06 October 2006

I Am Sick and Fucking Tired

I'm moving to Canada. Really. Or some little sliver of land in a vast ocean somewhere. Anybody got an island up for sale in the $250,000 US range?

The cause of my rage tonight? Wal Mart.

I went to the grocery store this evening. The rain was stopping and the sun had just set when I came out, $130 US poorer but rich in cheese, crackers, fruits and veggies, cereal, TP. You know, the staples of life. It seems such a small thing but, when you've been in the pits as I have been for the past few months, even grocery shopping has a certain allure. Just making it to the store is an accomplishment. Finding the motivation to actually go grocery shopping is a refreshing change of pace around here.

.....
Sorry I was away so long. I spent a couple of hours unpacking the groceries and making a "hamburg-noodle stew." My mom made hamburg-noodle stew when I was a kid and it was one of my favorite things on earth (nothing more than peppers, onions, ground beef, tomatoes egg noodles and spices. I decided to put a packet of Sazon in, which is used in Puerto Rican cooking and includes saffron. It has a very distinctive flavor. When I first smelled my concoction, I thought I had made a grave mistake but, now that the seasoning has soaked into the beef and noodles, there is just a hint of Sazon left. It really is very tasty. It felt good to chop and sautee veggies again and cook something.

Anyway, I got home and checked e-mail and such and found a Paul Krugman article on Tennessee Guerilla Women about "The War Against Wages." I read about the decision the National Labor Relations Board made this week with regard to employees who sometimes function in a supervisory capacity. The case involved nurses.

You see, nurses are put in the position at times of being "in charge" on their unit. This happens especially on off shifts, when management is home in bed. The nurse in charge really has no power beyond his/her 4 or 8 or 12 hours in the role.

All charge means is that you are the person on the floor who will decide which nurse gets the next admission from the ER or which district in the ER will take the next ambulance coming in. It means you are the one who calls the housekeeping supervisor to get the damned bed cleaned up on 8 South so that frigging admission in bay 11 can finally get upstairs. You are the one who's called in to smooth over problems with difficult patients or dissatisfied family members. You are the person who makes sure the code is run as well as you can until the code team gets there. You are the person who tries to come up with solutions for all the petty little problems that can arise during 12 hours in your own, personal hell.

In my experience, hardly anybody really wants to be in charge. I used to enjoy it as an OB nurse because we had such a small staff and unit. It was also always a given that I was charge because I'd been there forfriggingever and nobody else wanted to do it. I enjoyed being in charge in the little ER in Reading where I broke my Emergency Nursing cherry. I grumbled and could be a bitch on wheels when in charge but I did it well, I think. I didn't play those petty power games, I liked the challenge of meeting difficult situations and surmounting them. I liked the creativity and innovation needed to see outside the box to the solution. I am a scientist at heart.

In my last place of employ, I was able to skirt having to be in charge for three whole years. The fear of charge there was another impetus to move on. I did not want to be in charge, not there. Not with all those grumbling old hags and buggers! They were all soooooo miserable there. I let them have their fun with their power-tripping when in charge. I gave them the desired rise in blood pressure and facial coloration. I knew that being in charge there would, eventually, destroy me.

Power corrupts and all that.

But I'd like to, eventually, be in charge at my new ER at THAC*. This is a good group of people. They basically like each other. They get along. They work well together. They don't power-trip. They're not burnt out.

After I've gotten my feet wet, gotten my feel a bit and am not quite so wet behind the ears there, I'd like to try my hand at charge again. "Charge" is not, nor has it ever been, management. At least, not until this week.

The NLRB ruled this week that nurses who regularly supervise others are management and not entitled to union organization. In going to the source (pdf) now, I realize this is not so dreadful for nursing as I have known it on the East Coast of the US. The ruling calls for nurses who are "permanent charge nurses" to be considered management. Well, yes. In those places I've worked where a nurse was always in charge whenever she worked, she was either an Assistant Nurse Manager or a Shift Manager. And they have, in all three hospitals, been considered management.

But, does this mean that because slug nurses like me regularly direct others (Patient Care Assistants, Housekeeping, etc.) to perform tasks are we also considered "management?" If this is the interpretation then every nurse who works in a hospital is management. We all have to point the Environmental Services person into the room where we need to move a patient. We all give the PCA a list of vital signs which need to have taken at midnight. That's called delegation. It's not really us who prescribes the care, we just give direction on how to provide it in a given situation.

Does this mean that every factory worker, few of them as there are now, who directs Environmental to clean up a spill next to the line is now management? How about when he calls maintenance to fix his machine, which is malfunctioning? And every teacher who asks the janitor to clap the erasers when he cleans this afternoon? And every cashier at the grocery store who directs a bagger or cart boy? All management now?

You can see it now...everybody suddenly getting fancy, schmancy new titles...Assistant Managers sprouting like fall alfalfa. 130,000,000 chiefs over 570,000 Indians. Everybody's got a piece of the management pie now. We just don't get health insurance. Oh, and overtime? It's paid at straight time now and it's mandatory. But we've all got shiny, new tin badges. Jes' like deputies.

It's horrific enough, what Bush has done to this once great country of ours. We are probably held in the poorest regard we have ever experienced in the eyes of the rest of the world. We are seen as bullies and hypocrites. The gap between the very wealthy and the very poor is probably nearly as great as in the feudal times in Europe. The corporations are calling all the shots and raking in freight trains of cash in the process.

Now we are going to reduce a large percentage of the workforce to a position of even more powerlessness? What is wrong with this picture? What happened to the government which was truly interested in the wellbeing of the majority of American citizens? What happened to the country that opened her arms to the rest of the world, took them in and made them her own?

Where has my America gone?

~~~~~

The part of the article which pissed me off most was the one about Wal Mart. I looked over at the Wal Mart sign as I pulled out of the grocery store today, the last light of the day fading behind the building and the stark letters cold and white in the gathering dusk. I felt a shiver of revulsion. This was before I read about Wal Mart's most recent stragety to maximize corporate profits:

Wal-Mart already has a well-deserved reputation for paying low wages and offering few benefits to its employees; last year, an internal Wal-Mart memo conceded that 46 percent of its workers’ children were either on Medicaid or lacked health insurance. Nonetheless, the memo expressed concern that wages and benefits were rising, in part “because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases.”

The problem from the company’s point of view, then, is that its workers are too loyal; it wants cheap labor that doesn’t hang around too long, but not enough workers quit before acquiring the right to higher wages and benefits. Among the policy changes the memo suggested to deal with this problem was a shift to hiring more part-time workers, which “will lower Wal-Mart’s health care enrollment.”

And the strategy is being put into effect. “Investment analysts and store managers,” reports The New York Times, “say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent.” Another leaked Wal-Mart memo describes a plan to impose wage caps, so that long-term employees won’t get raises. And the company is taking other steps to keep workers from staying too long: in some stores, according to workers, “managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools.”

It’s a brutal strategy. Once upon a time a company that treated its workers this badly would have made itself a prime target for union organizers. But Wal-Mart doesn’t have to worry about that, because it knows that these days the people who are supposed to enforce labor laws are on the side of the employers, not the workers.

Hire temps. Hire part-timers. Discourage anyone from remaining until their benefits kick in. Take away stools from old people with bum knees or backs who will now be forced to stand for their entire shift. Does it get any lower than that? Why don't they just go to their damned senior centers, anyway, you ask? Because their pensions all fell through and they can't afford their prescriptions, that's why! Workers, the kind of workers Wal Mart wants, are nothing more than a commodity, like the cans of soup on the shelf. And they have a defined shelf life. And they are as easily disposed of as an outdated gallon of milk.

The almighty dollar finally trumps basic human decency and any sense of fairness in America. I feel sullied and ashamed to say this is my country.

The religious claim there is an afterlife and a hell? Maybe, maybe not...but the corporate culture and their Rightwing pals are creating our own little slice of hell right here on earth.

On a lighter note, I found this interview with Stephen Colbert on the Paul Krugman NYT page. Do they not tell these guests that Colbert is, umm...not serious??? For all his worldliness, Krugman seemed completely non-plussed at times. It was terribly funny...somehow, I thought he'd think on his feet better.

Here's a great site I found to find Colbert and Daily Show clips.

Enjoy!

(Also posted at No Ordinary Princess.)

tags: consumerism / corporate culture / economic justice / law / NLRB / nursing / Republicans / unions / US politics / work

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