01 December 2013

Hanukah Day Three: Living Wage

It never ceases to amaze me--the human capacity to do what is necessary to survive.  The quiet, dignified efforts of millions of people to provide the most basic material--food, shelter, health care, transportation--to their families.   We move so quickly these days you might fail to notice, in the rush to get by yourself, how someone always has it worse than you and despite that, makes the "oil burn" for that additional minute, hour or day.  Miraculous.

Alan Feuer's portrait of fast food worker Eduardo Shoy is one such example.  I urge you to read it.  Personally, it brings to mind my own mother's working ethic.  For years she supported her kids through a divorce and her need for independence.  And after a second divorce, near a time in her life when her friends where beginning to slow down and contemplate retirement, she stayed at work, just ahead of a living wage, and worked right up to the last year of her life when cancer struck her down at seventy-nine.

Her employers were incredibly compassionate.  They allowed for flexible hours to help accommodate her chemotherapy protocol; they kept her insured; and in staying in touch, gave her the dignity to claim that despite being on a kind of medical leave, she was employed.

One can think of a Macabee as a kind of scrappy rebel, teeming with revolutionary spirit, heroically heading down from the hills on horseback, bearing the standard of freedom.

Feuer describes, in contrast to this image, a man of quiet and humble dignity, logging miles on his grease stained Honda, delivering fast food to other workers throughout the city.  With barely a moment to rest between both wage jobs, he reaches the conclusion that his work may also entail showing up to organize, with other workers, for better wages and benefits.

The contrast between workers' wages and executive compensation is startling in any circumstance.  In the illuminated moments of a man's life--delivering KFC, a brief nap, driving forklift at JFK--ought to humble any executive and politician into doing what's right for working people.

Last year Bloomberg News covered the wage gap at McDonalds.  Take a few minutes to read it.  It will read faster than your Hanukah candles take to burn.  Noticing that IS the point of Hanukah.

Oil that burns for freedom.  That deep fries the fast food people eat.  That fuels the car and the lift which move us, and our things, from here to there.

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