Saturday, November 12, 2016

That Old Texas Miracle

It's a measure of just how far Texas is behind the times that its politicians have apparently never heard of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1935.

In the past few months, we've discovered that people are sweating out their lives doing jobs that, while not precisely menial, are paid so that the wage earners, using their own phones and cars, do piecework that pays well if the employee works at a frantic pace.

Two examples: An automobile-glass repair shop called Safelite, which does a lot of work for Geico, hires repairmen who drive to customers' houses to repair minor cracks in windshield glass. These employees have to use their personal cell phones to confirm appointments with clients. The man who came to our door spoke with the sort of yes-sir formality that hasn't otherwise been heard since the 1950s. After the repair we were practically buried in requests for surveys from both Safelite and Geico. Employees live or die by survey results, apparently. That means that any sumbitch customer can take out his or her bad mood on the most vulnerable of employees at will. Is the customer always right? You betcha.

Then there is the job of "foreclosure services"--driving around to check whether people are actually living in the properties they own. The pay is less than $10 per property. The key to making money at this soul-sucking job is to use a GPS to get to as many properties as possible as fast as possible. Visits to these properties include talking to people who live in the house. A chat with a homeowner facing foreclosure is not exactly like working for the census. Does the company have liability insurance? Yes--insurance that protects the company. The employee is on his or her own.

Not one job poster seems hesitant to include "reliable car" among job requirements.

A longstanding violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act is forcing by-the-hour employees to work overtime for no pay. That means that if an employee is overtaxed by cleaning up, say, a fabric store while customers are still in the shop, she still has to finish up the work after the customer leaves. The clerk is responsible for cleaning up, customer or not. The clerk is also responsible for every two-bit cheat who perpetrates a fraud at the cash register. People do this for fun. The clerk pays. Oh, and the FLSA? If you're earning minimum wage, you aren't going to get a 15-minute paid break for every four hours of work, nor will you get paid for the volunteer work you do in taking care of customers.

It's also the practice of such employers to hire multitudes of part-time clerks who then are pitted against one another for hours. This week it's 18 hours, next week it's 13 and a half. Retail does not make for a good second job, either--the schedule varies from morning to night in any given week.

Texas politicians crow for credit for creating jobs. After all, a 13-hour-a-week job is still a job. A race-to-earn, endanger-your-life piecework job is still a job. A job that puts you at the mercy of every customer you meet is still a job.

The Texas Miracle isn't job creation. That people are desperate enough to work such horrible jobs is the miracle. It's a miracle for skinflint employers.

This post is from 2012.

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