Posts Tagged ‘living wage’

“We value you . . .”

So, I was told what my raise would be for 2018. $.28 per hour. I was also told “we don’t want you to leave (insert company here)” and “we really value you.”

In 2017, above company was paying me $14 per hour. Well, actually, for about half the year I was making less than that because of the cut the staffing agency was taking, but, whatevs. We’ll call it $14. To be fair, they also give benefits like a 401(k), if I can afford to contribute, health insurance with a deductible that’s only 20% of my income, and all the overtime you can work without losing your mind, assuming you haven’t lost it during regular hours. Not every company is that generous.

I got called in for my end-of-year evaluation to find out what my pay bump will be for this coming year. At this point I’m trained in almost everything I can be in this department, and up until I burned out, I was putting up excellent numbers.* I’m fairly certain that I wasn’t one of the ones exacerbating the calls that started with “This is the fourth time I’ve had to call you people!” My merit increase for 2018 is 3.5%, prorated. My supervisor wanted me to know that the company approved the 3% and she really fought for that extra 0.5%. Cool, that’s like, what, a nickle an hour? I’m gonna run right out and buy . . . nothing. Because nothing costs a nickle anymore. So, you know, thanks.

There are three points to consider here. Let’s start with the last one that I considered. The average inflation rate in 2017 was 2.1%. That means that 2.1% of my 3.5% prorated “merit” increase is in fact a cost of living increase. The actual number should probably be higher, given the cost of housing in Portland, but we’re going with national averages, here. What this tells me is that my merit, all of the overtime I put in, all of the uptraining I not only attended but actually learned, all of the showing up on time is worth 1.4% of my income to encourage me to keep doing it. I’m feeling the love, here. Really.

Point two, 3.5% of $14 is actually $.49 per hour. I started doing the actual job in January of 2017 for less than my coworkers in the same training class because of the staffing agency I came through. I wasn’t “officially” hired until June. Once again, the company is having words trump reality. I was doing the job all year, but I’m going to get nickled and dimed out of my pay increase because I wasn’t “officially” doing the job (that I was actually doing) for half that time. Well, pennied and dimed. Two dimes and a penny per hour, that is. My revenue for 2017 was low five figures. Theirs were upper nine or lower 10 figures, if I remember the self-congratulatory e-mail correctly. I can totally see why they need those two dimes and a penny more than I do. Makes sense.

The last point, the first one that occurred to me when I heard about my whopping $.28 raise, is that I can now afford a medium Dunkin Donuts iced coffee per day. Not a mocha, mind you, but more than a plain hot coffee. ($.28 X 8 hours= $2.24- 18% taxes= $1.84 take-home per day). Or, I can totally splurge at the end of the year and ($.28 X 2087 hours annually  = $584.36- 18% taxes= $479.18 ), well, let’s be honest. I’ll have already spent it by making a tiny dent in my debt or possibly on avocados. After all, we know that the reason Millenials are living in their parents houses in record numbers is avocados. So I’m worth a cup of coffee, but not rent money. I’m feeling very valued.

My supervisor and I also talked about what my next steps would be. She suggested that I work on officially moving the next step up in my department since it “should come with a pay bump.” Of what? $.50? Woo hoo. She was shocked when I asked when I might hear back from the other department that I’d applied for. That I’d already told her in no uncertain terms I was aiming for. Aside from the fact that it’s potentially a far, far better fit for my personality, I happen to know it pays more than half again as much as I’m currently making. She doesn’t want the company to lose me, but when I literally say “I want to be able to pay rent,” she doesn’t seem to be able to back me on figuring out how the company can help me do that. **

One third of my anticipated income for the year ($14.28 X 2087= $29,802.36 – 18% taxes / 3) is $8,145.98. According to common wisdom found everywhere, that’s what I can afford to spend on my housing without straining my budget elsewhere. That’s $678.83 a month and really needs to include heat since I do live in Maine. Around here I can rent a room for that amount, not an apartment. Given that my last rented room situation was . . . memorable, I’m not up to trying that again just now. I’ve been tracking my expenses for the last 18 months or so, and even after giving up my chickens, I’d have to do some rethinking in my budget if I were going to make progress on my debt while also paying rent. Actually, I’d have to do some rethinking of my budget just to pay the rent, even before I think about debt. As far as another injury like a broken leg? That’s just not an option. I couldn’t afford it.

Every few months or so they tell me at work that they value me. Whenever they remember to tell me much of anything. I suppose that comes with being a low maintenance employee. But every two weeks my paycheck tells me exactly how much they value me. Which is really not very much at all. As for the merit increase? It’s ($.28 X $14 =) 2%. Which is less than inflation for 2017. It’s good to know exactly how hard they’ll work to keep a low maintenance, trainable employee around, isn’t it?

*After writing this, I was given a new supervisor. In our first meeting he told me we really didn’t have anything to talk about. My numbers were great and I was doing everything they wanted. Apparently even after I burned out, I’m doing just fine.

**Publication held until I got the job without her help. You never know what your employer is reading online. I didn’t get the job.

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My Summer

I promised to update you on the interesting things going on in my life some time ago, and I haven’t. However, we are now at the time of year when students are all being asked to write about what they did this summer. It seems as good a time as any to finally follow through on that promise.

This summer I . . . weeded. I weeded a lot. I am now very, very familiar with bindweed in all of its incarnations. There was also a lot of planting in the spring and now we’re getting into the serious harvest times. In between, always weeding. I can tell you with confidence that weeding knives and hori knives are both wonderful inventions. This summer I also consistently underestimated how much work it is to be a farmer. I haven’t been updating my blog not because I didn’t have ideas or information to pass on, but because once I got home and sat down, my brain was as fried as my body.

This summer I got to be one of the interns at Venetucci Farm. I say “got to be” because nailing a paid position for a non-experienced person who wants to get into farming is hard. For the most part, they simply don’t exist. I’ve started asking about this, and Mike Callicrate shared that interns are more often than not an expense rather than an asset. After being one for about four and a half months, that makes a lot of sense. I haven’t looked at the books for the farm that employs me, it’s none of my business, but I do know from other research that the profit margins for small, organic farms are generally not impressive. That means that there is less room for the farmer to be able to handle things like an employee that moves slowly, or makes mistakes. Mis-seeding a 200-foot row is something an intern may easily do, and you can’t undo that mistake. That seed is now a loss. Spearing garlic heads during harvest is really easy to do, especially for the inexperienced, but every head speared is one more that can’t go to market to be exchanged for money. Even taking two hours to weed a bed that should only take one hour means that something else that is just as pressing may not get done. All of this cuts into the profits of the farm which cuts into the ability, and desire, to hire and train the less experienced.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak at church about my job. The woman who was running the service said I was the only farmer in the congregation and, as I clearly loved my job, it was an important job to hear about. That request got me to do some research to make sure I was giving the right facts. Only 2% of the US population calls itself a farmer according to the IRS. Only half of those claim it as the main income for the household. After growing up in farm country and talking to farmers around here, I bet the number that have it as the only household income is much, much smaller than that. As of 2007, the official average age of farmers in America is 55. I am quite sure that average has not gone down in the intervening seven years. I am including both conventional and organic farmers in this because I don’t know where to look for the minute numbers that would be the organic farmers and because conventional farmers still know a whole lot more about how to raise food than your average non-farmer. The point of these statistics is that a tiny and rapidly aging population holds the key to feeding a vast and still growing population, but there is no support for them to pass on that knowledge to the people that want to learn. Since I’m pretty sure you know that food does not just appear in grocery stores- though not everyone does- what happens when the last farmer dies?

Lucky for me, Susan Gordon is willing to take on the inexperienced each year to run Venetucci. I got to hear her speak to a group of college kids the other day, and it only confirmed that she can’t seem to do anything without pouring all of herself into it. It’s really inspiring, particularly in a job that can so easily overwhelm and beat down one’s spirit. Rather than throwing up my hands and vowing to never work anywhere but another desk, having her as a daily example of what I could be has given me a reason to work through the pain and exhaustion that is simply a part of this job. Instead of rolling with the idea that organic produce is a niche market and maybe even a fad, she helped to start both CFAM (Colorado Farm and Art Market) and later AVOG (Arkansas Valley Organic Growers) so that her friends and fellow farmers will be able to compete with conventional growers and food importers for their share of local food money. Trust me when I tell you that not shopping at Wal-Mart will not phase Wal-Mart in the least. However, spending that money on a local farm’s produce will make a difference for that local farmer. Yes, it is often more expensive. However, aside from the fact that you are paying for a more nutritionally useful item, you are paying the actual price for the item. Well, as close to the actual price as the market will bear, anyway. We have been trained for far too long to think of food as a cheap item, a small part of the budget. It shouldn’t be. Not if we’re actually paying the real price for real food.

Speaking of money, I am also lucky that I could take on a job that doesn’t pay a living wage. That lack of money is not the fault of Susan or PPCF by any means. My income reflects how we value farmers. We don’t. As a single, childless person with relatively little debt compared to others my age, I am willing to live on less than I made 10 years ago because that’s the price I had to pay to learn what I needed to learn. You can read all the books you want. The only way to really learn how to farm is to do. I happened to pair passion with relative financial ability to support it. I have run into a fair number of others that have the passion, but don’t have the financial ability to support the learning process. This is a problem. We need to be supporting our new and young farmers, not discouraging them.

In conclusion, my summer has been exhausting, painful, sun burning, financially frustrating, and the best summer I’ve had in years. I have learned so much about farming, and about myself (turns out I can take a tan if I spend enough time outside), that I wouldn’t trade it for all the health insurance and retirement accounts in the world. I have learned so much that I want to pass on to you folks. Hopefully I will have a post up at least once a week for the rest of the season to pass on at least a few of the lessons I’ve absorbed along with the dirt that has taken up permanent residence under my fingernails.