Working For The Man Is Taxing
Layoffs can be hard but they’re often my favorite part, more so if a triumph follows. I honestly can’t remember leaving a job where I’d wanted to stay longer. Maybe I’m lucky but jitters aside, I’ve always been happy to leave. Jobs are a mostly source of constant frustration, fewer than half of Americans would say they are satisfied with their work. We’re either unhappy, disengaged, over skilled or just underemployed.
Working towards retirement seems like an imagined passageway — lasting maybe a few years or a lifetime, towards a vacation — permanent or not. Sounds like Catholic sentiment, work hard now and be find rewards in another life. The middle of three boys, I’ve probably produced and reproduced the least. But I do travel a lot and keep a few passion projects. Personally, I never saw the point in staying on a career course if you didn’t like the trajectory or didn’t respect your boss.
Though I wasn’t always a designer. Life is good now but sometimes I wonder if I’ve really advanced all that much since high school. Charging $65/hr in the late 90s to build websites gave me a distorted sense of money. Nearly every job since then has paid less per hour, often far less. Not that my teenage rates weren’t worth it. My first client, a pharmaceutical company only just took their decade old site offline and replaced it with a barebones landing page.
Maybe I wasn’t ready to work in technology or just didn’t have the design credentials that I ended up as a debt collection agent around my mid 20s. My Mom worked on the same team, and for Marlene, the immigrant dream meant being a well qualified lecturer from India but disqualified from teaching in Canada. So she ended up working in a large national banking center where the street names reflected the trade. Some twenty or so floors of Immigrants which gradually shifted to “old stock” Canadians the higher up you went in the building, until at last you reached the top floor.
But the ceiling for Brown women must not be very high in Canadian corporate culture, seen in the wage gap between them and White native borns. They’re often over-skilled but discounted. Some say that things have slowly been improving, since we’ve normalized the visible minority discount somewhere between a 10–20% wage gap. As an Indian American living in the Bay Area, I have a mere 9% marginalized tax rate, a kind of systemic tax levied on women, visible minorities and women minorities. That’s in addition to the 9.3% marginal tax rate of California. 21st century equality…
Either way, I’ve never cared much for working in a call center, living in the ‘burbs or being discounted. On my 25th birthday, I gave the bank a weeks notice and followed my girlfriend to Michigan. “Y’all can all go fuck yourself!” That’s kinda what I imagined a future in America as.
So I just left. I quit Canada cold. I learned to stop saying sorry all the time. And about a year after I left, that succubus Stephen Harper became Prime Minister and he’s been there since.
My Canadian socialism gradually turned Californian libertarian — part mystic, part hedonist — but I knew early on, looking at upper management in Canada, that I was better off in new company.
And Marlene, my mom? She quietly worked at the same bank towards her faithful retirement. She bore the indignities of being an undervalued immigrant until I guess one day she couldn’t.
About a year before her retirement she must have gotten sick and tired of all the micro-aggressions and picked up the banner of feminism. Some 13 years of keeping her head down, getting passed over for promotions, seeing youngins befriend their way up the corporate ladder, she must have had enough. One day she just blurted out to her younger manager.
“If I were a white woman, I would have raised the issue of ageism and racism with the ombudsman a long time ago.”
She wasn’t a White woman, and the ombudsman was, I assume a man, that it wasn’t long before there was a mysterious account breach from her desk, a suspicious transfer that exposed a security flaw in the bank system. But being the busy bee that she was, she spotted that odd deposit in her account and immediately reported it. Not to worry Marlene, you’ve been with us a while, we’ll sort out it out. You have nothing to worry about.
It wasn’t so large an amount, easily less than a month’s rent but just enough to scare an old Brown woman straight. So rather than investigate what actually happened, the bank simply fired her, a few months shy of her retirement. Less overhead to just terminate someone after a dozen or more years of loyal service. Just policy, lets not fuss. We aren’t going to press charges, just collect your things and leave.
Maybe someone’s idea to humiliate a bank securities officer went too far. Marlene insisted she was innocent and after her initial shock, she eventually took the bank to court for wrongful dismissal. She mush have surprised the bank and the judge because it was really bad odds for a brown woman taking a large bank to court. The deep pockets of the bank drew the case out over a few years with legal maneuvering and missing digital records. Hoping to avoid exposure around security flaws, the bank finally offered Marlene a small settlement. Poor woman, tired, she gave up and accepted the terms of injustice and her lawyer was only too happy to collect his legal fees from the settlement.
For a few years later, Marlene found herself teaching ESL to new immigrants. I think she finally understood institutional racism and found some joy in helping newcomers adjust. She even felt a little gratitude at her fortune compared to the student refugees from Bangladesh, Iraq and elsewhere. She’d often tell me about their heartbreaking stories but she never had the heart to tell them the quiet assault they’d face here. Didn’t matter because that neoconservative Stephen Harper slowly cutback immigrant services, upping the xenophobia instead. The gradual undoing of Canada’s democratic socialism, meant staffing reductions and she was laid off once again at 60.
I imagine my Mom’s repeated humiliations must have turned her outspoken. She eventually understood why I wasn’t going to work a dead-end corporate job, just to hob-knob with middle management, only to practice random acts of cruelty on subordinates.
Her wrongful dismissal did eventually get us talking again on similar terms. My leftist rhetoric must have started making sense to her as she stopped pushing me towards corporate success. “Why aren’t you writing more?” she’ll ask now. And all it took was a terribly cruel middle manager at a suburban banking center to frame her for $900.
As Obama mentioned during the Worker Voice Summit, now is the time to #StartTheConvo about workplace fairness. Demanding equal treatment or better conditions should lead to your dismissal.
Discrimination, devaluation, harassment, the inability to support a family or have a decent retirement shouldn’t be the norm. Do share your stories and ideas with the tag, #StartTheConvo.