Contract Work vs. Allowance

You know, when I was in High School a lot of my peers talked about their allowances.  Mostly about how little they got and how much they wanted.  In the early days, it was $10 a week, back in middle-school.  Then by Sophomore year it was closer to $50 a week.  When that wasn’t enough a few people got a job or two, but a few went the other way and started their own business.

The guy who sat in front of me in one of my classes admitted that he made $5,000 a week.  I figured that’s a pretty good allowance, so I asked him about it.  It was a pretty simple job…buy goods straight from the manufacturer for dirt-cheap and sell it at high-value markup.  His product of choice was a mixed-bag of ‘goodies’: Weed, coke, meth, and crack mostly.  He claimed he could do even more, but at $5k a week he was making just enough to pay for his own habit, along with enough for a pair of Nike shoes or designer jeans or something.

So the filled-in tear drop means you made honor roll and the empty one means Magna Cum Laude? That’s nifty!

He’s probably dead by now, but the fact is that he had a good shtick.

I got an ‘allowance’ when I was a kid, too.  Until I was almost ten I was paid 25 cents an hour to do household chores.  When I realized minimum wage at the time was $4.25 an hour.  I negotiated myself to $2, like both of my older sisters were getting at that time, within a few years.  Of course by then, minimum wage $4.75 an hour…damn inflation.

I was expected to do an hour a week of free work in chores, then I got paid $1.00 for the first hour and $2.00 for each hour after that.  I used to wait a month to get paid, because I didn’t want to have to start over at half-price again.

My mother told me this was not acceptable and I would have to be paid every week.  I cried foul and admitted I saw the value of waiting until I had something specific I wanted to spend my money on to collect it.  She reluctantly admitted, “I didn’t expect you to catch on to my ploy so easily.”

It was great when my older sisters were both out of the house and I was the sole provider of ‘chore’ duty.  It was like I was part of the Union!  I got to set the terms of arbitration, now!

I noted that, by this point in time, minimum wage was $5.15 an hour.  I recognized the validity of her argument that it was under the table and that my work was for a non-profit organization.  I was, of course, providing a slew of services for a cancer survivor.  So I agreed to a flat-fee of $5.00 per hour, under the table of course.

This benefited both parties, but I’ll admit I definitely had a much better arrangement than in past dealings with this particular employer.  Mother, Inc. needed a lot of work done the company cared only about effort put in, not the ultimate result.  So like any other government-funded subcontractor…I did a lot of work, but not much got done.

Ungh, my job’s killing my back! Maybe I should invest in an ergonomic chair; lemme think what are they called? Oh, right…beds.

Mother, Inc. wanted French drains to keep the basement from flooding when it rained.  I started digging a trench for the pipes to be put down.  I quickly realized the trench had to be over a foot deep and about thirty-five feet long.  I also quickly realized that if I dug a shallow trench around the affected area and sloped it to the driveway, the water would run off into said driveway.

Problem solved!

My next job was to repair a disaster zone in the driveway area caused by a sudden increase in ground water levels.  It was a veritable swamp zone by the time I got my instructions for the job!  The little bit of gravel in the mostly grassland area was almost all below ground level, sucked down by the sinking wet mass.  Problem was…I was given an infinite labor budget, but no materials budget.  I was unable to affect a resolution for the situation immediately.

I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as bad as the media made it out to be.

About this same time I got contracted by Mother, Inc. to demolish an old, unused chimney.  I was quoted an estimate of about ten hours of work, total, removing brick and closing down the space.  It wasn’t until I got into the job that I found out there was concrete block under the brick façade.

Realization dawned upon the crew and it was quickly decided we’d turn both of the smaller contracts into one big contract.  The idea was proposed to Mother, Inc. and they were all for it.

The work on the chimney was mostly hammer and chisel stuff.  Break through the mortar and separate the bricks, but as it got closer to the ground it became apparent the structural integrity had been degraded by the work.  We were able to haul large chunks of it out by the end of things.

These single bricks and brick chunks were then hauled down to the driveway where I busted them up with a sledgehammer, using it to fill in the sinkhole spots of the soft ground.  It wasn’t industrial gravel, but it would do.

The underlying block saw a similar fate.  They were bigger and heavier, but they were weak and rotted and came out easily enough.  Before long both jobs were basically done, but now the driveway area was pretty rough and jagged and we had a slight problem with uneven driving conditions.  A near miss on a flat tire here or there and it became apparent we needed something else.

Then came the word from above…another flood zone.  The roadside creek area was beginning to get back up, something about stones washing into the waterway, I guess.  Mother, Inc. contracted us to clean it up and we found it a fairly easy, albeit dirty, job.

Naturally, we responded before any casualties were reported.

We cleaned out the debris and found some good, smooth, river rock, too.  The sledgehammer at the driveway site made quick work of them and we put them overtop of the rough stuff, buffering it well.

So with the chimney site opened back up to pedestrian travel, the basement nice and dry, and the driveway region built up and levied, we gave our ‘mission complete’ statement to Mother, Inc. on the roadside creek job and were given another task.

Mother, Inc. wanted the hilly areas north of the capital, House, leveled and brought down a bit.  It was a cake job, I guess.  $5.00 an hour, under the table, to dig out a hill that was so big you’d need a big machine to make a dent in it.  I had my trust mattock pick and my shovel, with a wheelbarrow or two to boot.

It was hard work, but expectations were low.  An inch here, an inch there, and progress was declared.  Any time I started hurting for money…I’d just clear out some recurring brush and dig another inch back, another inch to the side, maybe do some aesthetic work for the public opinion.

By the time I closed up shop and left the area, I’d done about 8 square feet of work.  Not bad for a four-year project, I guess.  I’ve seen the local DOT construction crews do worse.

All in all it was a pretty successful contract.  Mother, Inc.’s doing pretty good these days, even though the new companies in the area are nowhere near as cheap as I bid for the work.

Every once in a while, though, I get a call from the organization and come up to do some pro bono work.  It’s for a good cause, after all.


Forced Gratuity

It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of giant corporations who cheat their customers, I’m looking at you every-oil-conglomerate-in-existence, and I clearly have some deep-rooted issues with the way things work in this country.

You know something I really hate?  Standard gratuities at restaurants.  If I bring a group of 5 or more people into your restaurant, you should thank me for bringing you business.  You pay a marketing firm to try to get that kind of result, why do you charge me extra?

And worse yet, I know the answer: Because the ungrateful pricks who eat there won’t tip!

I tip unusually well, especially for good service.  If you’re a waiter/waitress I usually have and you’re usually really good and today was pretty bad, I assess the situation:

-She was pretty busy.

-She seems flustered.

-She’s wearing two different shoes.

Okay, so she’s having really bad day today, it’s really busy, and the manager is glaring needles through her; this is not her usual self.  She gets 20%.

If I have you as a server regularly and you’re usually pretty good, but today was bad and I look around to see this:

-I’m the only person here.

-You spent the entire hour I was here in the corner giggling over your phone.

-You’re still wearing two different shoes.

You’re just a bitch today (and probalby drunk or high), and I’m going to remember this the next time you’re up to par…you get 10% today and 15% the next time (maximum), if your service was up to snuff.

Now if you’re not my regular server and you do a really good job, expect 20%.  If it’s busy and you still do a good job…first of all I’m going to try to get you next time I’m there, and second of all…25%.

If you’re my regular server and you’re always good, and today is no different…don’t be surprised by 30%, or more sometimes.

I work hard for my money and if you want it, you better at least work for it.  You, as a waiter/waitress, have a pretty shitty job and deal with pretty people and you’re highly underpaid; I know that.  But I expect a certain level of service for my money.

If I’m having a bad day and somebody breaks into a car and I come across the scene and say, “Fuck it, I’m having a bad day…I don’t care,” and just walk away from it without gathering evidence and filing a report…I get fired.  If you have a bad day, that doesn’t mean I should get bad service.

That being said…you also have a pretty shitty job, as I said, and everyone has bad days.  There are days I let people go on minor violations because I’m having a bad day and don’t want to file the paperwork involved in chastising them.  I’m certainly not going to get any commendations that day.  And if you wait on me like that, you’re not getting much of a tip, either.

Also I have a credit card that gives reward points…since I’ve gotten it, I’ve upped my tipping by 5% on average.  Why?  Because I get rewards points for the tip, too.  And if you leave your tip on a credit card, you should know this: That tip gets taxed in their check and they don’t get it until payday.

Tips shouldn’t be taxed and most aren’t thanks to being in cash.  So since I don’t like tips being taxed, I throw a little extra in to pay their taxes.  Generous, right?

Wait a minute…I don’t like paying my own taxes, but I pay other peoples?  Hrmph, I’m a little goofy at times, I admit it.

But that being said, I’m almost always the biggest tipper at the table.  If I come in with five or more people, we’re usually splitting the bill and even if we don’t, the place is still making more money than if we had gone somewhere else.

I have a buddy who hardly ever tips, and when he does tip he bases the size of the tip on what the girl looks like.  That’s right, if you’re a waiter you don’t have any chance of getting tipped.

There’s a guy my fiancé works with who will round things up to the nearest dollar…it doesn’t matter what it is.  If it’s a bill for $14.98, he leaves $15.  That’s a two cent tip…even though we were in the restaurant for four hours and he had ten cups of coffee.

I always try to pay instead of my fiancé, because she has a tendency to try to do 50% and 75% tips to make up for the others.  I don’t make Mitt Romney money, so I can’t afford a $20 tip on a $25 meal, generally.  As kind as she is, I try to reign her in on it.

But anyway, these two assholes are why gratuities are put onto checks.  That was the point I was trying to make.

Here’s my problem with forced gratuities…it screws my server over.  You know that that 15% or 17% charge doesn’t all go to the server, the busser, and the cook.  You know that the company skims from it like any other service charge, then gives what little they leave behind in the workers’ checks so they get taxed on it.

But, out of spite…I don’t tip when there’s a forced gratuity on my bill.  That was your tip.  It sucks, I know, but if you want tipped…find a way to keep the gratuity off my bill; because I’m not double-tipping.

Or if you’re smart you’ll have the check to my fiancé, because she’ll give you her whole wallet the generous bitch.

You gave her the check while I was in the restroom, didn’t you?

How to fix the problem…

The problem isn’t even with the restaurants, and certainly not the fault of the workers.  It’s the legality.  You see wait staff don’t have to be paid minimum wage, because they can be tipped.  Theoretically, the tips are supposed to equal minimum wage on top of their actual wage.

This is stupid.

Get rid of the law allowing wait staff to be paid less than minimum wage.  Then if a place retains the gratuities…don’t eat there.  Eventually they’ll drop the gratuity rule to bring customers back.

One of two things will happen:

1. Wait staff will be paid more, they’ll be happier and more willing to take shit from you without rubbing your pancakes in their ass crack can before bringing them out to you.  Or…

2. The shitty restaurants who charge gratuities will go out of business and new ones who don’t will rise from the ashes.

If McDonalds pays minimum wage, why shouldn’t Eat’n’Park, Denny’s, IHOP, Kings, and the lot?


Maximum Wage

A big point of contention in this country is the financial disposition of the nation.  1% of the nation owns a large portion of the country and the top 10% owns over 90% of the nation as a whole.  See the diagram below to see the disparityof wealth in America.

That's cool, I liked Georgia, anyway.

But free marketers say that there’s nothing we can do about it.  If you do a good job, you should get paid and paid well…or at least you should if you’re a CEO.  They claim that doing anything about it would violate the freedoms of the wealthy and would ruin the free market.

We created a minimum wage to ‘help’ the poor class.  It does more to damage small business, you know the least wealthy businesses, than it does to harm big business who runs the country, you know the business owned by that aforementioned 10%

So why can’t we institute a Maximum Wage?  You have to be paid $7.25 an hour, minimum.  So how about a nice calm…$40.25 an hour, maximum.

Put a moratorium on hours workable as well; no person can work more than 16 hours without an 8 hour break.  So if you pay a CEO maximum wage for 16 hours a day, every day-7 days a week, year-round, including overtime…then you achieve the maximum wage for a salaried official.

So regular time for 40 at $40.25 equals out to $1610 a week; add in the overtime at $4347 for time and a half of $40.25 over 72 hours.

That means that the maximum yearly wage would be $309,764.  This will include bonuses, so no salary of $300k and then a $4 million bonus, or anything like that.

Let’s look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s CEOs as a comparison.  They each make $900,000 and then get paid $2.4 million in bonuses.  This is as they ask Congress to give them more money because they can’t make the business profitable enough to stay out of bankruptcy.

So if we assume they had the same losses in 2011 as they did in 2010, that means that Fannie Mae lost $14 billion dollars, even thought they posted an income of $153.8 billion.  That means that their operating expenses were in excess of $167 billion dollars.

So if we cut the CEO of Fannie Mae, Mike Williams, down to $309,764 a year in salary…we just saved the company $2,990,236.  That’s almost 3 million dollars!

So if we assume that the executive board makes 75% of the CEO’s salary and bonuses, that would be about $2.5 million dollars per person.  If we assume an executive board of 10 people, plus the CEO; and we cut that board down from 2.5 million to $300 thousand, then we save 2.2 million dollars, per person.

With just the executive board we’d save the company $24,990,236, that’s roughly $25 million dollars.  It’s not quite 14 billion, but it’s a step in the right direction.  Imagine how many people there make over $300 thousand dollars already, that would all end.

Now we make lobbying illegal like I said in the last post and we also save them another few million.  Before you know it…Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be profitable again!


Or else they’ll fold and we can replace them with something that really works.  Either way’s cool with me.