Made in America. What does it mean? Well, for starters it means supporting American workers, who for the most part can depend on humane conditions, a safe workplace, meal breaks, holidays and sick days. Our country has environmental standards to ensure public air and water quality, standards which were created to prevent pollution-caused illness and accidents. Just like freedom, these things are not free. Other countries can pump out cheaper products precisely because their workers (and their environments) do not enjoy these safeguards. As savvy consumers we love to save money but do we recognize the true cost of these cheap goods? Left unchecked, this cost translates to worker malaise, shoddy workmanship, and environmental degradation. Not things we wish to be made with pride in the U.S.A.
The low-level jobs that keep a country rolling should, in theory, be a training ground for those who wish to climb the ladder. Those go-getters with interest and drive rise to supervisory positions while the bottom of the triangle is populated by an endless supply of interchangeable worker bees who show up but may or may not be present. This is a shaky foundation upon which to build a business and one which we ignore at our own peril. What makes some foundations more stable than others? Paying attention to worker morale seems like a sound investment, especially to those at the bottom of the pile. Certainly there is no shortage of reasons for workers to be preoccupied or semi-functional: family concerns, financial stress, medical illness, lack of cognition or skills–all take their toll on workers and employers too. But what gives workers the incentive to try harder? Is it the opportunity to learn? To be part of a team, to be recognized, to be rewarded? What gives employers the incentive to invest time and attention in their employees?
In Moab, the limitless stream seems to have dried up, leaving us with a drought of workers. Rare is the business that is not NOW HIRING. Why do we have this situation and what can we do about it? Do we import workers? If we import, how do we preserve regional, hometown values? Is this a local problem or is it happening everywhere? Is it because we, in our current political climate, do not value our workers, chipping away at benefits and resisting wage increases? Employers may see a different side of the coin: workers who don’t show up, workers who feel entitled, workers who cannot get along with others, workers without a work ethic.
How do we find a solution that works for both sides? The answers change, as fluid as humanity. It always boils down to the person(s) in question and how willing they are to become part of a system that functions well. Solutions must address specific issues and individuals, which many see as confrontational and are reluctant to do. Solutions also require workers and employers to take responsibility: for our expectations, for our quality of communication, for our actions. Not comfortable at all.
Much has been said about the changing nature of our work and the level of satisfaction we derive from its doing. How do you feel about your job and what would it take for you to feel satisfied at the end of the day? Does our work offer us a living wage, does it train us for advancement, does it make us feel we are a valued part of a bigger picture? Is our job something worth taking the time to get good at, or are we mindlessly putting in our eight hours to collect a paycheck?
In agricultural and horticultural circles, I often hear that lack of workers is driving the (expensive) move to automation. Naturally, this cost will be passed on to consumers, so get ready for price hikes in food and ornamental plants. Due, in part, to the fact that not many Americans want to labor under adverse conditions for short pay. So rather than pay decent wages to workers, we close our eyes and pay in other ways.
As a business owner I find it very difficult to increase prices but my own costs never seem to hesitate in their escalation. How could I possibly provide a good wage to employees when my own position is so shaky? I know there are other ways to compensate for work well done. The challenge is to find those ways: take the time to pay a compliment, ask a question, set an example. You know the drill.
Always there are more questions than answers. For me the takeaway is that it’s a two-way street. Not only, as a society, must we value our workers, but we workers must keep our values foremost when doing a job. And never forget that WE are the America we are making.
ByBy Alice Drogin