Sunday, February 8, 2015

Nickled 'N' Dimed To Death By The Piecework Industrial Complex

I'm completely and utterly bored
With the theatre; and starving for my art
It's come to the point where I just can't afford,
To wait any longer for a part.
Somewhere in this land of milk and honey,
There must be a practical solution.
I wonder if there would be any money,
In starting a one-man revolution?
-Ann Winthrop

I found the above-cited piece while looking for something entirely different.  It appears in You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology Of American Labor Poetry: 1929-41 (University of Michigan Press). For further detail, see John Marsh's introduction below. According to my Google Books info, "Reverie" first appeared in Equity magazine's December 1936 issue.

Winthrop (1902-82) appeared in various Broadway productions of the time. Her notable roles included those of Ruby Keefer in the 1933-34 production of Sailor, Beware, plus Ann Herman in Lend Me Your Ears, in 1936. Though "Reverie" focuses on the jobless actor's lot, it has a deeper meaning if you look beyond that issue...especially in the last two lines.  As someone working with the written word, Winthrop's sentiments strike a chord with me. Living from week to week is nerve-wracking enough  -- which 
doesn't stop those who contract your services from finding new ways to twist the knife. 

One of my longtime editors recently sent an email stating that any further stories spun off from local government meetings are worth only $20 per piece...instead of the $40 I'd been getting for the last few years.
The email further stated that if I wanted to earn that extra $40, I'd have to do some additional reporting, and note those instances on future invoices. So that lead story is still worth $40, because that's what this organization pays. However, if you write two extra stories, they're only worth $40 altogether (2 x $20)-- not $40 each, which would mean $80 (2 x $40).

Doesn't seem like a big deal, right? On one hand you'll probably find ways to score that missing $40.  On the other hand, it does make a difference...after all now, you're rolling that rock a little further uphill. Increments add up fast in today's short-change economy.

To rub a little extra salt into that open wound of mine, the editor said he'd already discussed that issue with his boss, behind the scenes -- so, after five years of picking up this outfit's odds and ends, you apparently don't rate a phone call, let alone any real notice. Ka-BOOM! There goes the bomb dropping -- now shut up and start picking up the pieces, right?

Considering how this bunch has treated you recently, however, the pattern isn't a random one, because your work increasingly means picking up the scraps and the dregs -- the stuff that nobody with an IQ above room temperature really wants to do. That's how you wound up interviewing the local music promoter a couple of summers ago about his Jimmy Buffett tribute band...and the three-hour set they expected to play.

On one hand, you felt sorry for the guy, because the (now-defunct) festival was struggling to afford the ever-spiraling costs of band booking: apparently, even faded stars still command fearsome guarantees (as in, the $100,000-plus range -- I kid you not). On the other hand, the whole thing seemed like an ego trip. Surely, 90 minutes of Jimmy Buffett would be more than adequate...and couldn't you find some noteworthy local acts to fill the remaining time?

But you weren't able to interview the two or three "name" acts that were coming...since the section editor had cherry-picked those opportunities for himself. So you just gritted your teeth and got on the job, swearing to shut your eardrums
whenever that damnable "Margaritaville" song gatecrashed its way onto some hapless bank or supermarket radio speaker.

The whole episode left you pondering what your own particular version of Hell might look like...forced to sing those f#cking songs at pitchfork point with your fellow travelers in eternal damnation...all squeezed into ill-fitting flip flops and loud Hawaiian shirts...while the demons prepare to slather some more sulphur onto your back, laughing hysterically at your torment.

Warning, warning (danger, danger): Corporate absurdities coming ahead.

All jokes apart, such incidents show how you rate in this corporate entity's scheme of things -- of which this memo, unpleasant as it reads, is only the latest reminder.  Your brain recalls a similar hammer that dropped in your email box about this time last year stating that your take home pay was getting chopped to 25 percent of its previous level.

As always, the authors cited financial constraints, and -- as always -- thanked us for our work, because we played such a valuable role for the organization. Cue one of Rod Serling's tight, clipped soliloquies: "You're on assignment for the Piecework Industrial Complex, a duty that carries no insurance, no benefits and no job security...but the pats on the back never stop coming...only in...The Twilight Zone."

Thankfully, that cloud soon lifted, but it should serve as a warning: "Don't get fooled again." As they say in business: past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. All jokes apart, it's time to keep prospecting for alternatives that make a bit more financial sense than this one, because...all this constant nickel 'n' diming will only bleed you to death. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Piecework-Free, Thankfuly):
You Work Tomorrow: Introduction:

You Work Tomorrow: Table of Contents 

(Lots of great titles to look up, and savor):

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