Collateral Damage and the Impact on the
Great American Shrinking Wallet

I am 58 years old, retired and not where I saw life for myself at this stage in my life. Chances are, you are in the same sort of predicament regardless of your age. This is what the Great American shrinking wallet has gotten us thanks to a runaway capitalist system which rewards and values greed.

I am too young to collect Social Security and Medicare, although I paid into the system for forty years of my working life.

CIVIL SERVICE OFFERS NO PROTECTION

I devoted my career to civil service. I retired from law enforcement from an on the job related injury that provides my healthcare benefits due to being in public safety, so that burden is one I am blessed to not have to bear – although I despair for those who are less fortunate than myself.

After leaving life in public safety, I found a job as a state employee, working as a personal trainer on an Army National Guard base, helping soldiers maintain weight and body fat percentages, in order to maintain troops in a state of readiness, and help the National Guard maintain its force. If soldiers fell out weight or body fat percentages, they were discharged from service, hampering troop retention.

While it wasn’t glamorous, I feel I provided a service to our country, and I formed great relationships during those many years of my employ in that capacity. Notwithstanding, I also was a certified strength trainer along with my personal trainer certificate. I planned on maintaining this career until the age of 62, but was forced out early. I realize that this same scenario was played out to millions of my peers in the private sector, so my story is not all the unusual.

My state salary was 40K annually, hardly an extravagant amount of money, especially when you are raising children that have the appetite of a pride of lions. Behold the effect of the libertarian system and out comes capitalism, privatizing my job and causing me to lose my status and benefits as a state employee.

What security I had as a public servant evaporated overnight.

Like millions of other Americans, I was not seeking to get rich from employment, I wasn’t looking for a new car every three years, or expensive vacations, but merely have a job which supported my family while offering stability and security, while allowing me to make a contribution to the world. I thought civil service was a good option. I was never looking for “more”, but merely “enough.”

The part where they pour salt in the wound is when they offered me less than half of what I was making as a state employee. It was a “business decision” because that’s what personal trainers made in the private sector. I have since learned that the phrase “business decision” usually means what is in the best interest of the company only, and you should not complain regardless of the consequences. For further clarification, see “nothing personal.”

Naturally I told them to kiss my ass.

The math on this particular incident illuminates the problem, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

For argument sake, let’s bring the numbers to light. You should understand that they money was still there, it was the distribution that had changed. In other words, the services I was providing didn’t suddenly become less expensive, or have lower demand.

Half of my annual salary would have been $20K, and over the eight year period from when I was forced out until the time of my planned retirement amounts to $160K. That is the amount of income I personally have lost. Again, those funds are not gone, they are nothing more than a transfer of wealth from the have-nots to the haves. That $160K windfall was taken from individuals like me and are now in the wallet of some corporation in Scottsdale, AZ, a result of “trickle-down economics.”

Multiply this by the four total employees that were affected. That is a whopping $640K transferred to the corporation by suppressing wages. This is salaries alone, not tax savings, benefits, etc.

The Legacy of Reaganomics
“. . .The people who are sleeping on the grates — the homeless who are homeless. . .by choice.“

You should pause now and genuflect toward Ronald Reagan.

The hypocrisy is that when wage stagnation results in a demand for an increase in the minimum wage, these same companies argue wealth distribution is wrong and people just need to work harder and make better life choices. These same pundits don’t have a problem with folks earning so little they can’t afford to eat so they receive taxpayer assistance in the form of welfare or emergency medical care. The problem isn’t that full-time employment is not providing enough money for basic life necessities, it is that people “choose” to be poor.

In a capitalist system, it is expected that some people should lose and it is never the wealthy. Those who win make the rules and always in their favor. If someone can’t earn enough to survive, then the individual should be blamed, not the unfair rules.

And time and again, it is Republicans in general spreading this propaganda and specifically the conservatives who are responsible for trickle-down economics. Lest we forget economics is a political issue. . .

There were other factors that were included in my decision to reject their insult of a job offer, but those are tangential to the foundation of my screed.

What would motivate a company to research obtaining a government contract, learn how many employees it has, what their salaries are, the cost of benefits offered, i.e. insurances and retirement savings, and slash salaries? Why pay people a living wage if you do not have to?

Greed is the answer. And no, it is not good.

This Scottsdale, AZ Company had no problem taking money away from people and exploiting them. And it is should become apparent to everyone that the companies are loath to do what is right by their employees, so any hope of capitalism spurring a sense of responsibility to value workers and share the wealth is never going to happen.

Basically, it felt like I was being told, “we don’t give a shit about you or family”. But really, does any employer really care or is their concern merely a Human Resources feel good pledge to entice people in the door? They were fine with cutting my salary by 52%, and had a “take it or leave it” attitude with the takeover of the gym where we worked. They knew they could find someone desperate enough to do the job for so little – and they only needed one for every worker who told them to shove it.

I don’t have a problem with businesses making money off the labor of others, but I do have a problem with the rampant exploitation that seems to be growing and thriving in our existing system. Thanks to gutting unions and “at will” states, employers are free to terminate anyone for just about anything. Because those agencies who protect the rights of workers have had their budgets slashed, we can see that only the most egregious violations will be punished.

Give Us a Solution, Einstein

The solution to this problem is two-fold.

First, we must start redefining what it means to be successful in business and viewing greed as a mental illness. We need to bring the power of social media and opinion to bear on individuals with four yachts and seven private jets while their workers struggle to earn enough to eat. This public shaming needs to be loud, vocal and unrelenting. We need to point out the absurdity of the financial raping of the very individuals responsible for the success of the organization. And when small steps are taken, even if they fall short, we need to applaud their efforts.

But ultimately, there must be a disincentive for greed. We need to push for legislation which caps executive’s earnings based on the lowest earning worker, we need to create a tax code which relieves the poor and places more burden on the wealthy. We need to unionize, create bargaining collectives and wrest the power from the hands of the few.

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Gene Smith

Gene Smith is a Chief Campaign Strategist living in Arizona. He is a Juris Doctor, Democratic Campaign Strategist, Elected Precinct Committee person, and Democratic State Committee Member. Currently, Gene serves on the Environmental Caucus.

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