[Marxism] The Secret War Against American Workers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 20 10:02:17 MDT 2009

The Secret War Against American Workers
The Unemployment Story No One Notices
By Robert S. Eshelman

Juanita Borden, 39 and jobless, patiently waits as her résumé 
methodically works its way, line by line, through a fax machine at a 
state-run job center in downtown Philadelphia. Lying open before her on 
a round conference table is a neatly organized folder. "This is my 
résumé and everywhere I've been faxing to. This is how I keep track of 
what day I've sent them on, so I can call and check back," she says, 
leafing through pages of fax cover sheets. "I usually give five business 
days before I inquire whether or not they've received it and whether or 
not they're interested."

Juanita was fired last October, when her employer found out that her 
driver's license -- a job requirement -- had expired. "It was only a 
matter of twenty-six dollars. I was under the impression that it expired 
in November of '08, but it was actually November of '07, and because I 
hadn't been driving I wasn't aware of it." The one occasion on which she 
was required to drive, though, she couldn't, and that was all her 
employer needed to fire her for failing to fulfill her employment 
responsibilities. She has since renewed her license and says with an air 
of futility, "I'd like to have my job back if they would give it to me."

She hasn't been asked back and, despite her persistent efforts, she 
hasn't received a single call from a prospective employer either. "The 
good thing," she says, remaining remarkably buoyant despite her 
misfortune, "is that usually when I interview I get the job. So... I'm 
hoping for an interview soon." Until then, her carefully managed folder 
serves as a small measure of control over an otherwise steady drift into 
poverty and homelessness.

Juanita isn't the only one at this job center on the precipice of acute 
need. And she isn't alone in relating a story about being fired for what 
would seem to many a frivolous reason. Chris Topher, 25 and making his 
first visit here, was axed in March of last year. The telecommunications 
company he had been working for sent him packing when, as he tells it, 
he installed cable equipment a customer hadn't ordered. It didn't matter 
that the mistake was on the work order Chris was given. "It was the best 
job I had since I graduated high school and I've had a few: Turnpike 
Commission, working in a Senator's office. I've had some nice jobs, but 
that one, I enjoyed it the most."

And there was good reason to enjoy it. Chris pulled down $1,200-1,300 
every two weeks in addition to receiving a full benefits package. He 
thought of contesting his termination, but at the time it looked like a 
long, uphill battle that he wasn't eager to take on. It's a fight that, 
in hindsight, he thinks he could have won and that his employer probably 
knew he would win as well. "And that's why I believe I was approved by 
my employer for unemployment," he says.

Under unemployment eligibility requirements, an employer must certify 
whether an employee committed a "fault" on the job and was therefore 
terminated. If an employer indicates that no fault was committed and the 
employee meets several other requirements, including being physically 
able to work, states grant an unemployment claim. In other words, 
Chris's former employer granted him a small concession, while otherwise 
turning his life upside down amid the worst job market since 1983.

"Unemployment is the pits pretty much," says Chris, whose unemployment 
compensation is significantly less than half what he made as a cable 
installer. Still, he's better off than Juanita, who has applied for 
unemployment twice and been denied both times. She is now appealing, but 
her employer is conceding nothing. In a recent arbitration hearing, 
Juanita says, her former supervisor claimed that, if she had only told 
them about her expired license, they would have allowed her renewal 
time. If only.

Now, Juanita lives with her brother and his wife, but they, too, have 
financial problems. "My brother is working part time and it's driving 
him crazy, because it's causing money problems between him and his 
wife," she explains. "And with me being there," she hesitates, "...it's 
a little constrained."


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