Friday 30 September 2011

Advisory for Parents of Working Youth

While updating my resume, adding to it my year long experience working in a local grocery store, I'm thrown into thoughtful reminiscence.  I enjoyed this job, filling displays of fresh produce, assisting shoppers with a kind word, and checking expiry dates.  The hours were even sufficient in the beginning...though the dreaded and ridiculous four hour shift still haunts my dreams.  I mean, four hours’ worth of pay hardly seems worth the fuel to drive in for some people!  But I soon began to see new names on the schedule.  Names of 16 year old boys who had no idea what “Organic” meant or why a customer might request it.  Young high school boys who don't understand why you can't have produce from different countries on the same table, or why bulk potatoes need to be covered at night to prevent sprouting....oh the list goes on.

Why then would the management want to bring in such an unqualified worker when I am there willing to take on the hours?   Initially I wondered if it’s because they can pay that boy a student wage? Great....even though he doesn't know what a Rutabaga is?  But no, our wage was the same.

So is there another reason why the young, naive, and fresh employees get hired and get my hours?  I soon began to realize that perhaps there is, when I finally found new employment and asked for my vacation pay.  Two other young employees gave their notice at the same time, as they were going off to school, and in chatting with them, I advised to watch for their vacation pay cheque which we all were to receive no later than two weeks from our last day worked.  Unfortunately, neither of these young workers knew what I meant or how much their vacation pay might be.....this was the only job they'd ever had!

Three weeks later, two out of three of us had received our cheques.  Cheques that were about a third the amount that they should have been.  It seems head office thought they had already paid us.  Okay.  I contacted my union rep and finally received my due amount.  The others were not so lucky.  One didn't call the union rep, and therefore had to wait until just before Christmas--almost four months later--to receive her payment.  The other has not received his at all, and is too busy with University to deal with it. 

Could it be that this is why some stores hire young people?  Because they can keep their vacation pay and pull the wool over their eyes at every turn?  Is this Capitalism in a small town?  When they’re doing their books, how would this extra money be categorized?  Does “Quickbooks” have a ‘miscellaneous income’ column?  All valid questions.

The vacation pay fiasco was by no means the only lack of disclosure I witnessed.  Our union agreement stated that all employees were due hours in lieu of a civic holiday if you worked that day.  But no one ever told me that.  And I was even told by a union steward that I would know these things if I had attended the union meetings.  I assume this also applies to the 15 and 16 year olds?  So you honestly expect these youth to sit through regular union meetings for a weekend and after-school job?  This is how they are supposed to educate themselves about their employment rights?   Wow…..not exactly full disclosure!  

When you are hired at this store, you are given information on WHMIS, Safety Standards, and what to do if you witness a thief.  But you’re never told that if you work a civic holiday, you get paid extra hours in lieu of time off.   In other words, they are sure to cover any topics that keep their assets covered, but never anything about mine.  In fact, I was told by a past supervisor that she was advised by management not to tell people that they were entitled this extra pay!  Yes….you read that right.

In closing, I would like to take this chance to implore the parents of these fresh, young, after-school employees, to keep an eye on things.  Go over your teen’s pay stub not only to check for discrepancies, but to ensure that they understand their deductions.  Show your teen that this is their responsibility to make sure that they are getting what they deserve and what they've worked for.  It’s a little bit of control that a lot of teens yearn for.  In my limited opinion, this is not how we want our youths’ first employment experience to be.  

Is full disclosure really so detrimental to the success of a business that they would go to these lengths?  Do we not want our youth to grow up aware and in control of their own income?  Perhaps we should consider removing “Romeo and Juliette” from the curriculum and replace it with “Understanding Your Employment Rights”.  Because after all, our youth are our Country’s future, and I want them to be informed.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Bill C-10 The Safe Streets for now Act.

The safe streets and communities act is by far the best example of putting the carriage in front of the horse that I have witnessed in a long time.  The section of which I speak is the minimum mandatory prison sentencing for anyone growing a plant.  This is an act that on the surface sounds like just what our country needs:  to clean up the crime on the streets.   Personally, I feel the streets could be kept cleaner with proper and well distributed recycling bins.  But I digress….that’s a whole other blog.

This act that is being rushed through seems very much like what we need until you think about where the people who commit these “crimes” are going to be sent.  The supporters of this act would like you to give them your approval and support without really thinking about that, and without actually putting yourselves in the shoes of the people who are committing said crimes on our streets.  The supporters of this act would also like you to think that the criminals this act will target, are members of gangs who grow hundreds of cannabis plants to use the proceeds on harder drugs and firearms.

In fact, in an effort to more easily decipher between the gangs and cousin Jake who is experimenting with his green thumb, this act states that anyone growing 6 to 600 cannabis plants will get a minimum 6 months in jail.  Wha?     In my eyes, there’s quite a difference between growing a few plants and having a crop!  The person who is growing six cannabis plants is not doing it to profit!  They’re likely supplying themselves with a sleep aid, an antidepressant, or a pain killer.  And if cousin Jake happens to rent his home, he will get the same length of sentence as a pedephile who sexually abuses a child.  I, along with thousands of like-minded Canadians would like you to know whom this act will target and why it is that they are committing these crimes on our streets.

Let’s start with the why.   Why would someone ever begin to sell a plant?  Because they can’t find a job!   Because how they look isn't being hired these days.   Because the positions that they keep applying for are filled with people who have university and college degrees yet haven’t started their careers.  And the most honest and natural reason why anyone would ever start this “life of crime”?  Because they can make much more than $10.25 an hour selling people cannabis for their migraines, insomnia, depression, or multiple sclerosis !  We have a protest going on right now on wall street in New York city protesting against financial greed.   How is it we expect our young adults to choose a legal profession when everyday they read and hear about corporate greed and examples of successful get-rich schemes?

Let’s finally follow with the ‘who’. The citizens who will be affected by this minimum mandatory prison sentence act are your brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters, and your grandchildren.  It’s cousin Jake who likes to smoke cannabis instead of tobacco because alcohol makes it difficult to work the next day.   We can no longer view these ‘criminals’ as anonymous, faceless dredges of society.  Their faces are common and familiar.  They might even be the person who held the door open for you this morning or said “bless you” when you sneezed.

In closing, I would like to give a glimpse of that far off place to which this act will send these ‘criminals’.  Minimum mandatory prison sentences mean one thing that supporters don’t realize.  Putting young Jake in prison longer is like sending him to a six month college program rather than the two week one.  But the classes this college offers are taught by real criminals and murderers.  By putting Jake in this longer program you’re ensuring that instead of missing and wanting to return home, Jake will come out with useful practical knowledge like how to make a pipe bomb, make a ‘shiv’ with a pen, or if he’s taken notes during lectures, he’ll bring home the ingredient list and basic ‘how-to’ for making crystal meth out of cold tablets.  Prison will change Jake . . . and statistically not for the better.  Being immersed in that negative and toxic atmosphere very quickly sucks any hope out of him and from every side he is offered advice and involved in plans for future projects that will set him up for life.  

Upon release, rather than having high hopes for his future do-over, Jake is filled with distrust, vengeance, and a plan to fail harder next time.  This is why this blog has been titled, “ The safer streets and community for now act”.   Because after all, logic tells us that our streets and communities might be safer while these people are in, but when they get released we will see a new kind of hell.  A more dangerous, educated, polished individual deserving of the name:  CRIMINAL. 

Is this what Jake deserves?