It’s Not Just Skilled Labor vs Unskilled Labor Any More, And That Matters

In the debate over minimum wage, we are also contending with a much larger social debate on neither the value of education and training, or even the right to a life sustaining wage, but one of semantics about the work that people do and whether or not that work is “skilled” or “unskilled”.

Which fails to acknowledge the much larger issue that labor is functionally no longer broken down into a dichotomy, but at least a quadripartite of highly skilled, skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled, that is then perceptively pulled back into the same two segments, with loose definitions on where each part should be classified based on the argument being made.

And that’s just the descriptor for various common trades, what we are also neglecting to address is the proliferation of so-called gig work, in which earning an income is not necessarily a function of vocation but of necessity to supplement income across the unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled spectrum. In some instances, even the highly skilled among us are also utilizing gig work to make ends meet.

But that all comes down to how we, we as a country, a state, a community, and a business choose to define employees within our business.

What we have failed to do is have meaningful conversations about labor, it’s value to people, and the value of people in general without it becoming an ego stroking pissing contest regarding whose job is more important.

I’m not a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant, common professions listed as highly skilled.

Technically, as an IT person, I am however considered skilled labor, along with an interesting assortment of steel, textile, and chemical workers.

I’m not semi-skilled, though I have been classified as such, in the company of bartenders, taxi drivers, and clerical staff.

And then there’s unskilled, which is the odd assortment of people that, effectively, are seen as requiring no specialized training to do their jobs such as janitors, fast food workers, and cashier’s.

But when we get into the dichotomy of skilled versus unskilled, and depending on perspective, I’m generally considered unskilled.

And like many so-called skilled workers who are not “highly skilled,” I can easily, and have, end up on the same end of the pay scale as those who “flip burgers.”

And most of this has to do, not with skills and education, but about the desire of companies to maximize profits through arbitrary suppression of wages which they accomplish through creating a dividing conversation with words like value, worth, education, experience, and skills. Perhaps what we need is a fifth classification called “asshole labor.” To define, this would the classification given to those who utilize, perpetuate, and benefit from creating such arguments in the general workforce, example most CEOs of large businesses.

Because ultimately, when we look at income distribution, most of us, even those of us who are highly skilled, are essentially working between abject poverty and $150,000 a year. Asshole labor doesn’t get out of bed for $150,000 a year, most are not even interest in taking the position at under $250,000.

And in the asshole labor field, we find senators and legislators, the people who make our policies, vote on stimulus checks and minimum wage. And what we can see is that they are having an entirely different conversation about skilled vs unskilled labor. And that those are pretty words for me and people like me, and everyone else.

In employment we have seen the rapid rise of unpaid work that that reduces the effective hourly rate of those in salaried positions and hourly workers alike. From off the clock meeting, even ones happening on a day off, to transferring duties and responsibilities of multiple workers onto one employee causing unpaid extra hours to be worked, unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, and highly skilled workers are often in abusive positions being, albeit legally, pushed to work additional hours without additional pay.

If you work at an hourly rate at minimum wage and are required to attend an off the clock meeting, that unpaid time counts against your hourly rate of pay, in just one minute you are instantly making less than minimum wage. That part is clear and most workers who earn minimum wage to start realize that instantly.

But many skilled workers never realize that while the “expectation to work longer hours” effectively translates to lower wages as well.

If, as a full-time employee paid a fixed salary, you calculate that amount on the presumption of getting paid for work you do as though it were 5 days a week for 8 hours a day, you may easily earn $15 per hour or more. But do you work 40 hours a week? So maybe it’s more like 50 hours a week. So, you divide by 50 instead of 40 and you go from say $35,000 a year being $16.83 per hour, to $13.46 per hour.

Except, because you are a salaried employee that isn’t the whole story. If you were actually paid hourly, you would also be paid overtime, time-and-a-half, for those 10 extra hours. Now your $16.83 per hour is really more like $12.24 an hour.

And that’s the real fear and the real issue that makes companies fight against minimum wage increases.

Because what this conversation is actually about is overtime exempt and non-exempt employees and the wage and hour disputes that can arise when employers are found to be using that to pay wages at a rate that abuses employees.

In 2020, the salary threshold for overtime exempt employees jumped from $455 per week ($23,660 per year), or about $11.38 per hour that plummets to $7.34 per hour with just 14 hours and 40 minutes of overtime each week, to $684 ($35,568 per year), or about $17.10 per hour that allows for as little as $7.28 per hour with about 36 hours of overtime. Under $15 an hour minimum wage, 3 hours and 15 minutes of overtime would quickly push employed to an effective hourly rate of $15.20.

Overtime exempt is a classification allowed for another class of workers referred to as “white collar” (versus “blue collar”) workers, the definition of which is highly integrated with how we define the unskilled, vs skilled labor debate.

Despite protests that wage earners will see no improvement in wages, the reality is they very much would, albeit not immediately, as there would be a case for, even under the new standard, for employees not paid overtime to fight their exempt status in jobs where they are expected to work extra hours.

Assuming for a moment that employers didn’t hotly contest this change from $454 to $684, they effective showed part of their hand on just how many extra hours that they expect employees to work. Or, moreover, how many employees are expected to work in overtime exempt jobs and put in more than 14 hours and 40 minutes of overtime each week. In either case, neither employers or employees are defining jobs, at least not in the overtime exempt category, as 40 hours a week any more, and it would seem that those jobs are exceeding 54 hours and 40 minutes so regularly that a 150% increase in compensation to pad against unpaid overtime work happened without much debate.

To be clear, this means that employers are well aware that, roughly speaking, 55 hours a week is the new full-time job.

Using this all as a reference, that $684 threshold would need to move to at least $938 ($48,776 per year) just to accommodate 15 hours of overtime work expected, and $1,410 ($73,320 per year) for the full 36 hours of overtime that it currently supports. Another 137% to 206% increase of the minimum wage threshold.

Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, entry level workers in a salaried overtime exempt job would effectively (potentially) be looking at going from starting a job at $23,660 in 2019 to $35,568 in 2020, to a foreseeable near future bump to $48,776, all because employers know that an increase in their demand for extra hours from employees coupled with an increase in minimum wage will inevitably lead to increased claims of exploitative misclassification of employees as overtime exempt.

And, with documentation by the employee and a half decent lawyer, those claims will lead to back pay awards and penalties that demonstrate to management and the broader asshole labor segment the fundamental need to adjust, if not through legal mandate at least business practice regarding, salary to amounts that would avoid most if not all such claims.

Why, because the Fair Labor Standards act not only can require an employer to go back 3 years to pay substantiated misclassification claims, from the date of filing, and can then double that amount.

So, let’s take this example and play it out in a scenario. John is hired as an overtime exempt employee at $35,568 a year, minimum wage increases to $15 per hour before he started. John is routinely required to put in 15-20 hours of overtime (for argument’s sake, we will say that over 3 years it averages out to a perfect 17 hours of overtime each week). John then files a misclassification claim. If that claim is substantiated, that employer will be penalized anywhere from $46,566, that makes up the difference between the $35,568 John made and the $51,090 he should have earned with proper classification and overtime pay) to $93,132 with doubling of that award.

What is important to remember is that, technically speaking, there are many employees classified as overtime exempt that are not the kind of employees that should be overtime exempt.

What generally keeps this from being an issue is that it should wash, and employees are happy enough with a fixed and expected income, despite being technically misclassified and potentially due more at some point but less at others if they were properly classified, and are also reasonably treated by their employer to not complain, and whose claims would effectively be arguing over pennies even if they were to pursue it.

But I don’t know anyone making $35,568 a year, from our example, who would walk away leaving $15,522 a year, or self-selecting a 30% pay cut just because their employer is “nice” to them. And really, given our past issues surrounding gender inequality in pay and the 75 cents for every man’s dollar that women make (the 25% vagina tax), how much worse would it then be walk away from another 30% in overtime pay?

And, guess what, even your employer isn’t dumb enough to think you will either, even if you’re already being paid 25% more for having a penis.

Trans-Allegheny Facebook Live Event 9:30PM-10:30PM EST 3/27/2021

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 2021 — March 27, 2021 @ 9:30pm EST

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 2021
SATURDAY, MARCH 27, 2021 AT 9:30 PM EDT – 10:30 PM EDT

FREE Facebook LIVE Event Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 2021 hosted by World Natural Attractions

We thought as a fan of The Psychic Coffee Shop, you would be especially interested in knowing about this event.

Located in Weston, WV Trans-Allegheny is a gothic era 250-bed mental hospital that operated from 1864 until its closure in 1994.

In 2007 was purchased and has subsequently been a local tourist attraction for those both fascinated with the building itself, and the patients that were treated there.

Some of whom are claimed to still walk the halls.

Originally opened as the height of modern mental healthcare in its time, by the 1950s the number of patients housed there far exceeded its original plan by an order of magnitude, eventually peaking at 2,400 patients in the 1950s.

From hope for those suffering acute and severe mental illness, it eventually became a horror in its own right and a showcase of everything that was wrong with the mental healthcare system in the United States.

From SyFy’s Ghost Hunters to Travel Chanel’s Destination fear, the rich history of this building, and the experiences people have had there, keep this a popular destination for those who like to explore all things paranormal.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 2021
SATURDAY, MARCH 27, 2021 AT 9:30 PM EDT – 10:30 PM EDT

Aeson Knight, Techy Joe, PCSPNetwork, The Psychic Coffee Shop, and Mountain Bears are not connected or affiliated with this event.

Coronavirus: Lean Forward into Greatness, Don’t Sit in Panic

I grew up with grandparents who were born before sliced bread. They were babies or not yet born during WWI, part of what became known as the greatest generation. They married, set up house, and had a baby in the middle of the Great Depression. One of the places they lived with that baby was a duplex in which the family upstairs was diagnosed with tuberculosis Though my grandmother and my father didn’t get sick, they ended up having false positives on skin tests for it for the rest of their lives.

I couldn’t help but think of my grandparents today, especially of my grandmother’s general principles of “learn to do without, have to be careful, and have to be saving,” at a time in which our country is thrown into a panic of Coronavirus.

Not all of her stories from those times of struggle were sad, some of them were about the ability to look back and find humor in what, at the time, seemed like the worst possible thing that could have happened.

There was the time that my father, a small child doing as small children do, knocked over their cupboard of dishes. Every plate, bowl, and cup they owned was suddenly a pile of broken pieces spilled across the kitchen floor. They couldn’t afford to buy new ones. The rage, the fury that swelled up inside of her was overwhelming, at that moment she thought she could have killed her own child for being so careless. Thankfully my grandfather sent him outside and calmed her down. He was born with a club foot, a condition in which at birth his foot was bent to where his heel and toes were side-by-side. They struggled to get it straightened, my father having to wear casts for years and her having to massage and manipulate the foot to get it as it should be. The fear and worry they had about money to pay for him to see doctors, about whether he would ever walk normally, and there he was running carefree through the kitchen like any other child.

Funny years later when times aren’t as tight and with more dishes than you can use crammed everywhere you can put them, at the moment a horrible problem that you can’t solve on top of all the rest.

Or having a washing machine that broke down in a time in which “just buying a new one,” wasn’t an option. My grandfather tried to fix it and, after struggling with it for a considerable amount of time, realized that it was a problem with the motor. Like anyone else who has tried to fix something, there’s that sudden “I know what I need” rush out the door. He removed the motor and rushed out the door to go take it to see if it can be fixed. He got as far as the car before realizing he didn’t have his keys and laid the motor on the sidewalk beside the car to go get them. Two minutes inside the house later, he comes out to find the motor gone.

WWII saw children doing their part for the war effort, roaming neighborhoods collecting scrap sat on sidewalks in front of houses. It was a series of unfortunate, but honest, mistakes. They did without, my grandmother handwashing all their clothes.

Again, funny years later when you don’t have to use a hand crank wringer washer or a scrub board to do your laundry, but at the time a moment in which you feel so bonehead stupid for doing such a thing.

They survived those events and so many more. They helped as they could whoever they could. From taking care of their parents, and anyone else in need.

Their lives, though no storybook, were a testament to resiliency. To being able to find a way to set aside the harsh realities, be creative, be willing to embrace struggle and hardship, and trying to keep a sense of humor and humility.

In many ways, I feel I have inherited some of those traits.

This weekend we ended up traveling miles from the house just to realize that the reason for the trip, a small workshop, wasn’t that day, but a week later.

Upon realizing this there were two very distinct reactions in the car. Mine, and his. His was one of “I cannot believe what I just did, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.”

And mine, to find it hysterically funny.

The milk was already spilled, there was nothing I could do, including yelling, screaming, and blaming that would fix it.

We were 150+ miles from home for, effectively, no good reason. Why be angry? What does that solve? Sure, I would love to have slept in and not gotten on the road bright and early to make the drive, but that was already done. What’s the opportunity, what’s the creative solution, what do we do with it.

For me, it was to realize that we keep saying, “one of these days when we have a chance, when we don’t have to be in such a rush, when we can take some time, it would be lovely to just be a visitor and explore these places we go to.”

We’re here, let’s choose our own adventure!

We did. We did some light shopping, we stopped at places we normally only get to rush through, we tried a new restaurant, and along the way, we turned the day around. Was it the most awesome day ever? No. Could we have planned better? Yes. That, however, wasn’t what we had to work with. We had to take a moment and decide to get creative. To decide that no, this wasn’t the day we had planned, and it wasn’t going to be perfect, but we could salvage it.

Coronavirus panic has taken the world over, just as the panic of realizing you’ve made a massive mistake or shown up at the right place on the wrong day. The solution isn’t to sit in the panic and let it consume you. Panic is not a place to live, it’s a place to visit, it’s sobering. It lets us understand the magnitude and gravity of what has happened or is happening. You take your moment of realizing what has or is occurring, and you move forward and try.

Coronavirus is here, it’s happening, and it’s a serious issue that needs everyone’s careful attention.

It is also an opportunity to do great things, to push through the fear, the uncertainty, and the anxiety and find ways to deal with the challenges that we encounter.

Resiliency, even when it hurts, even when it’s scary, even when it’s hard is what we need to strive for. The ability to take those challenges, accept that they are there, and then begin to find ways to overcome them.

Only with resiliency can we get out of the panic and see that there will be other days ahead. Nothing, good nor bad, lasts forever. This will end at some point, and every day despite whatever else unfolds is one day closer to the end.

What we must accept that this period of unknowns, though difficult, is a call to dig deep and find greatness within ourselves. To find the spirit of our parents, grandparents, and beyond that survived similar or worse than we are facing right now. Somewhere within you exist the traits of that Greatest Generation, of those who survived what seemed impossible, made do, did without, got creative, remembered their friends and neighbors, and found a way.

Coupled with sound medical advice, like social distancing and other precautions, we will make it through. And, having survived this, it will bear the same kind of fruits of art, literature, music, social and political change that have hallmarked generations before us and those that will come long after us.

Hang in there.

The Pagan Athiest

There’s a behind the scenes of each show and it comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it’s from comments from listeners and also our own internal conversations. Sometimes we find more information, sometimes we continue the conversation after the show, but sometimes we catch something in post production that is unexpected.

And this past Friday’s episode of The Mountain Bears, as Aeson was reviewing the recording and prepping it for distribution, he noticed something.

I kept saying “we” in regard to the protest of Pagan Pride.

I didn’t quite believe it at first, but there it is, I have jumped into the situation, me, the athiest, have become part of the pagan “we.”

Maybe it’s all the time on the road, the many wonderful people in the pagan community that have so warmly and kindly invited me in, and the overall welcoming way every event I end up at seems to go. I’m not cloaked in some shadow of existence, an athiest in pagan clothing, but quite the opposite, it’s be a very open thing.

And, oddly, it’s never been an issue. In much the same way the athiests welcome divergent view points, so too does the pagan community.

That, with a willingness to hear and an ability to be open to the premise of different ideas and experiences, there can be difference of belief with opportunities for inclusion.

On that note, I think that’s where my story of the Pagans and Me, a “we,’ begins.

Though, not necessarily in the here and now. From my side it started with an agnostic and an athiest, more colloquially known as mom and dad respectively. It involved years of encouragement to seek, question, wonder, engage, and listen. But most importantly, to respect. Though, not in the way most have come to accept the word. Respect, not blindly and obediently, but objectively and in kind.

Strange though it may seem, I’ve often found myself gravitationally pulled towards pagans. A concept that seems on one hand absurd, as I don’t share the beliefs, but on the other hand makes absolute sense. A sense I have only recently begun to articulate. There’s a certain aspect to paganism that shares so much in common with atheism that it is head slappingly obvious that it seems almost ridiculous to not have realized it sooner.

Pagans and atheists are both explorers. Seeking beyond dogma, authority, looking for more than just expedience and conformity, for something sincere and truthful.

That, although our conclusions diverge, our values align. And presented with the idea of those who share those same values being attacked by those who fail to question, who accept without thought, who attack without understanding, I find myself in the boat with them.

Though one could say this is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” I feel it goes much deeper than that. Beyond battle lines that need not exist and into the core of humanity, of morality, and is not about enemies of friends, but an affront to the very idea of being a good and decent person. To seeing people who strive for that ideal attacked by a group that fails to see how their actions are the antithesis of decency, of love, of their own conception of God, leaves no room for for me to be uninvolved.

There is a we, in every situation, even if we don’t always agree.

Does this App Make Me Look Hacked?

Whether it’s the hottest game, the newest wave of pictures on Facebook, or that story you just MUST read to find out what happened, what we often fail to ask is, “but what about my privacy?”

In the days since Christopher Wylie appeared to testify in front of congress about things that we didn’t know we should be worried about, privacy fears have come and gone. Like a fad that sends everyone into a water cooler gossip frenzy, the challenge of privacy is holding people’s attention. Do we care about our privacy? In many ways we do, but much like someone’s health, you always think you have it until you are confronted with information to the contrary.

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