, all that slowly began to erode and dissolve. Coming into the 70s. And all as a footnote for the for the folks listening, that was that that golden era was sort of the height of unionism in our country. That's when unions represented about one out of every three workers in the US, and now come along the 1970s. What happened there, Jamie?

Jamie McCallum:

Well, so so the 70s was, it was a clear turning point. If you think of, you know, as you said, there's a there's a spike in labor union membership after the depression. The New Deal helped mean also you get the right to organize a union and the Wagner Act and 19, whatever 4638 and a half probably was 46. Yeah. And, and then you do see a kind of, you know, somewhat of a rise somewhat of a plateau, and the 50s. And the 70s attack really was about what's been called the restoration of class power. So it's common today, to think about capitalism, as a system as being dynamic and future looking and oriented toward growth, and whatever. And what the 70s really was about, actually, was a restoration of the sort of Gilded Age politics that characterized zero, the time Amelie before the Great Depression. And so you had an attack on unions, you had an attack on working family incomes are mostly male brothers read earning incomes, that sends women into the workforce, larger rates, all of a sudden, you have a system where, as you mentioned, a few minutes ago, a single earner household supporting a family is all of a sudden, predicated on well, a double breadwinner household who actually can still barely support a family so that, you know, women entering the workforce, to no fault of women, obviously, you know, did help to chip away at the kind of union, heavy, sort of, so people call social wage that was basically there to sort of, you know, the idea that a factory worker in 1971, could go to work 40 hours a week, and basically earn enough to support two kids and a wife, and send those kids to some some kind of college. Obviously, that situation was available mostly to white men, wages, wage differentials were such that blacks were sort of afforded some of it too, and black women had long words. So anyway, so as the power of business grew, and as the as government, increasingly sided with unions lost a foothold. And they increasingly began to bargain over declining wages and claiming benefits, Cleany health care, declining safety things, and what was left off of that agenda was time. You know, if you're all of a sudden, earning less, the well the only way to earn more, is to work longer. And it's really not, you know, I mean, the rich, the American elite, got wealthy by earning higher salaries, not by working longer hours, the American working class, you know, maintained sort of a standard of living only by working longer hours. And so there's a very different experience of the last 45 years of history in that regard. Whereas working people change their hours the most hiring people to not basically maintain their hours yet gain fortunes. And so, you know, the old adage that time is money is only half true like yes, time is money but it's not that the rich got more money by working longer hours. So you know, it's only time is only money for the American working class if we other people. Money is just Was his money, right? Like they, you they really made more money just by making more money. So. So it's impossible. You know, the average CEO earns, what 350 times, whether they're like a worker in their factory makes, you can't possibly

Joe Cadwell:

justify being worth 350 times more the decisions you made the work you do.

Jamie McCallum:

Yet that is sort of what, you know, classical macroeconomics tells us happened, that well, people turn their spare time into money. And somehow that you know, that we know it doesn't, that's not true. So there's this really interesting period of shifts, when they expose not only the weaknesses of labor to sort of secure shorter hours, but the weaknesses of sort of capitalist macroeconomics to explain what was really going on. And that to me, was a really interesting time for that reason.

Joe Cadwell:

Yeah, the income inequality has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, we're continuing to work longer, more hours, and not really showing the financial gains that you said that the, the 1% or even the 1/10 of 1%, I think is how it's broken down. Now that shows a significant economic gain in our country. So getting back to to your book worked over you, you started off in space, and he talked about the first strike that actually happened off the planet. And you were talking about the the astronauts was it 1973 that we're working on?

Jamie McCallum:

That was actually yeah, that was the heart of it. The time we're talking about Skylab, the Skylab strike. The only known to this point work stoppage and extra outside of the Earth's atmosphere. And basically, they struck because they were being forced to work 16 hour days, like, you know, what, I don't know anything about outer space, obviously, you know, but it seems to be the case that astronauts actually have pretty grueling schedules when they're up there, because they can't be up there forever. So NASA likes them to put in a lot of hours when they are up there. And, you know, for all kinds of safety reasons, whatever. But these guys were really worked to the bone. And they, you know, had, for whatever reason, that kind of humanistic sensibility. And they're like, look, we just want to chill out and look at Earth, and look at the sun or whatever. And, you know, they, as I said, in the book, they enjoyed an incredible amount of power. Because no one could tell them otherwise. Like, they were literally, you know, if your boss is looking over your shoulder telling you to, you know, work faster or whatever, do this do that, well, you have to do it. If they're in Texas, and you're, you're orbiting the Earth is really they have no power over you. So they, you know, they got what they wanted,

Joe Cadwell:

shut off the radio, they took a day off, and then they they fired it back up the next day.

Jamie McCallum:

Yeah, they got what they wanted. And it was not only about the hours to like they were being surveilled secretly, against, without the without, you know, they didn't know they were being surveilled. And so when Houston found out that they were being, I forget what it was, what their actual infraction was, whatever. They struck partly over the surveillance mechanism to and today, you know, it's a perfect metaphor, which is why I started the book, because today, workplace surveillance is like, yeah, it's gone gangbusters. The pandemic has only increased. And so it's a really big, you know, a major factor in all workplaces today. So,

Joe Cadwell:

yeah, that micromanagement we call it bird dogging out in the field, as we know, you can, there is sort of a peak performance that someone can give on a daily basis. And, you know, just being expected to to be at 110% all day long is really an unrealistic expectation.

Jamie McCallum:

You know, there's a lot of evidence that shows that like, when workers have more power on the job, like more stuff gets done in less time. There's a lot of arbitrary decisions that go into figuring out how long people quote unquote, have to work to secure whatever it is, you know, if you're told well, you have to work this long and this fast because we have this many customers in the in the store. If you're a grocery Sacher well, just you know, what happens if you work a little slower, or a little less like what really actually transpires? Right, like, you know, people wait an extra two or three minutes together to leave the grocery store. That's basically you know, and so the scheduling mechanism mechanisms by which people are scheduled today and put to work are, you know, pretty well, they're brutal for one thing in terms of their intensity, but they're also incredibly automated. And automation, you know, has its merits. But so far, few people can find out what they would be in a scheduling context. Now we're

Joe Cadwell:

using an algorithm to schedule people's lives that are denying them so have accessibility to pre established work hours I think is one of the the main premises of your book. And if I'm, if I can boil it down, you know into three different parts my understanding of have worked over the first part is we are being asked to work way too many hours. Okay. And it will I think, Jamie, it might be best that we just kind of address these one at a time once once I rattle them off. Oh, yeah, working way too many hours. The second one is that we have no control over our schedules. And then also sometimes we're actually being underworked, which seems like it'd be a little bit of a misnomer, Well, geez, if you're not working too much, and you're working less, but that can also be very frustrating for people that are trying to achieve medical benefits, and they're being kept right under the threshold of enough lower. So now, they're not making very much they're working less hours. Now. They're having to find themselves two to three jobs in order to make ends meet. Does that sound about right? In a nutshell?

Jamie McCallum:

Yeah. Yeah, that sort of triple threat is sort of the dilemma that workers, you know, the working class anyway face today. And, you know, if we've talked about the longer our stuff, the the scheduling variability, really is mostly mostly related to service work, I would say, although it's expanding a little bit. You know, the, the idea of a nine to five job is like slowly becoming an antiquated sort of standard. It's, you know, I think probably, I think I said somewhere that two thirds of American workers now work well, what would have been considered a, you know, variable schedule 40 years ago. In other words, they work outside nine to five, they work before nine, after nine, or after five, they work weekends, they work night shifts, you know, hundreds of 1000s of people work during the middle of the night, you know? And, and if

Joe Cadwell:

you include the intrusion of technology into our lives with emails, text and mobile phones, and yeah,

Jamie McCallum:

yeah, so So that whole picture paints a thing in which people's schedules are disrupted, and it's often, you know, said that they are that they vary, or something and it's like, well, they vary, but it's not like the weather, like there's, you know, they're they're set up to vary, you know, they're set up to be unpredictable. And because, you know, like, for the best example, this is Jamba Juice, Jamba Juice uses incredible algorithm to schedule its workers. So for example, during the rain, people don't want to stop and get a smoothie, or whatever it is that Jamba Juice sells. And so they will stay will cut people from their ship, the middle of the shift, beautiful sunny day, you're saying you'll be here all day, you know, and if you don't, there's 20 other people who would take your, your job, and so so that that scheduling problem is, you know, is a real thing that has been the main way that workers have sort of fought back about time. The other one you mentioned is the insufficient hours, what economists call involuntary unemployment has been, it's actually been decreasing, but it's nonetheless, still very, very high. Which is the amount you know, the amount of people who are unemployed, who would rather be working more more hours. And, of course, you know, what most people want is not more hours, but more money. Like, you know, the solution is really not just to employ people more but to raise wages. And so that, you know, that is the is the real thing, people always say, Oh, well, these people over here, you know, you said that they were too much beat, you feel over here, well, more hours, it's like, well, sure, you make $9 an hour, of course you want more more, you want more of everything, right? But it's like that's not in the long term. That's a real viable solution in my opinion.

Joe Cadwell:

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Jamie McCallum:

so she was a she's a Portuguese immigrant who worked in northern New Jersey at three different Dunkin Donuts restaurants. She, you know, would sometimes work back to back to back shifts at that rate of pay because still barely keep up with rent on her New Jersey apartment where she shared with her partner and two kids. His kids actually. And eventually, when she was she used to sleep in her car between shifts, and she left the car running to keep the stay warm. And she died. It was a 14 of carbon monoxide inhalation while sleeping at a Wawa convenience store parking lot. And you know, so for a while, Maria became sort of a symbol of a problem like overwork under pay in the richest company or country. Freudian slip and the richest country in the world. And so then, of course, all these stories came popping up. Well, there were other people like her. There were you know, there were gig workers who were who were basically just, you know, working themselves to death, there were interns that, you know, white collar establishments who thought that, you know, the only way to get ahead was just more hours, more hours more hours. And the sad fact about Maria's life in many ways, I mean, she had no union, union officials promised in her wake some legislation or some, whatever, and nothing materialized. And, you know, she, she basically did die in vain, there was no great surge of interest after two or three weeks of her story, which is why I, I wanted to highlight it. You know, the cup, incidentally, the cover of the book, you know, has a picture of a car parked in his empty parking lot under a lamp, which I did not design the cover, I can only imagine it's a reference to that story. I've heard? Yeah, yeah. So. So it was a powerful moment, but didn't, you know, nonetheless, for whatever reason, did not provide any real meaningful reform in her wake. And it was interesting, because, you know, my book came out September of 2020. And I thought that well, a book that argues, we should all work less, at a time when like 45 million people were unemployed, was going to be a real, it was not going to go over well seems

Joe Cadwell:

a little tone deaf.

Jamie McCallum:

Exactly. It turns out, however, that every problem that existed before the pandemic, was just exacerbated during the pandemic, including the fact that people have zero control over their working lives. And the fact that there has there was, and has been a kind of general reassessment of the, of the sort of inherent value of work. And there's been a lot of people have come out of the pandemic and said, Look, you know, essential workers, you know, we're not exactly willing volunteers to sacrifice their lives during, during 2020 and 2021. And if there's anything that comes out of this, what we need to remember is that like living a dignified life, and being safe for you, and your family should not be contingent on working 40 to 50 hours a week, like there has been a way in which the, you know, legit proposed legislation in the four hour in the four day week, and other things, has been an outcome of the pandemic, in a way that frankly, I didn't even anticipate before. So I thought, you know, that was kind of interesting. And, you know, and all the reforms that tie health care and well being and whatever else to work, you know, our, our, I think we're proved to be pretty bankrupt by the pandemic, which is sort of what inspired me to write the next book.

Joe Cadwell:

And and I know that obviously, the pandemic is a global pandemic and talking, you know, going back just a moment about the richest nation on the face of the earth. How does the US stack up against other countries, European countries, the France the Germany's of the world, the Japan's of the world how, how our is our schedule, Different honor system different than theirs?

Jamie McCallum:

Well, I mean, every time you suggest in America that you should work less, they accuse you of being like a lazy European dandy, who just like wants to, you know, you know, whatever on the job and you know, get a long weekend, because the Germans and the French and the Canadians and the Italians work a lot less than we do. Like, I think we work about two months, more per year than do the Germans. About the same for France. What's What's interesting is that the 40 hour work week has not changed, like, most like those of us who do work a 40 hour work week, tend to work that way. What's changed is the amount of weeks we work per year. So which drastically reduces the kinds of vacations you can take, and the kinds of like big chunks of time you can take off.

Joe Cadwell:

And anybody familiar with that, too, having lived in Sweden for four years, we would get six weeks off a year paid vacation, and typically, you know, in Sweden, people would take that off during the summer, so the entire country would shut down for that period of time. Yeah,

Jamie McCallum:

exactly. Right. Exactly. Yeah. Like if you're, you know, I live in Switzerland for a while, if you can't shop on a Sunday, you know, there's no, it's nothing to do no one's because everyone else is off to you know, which is sort of obviously, basically the way it should be, you know, why would I live in Switzerland, they were like, I don't know how you guys do it in America, all that those hours. And you know, if you only get a short vacation time, you must have to use to see your family. And that's all you get, right? I'm like, Yeah, basically. And like, what do you do on the weekends? I'm like, Well, I just catch up on work, you know, and like that, you know, that's horrible. And they talked about Americans the way Americans sort of talk about, you know, the Japanese, or whatever. It turns out, the Japanese hours aren't actually that much more than the Americans. So they literally have a word for death by overwork, which called karoshi, and many in many contexts, urban, urban context, our hours are very comparable to theirs. So, you know, and and mid century, we work less than the Germans and the French, actually, you know, so there's been this historic sort of re reshaping of that. And, you know, as you can derive the Europeans for being lazy, all they want, they're not poor, though,

Joe Cadwell:

GDP is pretty significant. And they have a higher, right.

Jamie McCallum:

You know, there's, there's a complicated there's a, there's a graph in the book that that basically shows the relationship between how much you would, how much higher you would expect the American Standard of living to be based upon our work hours, if you sort of normalize things with it with European countries. And, you know, we should, you know, in other words, if we had the sort of GDP, just standard of living ratio, as Germans do, but we worked as many hours as we do in America, like, we'd be filthy rich, you know, but we're not, because we're not getting paid for the time that we should be. And so, you know, I, I'm supportive of the of the legislation of our four day work week and her reduction in working hours, that that's important. But those reforms won't come from the top down. They never have in American history, and they will only come from, you know, people fighting for time off. And I think part of that struggle will be a parallel struggle for better wages, like you need to both increase wages and decrease time, at the at the same moment, or else, you know, that, that movements not going to work. So it

Joe Cadwell:

sounds like a bottom up organizing campaign by the American worker to pressure employers to understand and value labor so that we can, again, recapture the balance that we had, not that long ago, back.

Jamie McCallum:

Yeah. Right. I mean, if if suppliers say, look, the price of our supplies has gone up, company will say, Oh, great, we'll pass on the consumers. And they'll say Mo, the price of our products has gone up. And consumers will say, Okay, well, we'll adjust our behavior accordingly. If workers say, Oh, guess what the price of our labor goes up, like management loses their mind. You know, it's like, it's just not there's not there's no way for American workers to win the argument over over the minimum wage. We have what is ostensibly sort of the most progressive policy regime in recent American history right now. The minimum wage is 725. It should have tripled, should have tripled 10 years ago, but whatever. And so we had this incredibly lukewarm milk toasts sensibility about well, you know, blah, blah, blah. But uh, but you know, until workers really figure out a way to sort of push for shorter shorter time, it's not going to happen. And it's very hard to do that. Like if you spent all your time negotiating over healthcare during a union contract negotiation, which is vitally important. Well, wages and hours are going to stay the same. Which is exactly why we need universal health care. You know, if workers did not I mean, already, healthcare is a driver of longer hours, because, as you said a few minutes ago, to qualify for health care, you have to work a minimum number of hours, and increasingly, to get you know, where America is weird because most advanced capitalist countries do not base their healthcare plans on the ability to work 35 hours a week. We are very anomalous in that regard. And so of course, people work longer hours to qualify for health care. And of course, everyone knows employers know that if we got free health care, universal care state funded, well, they will lose their powerful leverage, come bargaining time to say, Oh, we're going to dangle healthcare cuts over you. What are you going to do? Of course, people are going to capitulate. So that's why in this book, actually, the next book, healthcare reform, sort of Allah, Bernie Sanders is a central demand to win. Because it's such a, like a wedge. It's such a key factor not only in securing basic human dignity, but also in pushing for forms that would then if it continued long after we won that,

Joe Cadwell:

in your opinion, Jamie, do you think the current state of labor in America is reflective of this sort of disgust and dissatisfaction with with the current way things are just and I say, you know, they're, they're just companies now having to hire or put out incentive bonuses to hire on and there's just more, more and more folks not willing to go to work, it seems like than ever before? And is that a pushback saying, Well, I'm, I'm more than willing to go to work, but not for these slave wages that seem to be, you know, stuck in stuck decades ago, the minimum wage jobs? And so it seems like there's a lot of push to, to hire people, there's just not enough people wanting to work. What What's your take on why that is?

Jamie McCallum:

Well, so there's two things. So the, there's no real labor shortage in most industries, you know, there's a surplus of shitty jobs, which is, which is different, right? If I have $500, then there's no shortage, you know, it just means I can't buy one, if I have five or $2,000, all of a sudden, there's a yacht surplus, they're all available to you know, and so it works the same way with labor, there is a there is a labor shortage in restaurants. Like we just we have an economy that can't sustain the amount of restaurants that we had before with the kind of labor practices that we have before. Because those jobs just pay too little. I mean, the tip, the tip, federal minimum wage is $2.35 an hour, you know, once you factor in community times and sexual harassment, and shitty bosses, and customers, like, there's just, there's no going back, those people are not going back until you until you triple or quadruple some of those federal tipped wages. However, the panic over the fact that we're having to raise wages, finally, just to get people to work in certain jobs. I mean, it's like, that's what that's just like, the formula for capitalist macroeconomics says like, if you're if you're a freshman at college, and you go into a an economics course. And you say, Well, how are you going to attract people to your business? The teacher just says you just raise wages. That's, that's what you do. Like, luckily, Encap The only good thing actually about capitalism is that we have a ready made way to deal with the labor shortage, you raise wages, until people are working for them. And right now, we're still not doing that. The other factor in this, which people I think neglect, is if you simply go on the Census Bureau website, they have a very clear data point, that ask people every week, every year, why are you not working this week. And during the pandemic, far and away the most dramatic, most popular responses are that you're caring for a loved one, you're caring for a sick one, you're caring for a kid without child care, or you have COVID. And once you combine all those things, it's pretty obvious that people are not working because they don't want to work anymore. They're not working because they have caregiving responsibilities, which are still keeping them out of the workforce. You know, in Vermont, where I am like we have a decent situation, but like tons of daycare centers closed during the pandemic, and I've never If you have a one to three year old as I do, it's very hard to find daycare. And what you do find is very, very expensive. So if you work in a grocery store, it does not pay to go to work. Like it's better off to stay home with your kids. And so there's an important relationship here, I think between sort of a care economy and low wages that are keeping people from entering the labor market, I think that has nothing to do with like, a work ethic or wanting to work or whatever it is,

Joe Cadwell:

right. So it seems like a significant sea change is needed to shift the paradigm to begin to, to start paying people what they are worth making it, incentivizing them through wage and through this, you know, dependable scheduled hours. And, again, coupled with universal health care, there's so many things that we can do to sort of overhaul the system to, to regain the American dream to some extent. That's right. So if someone's read your book, Jimmy, what do you hope they come away with,

Jamie McCallum:

so what I hope they come away with is that we are all better off, if we're all better off. Basically, what I mean by that is that, you know, the old labor adage, like an injury to one is injury to all, it really is true. If, you know, from an hour standpoint, if truckers and Amazon delivery people and are working insane hours was going to be more accidents, and at some point you will be driving on the road, when those people are also on the road. And that's a danger to all of us. If we are underpaying people as we do, for example, in nursing homes, well, then nursing home workers are going to go to work at multiple homes, and they're going to spread COVID to all of our family members, which is exactly what happened during the pandemic. And, you know, like our conditions of life, are contingent upon people at the, at the bottom of the sort of economic hierarchy, having good working conditions. And so there's always a thing where the right is like all about self interest. And the left is like, no is collective interest, whatever it's like, I don't I think that paradigm is total bullshit. Like it's, we have you all have a self interest in working class people having as much power and as they can possibly get, because it makes our it makes everybody's life better. Whether or not you hold those jobs or not, you know, we all have to eat. Right? If packinghouse workers are treated like crap, and forced to work through a deadly pandemic, for no wait for low wages, our food's gonna be dirty, contaminated, which it was, you know. So it's like the food supply was threatened him in America, that's insane. You know? So I just think that, you know, once you get to the end of this book, long hours and underpay and workers without any power leads to it's a it's a it's a diminished society. I mean, you can have what what good are? What could our national parks if you have no time to enjoy them? Like, what's the point of democracy, if you can't have Tuesday off to vote? You know, it's like, we really have to think about the ways that we, as a society, we are crippled, when, like long hours and insufficient and Variable schedules and whatever else, like dictates all that we do. And there is like, oh, a world to be there's a change, we're all in the future, where we enjoy a similar standard of living. And we work half as much. And we put all our productivity gains into financing new technology that can save the most arduous labor. And paying people at the bottom of the income bracket. I mean, like, you know, people always say, Oh, well, technology, technology, all the stuff it's like, it's like, well, the gains of technology have been kept at the top. Right. And so actually, the ownership of robotics, and the router, the ownership of labor, saving technology is an incredible obstacle to having that technology be used as widely as possible. But tons of workers out there who are like, I would love to automate this part of my job, you know, Could someone please we don't actually automate jobs. We automate tasks, right? It's like no one automates an entire job. Like you automate you automate tasks. So like, you know, when we when we automated bank tellers, and we got cash machines in the 80s Bank telling jobs went through the roof. They work, they weren't automated out of existence, you know, because they found other work. There's other things to do in that, in that job, they audit, they automated, the least desirable and shittiest part of that work. And the problem is, is that wages are so low right now, is that there's no incentive to automate really bad paying jobs. You know, we often think about, you know, the, at the end of my book, both books like mine, and the chapter called The Future of Work, every book that came out in 2018, and there was a chapter called that. And they all talk about shining robotics factories and Twitter, and whatever else if Elon Musk having his own would have, and what we should picture when you picture, the future of work, is a woman of color in scrubs working for $9 an hour, that is the future of work, you know, eight out of the 10 fastest growing jobs are basically a different way of saying the word nurse. And the aging

Joe Cadwell:

demographics that the baby boomers are getting to that point where they're going to need care, a huge demographic.

Jamie McCallum:

And so we're all screwed, those people have crappy jobs. And, you know, I think the pandemic illuminated a moment where that was true, or, you know, essential workers got a little a little love for a while, and they got a couple of dollars an hour raise here to there. And actually people, the American working class have more savings than they did today. Before the pandemic. Oh, that's great. Like, we should keep going with that. Right. And we should reform unemployment, unemployment insurance is a complete, like, it's a complete laughingstock, you know,

Joe Cadwell:

and you see unions playing into the future of work, Jamie?

Jamie McCallum:

Well, I mean, unions are essential, almost like, you know, if, if so I did, my recent research project was on workplace safety, right. If you compare a union hospitals, you get a nursing homes and non union nursing homes, unionized nursing homes, have better conditions, better wages. And guess what, fewer people died of COVID. Both who were residents and were workers. Like that is an astounding fact, like unions save lives in 2020. And unions were the main force that mitigated long hours and low wages in American in America, if you want real, like real democracy starts with economic democracy. And if you want an economic democracy, you have to have workers have a voice in the job. And the only way to do that, unfortunately, is to give them a union. So when people say we should raise the wage, all these things are true, we should do first and foremost is give people the right to easily form a union when they want right now 64% of Americans, so they

Joe Cadwell:

they approve, it's huge unions

Jamie McCallum:

of Americans have, that's a pretty big sign that something is wrong, right. And so it's like, we should at least give people what they want, at the very least. And so unions are absolutely, you know, probably the primary avenue by which workers will make gains and safety hours, health care, wages, etc. And that's

Joe Cadwell:

where bills like the ProAct of 2021 are so important in protecting the rights of people who want to organize. And then we have some of the corporate elites like the Jeff Bezos with Amazon, doing everything they can to put the hammer down and keep people from organizing and asking for better working conditions. Right? Again, no one's advocating to be lazy, we just want to be adequately compensated adequately scheduled, given the hours to build a life around while making the richest person in the world even richer, and we're not asking for more than just our fair share.

Jamie McCallum:

Yeah, right. Yeah. I mean, the ProAct would be a great start. You know, it's people, it's easy to forget that, like, at the pinnacle of liberal policymaking, the New Deal was the center of American politics, like there was a right flank, there was the New Deal. And then there was the left flank. And today, we think of things like, you know, a green New Deal as being this like, utopian vision of whatever it's like, the real, the real day dream is that we can go on like this forever. That is the that is the naive daydream, because Absolutely, we cannot. And like this, you know, policy reforms, like a green New Deal, like Medicare for all, like that we would be driven by reforms based on the ProAct are necessary. The fact that the ProAct will not pass is bad. But it won't, that doesn't mean that there aren't other things we can do sort of in the meantime, the sky does not fall, but we have to really, you know, you know, boast or keep our eyes on the prize, and understand that, you know, midterm or mid level reforms will have to be probably the way we go for the next couple of years.

Joe Cadwell:

Right. And again, it's an embarrassment for the richest nation on the on the face of the earth. They have been Living under blue tarps. I mean, I here in Portland, it's just ridiculous how, how far off base we've gotten from the American dream when you see veterans and you see the mentally ill and you see people that, you know, just weren't able to keep on the treadmill that yeah, continue to move faster and faster and got spit out now we live under, you know, under a cardboard box or a blue tarp. And, and again, we don't have the social safety networks because we've allowed rampant capitalism to just dictate the terms for the working class of our country. And it's, it's truly sad,

Jamie McCallum:

right? I mean, the word of the American Dream appears in my book title that which I did not write. And I did not write a lot about the phrase in the book. But except to say that, you know, it's alive and well, in Denmark, right, like, upward mobility, like hard work pays off in some places. And the idea that your kids will have a better job, and you will, is alive and well, and a lot of European social democracies, not here. And, I mean, I'm Gen X, and like, my generation was the first generation in a long time, whose economic prospects will did not see those my parents will annuals and Gen Z are even more screwed. And, you know, I teach those kids I'm around with kids all the time. And they have, you know, I mean, Grant ICT elite ones, but a lot of them don't really have the kind of hope and optimism about securing a job that they like, that they think will, will benefit them in the long run. Like they're currently grasping at straws. And it's a sad commentary on the country that allegedly sort of invented the work ethic, you know. So, so I do think you know, that the American Dream is worth thinking about, you know, as as a starting point. And then figuring out where we can, where we can, where we can go from there,

Joe Cadwell:

where we can take the future of work. And if you're a union member, listening right now, is no better time than ever to understand value and begin to protect your union because we have so much to lose, if our union should go away. Again, I mentioned it earlier that back in the the golden era of unions, one in three people across the US were in a union now it's one in 16. So they have been chipping away at our our quality of life and our standard of living for quite a while and we cannot let that last bastion of defense fall. Jamie, this has been a fantastic conversation. If people are interested in learning more about your book and your work wherever they go.

Jamie McCallum:

They can buy the book wherever you buy books. I never send people to Amazon, but everyone knows that's where you buy books. I'm on Twitter at Jamie Kay McCallum and I'm easily findable on the web. You can shoot me an email.

Joe Cadwell:

All right. Well, thank you so much for taking your time to be on the show. I look forward to talking to you in the future when you get your your third book written. And thanks again.

Jamie McCallum:

Cool. Thanks so much for having me.

Joe Cadwell:

My guest today has been Jamie McCallum author of

Worked Over:

How Round the Clock Work is Killing the American Dream. To learn more about Jamie his books and his message. Be sure to check out the show notes on your smart device or on the web at BuildNW.org/podcast. There you'll find more information to help you dive deeper into the topic.