An Analysis of Unpaid Labor in Washtenaw County and Unpaid Labor in General
By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
A student wishing to build their resume with volunteer work or humanitarian service may elect as an option, an unpaid position. Unpaid positions can be extremely valuable for professional development and even status greater than an employee. What can ultimately happen to a student or anyone signing on to an unpaid position is the assignment to themselves of a zero wage which may elicit disrespect from peers or other paid workers. There is a case where a volunteer at a theater working alongside paid workers was called a “slave,” which is true of a theater in Ann Arbor. In this case the volunteers felt prestige for service work and the employees felt superiority as wage earners.
Some businesses may have the majority of their work force unpaid and be completely reliant on unpaid labor. Even when working unpaid, “thank you’s” may be hard to come by. People will in fact look down on you when you are working without a wage. Will you even get a reference from an unpaid position? Will they even remember your name? Should there be a record of your employment and a reference required? Should references always be required for every position?
In some instances disrespect extends to consultants and employees who use “two voices” for management and unpaid workers.
Many managers show a “lack of interest in paying” their employees. Payment for some managers is not their priority and barely on their radar. A paid worker may represent a threat and upset the hierarchy? The lower you are, the higher they feel, the less you receive, the more sushi for them.
Unpaid labor also becomes cumbersome in discussions of salary history with potential employers who may view them as a low-pay or even an unpaid equivalent. Unpaid labor is still further cumbersome in the presence of rampant racism and historical slavery. There is no requirement that an internship, for example be unpaid, the good ones tend to pay.
How do positions come to be unpaid? Unpaid positions may represent a kind of theft.
Just because they didn’t pay, doesn’t mean they still don’t owe. There are several options including: the department of labor, invoicing, collections agencies or starting your own collections agency, put it on their credit report and give them a rating, harassing phone calls, threatening letters, a lawyer, a blog, government, report to news/press, racism registries with state and local government or your own, setting up your own law firm, arbitration and binding contracts, speaking in legal terms and citing infractions, public letters, out of business strategies, replacing business in your community, researching legal cases on Linux and the internet, keeping a journal, or calling the police to report theft, filing a police report or opening an “Office of Pain and Suffering” that will replace your money.
A brief sampling of Washtenaw County produced a variety of unpaid positions such as internships, docents, board members, student groups, volunteer work, student jobs, independent fundraising, starting your own business, advocacy work, consulting, film festivals, art festivals, fashion studios, start-ups, non-profits, family businesses, searches on student employment websites and we may also include minimum wage labor as labor that is barely paid or not equivalent.
What generally happens in some cases is one person has paid themself and neglected to pay the rest of the staff, sometimes pursuing interns or volunteers. Other times in the cases of university faculty and staff, all receive departmental budgets and often neglect to spread their budget across all employees. Unpaid labor presents a “larger piece of the pie” for someone else and perhaps overall savings or profit for the department or company.
Very often it is a failure of management to identify proper funding channels or to value others as they do themselves. The management may reach as high as the American government that may not have considered the trials of non-profits who fill the variety of holes in the American social system when planning their budgets. Very seldom will the national or local governments be inclusive of local businesses that serve their communities in their budgets and should.
The downfall of a community with an abundance of unpaid labor is that it indicates something about that community. It may present evidence of poor leadership, inadequate business skills, racism, and misappropriation of funds and may even be a huge crack in the wall. Internships may save a company money and may appear to be a win-win situation but other factors may show that accepting a low wage for your work may create devaluation of mankind and in the workplace, presenting long term obstacles.
Some people are too self-centered to be good managers and employees may find that their portion of the payroll exists in managements personal accounts. Ego, sexism, racism, ignorance may perpetuate a belief in someone’s mind that he/she has a value that others do not hold or a need that others are not worthy.
What should be brought into policy and law is an equivalent wage. For example it may be necessary if you have been offered a job to tally the various tasks to see if your hourly wage is adequate to cover the amount of responsibility. Perhaps America has devalued its people and disrupted work by electing a minimum wage, not to fall below as opposed to an equivalent wage to match. It can be terrifying to receive a minimum wage that is not in keeping with the economy. After a while, the people start to spill out into the street, when the economies go long term unbalanced.
Possible solutions government needs to take could be a thorough analysis of businesses under their umbrella to see which of those need government support or to possibly pay all wages from the government to stabilize business and society. The Federal Reserve doesn’t represent a small budget but an arbitrary budget that should also match the budgetary needs of the country-not what is often said by officials that there is not enough in the budget or the budget is running out-a fallacy.
It may be necessary to institute an “Office of Fee Inquiry” that sets wages, prices, rents etc. to create a unilateral approach to employment etc. and balance the economy. Very often subtle changes, even new landlords upset the local economy and may create social problems. Long term neglect of employees also creates social problems. People make economic decisions all the time unmonitored and uncaring of their impact on a community. Where in that chain can be inserted supervision? Someone may move to Ann Arbor from New York, get into rentals and gauge an aggregating increase in rents and destroy the town.
How does money get into the proper hands, how do budgets get properly allocated, how do we start to make this area inhospitable to racism? At universities students can often be added to payroll or placed into a budget somewhere. The necessary caring doesn’t exist for enough management to show concern for their constituencies lives. Perhaps a gravitation away from hierarchal business strategies can be replaced with social models. There are many things that could be solutions to the problems created by unpaid labor.
It is strange, it is as if shoes exist for an unpaid job. What was it like for example, to work in the south after slavery? Employers who do not pay adequately become stigmatized as well as position histories.
Watch out, for example for poorly planned positions and vacuous position titles which may indicate a workplace where management is ill equipped and uncaring. Positions such as “intern” or “office assistant,” may represent jobs bearing poor designation or “unspecified labor” and offered for a lower wage. Positions should have titles, be well crafted, and with equivalent wage.
We as a people need to reexamine our current business models and address schools of business to plan new strategies. Hierarchal business models are obsolete. We must be entering a new era, where it’s time for caring and time for sharing of wealth.