I am a retired, lifelong construction worker, a man approaching 70. Blue collar to the core, I was and remain a proud member of the working class.
I am at an age where the rearview mirror holds more image than the windshield. Perspective we call it.
Society, it seems to me, is basically cyclic, we seem to go in an ever-expanding and ever-more hurrying – yet predictable – cycle.
Our current society is a global one. We are all members of the world economy now.
The rules have changed in my working life. We are, as well, a part of a world battling a pandemic of epic proportions.
When a local economy faltered, we dealt with it; when a global economy falters, that’s a much larger problem.
We have, locally, as well as nationally, a perplexing ripple effect of the global economy. Companies needing workers, workers needing jobs, but neither is talking to the other.
There is a history of mistrust between companies and workers.
The Northwest was an exception; as a timber mill economy, we usually knew our bosses. They lived down the road a bit and were oftentimes our co-workers.
You could, and did, voice your concerns with them over a beer, or sometimes, in the back part of a parking lot.
The rest of the nation, though, has been subject to a much-more distant and layered approach to reaching the bosses, and in that reach, there lies distrust, on both sides.
That distrust has been documented in many forms, poems, books, and movies. Chaplin tackled it humorously, Stienbeck wrote of it eloquently.
The large Northwest cities, especially the waterfront ones, have a harshly severe history of discord between management and workers. Violent strikes, paid killings, goon warfare. The Everett, Wash., waterfront killings are the most noted, but there are many others.
You may reason, though, that we are all still a local economy. We still know our boss, he lives down the road a bit. Why can’t our businesses fill their positions?
I will approach that from a personal experience. A few years back, I was severely injured while working at home. A devastating, total tear of my right rotator cuff. I was suddenly injured – and unemployed. My income dropped to zero. My out-of-pocket, minimal-coverage insurance policy through a large, well-known for-profit concern, was of little help, refusing a doctor-required MRI because it was too expensive.
I healed some over the next few months and being well-regarded in my circle, I was easily able to find enough low-impact work to get by. My income, however, had dropped by 70%. A man of few needs, it was not that difficult for me, although it made me understand what people living on that income experience. Were I a renter, I would have been homeless. Me! I was a hair’s breadth from being homeless!
Our local employers are good people. Bill Spencer, a pillar in this community, a man whose employees stay with him for decades, a man who has been the first boss for hundreds of young people locally, can only afford to pay what he can afford and he relies on our patronage to meet his payroll.
Dairy Mart, locally owned and operated, same thing.
And yet, in Springfield, there was a rush to develop Glenwood, a historically lower-income working-class enclave where people of lesser means have lived. People like myself, those that “get by.”
In this development, there were plans for “affordable rentals and sales of residential sites.” An “affordable studio apartment” lists for $950 per month. I am retired, with a 50-year work history, and yet I live on an income $200 above that amount. Once again, were I a renter, I’d be homeless.
Seth and Melissa Clark at Blue Valley Bistro are fine, upstanding people, and can’t afford a $15 per hour minimum wage; yet their employees can’t afford to live on less.
I know of many in the working class who get food benefits, others rent, heat or power credits. They rely on this to get by. If they take your job – that paid only 75% of what it costs to live – people will lose those benefits and, “poof,” they are homeless, too.
These people are not lazy. They are caught in the trap of a global economy. Recent news stories demonstrate that mistrust remains. Some employers see slackers; some workers cite labor exploitation.
This gets us nowhere.
We have before us an opportunity to honestly discuss this topic, from Springfield to Creswell to Cottage Grove.
So let’s talk. It could be that simple.
Tony Stevens is a Creswell resident. He wrote this for The Chronicle.