The Dilemmas of the Job


I work in a restaurant. I wont say which or where.  I hate hypocrisy. I hate double standards. I hate capitalist agendas and bureaucracy.  I hate the fakeness of “going through the motions.”  Over the past several months I have observed, and been told by management, how to be and what to do, and generally policed over by contradictory rules and forced into zero-option scenarios, where the only way out is guaranteed to be a wrong way.

When I first got hired, I would do minor tasks off the clock. Why? Because they were minor tasks, granted, but I was also requested to do them by an overworked individual who knew I was off the clock and was too backed up to wait for me to clock on.  So, I did things like bring him freshly washed plates or get him a clean rag to sanitize his food-prep surfaces with, etc. Minor tasks that dont constitute labor of any sort.

Well, I got in trouble. Not once, but twice. For “working off the clock”.   Apparently Im too socialist to be appreciated.  I dont need to make the nickel I would have made running those errands.  Im not that much of a money-grubbing greedy douchebag (ie capitalist).  I believe in the team, in the society, in charity, in helping out and contributing.  I was in the military after all, I know a thing or two about teamwork, loyalty and getting the same salary no matter how much or how little work is to be done.  I know a thing or two about charity, too.  Such qualities are not respected in capitalism. Particularly in business politics.

There is an insurance liability issue, though.  Had I injured myself while off the clock on company property, there would be a huge hissy fit at the corporate level. And I would undoubtedly have lost my job.  I get that, dont get me wrong.  But it wasnt like I was lifting heavy weight or playing with chemicals or sharp objects. I wasnt even handling food.  I just handed a clean rag, for the love of god. As minor of a tasks as a task can be, and completely non-threatening.

I argued, “why am I even allowed in the kitchen, then? I stand a greater chance of slipping and falling on the kitchen tile while doing absolutely nothing at all, and the same dilemma would exist either way. But I am allowed to be here, no policy against it… how does that make sense? Either way policy allows me to be here, and the risk to me is the same whether I work or not, so why not contribute in some small fashion? Or else change policy and force everyone out of the kitchen entirely who isnt on the clock.”

Of course, no change to policy was made.  I, however, made it a point to never help out off the clock again.  I also don’t come into the kitchen anymore of my own free will.

Why am I even there off the clock? Because I show up early. Simple as that.  Management wont clock me on early – too stingy with ten minutes worth of pay, even when everyone else is overworked. So until its time to clock on, I am just there.  Sometimes for quite extended periods.

Okay, so now Im standing in the lobby waiting to clock on. In full uniform, of course.  Customers wonder why I dont hold the door open. They wonder why I wont seat them, why I wont take their order, etcetera.  They complained to management, and shit roles downhill.  Of course now management wonders why I didnt do minor tasks like open the door for a guest.  I said “Im not qualified to decide between what work is acceptable off the clock and which arent.”  I of course highlighted the earlier examples of my getting in trouble for doing elsewise.

“Use some common sense”, they retort. Common sense?  Whose common sense told them that passing a clean rag was too much work?

Funny? It gets better.

Instead of waiting in the lobby, I waited outside distant from the door.  Of course, living in the Pacify Northwest where its constantly cold and rainy doesnt help with the head cold and the flu.  I risk getting ill, and compromising the sanitation of food as well as my general performance.  I cant afford to take days off from work to rest and recover, just to get ill again my first day back doing the same routine.

“Wait in the car,” you say?  Management suggested that too. Except I dont have a car.  Does management at a local restaurant want to give one of their employees a company car just to get to work? I dont think so.  Besides, I couldnt afford a car – even so much as the gasoline for it – on the wage and hours I get.  Its questionable they would suggest a solution which is obviously unaffordable, as they are the ones that ultimately decide my take home pay.

What I normally do is take mass transit or hitch a ride from a friend or room mate.  This is why I show up so early at all.  I abide by other peoples schedules. Coming “right on time” isnt really an option for me. Neither is coming to work late, for obvious reasons.

Its funny, but even if I did have a car and could abide by my own schedule, I still would show up early.  Why? Because the traffic is unpredictable. The commute time is unpredictable.  Id rather show up early to work every day by leaving early than run the risk of showing up late because I left home as late as I could take it.  Who doesn’t schedule themselves to show up at least five minutes early?  Irresponsible not to.

So waiting in the kitchen isnt an option, waiting in the lobby isnt an option, waiting outside isnt an option. Neither can I clock on early nor clock on late.  I cant wait in a car, unless I broke into one.  I cant work off the clock and I cant get away with not working off the clock.  What else is there?

I have one and only one option remaining.  I can show up to work as early as I normally do and wait in the lobby… but do so wearing regular clothes.  Then I can change into my uniform when its time to clock on. Oh, the genius!

Except there is no changing room, there is no locker, and management wont accept liability for my possessions that Id be forced to leave lying around.

Damned if you do, damned if you dont.  Either way management will have an excuse to fire me when and if they ever arbitrarily decided on a whim to do so.

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