Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where's my overtime pay?

On a topic I will not be directly addressing (whether child labor laws should apply to kids in focus groups) Trent at The Simple Dollar says:
It’s because information work - white collar work - is perceived differently than labor. In other words, work in a focus group is seen as existing under different rules than work in a fast food restaurant.

You can see it quite often in the adult world, where IT workers are required to have their cell phones on at all times. On the other hand, factory workers clock out and completely forget about their workplace. Businessmen are chained to their Blackberries, but waitresses go off duty and forget about the restaurant. Construction workers leave their cranes behind at the end of the day - but other workers come home with a briefcase or a laptop in hand.

Unfair labor laws exist all over the place for blue collar jobs, but not for white collar jobs. Why is this? In the past, blue collar jobs were the ones that could be exploited for profit, as white collar jobs merely existed to manage the work of blue collar jobs.

In the information economy, though, white collar workers are now doing much of the actual productive work, but the perception that white collar jobs don’t demand any labor protections still exists.

A few weeks ago I was waiting for the microwave or something in the breakroom and saw the mandatory FAIR LABOR sign that among other things mandates being paid 1.5 times your normal wage if you go over 40 hours a week. I remember working at the Zero-G Cafe and getting time-and-a-half for overtime, or even double pay for working on holidays. But now as a salaried employee working in the information economy (though also being classified as a full-time student removes me from any protections anyway), that doesn't have any meaning. Working full days and sometimes late days, finishing up projects and checking on data and e-mail while at home in the evenings, and sometimes being on call over night -- 40 hours a week would be a vacation (and yes, sometimes I do work while on "vacation"). And technically, my contract says I'm being employed for 20 hours a week. My paycheck is a better match to that 20 hours a week than whatever I actually do put in, but I guess those extra hours are considered my "schooling" as I work on my dissertation. At least I am blessed to be payed at all and don't have to go into debt for grad school.

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