Categories
Living in Society

Unemployment

State Capitol

Last night the Iowa Legislature considered and passed a bill to cut unemployment benefits in the state. Both the House and Senate approved a measure, although the chambers differ on whether there will be a one week waiting period before benefits commence. A version of the bill will pass before adjournment sine die.

I was fortunate to make it through 54 years in the workforce without filing unemployment. My work life can be characterized as stable, although I changed jobs a lot, mostly because I wanted or needed to for various reasons. Work life radically changed since the 1970s, especially after the election of Ronald Reagan as president. What Iowa Republicans are doing is wrong.

Iowa Capitol Dispatch reported last night:

If signed into law, House File 2355 will make several immediate changes for Iowans on unemployment.

Unemployment benefits will last only 16 weeks, rather than the current maximum of 26 weeks. Iowans will also have a one-week waiting period before they receive their first payment under the Senate’s version of the bill.

Unemployed Iowans may need to accept a lower-paying job sooner in the process to continue receiving unemployment benefits. Under current law, an individual would not be required to take a lower-paying job offer for the first five weeks of employment. The bill would change that, ratcheting down the definition of “acceptable” job beginning in the second week of unemployment.

Iowa Capitol Dispatch, March 23, 2022.

My decisions about filing for unemployment were a recognition of the privilege in which I came up. If I was eligible for benefits, I took pride in finding my own way without them. There was never fear of falling behind financially. When I left a job on my own, I carefully considered the consequences and made a financial plan which worked in every case. Not everyone is so lucky.

With Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, they can pass whatever laws they want. The Republican governor is unlikely to veto. If there is a single pattern, it is their desire to re-create what living in Iowa means. I know what it means to me. It is treating working people with respect that is anyone’s due. Obviously, Republicans don’t feel the same.

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Living in Society

Boone Work Day

Cars parked behind the garage.

The detached garage near the alley was damaged when a tall pine tree broke in half during December’s straight-line winds. It wasn’t a tornado, yet might as well have been. The top part of the tree crushed the garage roof and created multiple openings for rain to fall through. Things got wet. It was packing time for my sister-in-law’s move this week.

Boone is a red flag city. There is a bustling main street with an abundance of shops and restaurants. They don’t wear face masks any longer in Boone. I didn’t see a mask other than ours during the entire visit. They vote Republican in Boone. Donald Trump won the 2020 election with 56 percent of the county’s votes. One building on the main street has a larger than life mural of him painted in red and black. Many locals do not view it as the monstrosity it is.

Boone was established in 1865 and the following year the Chicago and North Western built a railway station. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad survives as a tourist attraction, echoing the cultural heritage. Railroad tracks cross the main street in two places. Most locals know to drive around the crossings when a train stops. I learned how to do that during our visit.

The trip meant two days of physical work for me, organizing the garage for the movers, carrying things up from the basement, and packing the book shelves. While I did my work on Sunday, my spouse and her sister packed up the house. I needed the break from a deep winter feeling created by staying home and mostly indoors the last several months. I feel weary, yet refreshed.

We stayed overnight Saturday at one of the four motels in Boone. It was rated 3.2 stars out of five. When we returned home, the garden seedlings looked good. I watered them and they should survive. It’s time to set up the greenhouse and move them outdoors.

The physicality of preparing for a move can be handled. The emotional part is something else. Every item has to be dealt with, including projects started and not finished, photographs and artifacts from a long life, and consequences of decisions made to acquire things for home use. It didn’t take long to fill the dumpster. Add the trauma of valued artifacts damaged by rain and it can become an emotional roller coaster. We can feel upset by failures, although I found there were more positives than negatives to experience. There is hope for a future for everyone involved.

After two days of work, we didn’t finish, yet that’s the time we had. We made good progress and the work can be finished before the movers arrive.

Sometimes we need a work day away from home. It is a retreat from daily patterns that helps renew us. A work day before moving can be tiring in a good way. There is hope for a better future no matter the status of one’s life.

Categories
Living in Society

Plans for 2022

Book queue for 2022.

As long as my eyesight holds, I will continue to read books. As a newly minted septuagenarian I’ve had a discussion of eye deterioration with my ophthalmologist multiple times. When Mother’s eyesight began to fail, she converted to audio books and that’s where I’ll likely go when I can’t read anymore. For now, though, with some adjustment there is plenty to read.

About half the projected reading for 2022 was chosen when I didn’t get to a book in 2021. Going through my stacks would fill out the other half, although I have to leave room for books published in the new year. Now that I am motivated, and my vision passes muster at the eye doctor’s office, I’m enjoying reading.

I have plans besides reading books.

The time between our wedding anniversary and New Year’s Day has been traditional for reflection and consideration. This year ideas are settling without much action. To make every day count, I need a good idea of where I’m bound. First impressions are not enough by which to plan. When ideas come to mind, they ruminate. If they are any good, they persist.

I know the formats for writing in 2022. The next steps are determining topics, then schedule. That’s a lot of what occupies these quiet holidays. Rather than set goals, I’m leaving the mind open until the next project comes to me. It might be today, or maybe in the next couple of months. I know it will arrive and await patiently.

The sun rose on walkabout. Winter skies have been colorful at dawn and dusk. Around the perimeter of our property, deer and other animal tracks are frozen in the snow. It was a busy place the last 24 hours, and it shows after a snowfall. It is cold enough I won’t exercise outdoors today.

That leaves me reading, writing and working on indoors projects. It is a good life, one worth living. The rest before the storm 2022 is expected to be.

Categories
Work Life

Consumer Boycott

Classic family breakfast

Yesterday’s news was workers at Kellogg’s cereal plant in Memphis, and at plants in three other cities, rejected the company’s terms during contract negotiations. In response, the company posted this statement on its website:

The prolonged work stoppage has left us no choice but to hire permanent replacement employees in positions vacated by striking workers.

Kellogg’s website.

Long-time readers of this blog may know my beliefs about unions are complex. I’ve been on all sides of the negotiating table, from being a union employee or part of a business unit that attempted to organize a union, to being part of management of union employees or business units that attempted to organize. In my work recruiting truck drivers I once crossed an unrelated picket line in Flint, Michigan to do my work. Nonetheless, in 2021 I am sympathetic to unions, private sector unions particularly. When people called for a boycott of Kellogg’s consumer products, I wanted to help.

A challenge I have is that of the hundreds of products Kellogg’s produces and sells, only two in one brand, MorningStar Farms®, are something we regularly buy. We will stop purchasing them immediately, although there is enough already in the freezer to last for a long strike. There are plenty of other protein sources in our vegetarian diet. Kellogg’s and others in the distribution chain will lose about $20 per month in revenue from our household.

The trouble for striking workers is the company is within its rights to hire replacement workers. Whatever outrage people are able to muster, it doesn’t matter to the company’s desire to continue using their investment in these plants to produce products. For the most part, consumers are not paying attention to this labor dispute and their consumption patterns are expected to persist.

Part of the reason for a lack of attention from consumers is since the 1970s U.S. cereal sales have declined as consumers choose more protein-based breakfast options or skipped an early morning meal completely. In our household, if we buy cereal for breakfast, it is organic steel cut oats which does not come from one of the major cereal manufacturers. I typically eat oatmeal during winter. Striking workers have additional problems to face than whether or not to accept Kellogg’s contract.

Our family boycotted grapes when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta called for it in the 1960s. That strike of farm workers over working conditions went on for five years. The Kellogg’s strike was called in October, with a decision to hire replacement workers this week, indicating how quickly the company is willing and able to move.

Kellogg’s operates a global supply chain in which many parts are unseen by a local plant worker. The company could easily shift cereal production to Mexico as others have done. From a global perspective this would be a minor adjustment in the supply chain.

The teeth have been removed from boycotts of consumer products. While admittedly unusual in my shopping patterns, during most trips to the store I don’t go down the aisles where Kellogg’s products are sold. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many people don’t browse the way they did previously while shopping. They get what they know specifically, except for in the produce department where a shopper must pay attention to quality. This behavior has implications for workers at Kellogg’s and other processed food manufacturers.

Our small outpost of support for striking Kellogg’s workers will continue as long as the strike lasts. If the company does hire replacement workers, we can move on and not purchase any of their products again. We’ll miss our recipe crumbles, yet not that much.

Editor’s Note: News the strike with Kellogg’s ended reached us Dec. 21, 2021. Happy Holidays to all.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Back to Work

Apple tree viewed from top of a ladder.

The owner of the orchard and farm asked me to return to work as a mapper a few weeks ago. The mapper helps customers find ripe apples in the orchard during u-pick season. I first worked there in 2013 and did every year since, except for last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I noticed on Instagram they were already picking Viking and Pristine apples so I texted him. It is typical for me to begin work there in August.

After seven messages we determined he continued to need me and that I would go over today to fill out employee paperwork. There is a new manager of the retail barn sales operation to which this position reports. There have been other changes since 2019 as the orchard and farm expanded its offerings beyond apples. I’ll need an orientation. I haven’t worked for someone else since April 2020.

This work suits me. It is two days per week with a fixed ending date of October 31 when the last of the fall apples ripen and are picked. I earned about $2,000 in 2019. You can’t live on it yet there is a use for the income. I don’t work solely for the money any more.

While cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Iowa and across the United States, I’ve been vaccinated and most of the work is outdoors. Hard to say what I’ll run into. In evaluating the risks I didn’t see many of them. After being at home for more than a year, I’m ready for regular human contact with apple seekers.

Working at the orchard adds a fruit element to home food processing. I checked my store of apple products and I’m still working off applesauce, apple butter, apple cider vinegar and dried apples from previous years. My three trees look to produce a big crop this year, and I’ll get some pears. I’ll mainly use apples from the orchard for varieties I don’t grow and use my own harvest to ferment more apple cider vinegar and eat fresh.

Work at the orchard fits well into my idea of a kitchen garden. With a continuing big harvest from the garden a greater portion of each day is spent cleaning and processing vegetables. Adding fruit makes sense. Working at the orchard provides a chance to discuss seasonal produce, cooking, and eating with other people interested in the same thing. By the time I get to October our pantry and freezer should be stocked and the household well-positioned for winter.

I believe I’ll be a better person for going back to work.

Categories
Living in Society

What Work Will We Do?

Working the Garden

Conventional wisdom is there is a worker shortage in Iowa.

“Companies are really at a tipping point with respect to their workforce,” Iowa Business Council Executive Director Joe Murphy said in an interview with Perry Beeman of Iowa Capitol Dispatch. “They need people more than ever.”

The surge in demand for products and services in the second year of the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding, there is no shortage of workers. It is a shortage of jobs people want to do.

My colleague Tony Lloyd put it this way: “Can we stop saying that ‘Companies can’t find workers’ and start saying ‘Many corporate work environments are toxic. Workers weren’t thriving before the pandemic. Now they realize that life is short.’ The way you spend your time is the way you spend your life.”

Anyone who worked on a farm knows how hard physical labor can be. Factory workers are well attuned to the toll repetitive tasks take on their bodies. Retail workers figure out ways to eek out a living on low wages. People who are self-employed–housekeepers, landscaping contractors, beauticians and barbers, child care professionals, crafters and creatives–often feel one step from the debt collector with slim chances of making it. We go on working partly because we want to, yet mostly because we need income in 21st Century society.

Labor unions of the post World War II era framed what worklife can be: a 40-hour work week with paid overtime, a safe work place, vacations and holidays, health insurance, sick leave, and other perquisites. About one-quarter of all U.S. workers belonged to a union in the mid-1950s, yet only 10.8% of U.S. workers were union members in 2020. The union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.8 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.3 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While we are friends of organized labor, their model has not worked for the majority of Americans in the workforce.

Most small, family-run businesses I know seek to avoid hiring people unless they must. Everyone from the owner to the dish washer pitches in to help get required daily work done. Yet small businesses have been and continue to be acquired by larger ones, or are run out of business through market competition.

American business favors a structure where management expenses are minimized, and to do that, scale is important. The bookkeeper for a $1 million dollar a year operation may stay busy, yet the better use of such labor is said to be that same bookkeeper managing a portfolio of ten or twenty such operations. To do that businesses need scale. Scale well-serves the owners of business–the richest one percent among us–but that’s where trouble came in. It was noticed during the pandemic.

Scaling business to reduce overhead costs, and taking the individual decision-making aspect out of operating a small office or outlet within a large corporation is what created the “toxic work environments” to which Lloyd referred. If there is will to do something about it, I don’t see it in public. As we answer the question, “What work will we do?” our options are limited by the corporatization of the United States.

Wouldn’t it be great to work like this:

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

Sony Music Publishing or Sir Paul McCartney, who knows.

Unfortunately, even something as simple as “getting by” gets complicated. How we spend our days is made more difficult by the corporatization of worklife and the increasing divide between the richest people and the rest of us. The question remains unanswered.

Categories
Living in Society Work Life

Amazon, the Merchant

Writing space in 2000 with a locally made central processing unit via which I ordered from Amazon.

We logged on to the internet from home for the first time on April 21, 1996. I made my first purchase from Amazon.com on Dec. 23, 1998. It was a gift card for my spouse.

During the first years on the computer I purchased a lot of VHS video tapes and almost no books from Amazon. Among those early purchases were The Great Train Robbery, Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, The Seventh Seal and Roshomon, videos not available in local stores. I bought my first book in 1999, Decline of American Gentility by Stow Persons. It was unavailable in local bookstores even though Persons taught his course on American Intellectual History in Schaeffer Hall at the University of Iowa Pentacrest.

For books and videos, Amazon offered availability few others did. The immediacy of the internet made it preferable to driving half an hour to the nearest vendor in the county seat to place an order, then to return weeks later when the item arrived. When a person lives in the country, online shopping makes a lot of sense.

In 1998, Amazon.com reported a net loss of $124.5 million on $610 million in sales. They got better and are now very profitable. 2020 annual revenue was $386 billion with net income of $7.2 billion. They continue to grow and improve profitability, although no one dreamed they would dominate the marketplace as they do.

The trajectory of Amazon’s growth will accelerate as the company continues to control more of the supply chain and masters last-mile delivery (literally, the last mile(s) before the package reaches the customer’s door); This is the most difficult and complex aspect of fulfillment yet one of the most important touch points in terms of customer satisfaction.

Forbes Magazine, Feb. 21, 2021.

There are companies besides Amazon.com that moved their business model toward vertical integration, where all aspects of production through customer delivery were controlled. In the late 19th Century owners of such companies were called “robber barons” after feudal lords in medieval Europe who robbed travelers. The current owner of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, is easy to demonize as a robber baron, yet his business model requires customer satisfaction. A more practical criticism is to realize it is time for federal regulators to break up Amazon.com.

In Iowa, Teamsters Local 238 in Cedar Rapids is organizing local Amazon workers at facilities in Iowa City and Des Moines. Unions have had little recent success organizing private sector workers in Iowa. Most prominent union spokespeople in the state represent government workers. I am interested in Amazon from multiple perspectives.

If Amazon did not exist, there is little local retail infrastructure to replace them. For example, our local hardware store carries common items used to run a household. I enjoy going there first when I need something. One out of two times they don’t have what I need. Our local grocery store does not have many organic options. There are no specialty shops like books, fabric, and sundries. Bottom line, locals rarely have what I need.

When I look at recent online purchases, I’ve ordered a few things direct from vendors (a new Dell CPU and garden seeds). I get most clothing from J.C. Penney online, food from COSTCO, and books from Amazon. With the coronavirus pandemic more household sales went online.

In addition to retail availability, Amazon delivery drivers have become a presence in our neighborhood, as familiar as the United States Postal Service which also delivers some Amazon goods.

On Saturday I become officially “vaccinated” as it will have been two weeks since my booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine. Coming out of the pandemic I need new topics to write about and Amazon is in my sight. After 25 years of buying from them, I’m ready to do something else if they do not resolve some of the injustices created while growing their business, or if government regulators do not step in.

With a fixed income, managing money is important and lowest price for quality goods matters. Amazon is a suitable new topic for this blog.

As always, relevant reader comments are welcome.

Categories
Living in Society

With People Again

Sundog Farm on March 28, 2021.

Sunday was my first shift of soil blocking at Sundog Farm this spring. Besides shopping, medical appointments, and trips to government offices, it was the first time out since being restricted by the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. There were people (wearing masks) and animals (who weren’t)… and four dogs!

To see a short video of farm life on Sunday, click here.

It was partly cloudy with intermittent snow flurries. We worked outside with me making 35 soil block trays (4,200 seedling blocks) and a varying seeding crew of four or five, socially distanced across the concrete pad, planting broccoli, kale, mustard greens and other early vegetables. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, I worked mostly alone in the greenhouse. Sunday felt a bit more normal. The farmer and I negotiated our barter agreement and will continue discussions next weekend.

While it was relatively easy for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it has been a struggle for the farm workers who are mostly 20-somethings. I’ve had two doses and they had one. Both the state and federal government could do more to get rural Iowa vaccinated.

It’s good to be back to work, though. Here is a photo of my first tray of soil blocks for the season.

Tray of 120 soil blocks. March 28, 2021.
Categories
Living in Society

Stage Transition

Central Casting, Nov. 20, 2012.

Today was the last shift for our daughter at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It’s a bittersweet moment.

She arrived for permanent, full time work as an entertainment technician on Nov. 20, 2012. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted any plans she had last March. After six months on furlough she took an assignment outside technical stagecraft in retail sales as part of an agreement negotiated by her union. She took a substantial reduction in pay.

It was not why she journeyed to Florida so she asked again about a transfer to live performance, then gave proper notice and ended her work today. We discussed how live theater would always be an option for work before she took the job. Who knew the pandemic would happen? She worked hard and was well liked.

Doors that opened also close behind us, creating new beginnings. We hope for a positive outcome, especially on the other side of the pandemic.

Following is a blog post she made the day after checking in through the doors in the photo.

Down the Rabbit Hole…again.

Yesterday, I was up early in anticipation of my on-boarding appointment at the Walt Disney Casting building.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but as I had been sent a packet of materials right after my phone interviews, I was sure that they would be important.

The Casting building is prominently displayed on the highway leading to the Downtown Disney area.  You can see the large gold letters standing out against the brightly colored building, shining in the Florida sun.  There is still a thrill in seeing them, even all this time later.

The inside of the casting building is draped in images from Alice in Wonderland. This seems a terribly fitting image as one joins the ranks of the Disney Cast. Working for the Walt Disney Company really is a strange world where the rules aren’t quite the same and the characters all seem to have their own language.  One can become tongue-tied just trying to say the right thing. Fortunately, I’m still able to translate decently and spent all of my morning with a smile on my face. The strangest part for me was actually seeing cubicles again.  I am so used to being out in the park to work, there’s something strange and foreign about the office setting.  It did remind me of what I left back in Colorado though.  That strange contrast of just how different the outside world really is.

I met some very nice women who were also waiting for their paperwork to be processed.  It continues to fascinate me how, even in a company as homogenizing as Disney can be, there is still such amazing diversity among people’s own stories and personalities.  Along with that: I really must brush up on the Spanish.  I’m terribly out of practice.

I spent most of the rest of the day recovering from my two days drive. That long on the highway had not done well for my sense of direction or my personal health. The rest seemed to do me very well though, as I feel much better this morning. Some of that may have to do with my two cups of coffee this morning; that seems to have solved my headache problem.  Dear Former Office Job: I learned many things from you, but I do not appreciate the caffeine addiction, thanks.

Today, there is much to do. I must visit an apartment office, and I’m hoping they have something suitable and available, as I really don’t want to search much more at this point.  I’m currently in the midst of the Tourist district, so trying to get my bearings is quite a pain.  Everything is smashed in very close together and the drives and turns here are rather a mess in comparison to other places I’ve lived. I am also hoping I’ll have time to drive up to Orlando and visit my gym.  I have been too long away and it’s starting to be noticeable in my midsection. (I’m sure the 3 days of driving in the last week and a half didn’t help any either).

All that aside, I should be truly settled here shortly and will let you all know once that happens.  In the mean time, Live well and have a Magical Day. ;)

Who am I now? A blog post on Nov. 21, 2012 by Elizabeth Deaton
Categories
Living in Society Work Life

One More Demolition

Demolition of the Kraft Heinz/Oscar Mayer Plant. Photo Credit – John Blunk

A childhood friend posted this photo of the meat packing plant where my maternal grandmother, my father and I worked in Davenport.

This is where Father died in an elevator accident in 1969. I wrote a long post about Oscar Mayer in 2015, here.

Seeing the photo evoked no emotions although memories came to mind. I recalled driving a forklift truck throughout the plant and working in refrigerated and freezer units, lard rendering tanks, the kill floor, and most other places during two summer stints at the plant. I remember the locker rooms, the butcher shop for employees, the clinic where cuts and lacerations were treated, and meeting with a union representative in a human resources conference room the first summer. Working there was some of the hardest physical labor in my lifetime.

The transition of Davenport began while I was still living there. The city went through some pretty rough times in the 1970s. When my cohort of high school friends returned home from college and university the summer of 1971 anyone who wanted a summer job found one in the city’s major businesses. I’m not sure that would be possible today. When the Mayer family sold the business to General Foods Corporation in 1981 it was the beginning of the end.

When Ronald Reagan became president the jobs environment in Davenport got much worse with large-scale businesses closing and moving toward cheaper labor including outside the United States. It is ironic that Reagan got his start in radio at the WOC studios in Davenport given the damage his administration’s policies later did to the city’s industrial base. Reagan lived in Vail Apartments where Grandmother lived in her last working years. He was no favorite son, that’s for sure.

As prominent as the meat packing plant was during my childhood and early 20s I don’t feel anything about the plant’s demolition. Big meat packers displaced the kill floor years ago, consolidating operations in much larger plants and introducing boxed meat products. When Iowa Beef Processors gained prominence, my uncle, who was a union butcher at a grocery store, went to work for them as a sales representative. He was well aware of the shady business practices of the company during and after the 1969 strike in Dakota City. I also remember the strike and what it did to Oscar Mayer.

We knew this year’s plant demolition was coming so the actuality of it is less meaningful. One more demolition in the transition of society into something else, something that favors capital and its wealthy investors. Yet our family made a life out of the meat packing business for a while… until we didn’t when big corporations took over.

No regrets, no feelings, yet a few memories remain. They are memories of growing up in a union household with a sense of fairness about our personal labor and its rewards. Like the building soon will be, those feelings are gone.