I had an unpleasant experience recently with one of my editors at the local paper. Having enjoyed a relatively stress-free April and May, June became an uphill financial struggle, especially the last couple weeks. First, Squawker and I ran out of the decent food. Then we ran out of crap food. With 10 more excruciating days to go, finally, I said uncle, and borrowed $100 from one of my best friends to help me squeak across the finish line. You get the idea.
With invoice time looming on Friday, I called up my editor, and asked if he could make room for a couple last-minute stories, including an update on this road project I'd written about before, and our county school district's 2017-18 budget.
At $40 per story, I wasn't looking for a Pulitzer, just the difference between a $360 paycheck, and a $440 one. Guess which one I wanted?
My editor hedged. “Space is tight tomorrow. You're coming up on an invoice deadline, I take it?”
“You got it.”
“Tell you what, just get 'em to me tonight, and I'll try to find room for 'em in the local section.”
A couple hours later, the email rolls in: “Sorry, No room at the inn.”
My teeth start grinding, and my stomach starts fluttering, but I don't panic. I do what any mercenary does in these situations: adjust my fees, as best as I can, to make up the shortfall. Add $10 here, $15 there, and presto! Now, I have $400, which is still short of my target, but patches some of the holes in my budget.
Fortunately, I've found another transcription company to work for, and I just got paid $100 for some copyediting/proofreading, so all's well with my little corner of the world...at least for now. Only for now. Remember: your bills never stop shooting across your desk.
But what's this episode prove? Your pseudo-employer isn't your friend. Start with the obvious: you're not getting niceties like health insurance, retirement, sick pay, or vacation pay. Your “gig,” such as it is, could end any time, without warning.
Your pay, such as it is, doesn't go up, but your bills never stop coming. How these matters play out isn't your concern, because you have no say over any of them (except in rare instances). Somebody else calls all the shots, not you. If they get the job accomplished with you, great. If they can get by without you, they will.
And, still, you get odd propositions that don't add up. I guess that's why my editor emails the next day, asking if I can cover a competition in a town that's about 30 miles and 45 minutes away. The contest is one of those small town affairs that winds on forever, typically around three hours. So, even if I tack on $15 for gas, on top of the standard $40 rate per story – I'll be lucky to make 10 bucks an hour, maybe, once you plug the round trip in the equation.
So, not surprisingly, I say no. Not only for the economic reasons, but the sourness that's lingering in my mouth over the stories that didn't get in. I'm thinking to myself, you can't put an extra 80 bucks in my pocket, but you want me to cover an event that's barely gonna cover my costs, for which I won't even get paid till next month? I don't think so.
What's funny, though, is how few people seem to grasp how much the Piecework Industrial Complex has changed the nature of work – often, quite drastically, but not for the better. A couple months ago, Squawker and I went to a panel of local state representatives and senators, where you could air whatever was on your mind.
A good 10-15 minutes of that got chewed up over the lack of health care workers – in other words, the underpaid aides and nurses who barely make more than minimum wage, because (as one supervisor charged) “McDonald's pays more,” or they're on welfare, and afraid of losing their benefits.
To which one of our local state reps responded, “Well, we need to address that. We certainly don't want to incentivize people not to work.”
I found myself asking, “Incentivizing what, exactly?” Obviously, this particular local politico seemed unaware of how many untold millions, Yer Humble Narrator included, are patching together several different situations – “gigs,” part-time jobs, temp jobs, whatever you wish to call them – just to pay all these stupid ass bills that gobble up what little they make, till it's time to do it all again next month. Sounds like fun, right?
It's funny – I recently saw Office Space (1997) again, late one night, and wondered how many viewers long for those days when they had a cubicle to inhabit, and a crap job that paid, well, slightly better than the norm – which meant they actually had a little bit of money for a few small pleasures.
Sadly, that doesn't seem to happen for many of today's prisoners of the Piecework Industrial Complex – such as drivers for Postmates, who find that many of their customers don't tip. In return, your car takes a beating, and you're lucky if you earn back the mileage it's racking up. Having fun yet?
I didn't think so, but I'm amazed at how many people seem resigned to such one-sided arrangements as their lot. The first step in tipping the balance is to stop accepting inequity as inevitably woven into our lives. Otherwise, I find repeating a line from one of my favorite local poets that sticks in my brain: “Will somebody save us from us?”
Never forget: no matter chummy your conversations or emails may get with the moment's favored gatekeeper or decision-maker, just remember – they're usually answering to someone else, so their interests aren't the same as yours. Your pseudo-employer isn't your friend. When your latest gig ends, he won't miss you, and you probably won't miss him. Your wallet might, though. Such is life. --The Reckoner
Links To Go (...just cut 'n' paste if they don't spring right away to life)
(Get Out & Make
(Get Out & Make
Some Money, You Lucky Gigger, You):
Salon.com: Need Proof That
The Gig Economy is Painful?:
The Bold Italic: How The Gig Economy
Profits Off Of Desperation:
The New Yorker: The Gig Economy
Celebrates Working Yourself To Death: