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Bookworm: Holding multiple jobs? ‘Worked Over’ is for you (if you have time)

‘Plague Years’ is profane, blunt, nail-biting, heartbreaking and hopeful

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

"Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work is Killing the American Dream"

  • By Jamie K. McCallum
  • c.2020, Basic Books
  • $28, $35 Canada; 261 pages

Overworked and underpaid. It's an old, jokey statement that's not so funny now. No, it seems like you work more hours than you ever did, and your ends still come up two feet from meeting. You're overwhelmed because you are underfunded month after month and you don't know why. Read "Worked Over" by Jamie K. McCallum, though, and you'll understand.

"Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work is Killing the American Dream" by Jamie K. McCallum.

Fifty years ago, American workers looked forward to their weekends. That, of course, was no surprise. Today, we feel the same but there's one big difference: blue-collar Americans in 2020 work more hours than did workers in 1974 – an uptick of about 13 percent that happened in the years 1975-2016.

The reasons, says Jamie McCallum, are many.

The biggest issue seems to be that of low blue-collar wages combined with our 24/7 world and with algorithms that many employers use for staff scheduling. This leaves workers with irregular hours and an inadequate paycheck, forcing many to seek second or even third jobs – which may become difficult to keep because of those algorithms. Worse yet: minimum wage laws that are poorly enforced; employers who've been allowed to legally require tasks for which workers are unpaid; and gig jobs that sometimes pay the equivalent of pocket change or that make demands on workers that keep payouts low.

McCallum says that even white-collar workers are starting to see time/pay issues, especially during this pandemic.

There are things that can be done to alleviate these problems. Employees, says McCallum, "could be motivated by something else besides money," such as better scheduling, enhanced benefits, more flexibility, or longer break times. Job performance demands might be relaxed somewhat. Employers can eliminate the pressure to do more in less time and stop demanding that employees compete with robots. We can re-examine our "new work ethic." And unions, he indicates, shouldn't be off the table ...

Despite that it's for anyone who's employed, the way you approach "Worked Over" will depend on which side of the paycheck you're on. It does lean more toward employees – and blue-collar workers, at that.

Indeed, author Jamie K. McCallum doesn't touch upon white-collar work much, though the relevance for them exists in his examples and information; in fact, worker-readers hailing from all business-types will find outraging tales; stories of workplace politics; and horror-story-like, near-dystopian hints of the future of employment. If it weren't for the somewhat Norma Rae tone and the solution-ideas, it would be enough to send a worker, screaming, to the break room to hide.

For business owners, McCallum explains why it's necessary to put employees first and re-think algorithms for all workers, and why robots may not be the employment solution you think they might be. He shows how some workplace practices have detrimental trickle-down effects on blue-collar workers (and, by extension, you), and how the biggest picture may be the scariest.

Reach for this book with an open mind and there's much to learn, whether you're the owner, supervisor, or an in-the-trenches worker. One job, two jobs, three jobs or more, "Worked Over" can't be overlooked.

“Plague Years: A Doctor’s Journey through the AIDS Crisis”

  • By Ross A. Slotten, MD
  • c. 2020, University of Chicago Press
  • $20, higher in Canada; 214 pages

Cover your nose and mouth. Wash your hands with soap and water. Stay six feet away from strangers and those you think might be infected; better yet, stay at home. And that's how you squash a pandemic although, as in the new book "Plague Years" by Ross A. Slotten MD, sometimes it's not that easy.

“Plague Years: A Doctor's Journey through the AIDS Crisis” by Ross A. Slotten, MD.

It wasn't until he saw his former lover, Art, that the reality hit him. Dr. Slotten hadn't even considered that he'd be at risk for AIDS, though he'd been ministering to AIDS patients for several years by then. He knew the risks, of course, and had taken precautions, but Art was in his far past.

There was a time when Slotten thought he was straight, had dated girls, had imagined life as a husband and father. That changed in college and though he was desperate for love then, he was careful with his heart. He fell for Art, and believed he was in love, but Art slept around with countless men and one night, he broke Slotten's heart for good.

That was at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It was a lifetime ago, back when Ronald Reagan all but ignored the disease, before treatment was available, before Art was dying.

In med school, Slotten hadn't intended to specialize in AIDS medicine but as a gay man, how could he ignore those who came to him after he'd opened his Chicago practice? How could he turn his back on them, as did the nurse who placed a gauze pad between her fingertips and a pulse, or the co-worker who felt relief at having avoided mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a dying AIDS patient?

On his rounds, there were times that the best Slotten could do was to give comfort, or a hug, or to keep vigil. He tried to be truthful, always, but denial was a real thing – including denial for Art, who slept with the wrong man or men.

Art, whose illness forced Slotten to take an AIDS test ...

Though you may not notice it at first, there's one thing in "Plague Years" that will eventually sneak up on you, tap you on the shoulder, and crush you: So. Many. Names.

Before you learn any of them, though, you need the tone-setting biography and background here, and you need to claw your way past the harrowing parts in which author Ross Slotten battles the idea that he might've gotten AIDS from a man he once loved. You'll be well and firmly invested in this book once you get through that, and exhausted, as though you just finished watching a Kubrick movie with a dream sequence set in a full morgue, and there's more story left.

This is a devastating book, made more so by Slotten's viewpoint as both gay man and doctor, and by casual reminders of the things we didn't know then, and the things we know now. "Plague Years" is profane and blunt and nail-biting and heartbreaking and hopeful, and that pretty much covers it.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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