‘But we don’t have any work’

Like most people here in Reno, Nevada, who are looking for work, I just call myself a statistic and hope for the best.

I was on the public transit bus a few months ago to attend the welfare office’s job hunting workshop. I’d been told about these things before. They bring in potential employers and interview people at the workshop after taking a survey of what you have the most experience in. Mine being retail and some handyman work.

I showed up to the office, and with much efficiency the workers helped direct me and the other people to the appropriate places, either food stamps, financial assistance, or the workshop.

Myself and about 25 other people were waiting to take the survey and see our, hopefully, future employers. A young woman walked into the room. She walked in almost as if she was delivering a eulogy for the first time. She stood in front of the room and told us about how things usually work, and then she said, “… But there just aren’t any jobs. You know it’s gotten bad when even the government can’t help you find a job, and it’s our job to find you work.”

She then just made it simple. Handed us a form for job searching, and said to have it filled out by the date written, and then make sure it’s filled out in a certain way. We were told to just get online, fill out applications and then bring back the forms.

So that’s what I was expecting to do. With several places that I had filled the applications out for, though, even their web sites said, “We are always happy to accept your application but at the current moment we are not hiring.” Getting told by a person that an employer is not hiring is hard, but by an automated website, that just hurts!

After those job hunting experiences I figured I would turn to the people who always have work for me. The temp agencies.

Labor Ready, Staffmark, Manpower usually have something for me. I signed up for all three. They keep you on a list; when they have something ready they call you. Most times you just walk into the office and they give you work right then and there. But for all three places, because of the economy, none of them had any work. Not only that, they had installed a new policy that we can only ask for work once a month if they haven’t called.

These are the places that advertise work as their product. They sell work and workers. Of course it’s all done by contract: an employer asks these companies if they have any workers available, and the company charges a fee for selling the workers at the temp agency to work for whatever company needs us. But these days even employers have gone into bankruptcy, or closed, or just plainly don’t have any money to pay the fees charged for getting the help needed at the workplace. So quite literally everyone loses.

I’ve been one of those statistics, if you will, of people that haven’t been employed for almost two years now. The numbers are growing every day.

And the ones lucky enough (I guess you could call them lucky) to have employment get treated almost the worst. The employers know that other jobs just aren’t available, and that keeps the current employees on their toes. They can’t protest, or unionize, or even THINK about unionizing, or they fear they could be fired, which would be a devastating blow. To lose a job is to be cut off, and most likely lose your livelihood – your car, home, food, and in most desperate cases, even your children.

Day laborers have nowhere to turn, and people with “permanent” employment are treated like freshmen in high school. Imagine not being able to complain about unsafe work conditions, or ask for a raise, because the thought that you’re absolutely expendable is always there but never spoken.

I’m not saying that all companies are like that, but a lot do know that for their workers there is just nothing else around if a job is lost. And if someone does get fired there are 400 others to take their place.

I would love to get to work, I would love to be employed, but the fact of the matter is, no one is hiring. And even the temp agencies, which I ask on a daily basis, “Give me anything, I’ll work at McDonald’s cleaning the bathrooms,” only give me the reply, “But we just don’t have any work.”

Ira Birkenfeld is a 27-year-old unemployed worker and Internet activist.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16782093@N03/ / CC BY 2.0




Ira Birkenfeld
Ira Birkenfeld

Ira Birkenfeld runs a YouTube video channel for young people whose slogan is "Communists of all kinds unite!" He was born in Reno, Nev., in 1982 and lived for a while in Alaska, where he got his G.E.D., spent some time living in a homeless shelter, and attended the University of Alaska in Anchorage for two years, studying anthropology and public speaking. He returned to Reno to help care for his mother, and has been unemployed since the K-Mart where he worked was shut down. He is "1/4 Shoshone Native American, and a mix of Filipino, Chinese, Irish, German, and a few others that I really can't remember."

"I've always been political," he says, "and have tried to be as active as possible.