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Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
I have a job that I like a lot, and was recently granted a promotion to full-time permanent staff. However, they did not offer any benefits whatsoever, and the salary is already tight for the industry and type of work. By accepting, am I being taken advantage of? How fundamental should basic benefits be (i.e. some paid vacation and health care insurance) for full-time professional work?
Does this low-ball offer negate claims that I am a valued team member?
Thanks for your advice,
Friend Without Benefits
Welcome to capitalism, comrade! Here’s how it works: you are capital. Capital with a soul. Capital that poops. But still: capital. That is, you are one of the means of production, an expenditure, an outlay. And because the essential goal of the company you work for is to make the most money possible, management tries to reduce the costs of production wherever possible.
There’s an additional complicating factor in late-model capitalism, which is that senior executives are paid huge salaries, often based on the profits they are able to generate for shareholders. I’m not going to insult you by explaining what shareholders are. But I will point out that the interests of the shareholders are generally in opposition to those of the workers (i.e. you). The bottom line is that companies increasingly seek to maximize profits by paying workers as little as possible, and by cutting back their benefits.
The brutality of capitalism to workers is what led to the labor movement, in which workers banded together into unions so they would have greater bargaining power. Where strong unions prevailed, workers were able to secure benefits such as insurance and paid vacations and sick leave and pensions. And these benefits are much more prevalent in countries that operate under some form of democratic socialism. In these countries, often people don’t have to depend on their employers for benefits. The state provides them, or mandates them, in exchange for higher taxes.
In America, we’ve followed a different path. To begin with, we leave most of that safety net stuff to the private sector. The owners of huge corporations also have worked very hard to bust or weaken unions. More recently, the rise of globalization has forced American workers to compete with workers from overseas who are happy to labor for lower salaries and fewer benefits. This has given employees like you even less leverage. (The reason Bernie Sanders’ candidacy took off, by the way, is because he spoke to the anguish of American workers, who have seen their wages stagnate, and their benefits slashed.)
All this is by way of observing that what’s happening to you is, on some level, nothing personal. Your bosses are really just doing their jobs, which is pay you as little as they can get away with.
I would advise you to conduct a self-inventory, so you can figure out what’s most important to you.
The basic question here is whether you have any negotiating power. Are you of enough value to your company to demand a higher salary and/or basic benefits?
I have no idea what the answer to this question is. It’s something you might want to discuss with any trusted friends you have at the company. You also should think about how many other people could supply what you supplying. And you should think about whether there are other opportunities in your field. It’s important to determine how much, if any, leverage you have. This should include an assessment of whether you’re wise to ask for what you want before the ink dries on your new promotion, or whether you’d be in a better position further down the line.
In essence, I would advise you to conduct a self-inventory, so you can figure out what’s most important to you. I mean this both in the sense of deciding what you most want from your employer (health insurance may be far more important to you than, say, paid vacation), but also how much you value this particular job, and, in general, how much you value job security versus job satisfaction.
I realize that I’ve given you a lot to think about. But the crisis you’re up against is one faced by nearly every worker in America. I suspect that your recent promotion will cause your employer to feel that asking for anything more is presumptuous.
That’s one of the central effects of accepting capitalism as a creed: workers are made to feel grateful for simply having a job, and therefore reluctant to ask for anything more. But what’s the point of being made “full-time” if you don’t enjoy the perks thereof?
Go forth in courage,
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