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The Moral Underground

How Ordinary Americans Subvert An Unfair Economy.

"Here is a book that tells the real story of the countless unsung heroes who bend or break the rules to help those millions of Americans with impossible schedules, paychecks, and lives," says publisher The New Press. "Whether it is a nurse choosing to treat an uninsured child, a supervisor deciding to overlook infractions, or a restaurant manager sneaking food to a worker's children, middle-class Americans are secretly refusing to be complicit in a fundamentally unfair system that puts a decent life beyond the reach of the working poor.

"In a national tale of a kind of economic disobedience - told in whispers to Lisa Dodson over the course of eight years of research across the country -hundreds of supervisors, teachers, and health care professionals describe intentional acts of defiance that together tell the story of a quiet revolt, of a moral underground that has grown in response to an immoral economy."

Here are some examples pulled from the text.

Alba, a worker in a large retail store in New England: "Alba couldn't afford a babysitter, and since she worked the later shift, her children were alone for several hours most days after they got home from school. 'Sometimes I just cut out early . . . when no one's looking,' she said, and a girlfriend 'covers' for her. She didn't like breaking the rules, but fear for her children trumped being seen as "a cheat," trumped any rules, in fact."

Andrew, a manager of a Midwestern fast food restaurant: "But many of the workers in the food company made 'poverty wages,' and he was affected by the all the troubles people bring with them. Then he told me, 'I pad their paychecks because you can't live on what they make. I punch them out after they have left for a doctor's appointment or to take care of someone . . . And I give them food to take home . . . "

Alice, senior manager in a large nursing home in western Massachusetts: "And she went on to explain how she sidesteps the regulations and 'fudges' paperwork about schedules and hours worked to help out workers."

Ned: "A lot of food passed through Ned's hands over the course of a week at work - if not directly through his hands, then under his watch. And some of the 'product' that didn't quite pass muster didn't go back to the company that produced it, as regulated; it was detoured to low-wage employees."

Bea, floor manager at a well-known low-end retail chain: "Well, let's just say . . . we made some mistakes with our prom dress orders last year. Too many were ordered, some went back. It got pretty confusing."

Joaquin, a good company manager in the West: "I basically try to feed them most of the time. I let them make meals after their shifts. And the truth is that some of the women, some of them are single moms, and when their kids come in after school, I feed them."

Judy, a health care business manager in the East: "Sometimes I just look the other way."

Cora, supervisor of a restaurant part of an upscale chain on the East Coast: "Like I'm going to tell this mother with a four-year-old, 'No, you can't leave to pick him up . . . the scrod comes first' . . .

"Eventually, Cora came up with a double-talk system. 'I developed two time sheets, one that I sent to the [central] office and the toher that [reflected] the real hours."

Linda, hospital VP: "We have children in here, we have driven an employee to court on work time . . . We have [adjusted some information on forms] . . . you name it, I've broken it."

Lenora, second-grade teacher: "The rule was that she had to meet with a parent or guardian at least once a year. She said that her standard was to meet with them every term. 'But I break the rule myself when I know that the child cannot make his mother miss work and lose her pay for a day,' she said. 'Hell, I sign the damned forms myself.'"

Abigail, Boston high school teacher: "I asked Abigail how many rules or even laws had been broken over that monthlong period when they pulled out all the stops for one girl whose future was on the line. Abigail laughed. 'Are you serious?' she asked. So we sat down and mapped it out."

Aida, director of a child care center: "I am supposed to bill them a certain number of times and then tell them they have to remove their chilrd [if they don't pay]. This is a subsidized day care but we are supposed to stick to regulations about their payments.' Do you? Aida took her eyes somewhere else and paused, straightening the papers on her desk."


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 15, 2010

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