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SPOTLIGHT
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One of billions

Published on -8/18/2014, 9:57 AM

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My readers are aware by now I'm a professional foodie. I don't know what else to call it. I am not formally educated in the field, so I'm not a sous-chef. I have not owned a restaurant, so I'm not an entrepreneur. I am everything else that gets done in the kitchen.

I am a professional. I am not above cleaning a trash can or mopping the floor to a nice shine. I can clean anything -- go ahead and hate me for it. I know food from farm to table. I can feed one or a thousand. I take pride in my work because I'm good at it and a reliable, diligent worker.

I never have been paid an adequate wage for this work. The labor itself can be done with less attention by a teenager.

I have heard about flipping burgers for decades. "You don't want to end up flipping burgers, do you? Go to college." I did go to college. And this year I celebrate my 40th year as a professional foodie. I fairly can say I've helped feed most of this county, at some point. Lucky for all of you, I am a firm believer in hand washing and latex gloves. I am responsible.

But my good work is not enough, I'm told. One can spend a life at work, and labor ethically, but one who labors cannot expect any security. It has become accepted that minimum wage is a tax on the less ambitious members of the work force. The disdain with which people treat wage earners is prevalent. We are good enough to serve a meal but not worthy enough for a living wage.

I breach social etiquette with my comments. One does not speak money in polite conversation. I believe really wealthy people started the rule that only those with coarse manners speak of money. The same elites that frown on labor have given themselves an out.

Some people live to work, others work to live. I fall in the latter category. I contribute an honest day's work and then I go home and live my life. I don't wake up thinking about work. I don't lose sleep over it. I leave that to the guys with the heavy keychains. There are billions like me on this planet.

The conservatives have made labor an unseemly practice. It has been cast in an unkind light, because while we make profit possible, we are dispensable. Consumerism has made every laborer an interchangeable part in the machine of commerce. Laborers wear out and are cast aside. Age is no friend to a laborer as the body deteriorates with physical work.

Our rights as workers are taken from us, and our wages are stagnant under the corporate oppression that's gained steam for 40 years. While Wall Street tops itself many times over, the backs and brains that actually made the money are reduced to tatters. Eighty years of labor legislation have been gutted by greed.

If every person who ever wore an apron, or a cap, or steel-toed boots, whoever bore an emblem of service and loyalty, wore a uniform or a name tag, all stood together we could start making a world where everyone looks out for everyone else. Workers could be paid fairly, and we might labor with the respect due the foundations of the civil contract.

It starts with demanding a living wage, and $15 an hour is a good start.

I would love to see all service employees walk out on Labor Day for one hour at noon. I envision every one of us waving our aprons or caps, lining the sidewalk, getting noticed as the lines form for lunch.

It won't happen. This idea is just an ephemeral hope for my kind. Not by accident, wage earners are kept to the grindstone with fear. The loss of even a bad wage is crippling to someone who tries to live with the minimum.

For those who labor, I salute you in fellowship. I know a part of your life because it is a part of mine, and I raise my glass to the worker. Our blue-collars built this country. We are the engine of commerce. We put the best of our lives into making the American dream a reality, not just for us but for our fellow beings. We have worked hard and paid our way and our taxes.

But remember, this toast is all we'll get for our work if we wait for equity.

Mary Hart-Detrixhe is a lifelong resident of the prairie and Ellis County. Her work can be found at www.janeQaverage.com.

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