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May 06, 2009

Salary injustice, close to home

May 6. Day 310.

La Sorella called me this morning, flustered.

She took on a babysitting job in Seattle. A baby and a toddler. $10 per hour. It takes her an hour to drive there and back, not paid. Plus the family comes home late and doesn't pay for the extra 10 or 15 minutes. Should she ask for a raise or not? Should she ask them to come on time, or pay her for her time? She was nervous about bringing up these issues, but upset with the status quo.

I told her yes on both counts. Encouraged her. Gave her a few talking points. Told her to find a better paying gig, since even if she got a raise, the base is so low it would probably not jump high enough to be worth it.

Then I hung up.

But I felt like we didn't end the talk well. I wasn't sure I'd given her the best advice. It was snippets of ideas, but nothing coherent. Nothing rousing. Nothing more meaningful than "hope" and "try."

"Can you talk to her?" I asked Eau.

This woman has taught negotiation classes. She bargains down jewelry in Hong Kong to less than 10 percent of the asking price. And she knows about employment law.

It was a moot question. Of course she would. I dialed and handed her the phone.

"Darling," she said, and yes she really does talk that way. "Darling, I heard about your situation, and I have to say, it's really wrong what they are doing. It's unconscionable, really. I mean, given my line of work I'm really tuned into what's fair and equitable and what's not, and anyone would rule that this is exploitation. If you factor in your travel time and gas, you are earning less than minimum wage. Just to put things in perspective, when I was in New York I charged more than five times that. Prices are very inflated there, and you're in a different city, but you're still a college graduate with special training in education. You should be charging much more than $10, especially for two kids.

"I think that what's more important than keeping these clients -- since they are taking advantage of you -- is learning to value your time and talents. People are happy to pay more for a quality product or service, and that's exactly what you're offering. You're intelligent, energetic, wonderful with children, and you've been trained as a teacher. You're a professional. You're not some teenager who wants to make a few extra bucks on top of her allowance. So I'm sure there are other people out there looking for a babysitter or a tutor. I'd find some other clients, and start with a much higher fee. You can always let them bargain it down, but $10 is far too little. And if those people still want to pay $10, they should hire a preteen from the neighborhood.

"Even if the kids take a nap, you shouldn't feel you have it easy or it's not a job. You're still the responsible adult in the house. If something goes wrong, if there's a fire or one of them needs to go to the emergency room, that's actually what you're there for. Just in case. On top of the care you provide when they are awake. Plus, any time you are there, you can't be doing something else. Working a better paying job, or looking for full time work, or doing whatever you want with your time.

"I've found that when people do ask for respect, when they take themselves seriously enough to complain about something or make sure they're treated fairly, people will actually respect them much more. Never, ever be afraid to stand up for yourself."

I just listened in awe. Right on every count. My sister, meanwhile, was silent, but taking it all in on the other end.

A few hours later, she sent me this text message:

"They said no to higher pay. So I won't be babysitting after these sessions. Ridiculous. Maybe they'll reconsider. Thank you and Eau. It felt great to stand up for myself!"

I was so happy -- so so happy -- she acted. Immediately. No fear. I'm proud of you, little sis!!!

Gained: respect -- and just around the corner, I am positive, a much better paying job -- for my Sorella.

(Another bit of good news:

For months I've been working on this chapter. Last Friday I drove to UCLA to hand it to my prof, but the pages had printed out funny. For her, that was a nuisance. For me, it was salvation.

Because it bought me a few more days.

So since Friday until today, I worked madly the finish the damn thing. Really finish it. I edited it three more times. Print outs. Paper jams. Between hanging out, cooking a chicken, playing a board game and occasional sleep...


tonight... at 11:50 p.m...

I hit send.

Done. Bye bye, chapter two!! Four down, one to go!!)
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