Something Deeply Wrong With Chemistry

Over on the Chemistry Blog, Mitch has posted a professor’s letter to a doctoral student. After reading the letter, I can’t even fathom what kind of horrible person the professor is. I imagine that if I spoke to this professor, I would not be able to refrain from punching them in the head.

In addition to the usual work-day schedule, I expect all members of the group to work evenings and weekends.

Something Deeply Wrong With Chemistry

Sadly, this problem is not unique to chemistry. It’s not even unique to academia. It’s a problem all around the world in a wide variety of employment scenarios. I have encountered many of these scenarios in my lifetime, and they all have upset me a great deal. Allow me to share a few examples that I have seen.

The one that bothers me the most is that restaurant wait staff in the United States are not considered hourly workers. They are paid less than minimum wage, and it’s totally legal. This is why in the US we always tip the wait staff at least some amount, where in other countries you only tip for excellent service. Without tips the wait staff are underpaid. If you don’t tip, you get blamed for being a bad person. Well, the real bad person are the legislators who don’t correct the law. If wait staff were paid minimum wage, we could reserve tipping for excellent service. Prices would go up on menus, but customers will pay the same if they leave no tip.

Another similar scenario is the summer camp counselor. They are also not hourly workers. They get paid a flat fee for the entire summer. A really good camp counselor at a fancy sleep-away camp might make a few thousand for eight weeks of camp and one week of pre-camp. The US minimum wage is presently $7.25. 9 weeks times 7 days times 24 hours times $7.25 is closer to $10,000. Yes, camp counselors do not really work 24/7, and they get a few days off. Even so, most are horrendously underpaid.

One issue that really bugs me is child labor laws. Yes, of course we need these laws to prevent children from being exploited. However, these same laws also sometimes result in minors being unnecessarily restricted. I know many teenagers who would willingly do more work, and make more money, but the labor law prevents it because they are not eighteen. And no, the extra work wouldn’t interfere with homework. These extra hours are spent idling at home playing video games.

Lastly, let us look at countries as a whole. In Europe, many countries have a minimum of thirty days paid vacation for all employees, period. In the US, you are lucky to get ten. The number you get will inch up by one or two every year, assuming you stay at the same job. Switch jobs and you’re back to square one.

This is just criminal. There are people who live to work, but most people work to live. They only work to get money they need to survive in this world, and they would rather not be there. With so few vacation days, you can begin to question the point of living. People need vacation time to actually enjoy the life they have earned. The only reason I haven’t traveled the world already is not due to lack of funds, but due to lack of vacation time. It doesn’t even need to be paid vacation. Just let me leave for a few weeks and promise me that I will still have my job upon return.

Lastly, I must point out the horrible abuses laid upon some salaried employees. If you are paid hourly, or by commission, you might think that a salary is great. You get paid the same no matter what. Yes, that swings both ways. The employer can use threat of termination to get a salaried employee to work extra hours for no additional compensation. Someone with an hourly wage will typically receive time and a half, or some such. Not so for the salaried. They can make you stay late to finish the job for not a single dime extra.

Yes, the labor law is complicated because different jobs are different. Truck drivers, for example, have a completely different structure to their employment than stock brokers. The labor laws for one would be broken in many ways if the same exact rules were applied to both.

Even so, there needs to be some leveling of the board. Some basic principles can be applied equally to all employment. Nobody should face any consequence or demerit for leaving work, if they have put in eight hours that day. Anyone who freely chooses to put in more than eight hours per day should receive some form of extra compensation. Everyone should receive a minimum of thirty days per year vacation time. Even if you are not an hourly worker, your wages, not including tips, shall not be under what the minimum wage would be for the same number of working hours. Rules like these, and many others, should apply to every employment scenario, even the graduate students working in the lab. We already have a few good laws on the books, but we need quite a few more.

There are some people who love their work so much, they would stay there all day and night. Just because they would willingly sacrifice their health and well being, does not mean that everyone else should be forced to do the same. Give them the freedom to work their brains out, if they so desire, but do not force it on the rest of us. Many people look down on companies using off-shore labor, where practices are very bad. Well, there’s little room to talk if similar practices are widespread and legal right here at home.

And you know what, we have an unemployment rate in this country that is rising. If people no longer work extra hours, employers will have to hire more people to get the same work done in the same amount of time. I don’t think decreased profits from having some extra employees is going to hurt the economy all that much. We can just pay the workers with cuts from the CEOs salary.

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