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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

The Bitter Bread 

By Michael S. Queen

May 19, 2019
Saturday AM

A recent op-ed by a SE editor turned a call for a pro-formula PFD (“Let the People Have Their PFDs”) into a derogation, a hit-piece of his neighbors; erroneously connecting small PFDs with the organized labor force of the State in general (“…over-paid state employees {who} want to keep their cushy jobs…”) and the Alaska Marine Highway in particular. His seems an ideal of unfettered entrepreneurialism that targets those earning paychecks rather than those who maximize their profit margin at the expense of those who created that profit for them. He blames those with good, family-sustaining jobs for the many POW business owners’ wretched, sub-poverty level wage scales. I know. I live on the same third-largest island in the US and struggled to find family-sustaining work. I cast a broad net in two years’ worth of work opportunities a decade and a half ago (500+ applications), and was overjoyed, eager to receive the offer to work for the AMHS ‘making beds and cleaning heads.’ I am away from home more than half the year now, but my family has food on the table and a way to access basic health care. We stand on our own and need no Donate button appeal to meet expenses.

After seven days working for the AMHS, he seems to have resigned in shame at wages that didn’t make sense serving Alaskans. Those seven days made him an expert in the Union model applied to maritime industries. To make his misleading point, he deprecatingly equated one set of Department of Homeland Security dictated job requirements with skilled laborers ashore… demeaning both. The jobs are not equal, and AMHS entry-level workers have to pay for, pass, and maintain USCG physicals, DHS security background checks, drug testing, Basic Safety Training that includes fire-fighting skills development, as well as donning a survival suit in the water, and righting a capsized life raft, to name but a few. It costs each new employee in the neighborhood of $2,000.00 from their own pocket even to qualify for selection. How many other sandwich makers on POW do so simply to try for a job? A good sandwich maker on or off shore is worth their labor skill and are keepers in any organization.

At the height of Union membership in the late 1930s and 1940s, only some 40% of the total work force, wages realized by organized labor upwardly drove the prevailing wage across the board. To attract, then to keep, profit-generating workers in whose memories the callous absence of any sort of social safety net for those who made the money-changers in the Temple of Wall Street wealthy, government entities and businesses, willingly or not, found it to their economic advantage to employ those who could afford to purchase the goods they produced and retain the high levels of expertise that afford smoothly functioning service to its citizens. Historically, anti-organized labor organizations have the reverse effect… lowering the quality of life.

After WWII, the stage was then set for the dynamic surge of prosperity that placed America at the forefront of world nations. A vigorous middle-class could own their homes, afford to raise families with a parent remaining in the home, send their children to colleges and schools that afforded even greater opportunity in the common weal. America’s greatness was linked to the majority of citizens sharing, via the prevailing wage and a rigorously progressive income tax, in the fruits of their labors. Checks and balances woven into the fabric of American society promoted the mandate for general welfare enshrined in the Preamble of our Constitution. 

Those checks and balances are attacked and eroded by those whose greed has outstripped the Golden Rule and the second greatest commandment. Working Americans are told they are unworthy of their compensation, while employers move those same jobs and park more profit offshore, out of reach of the even the US tax gifts they increasingly receive. Our editor, it sadly seems, has internalized that sense of unworthiness impugning the dignity of work. 

Before Big Oil, Alaska was built on a strong foundation of cooperation and mutual accommodation between labor and capital. It was skilled and expert organized labor that built the pipeline that has been of such a benefit and engendered the Permanent Fund Dividend program. Despite the generations-long perspective of farsighted Alaskans’ efforts to mitigate the cycles of boom and bust of resource exploitation that is our historic legacy, despite the self-evident advantages of economic diversification, Alaskans doggedly have opted for decades to keep all their eggs in a Big Oil basket that, warned from the beginning, was only temporary. Not paying taxes anymore themselves, they hold out for the handout. 

Big Oil operates in many nations, often paying larger tax percentages. Still, they operate there. Meanwhile, the recent iterations of Alaskan leaders, tug their forelocks and offer up even more tax breaks and Hickel’s ‘owner state’ profit bypasses Alaska completely while working families eat the bitter bread of ‘austerity,’ the lie that their neighbors are their enemies rather than legislators’ corporate handlers.


Michael S. Queen
Kasaan, Alaska

Related: AMHS to Sell the Fast Ferries... Good! By ARTHUR MARTIN
SitNews - April 07, 2019


Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.


Received May 17, 2019 - Published May 19, 2019

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