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Why It Doesn’t Always Pay to be a Professional

Decades ago, newspaper reporters had low wages and no bylines.

As expected, they were a bit testy about the low wages.

So, publishers figured out that if they gave reporters bylines, it would soothe their savage egos.

It worked.

But, then came the union movement in full force in the 1930s, and reporters wanted more than bylines and low wages.

And so publishers raised the wages a little bit and gave some benefits.

But, there was still that ego-thing.

So, when reporters kept demanding livable wages, publishers made reporters editors and gave them salaries.

A general assignment reporter might also write a weekly story about airplanes. Thus, he became the newspaper’s aviation editor.

Another reporter might write a story or two a week about fashion, and she—there were few women in the newsroom for many decades, and the ones who were there were consigned to “women’s stories”—would be the fashion editor.

The editorship of journalism solved another problem.

Because they were now management, reporters could still work as much as 60 hours a week, be paid salaries, and not get overtime hours. They could also be forced to work split shifts—a few hours during the day, a break, and then return to work night hours, possibly covering excessively boring school board and city council meetings where most of the decisions are made in secret in the euphemistically-called “work sessions” before the open public meeting later in the evening.

Nevertheless, working excessive hours but with a title and salary led reporters to think they were truly professionals and not factory workers who were paid by the hour and received federally-mandated overtime when their work exceeded 40 hours a week.

And then along comes the Department of Labor. And it so decreed in 2004 that anyone making less than $455 a week is entitled to overtime if work hours exceeded 80 in a two-week period. Any wage more than $455 a week would keep workers from getting overtime pay.

But now the Department of Labor wants to raise that threshold.

In the past decade, the cost of living has gone up about 20 percent.

Supporting the increase in overtime standards are the worker-friendly Democrats. Opposing the increase are the business-class Republicans.

Even with an assistant deputy metro editor thrown into the mix, there are still more workers than management.

Newspapers aren’t the only place where workers can be exploited. For the joy of “being on air,” TV workers can be paid lower salaries and be expected to work excessive hours.

The national networks (with the exception of Fox News) and entertainment industry, however, are heavily unionized, with crafts workers, actors, and staff receiving overtime pay or being given released time, also known as comp time, if there are reasons why workers have to put in more than an eight-hour day, with breaks.

But all is not so rosy for factory workers and millions of others who are paid hourly. Some unscrupulous employers have been known to have workers sign in late and punch out early, working 9 or 10 hour days but being recorded for only 8. Other employers do follow the rules, but push mandatory overtime onto their workers. It’s much easier and more economical to require employees to show up 13 days out of 14, have them work an extra hour or two each day, and pay them time-and-a-half than to hire new workers.

The Ford Motor Co. in 1914 learned a lesson about worker fatigue. Henry Ford doubled wages to $5 a day, highest in the industry, and limited most workers to eight-hour days. Morale went up; productivity went up; and profits went up—in two years, Ford had doubled its profits. But Henry Ford was also a realist—better pay, better benefits, and better working conditions also kept unions out of his company, and he could continue to be the racist, anti-Semitic dictator of a thriving industry.

Nevertheless, some workers still think getting a salary of more than $24,000 a year and having a title is indicative of being in the professional class, and they support corporate America.

Does that make any sense?

More articles by:

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

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