Friday, March 16, 2007

Employment, Fairness and Opportunity

I just got done reading a friends blog a minute ago. I honestly didn't know quite where to start to even begin to respond to her. But before I go on, let me set the scene.

My friend is a bright, loving, funny and intelligent person. She loves computers, she is well read. She's probably taken more college courses than I have - and in subjects that I couldn't pass even if the teacher spotted me 30 points. She also happens to be legally blind (she has sight but requires some pretty serious glasses to be able to see not even quite adequately) and requires a walker (just like the one my mom has) to get around well.

Well, this friend works for people referred to her as a housekeeper as way to supplement her virtually non-existent income from the government. Which, because of what her medicine costs - and because the government covers it, is the place she is currently in.

Awhile back, my friend mentioned to me that she scored a cat sitting gig for someone. So I thought, cool! And I was genuinely happy for her. During the course of our conversation, she mentioned what she was getting per DAY. So I thought, hmmm, that doesn't sound right and I did some quick research. Turns out that what she was making a day is less than what a cat sitting company makes a VISIT. Not a long visit, just a visit. An hour visit is worth even more, and let's just say that the day rate a cat sitting company gets is about 10 times what my friend's rate is. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. However, I really didn't want to rain on my friends parade. She LOVES animals. She loves to hang with them, groom them, feed them - you name it. Of course, given her experience with most humans, I completely understand the reason why she likes animals. At least the animals don't act like complete A*HOLES to her. But I semi-digress.

Recently, my friend informed me that she was going to be cat sitting again. Of course, I'm happy for her. I'm thrilled really. It's exciting to see that she's doing stuff and that for her, she's got a fairly good gig. But man, the fact that she was only getting what she was getting per day was just PISSING me off. I felt like the people that she was sitting for were taking advantage of her. I felt like it was unfair. And, let me say un-categorically, in my view that hasn't changed. I do; however, have a much better understanding of my friends view - and very possibly her employers view.

To whit, and to be short. My friend's view is that being blind and/or disabled, she constantly gets screwed, employers are willing to get someone else to fill her position in a heartbeat, and she has to take what she can get and be happy. Of course, considering that she is paid cash and her job competition is the huge pool of illegal aliens in the area she lives in, I can see her concern.

The employers (both whom seem to be older, one a senior and the other older than me at least), aren't as much doing what they are doing for their pet as much as they're saving some money AND doing something that benefits their pet. If they can't save money from putting the animals in a kennel - it's not worth it to them. OK. That's their choice. Of course, being older, they have a different view of money too. Like my mom for instance, who thought she was getting screwed because the guy (who did the job as a favor for my brother and worked dirt cheap) was charging her $16 an hour. Yah. Well, my dad never made more than $10 an hour, so you can understand where she was coming from. And while my friend's employers know money better than that - they didn't get houses in the area where they live without doing fairly well for themselves - they still know the value of a buck.

Before I go on to the rest of the story, I also want to say that her main employer treats her very well and pays her pretty fairly as a housekeeper. She pays her hourly - which is great for my friend - rather than by the job, and she pays her at a more than fair rate for unskilled labor (like, a tad more than the roofer got at my mom's house). I want to be clear on that. As far as that goes, it's pretty good.

Back to the rest of the saga. It seems, unfortunately, that my sense of justice and wanting to let my friend know (in my opinion) she was getting screwed caused a major meltdown and threatened to send her into a depression. This was something that I was concerned about, and it was the reason that I approached the conversation so carefully. For example, I didn't say "Hey friend, do you know that you're getting taken advantage of?" It was more along the lines of, "Just checking, but do you happen to know what cat sitting rates in your area are?" Of course, as soon as she saw the rates - she filled in the first sentiment herself, and as I mentioned this caused her a good deal of distress - which of course I never intended. Ah, you know the old saw "the best laid plans of mice and men..."

So, needless to say when I saw my friends blog I was oh, I dunno. I can't say I was upset, because I wasn't. I can't say I was stunned, because I've known my friend for going on two years now and I get how she responds to things. I can say that I was disturbed. Not because my friend was upset, but because how the SYSTEM in general has beat her down and convinced her that she should only take what she can get. Yes, you heard me.

My friend is someone with passion, and in her earlier days she fought the great government dragon for truth, justice and the right way. Hell no, not the American way, who's government do you think I'm talking about? And, during that time she was shat upon. And that my friends is NOT right.


My friend's upbringing was a little traumatic (understatement), and because of that she is still working at "normalizing" her responses and understandings of some of the world. And this is where I think she is having a misunderstanding. In her blog post she ranted about the unfairness of society to disabled people. And, I can't say she is completely incorrect. What I can say is that MY FATHER WAS DISABLED. So, I'm familiar with what that means. True, my dad worked as a disabled person that wasn't acknowledge as disabled until he retired as a disable veteran. So, he didn't have that discrimination to deal with. But you know what? He had just as much discrimination to deal with as any disabled person or person of color, especially being of Italian heritage at the time he grew up.

My dad was discriminated against because he was a filthy wop - as was my mother. Even in the private school my mother went to (no, my grandparents weren't rich, my grandfather was a taylor who worked hard and scraped to make ends meet, but they sent my mom to the local catholic school), they were happy to take my grandparent's money - then treat my mother like dog crap. Unfortunately, in the 1960s it wasn't much different where I grew up. I was picked on virtually my entire grammar school experience because I was Italian. High school I was just picked on because I was short and fat - thankfully I finally fought my way through that crap by my senior year though.

So, here is where my friend's understanding breaks down a bit. I don't think that she realizes what all of us - regardless of race, color or disability - go through to get where we are. In part of her post she talks about her very bright friend who graduated with a 3.9 gpa and got interviewed by the CIA - but was rejected because he was blind. So now he sits living as a ward of the state, in his bedroom, in his parent's house, and eating himself to death. Hang on, let me get the fiddle out.


So, because he was rejected by one agency, by one company, he quit? What's with that? And, so what if he contacted more than one job. Why did he quit? Does he think that any of us - maybe with the exception of some people that go to Harvard or Yale and are born with a silver spoon in their mouth - don't get rejected? Can I tell you how many jobs I applied for before I got my first job in computer science? Or how long I had to wait? And back when I was looking for my first job, there was no internet. There was no virtual market. I went out and pounded the pavement. Company to company. I remember many days going to a city and going in and out of buildings, filling out application after application. Hitting every company in an office tower, and every company I could get to in a particular district. In a suit. During the summer. Carrying around a briefcase. Making call after call. Sending out resume after resume - the old fashion way - by TYPING them and using real paper envelopes. Was it easy? No. Did it work? HELL NO. It took me over a year to get a job and that was only because I had someone I went to school with refer me!

But here's the point. Her friend gave up. He shouldn't have. He should have stayed in touch with people he knew. He should have checked around with them. And here's the thing, I've emailed with this guy (though I didn't know the whole story). He's bright! You know what? With what he knows he can get a job. Sure, he's got special needs (though they can't be much more special than the woman that works where I am that has a guide dog AND a wheel chair because she's not physically able to walk), and yes that narrows his options. But does that mean there is no opportunity? NO. It means he has to work harder to find it. So, to her friend - DON'T GIVE UP. Is it going to be easy? Of course it isn't, but for anything worth it, it rarely is.

Now, as for my friend herself, why does she accept what she does? Simple fear. And she DOESN'T need to have it! OK, so her current employer doesn't want to pony up more dough. Fine. Like I mentioned to her, that's why people jump companies in a career. It's easier to get more money going somewhere else that needs to fill a need than in your current company in many cases. Does she have to give up her job? No! Of course not. But, what she can do is get a camera and take a picture of her sparkling work - then make a flyer!

"Do you want your home to sparkle like this? Call me! 999-555-1212 20 years of experience says I can do it for you too!"

Of course, my friend is limited because she's blind and has to rely on public transit. No problem, when a potential customer calls then find out if they're close to a stop. If they aren't, say thanks but I can't make it - do you know anyone that is near public transportation that might need some help? Bing! There you go, you even get a lead out of it. And, because they're coming to her, she can set the rate she wants - for cleaning or pet sitting.

Of course, my friend is trying to get out of the cleaning game right now. And I'm all for it. She's trying to get qualified to start training people on computers. I KNOW she could do that. Heck, she could do that with her eyes closed and her hands tied behind her back. Hmmmm, of course she does have an advantage in the eyes closed thing...

I still think that my friend has lots of opportunities - especially in the virtual world we live in. As long as she's willing to continue to train herself (like she does), I know that she could do work of all sorts - it's just a matter of believing she can - AND - asking for some help getting started. If there is one thing I've found about my friend it's that she is fearless with anything around a computer or using any software. With a little education, and without the need to replace her income doing what she's doing immediately, she could have some great opportunities to get some work for herself. Will it be easy? No. Will it be fast? No. Will it be worth it if she can sit in her home and make as much money for sitting at her computer as she does for having to shlep all over the metropolitan area she lives in and bust her hump? YOU BETCHA!

So, yes. This has been a long diatribe (otherwise known as rant). I know that what I've said will be looked at as being insensitive or possibly as me just being ignorant. I'll say no to the first, possibly to the second. But you know what? I just know too many people that have achieved so much because they had the right attitude about it. And especially in my friends case - she's got the biggest door opener ever on her side - GOD. And let me tell you, if God can take care of me, he can take care of my friend. And no, it's not all about attitude or positive thinking. It's got nothing to do with the mythical "law of attraction" that is talked about so much in motivational circles (the law of attraction works because the people that are practicing the principle of fixing a goal clearly in their mind and moving towards it are IN MOTION - nothing gets attracted to them - they just get out where they can run into the things that are appropriate for them!) What it is about for her - and me - and maybe you too, is finding out what God has for her. For looking at the gifts he has given her - then being in motion to put those gifts into action.

Oh, one last thing. Is it fair? No. Like I tell my 9 year old all the time when she says something isn't fair - "get used to it, life isn't fair." And it's not.

It's not fair that we live in a land where even if you're disabled, blind or whatever, you still have more opportunity than any other country in the world. It's not fair that my friend who lives on disability wages from the government is STILL getting a wage that is over double the yearly wage in India - in what she makes PER MONTH. It's not fair that we've been born in a country with freedom, with a democratic government, with liberty to speak our minds, with broadband access to the internet, with public transportation that is reasonable. It's not fair that we've been blessed by not living in gulags, that we haven't been disposed of because of our race or disability, that we haven't been put in a caste where we are considered "untouchable." It's not fair that we haven't been wiped out in a genocide, it's not fair that we have so much food, it's not fair that we have clean water to drink, it's not fair that we don't have 93% unemployment like some countries, it's not fair that we don't live under a cruel despot. There is so much that isn't fair that I barely have touched the surface of it - but - I rejoice that I've been blessed and I try to at least live well enough to be a blessing to those that live in circumstances that are not as favorable.

To wrap, I'll say this. There are still going to be people that discriminate. The road will not be easy. I don't have all the answers. God does. He didn't leave his people in Egypt. He didn't leave his people in Babylon. He's not going to abandon us either. Love God, love people, do your best, don't quit. And in all things - rejoice!


jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LRM said...

I was looking to read the comment...alas, removed. Must have been baaad...

Interesting post. I left a comment on her (your friend's) site regarding another topic. I hope she reads and responds....