FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Screwing Working People

A friend of mine dropped out of high school in the mid-70s. She went to work cleaning at a college in her town. She worked at this college for about 30 years.

Apparently, she didn’t work for the college, though. She worked for three or four (it’s hard to tell) different companies, companies contracted to do the cleaning.

Now she is ready to get her pension. She went to human resources at the college. But they said she didn’t work for them. They sent her to the company currently responsible for housekeeping. That company sent her to the company that manages the union’s pension fund.

The union told her to fill out a form. It seemed to her like they wanted her to say that she worked at the college for fourteen years. That’s all they had on record. Apparently, at some point in time the union’s pension fund was in trouble so it merged into another pension fund. All the records from the early time were transferred to the new fund managers.

The new fund managers seem to be saying that they have records for my friend’s years of work and that they don’t have records for her years of work. They also seem to be saying that she needs to go to the Social Security office to get a bunch of detailed records of her hours. This will cost $47.50. It’s hard to know why this is necessary if they already have records of her work. But maybe they don’t.

Meanwhile, the office managing the fund changed addresses on August 1.

I can’t quite get why they were telling my friend that she had to go get all these records. And this is after having spoken this morning to four people at three offices (college, current company, and union fund) two or three times each.

After two hours, though, something else emerged. It now seems like there was no pension fund until 1991. That is, it appears like the local only established a pension fund for the workers in 1991. And it also looks like the employer’s contribution during that period was only five cents an hour.

It’s strange that no one mentioned this to my friend when she was first attempting to get her pension. It is also strange that it took so many phone calls to establish this. Is it even true? That’s not what my friend remembers. She remembers a union being there from the beginning, but it’s been a long time and this stuff is complicated and confusing.

On the surface, my friend’s experience is that of working in the same place, in the same union, in the same buildings, for nearly 30 years. Below the surface: three (or four) companies, only one of which currently exists and two (or three) pension funds, only one of which currently exists.

Because of capital, her world is not what it seems. Her basic experience of work (which also sucks) is fundamentally different from capital’s managing of her remuneration for her work. The effect is that she worked for 30 years and her pension will only cover 14 years. And, it isn’t clear why: no union contract? a mismanaged pension fund? a loss of records as ownership changed?

The complications benefit capital and screw her. She’s being exploited through the mechanisms of a process that was supposed to provide her with a benefit. She doesn’t understand a lot of it (and neither do I). But she gets the basic point: “they expect me to die so that they won’t have to give me my money.”

But this story is incomplete because I’ve left out or underplayed another key aspect of the situation–how the people who work in offices treat my friend. She’s in her sixties, black, and without a high school degree. When she got to my house this morning, she understood the primary issue to be that she needed to get information from social security that would tell the pension fund people how long she had worked for the college (which, technically, was zero years since she was employed by a private contractor). Her concern was with filling out a form properly and needing some white-out to fix some information that was misrepresented.

When I made the phone calls, people talked to me, answered my questions, tranferred me to others higher on the food chain, and began doing the research on the employers and union contracts. I’m a 50 year old white woman, a full professor with a Ph.D. I found it all extraordinarily difficult to understand and only began getting things sorted by asking a lot of questions. The bureaucrats only divulged information when asked and spoke as if all of their terms were clear and obvious. They were brusk and confident, off-putting if you aren’t privileged enough or socialized to question and push back. After I hung up from the last call, my friend looked at my across the table, shaking her head in a combination of disgust, fury, and resignation, “they wouldn’t tell me none of that.”

As it looks right now, she will get $70.70 a month. She worked as a cleaner for thirty years.

Jodi Dean is a Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY. Her most recent book is The Communist Horizon, coming out next month from Verso.

More articles by:
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail