Tag Archives: jobs

TFW You’re Training the Worker That Will Take Your Job Away

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At The New York Times, Farah Stockman profiles manufacturing employee Shannon Mulcahy during her last year at Rexnord, a bearing plant in Indianapolis, Indiana that moved to Mexico for cheaper labor. As Mulcahy trains the Mexican men who will eventually take her job, Stockman posits that American workers are not only losing their livelihoods but also their identities — the pride and self-esteem accrued from the specialized manufacturing knowledge accumulated over decades at work.

Men had come and gone. Houses had been bought and lost. But the job had always been there. For 17 years. Until now.

Shannon and her co-workers had gotten the news back in October: The factory was closing. Ball bearings would move to a new plant in Monterrey, Mexico. Roller bearings would go to McAllen, Tex. About 300 workers would lose their jobs.

The bosses called it “a business decision.”

To Shannon, it felt like a backhand across the face.

For months, Shannon kept working as the factory shut down around her. She struggled with straightforward questions: Should she train workers from Mexico for extra pay or refuse? Should she go back to school or find a new job, no matter what it paid?

And she was forced to confront a more sweeping question that nags at many of the 67 percent of adults in this country who do not have a four-year college degree: What does my future look like in the new American economy?

She had always been proud of her job. When she ran into friends from high school, she told them she worked at Link-Belt, conscious of the envy it incited. Shannon was a legacy hire. Her uncle had worked at the factory since before she was born. Her sense of self-worth was tied to the brand. The bearings she built were top of the line.

She held onto that. “I still care,” she said last March. “I don’t know why. It becomes an identity. A part of you.”

For workers like Shannon, the factory’s final months were a time of reinvention and retribution. Of praying that Donald Trump would save them and arguing about why he didn’t. Of squabbling over whether to train their Mexican replacements or shun them. Of vowing that one day, the corporate bosses would realize that making bearings isn’t as easy as they thought.

Shannon could have given Tad the bare minimum of training, answering a few questions and collecting her pay. But just as Stan Settles had passed on his knowledge to Shannon, Shannon trained Tad as if he were one of her own.

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Disguised in Plain Clothes, but No Superman

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad, tariktolunay/Getty Images

Chris Wiewiora | Longreads | September 2017 | 13 minutes (3,328 words)

 

Zoe looks right through me as she boards my bus. She was one of my best public speaking students at Iowa State and admirably focused on social justice, but on the bus, she doesn’t give me a hint of recognition. David keeps looking at my rearview mirror as he sits by the door, trying to figure out how he knows me. He was a guy who skimmed along through the academics of class, but emanated a genuineness and care about his work. It’s been only a year since I taught them. I still know their last names and their final grades. Past semesters blur together for me the way that I must blur together, in the minds of these students, with the other drivers who pick them up at the park-and-ride lot by the Alumni Center and chauffeur them to campus.

I justify their blindness with what I think of as my disguise; my CyRide uniform of a tucked in polo and slacks is nothing like my daily teaching outfit of button-ups and unbelted jeans. Under my ball cap, I wear black-framed glasses now. But I’m not Clark Kent and I wasn’t a Superman.

I never felt like a superhero in my classroom and I don’t feel like an everyday driver on the road. After my contract expired, I chose to leave behind sitting in a desk chair in front of students. I was haunted by my inability to protect them, one particular afternoon, from a danger more fearsome than speaking in public. Now I hide behind the wheel of a bus.

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‘You Start Hiring Job-Quitters’

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When everyone is encouraged to think of herself as a business, working for anyone else can only ever be considered training ground.

As companies have divested themselves of long-term obligations to workers (read: pensions, benefits, paths to advancement), employees (read: job-seekers) have developed an in-kind taste for short-term, commitment-free work arrangements. Their aim in landing any given job has since become landing another job elsewhere, using the job as an opportunity to develop transferable skills — and then to go ahead and transfer. The appeal of any given job becomes how lucrative it will be to quit.

At Aeon, Ilana Gershon describes how this calculus of quitting changes workplace dynamics, management techniques, division of labor, and the nature of being co-workers. “After all,” Gershon writes, “everyone works in the quitting economy, and everyone knows it.”

If you are a white-collar worker, it is simply rational to view yourself first and foremost as a job quitter – someone who takes a job for a certain amount of time when the best outcome is that you quit for another job (and the worst is that you get laid off). So how does work change when everyone is trying to become a quitter? First of all, in the society of perpetual job searches, different criteria make a job good or not. Good jobs used to be ones with a good salary, benefits, location, hours, boss, co-workers, and a clear path towards promotion. Now, a good job is one that prepares you for your next job, almost always with another company.

Your job might be a space to learn skills that you can use in the future. Or, it might be a job with a company that has a good-enough reputation that other companies are keen to hire away its employees. On the other hand, it isn’t as good a job if everything you learn there is too specific to that company, if you aren’t learning easily transferrable skills. It isn’t a good job if it enmeshes you in local regulatory schemes and keeps you tied to a particular location. And it isn’t a good job if you have to work such long hours that you never have time to look for the next job. In short, a job becomes a good job if it will lead to another job, likely with another company or organisation. You start choosing a job for how good it will be for you to quit it.

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Your Inner Drone: The Politics of the Automated Future

Nicholas Carr | The Glass Cage: Automation and Us | October 2014 | 15 minutes (3,831 words)

 

The following is an excerpt from Nicholas Carr‘s new book, The Glass Cage. Our thanks to Carr for sharing this piece with the Longreads community.  Read more…

The Financial Reality of a $200,000 Book Advance

In 2008 I sold a book-in-progress for $200,000 ($170,000 after commission, to be paid in four installments), which still seems to me like a lot of money. At the time, though, it seemed infinite. The resulting book—a “paperback original,” as they’re called—has sold around 8,000 copies, which is about a fifth of what it needed to sell not to be considered a flop. This essentially guarantees that no one will ever pay me that kind of money to write a book again.

It took me a while to realize that my book had failed. No one ever told me point-blank that it had. It was more like the failure occurred in tiny increments over the course of two years, after which it was too late to develop a solid Plan B.

I spent some of the advance on clothes that no longer fit my body/life, but mostly I spent it on taxes—New York even has a city tax, on top of the state and federal kind—and rent. I lived alone for three years in Brooklyn, paying $1,700 a month ($61,200 all told) for a pretty but small one-bedroom within eyeshot of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway. I also spent $400 a month on health insurance. At one point I thought I would find another full-time job after finishing the book, but then I must have convinced myself that teaching yoga part time would better enable my writing. I also thought that I would immediately start another book, which I would sell, like the first, before I’d written half of it. In order to believe this I had to cut myself off from all kinds of practical realities; considering these realities seemed like planning for failure. In retrospect it seems clear that I should never have bought health insurance, nor lived by myself.

Emily Gould, in an essay from the anthology MFA vs. NYC, about the book business, personal and professional failures and the harsh financial realities of being a writer. Read more from Gould in the Longreads Archive.

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‘So What Do You Do?’: A Reading List

“So what do you do?” is one of the most commonly asked questions at parties. Here: four first-person accounts of folks working in different industries.

1. TSA Screener: “Dear America, I Saw You Naked.” (Jason Edward Harrington, Politico, January 2014)

Those full-body scanners? They don’t work. One TSA agent is speaking out.

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Reading List: Stories From the Working Class

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Emily Perper is a word-writing human for hire. She blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker.

I read a brilliant piece, “Zen and the Art of Cover Letter Writing,” that reminded me that I had not yet featured the stories of those suffering under the yoke of this abusive economy.

These are stories about injustice, about broken promises, about frustration and desperation and of course, debt. This is a list for anyone caught in a gross transition period, in a dead-end job, who is trying to make something, anything work out long-term. This is a list for anyone who has been told to “just find a job” or “you can do anything you set your mind to” or “your generation is so lazy/narcissistic/vapid.” This is a list for anyone who has been late on their rent, or hassled by credit card companies, or received overdue loan warnings. You’re not alone.

1. “Young, Multi-Employed, and Looking for Full-Time Work in San Francisco.” (Lucy Schiller, The Billfold, May 2013)

The Billfold is my go-to site for voyeurism, empathy, financial advice, and great storytelling. Schiller and her friends attempt to “ford the murky river of the hiring process” of self-employment, multiple part-time jobs and internships—anything but traditional full-time work.

2. “Retail Workers Need Rights, Too.” (S.E. Smith, This Ain’t Livin’, Febraury 2013)

Retail workers work long hours for practically minimum wage, with hidden physical and emotional abuses, few benefits, and intolerant leave policies.

3. “How She Lives on Minimum Wage: One McDonald’s Worker’s Budget.” (Laura Shin, Forbes, July 2013)

A single mother of four shares the harrowing experience of living on her part-time job’s minimum wage.

4. “‘We’ve Got Ph.D.s Working as File Clerks.” (Will Owen, The Washington Blade, June 2013)

The recently founded Association of Transgender Professionals (ATP) works to further transgender equality in the workplace in the U.S. and abroad. ATP helps trans* individuals prepare for interviews, apply for jobs, and find employment; it also assists companies in recruiting LGBTQ folks.

5. “The Burdens of Working-Class Youth.” (Jennifer M. Silva, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 2013)

Silva spoke to over a hundred working-class citizens in Lowell, Mass. and Richmond, Va. She found that education for working-class teens is no path to success; rather, these students have no one to advocate for them or explain the labyrinthine bureaucracy of higher education and financial planning, which ends in a dead-end of debt and frustration.

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How the U.S. lost out on iPhone manufacturing work, and what it means for the future of job creation in the United States: 

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

“Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class.” — Charles Duhigg, Keith Bradsher, The New York Times

See also: “The Untold Story of How My Dad Helped Invent the First Mac.” — Aza Raskin, Fast Company Design, Feb. 14, 2011

On modern manufacturing in the U.S. and the unskilled-skilled labor gap—with 92-year-old Standard Motor Products serving as a case study: 

Across America, many factory floors look radically different than they did 20 years ago: far fewer people, far more high-tech machines, and entirely different demands on the workers who remain. The still-unfolding story of manufacturing’s transformation is, in many respects, that of our economic age. It’s a story with much good news for the nation as a whole. But it’s also one that is decidedly less inclusive than the story of the 20th century, with a less certain role for people like Maddie Parlier, who struggle or are unlucky early in life.

“Making It in America.” — Adam Davidson, The Atlantic

See also: “The White House Looks for Work.” — Peter Baker, New York Times, Jan. 19, 2011

The parallels between the story of the origin of the Great Depression and that of our Long Slump are strong. Back then we were moving from agriculture to manufacturing. Today we are moving from manufacturing to a service economy. The decline in manufacturing jobs has been dramatic—from about a third of the workforce 60 years ago to less than a tenth of it today. The pace has quickened markedly during the past decade. There are two reasons for the decline. One is greater productivity—the same dynamic that revolutionized agriculture and forced a majority of American farmers to look for work elsewhere. The other is globalization, which has sent millions of jobs overseas, to low-wage countries or those that have been investing more in infrastructure or technology. (As Greenwald has pointed out, most of the job loss in the 1990s was related to productivity increases, not to globalization.) Whatever the specific cause, the inevitable result is precisely the same as it was 80 years ago: a decline in income and jobs. The millions of jobless former factory workers once employed in cities such as Youngstown and Birmingham and Gary and Detroit are the modern-day equivalent of the Depression’s doomed farmers.

“The Book of Jobs.” — Joseph E. Stiglitz, Vanity Fair

See more #longreads about the economy