Whistle while you work 

As one generation embraces the traditional American work ethic, another questions the value of all work and no play. In 10 years, Vincent Gagliano hopes to be spending six months of each year with his wife, daughter and the rest of his family relaxing in the French village he left to chase the dream of owning his own restaurant. In LaRoche-Blanche, a town of 2,000 in the center of France, days pass slowly. Businesses close from noon to 2 p.m. for lunch. "They enjoy more life," says Gagliano, owner of Chez Vincent, a new restaurant in Winter Park. "They are not in a rush." But to make this possible, Gagliano expects to spend the next decade working 70 hours a week ensuring the attainment of his dream. Yet Gagliano spends much of each day with his wife, Teri, at the restaurant and each morning with his 17-month-old daughter, Taylor, eating breakfast and watching Barney. For Americans who feel pressed to balance work and play, he has this observation: "They don't find the time. There's still time." Every day, nearly 130 million Americans go to work. And at least since the 1980s, they have been complaining that they work too many hours for too little payoff -- both in financial gain and quality of life. Their complaints were validated in 1991 when Harvard economics professor Juliet Schor revealed in her best-seller, "The Over-worked American," that at the beginning of this decade Americans worked the equivalent of an extra month of full-time work per year compared to 20 years ago. A 1993 poll by a Gallup Organization affiliate showed that Americans feel more rushed than even the notoriously workaholic Japanese. And new data soon to be released by researchers at the University of Massachu-setts at Boston will show there has been a significant increase in average weekly work hours across socio-economic lines. What does this say about the American work ethic? "It says that, the transition has gone from working to live to living to work," says Jim Bristor, a professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Resources at Michigan State University. "And it may be time for Americans to worry less about getting a job, and worry more about getting a life." Maybe that's why I am suddenly uttering words like "fulfillment" and "quality of life" during job interviews. But that's not how I was raised. I grew up thinking that the most important thing was to find a good job and work hard to keep it. In fact, if you look at the Judeo-Christian tradition which shaped this nation's attitude toward employment, work began not as source of personal fulfillment, but as a form of punishment. After partaking of the apple, God cursed Adam and Eve: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground." I view work as my punishment for not being rich. In that regard, I'm in the company of the great minds of Western thought, namely the Aristotle and Plato, who saw work as incompatible with higher thinking. Animals scrounge to feed and house themselves. Only humans can engage in pure exercises of the mind. What we think of as the American work ethic, however, is directly related to ideals out of the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, equated a vocation to a religious calling. Therefore, all work had equal dignity. Later, John Calvin argued that success was evidence that you were among the chosen who would inherit everlasting life. Together, Luther and Calvin articulated what became the Protestant work ethic: work is intrinsically good; success achieved through hard work and saving is evidence of spiritual blessings. It's an ethic which drove this country through fields of cotton and fires of industry. But I wonder how our work attitudes are being shaped by the Information Age. When a minute is too long to wait for a potato, do people still expect to spend a lifetime making a living? I searched for the answer in the two places where the payoff for an honest day's work -- or the lack of it -- are most evident: in prison and at the mall. "Hello, ma'am, this is Scott Stevens." The voice on the phone could have been Wally Cleaver's: respectful, articulate and engaging. Except this young man was doing two years for unlawful possession of a firearm. At 22, Stevens is an accomplished law-breaker now serving time at the Work Ethic Program on McNeal Island in Washington state. The program opened there in 1993 at the tail-end of the prison boot camp fad, says camp Superintendent Jackie Campbell. "The military style is not relevant to life outside of prison walls," says Campbell. "We asked ourselves, what are offenders missing?" The answer, they decided, was the work ethic. So they built a facility where prisoners could get education and job-readiness training. "When I get done working, and I've done a good job, I get a feeling of accomplishment," says Stevens. "Teamwork is something I've never understood. It's almost like a benefit to working, an added privilege. Being a part of something good is important to me." He's about to "graduate" from the camp after four months. He says he's enrolled in community college, recovering from drug addiction, reunited with his parents and is ready to work. But, ironically, some of his more straight-and-narrow contemporaries are not so ready to embrace old values. "I don't want to be a workaholic," says a young, brunette woman I approached at the Somerset Collection in Oakland County, Mich. Somerset is an exclusive mall nestled in the nation's ninth most affluent county. I spotted her in the company of four friends gabbing over lunch. Before long I discovered they all had come from two-worker families, had worked every summer since they were 15, and had kept weekend jobs through high school and college. "Is there a job you wouldn't do?" I asked, expecting a list from household domestic work to bus driver. Instead, they said a "bad job" was one which tethered you from dawn to dusk -- not one that requires hard work. "There's other things in life besides work. Family comes before a job," said the brunette. The freckled one chimed in: "I'm majoring in physical therapy, and I love sports. Lately, I've been thinking that if I combine my two loves and do exercise therapy, I'll be able to tie in my interest with my job. Money isn't the goal, I want to be happy with my work." That vibe didn't exist among the 100 kids who graduated with me in 1977. When we got our high school diplomas, we were grateful to get a job -- any job -- or a chance at higher education. But these days, younger people seemed to be viewing work not as a trade, but a trade-off. "Older generations would accept things and be happy just to have some work," says Jeff Pawloski. Eight years ago, he was a college drop-out. At 29, he co-owns a successful restaurant, Seven Fish, in Key West. "Our generation is appreciative of what we have, but we're striving for something else." After leaving college, he moved to New York and worked in a securities clearing firm, saw co-workers "bored with their lives" and went back for his degree. Subsequent jobs included working for a caterer on weekends while holding down a full-time job as a newspaper production manager in Detroit. When the caterer decided to open a restaurant in Florida, Pawloski followed with one condition -- that he be a partner. The restaurant opened to rave reviews. A year later, Pawloski and his partner are planning their next step. "I could never make enough money to slow me down," he says. "When I get free time, I think about what else I could be doing. I'm making money now to take me to the next big thing. I don't want fancy cars or big houses." "The best thing about money is the freedom it buys you," says Janice Ernst, a 37-year-old attorney and mother of two. Ernst married 12 years ago, right after she and her husband graduated from Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. Two children and several part time jobs later, she is ready to take on full-time employment again. She's found a position which will allow her to do work that's socially relevant -- running a law clinic at North Carolina Central University -- while bringing in welcome extra money. "But I'm terrified about what impact full-time work will have on my family life," says Ernst. "I'll probably spend all of the extra money trying to replace all that I do in the home, but I'll be happy, right?" According to studies, she'll at least be happier than most two-worker families trying to eke out a living. "Families are trapped in an Alice in Wonderland world, running faster and faster just to stay in place," says Barry Bluestone, professor of political economy at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. According to Bluestone, families are working harder because hourly wage rates have stagnated and are even declining for large sectors of the economy. Also, there's a trend toward greater job instability. These conditions, says Bluestone, have caused many Americans to be at once chronically overworked and chronically underemployed. For example, in 1993, almost one-third of part-timers wanted full-time jobs, but couldn't find them. The use of part-timers was a key obstacle in the UPS strike. And Manpower Inc., a temporary employment agency, now boasts it is the largest employer in America. That, says Bluestone, is an indication of how workers are being squeezed out of full employment and forced to take on several part-time or temporary positions to make ends meet. "This suggests that during times of economic growth, people will work as much as they can for fear that in a year or two, those jobs won't be available," says Bluestone. The irony is that, particularly in families where the breadwinners have less than a college degree, taking on more jobs doesn't yield higher living standards. Between 1973 and 1988, says Bluestone, families headed by high- school dropouts increased their work effort by nearly 12 percent, yet ended up with 8 percent less annual income. The result has been better for college-educated, two-earner families. Bluestone says these families, which comprise less than one-third of American dual-income families, increased their material consumption standard by nearly 30 percent between 1973 and 1988. He says that updated research to be released this fall confirms these findings: Families are working hard across socio-economic lines. Still, even for the families making gains, the choices are often difficult. "When I worked part time, I couldn't legitimize my (housekeeping) expenses, so I was doing both jobs and nothing was getting done," says Ernst. "When I worked full time, my weekends were a disaster, and I had no time for my children. "You can't have it all. That's a real myth." A backlash is brewing, and its name is leisure. "There is more and more interest in the concept of leisure," says Michigan State University's Bristor. "Young people are still committed to work, and are preparing for it. But at the same time, they're very absorbed with leisure. They look at it as a right to engage in recreational experiences. I'm pleased with this attitude. We're talking about quality of life." Millionaire business-owner Bella Marshall agrees that many younger people seem to have a healthier work ethic. Marshall, 47, the president of Michigan's Waycor Development Co., and Barden International, both multimillion dollar companies says, "I was raised to believe if you want something, you work for it." Her father got sick when she was 8, forcing her mother back to work in her mid-30s. As an African-American woman, her mother was initially limited to domestic work, despite the fact that she had completed a few years of college. She worked two or three jobs at a time, and didn't retire until she was 70. But Marshall says she respects a generation not always willing to put work ahead of all else: "They're saying, 'I'll spend five or 10 years working like a maniac. After that, I'm not going to work harder, I'm going to work happier.'" That was certainly Michelle Gallagher's intention. But at 32, she's discovering that "working happier" often means sacrifice. After college, she worked with computer-animation firms in California, but became disillusioned by office politics. For the last year, she has lived in Seattle, Wash., launching her career as an artist and working full-time as a museum guard. To date, she has sold four pencil and ink drawings, and over 40 prints. "I've settled for making a comfortable living, enough to get by," she says. "I'd like to be a free-lance illustrator. If it took 60 hours a week, it wouldn't be as stressful as my other jobs were. I would be doing what I enjoyed." Still, the old "work your way up the ladder" ethic haunts Gallagher. "If someone is looking at my resume, they would think I wasn't making progress. "That depresses me," she says. "And I worry about my financial future." "Here, this ought to help you with your work-ethic story," said a co-worker as he handed me a copy of "Man on Earth", by John Reader. He had marked the chapter on "hunters and gatherers." There I discovered that during the 1960 drought in southern Africa, a tribe met its calorie needs "with surprisingly little effort." The tribe spent an average of 12 to 19 hours a week gathering food. The hardest worker, who went hunting 16 of 28 days, put in 32 hours a week — well below our modern concept of full time. And in the highlands of New Guinea, a tribe who still practices a slash-and-burn style of agriculture, spend about 15 hours a week producing food, cooking and performing household chores. Come to think of it, even enslaved Africans sometimes got a day off. Clearly, the chase for the finer things has left us tired, frustratedand possessed by those very things we work to possess. It's a treadmill fewer and fewer workers seem to be willing to board. Maybe we aren't so much developing a new work ethic for the Information Age as longing for one that served us centuries before industrialization. Perhaps the worker of the future will have two simple demands: an employer which respects employees' humanity, and a job which allows each worker to express the humanity within. Perhaps then, like Winter Park's Gagliano, they will succeed in striking a better balance. Sidebar: Union Cure. Sidebar: Union Cure. How corporate excesses have pushed the most powerful and wealthy membersof our workforce to sign union cards. By Jane Slaughter Unlike blue-collar workers who found that they had to band together to protect themselves from the excesses of their employers, professionals were proud of their ability to succeed in their professions through individual effort. Their years of training gave them autonomy and set them apart from the blue-collar stiffs who were just following orders. But as corporate behemoths gobble up more sectors of the economy, even professionals are finding that their power over work conditions is dwindling. It's a lesson that's coming hard to some of the most powerful and wealthy employees in the marketplace: doctors. Gone are the days when your typical doctor owned his own practice. About 42 percent of doctors in the United States are salaried employees now, up from 24 percent in 1983. They work for the managed-care companies that, with their emphasis on cost-cutting by any means necessary, have quickly come to dominate the medical market. The result? Doctors are signing union cards. "A doctor is not a small-business owner anymore," says Dr. Ida Hellander, director of Physicians for a National Health Program in Chicago. "They're now more like a Wal-Mart employee." Like the assembly-line workers who sat down in the auto plants in the 1930s, doctors are steamed because the corporate takeover of medicine has eroded their autonomy and ability to heal the sick. Doctors who work for for-profit health-care giants say the push for profits is forcing them to do more with less -- putting patients at risk. That's exactly what happened at the Thomas-Davis Medical Centers in Tucson, where doctors have formed a union. Doctors' licenses make them legally responsible for decisions made about treatments, explains Jack Seddon, executive director of the Federation of Physicians and Dentists (FPD) in Tallahassee. Seddon refers to overbearing use of "utilization review," which keeps doctors from referring patients to specialists and constraints on which procedures doctors may even mention to patients -- the infamous "gag rules." Also a threat to patients are restrictions on length of hospital stays, leading to complaints about policies like "drive-through mastectomies." In the initial organizing stages in Tucson, Seddon says, the HMO's former management was "bleeding off two-thirds of every dollar of income, leaving very little to operate the clinic." This led to layoffs, making it harder for patients to schedule appointments or get their x-rays read in a timely fashion -- even a cutback on rubber gloves. When a new company bought Thomas-Davis, Seddon says, matters only got worse. Last December, doctors there became the first doctor-employees of a for-profit HMO to unionize, voting to join the FPD. A few months later, the other Thomas-Davis employees also voted to unionize. The union's list of contract demands includes the usual clauses regarding hours and salaries, as well as a patient-protection program. "A lot of it deals with patient care and physicians' right to make medical judgment calls," says Seddon. Also, he expects 43 doctors who were terminated to be rehired with back pay. This drive has inspired doctors in other cities to contact the FPD, which represents about 300 state-employed physicians in Central Florida. A union that represents doctors in training, the 9,000-member Committee of Interns and Residents, likewise has grown by 50 percent in the last 18 months. "Doctors feel that their ability to take care of their patients is being influenced by clerks and other non-medical people that have no relationship with the patient, whose goal is to reduce the bottom line, not to reduce the patient's discomfort. For people who went into medicine thinking they were going to help people who are ill, it's a great shock," says Director John Ronches. The growing interest in unions has now prompted CIR to affiliate with the huge Service Employees International Union after 40 years as an independent union of doctors only. The CIR hopes the affiliation will bring in more resources and engender unity with other health-care workers. In case you're wondering, the Tucson group pledges not to use the threat of a strike as a weapon, and the American Medical Association also adamantly opposes strikes, though the professional group does support doctors' right to unionize. But an older union, the Doctors Council in New York, pulled the first attending physicians' walk-out in the country in 1991. After two days, they won a pay increase and restoration of funds for patient services. The larger question is how doctors' unions will impact the way medical services are delivered in this country. Some activists still believe the whole for-profit phenomenon must be taken on. This spring, doctors in Massachusetts began a movement against what they call "the industrialization of medicine," formed the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care and collected nearly 2,000 Massachusetts doctors' signatures on a "Call to Action." The movement has spread to 20 states, with nationwide conference calls. While Hellander of Physicians for a National Health Program welcomes the development, she wants the U.S. to adopt the Canadian model, where everyone has the right to free care, paid for by taxes, and the profit motive is eliminated. She's for doctor's unions, but counsels that they're not enough. "Form-ing unions is an attempt to gain control within the current system," she says. "We're pushing for a whole new system."

More by Desiree Cooper


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