Monday, May 28, 2012

The Worth of a Strong Back

The sun baked the high church roof as the workers labored  -- stripping off old shingles, loading the fallen shingles into wheelbarrows and pushing them to the dumpster, securing new shingles into place.  I watched as one tall, muscular young man tipped his heavy load of shingles off the wheelbarrow -- muscles rippling from his efforts.  And, I thought of politicians wrangling over the issue of raising the minimum wage.

Unfortunately, the legislators who make the final decisions concerning minimum wage and work standards are sitting in air-conditioned comfort as they argue over these issues.  To many of them, this is a political issue -- who wants to alienate business constituents with deep pockets.  There is a total disconnect between the work these legislators do each day and the work done by most minimum wage workers in this country.  

Unless you have earned your living doing physical work every day, it is difficult to place a value on this work.  Many educated professionals have never worked physically.  No matter how menial the physical work, it is hard work.  The construction laborer who does the digging and the lifting and the "grunt" work, the stock person who lifts and loads all day, the waitress who carries heavy trays back and forth again and again with a smile on her face, and the landscape worker who lifts and kneels and moves heavy stones are all physically exhausted by the end of their day.  Shouldn't they be paid a wage that allows them to afford decent housing, healthy food and health insurance?

As I was working in the garden the past two weekends -- digging and raking two new raised beds for vegetables, stringing fencing to keep my deer and rabbits out, planting and watering, I was once again reminded that physical work is tough.  I remember years ago thinking that painting looked like an easy job -- until we bought our old house and spent hours stripping wallpaper, sanding and painting -- up and down ladders, reaching and bending and kneeling.  I then realized that being a professional painter was no "walk in the park".

I wish each of our lawmakers would spend a few days as an "intern", working eight hours a day at a minimum wage job -- working with hands and back and muscles.  Maybe then they would realize that these workers deserve to receive fair compensation for their work -- compensation that will allow them to afford decent housing, healthy food and health insurance. 

Unfortunately, these people lack the political clout of the businesses that employ them.  Maybe we need a labor union for minimum wage workers -- to fight for their rights in a society which does not realize their worth.


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