Originally printed in the August 2021 issue of Produce Business.
In many ways, this is a time for optimism. With vaccines rolling across the globe, the hope for a post-pandemic future is real. Indeed, even when we look at problems, such as the Delta variant, it is somehow enormously hopeful to realize that we are people who came up with an incredible vaccine in less than a year, and we will most likely come up with boosters or new vaccines to wrestle with whatever new difficulties we may confront. Our scientific capabilities are extraordinary and a source of great hope.
Yet, in the course of this pandemic, fissures in our society have become evident, and frightening.
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece titled, “These People Who Work From Home Have a Secret: They Have Two Jobs”. The subtext explained: When the pandemic freed employees from having to report to the office, some saw an opportunity to double their salary on the sly. Why be good at one job, they thought, when they could be mediocre at two?
As the piece explained:
A small, dedicated group of white-collar workers, in industries from tech to banking to insurance, say they have found a way to double their pay: Work two full-time remote jobs, don’t tell anyone and, for the most part, don’t do too much work, either.
Alone in their home offices, they toggle between two laptops. They play “Tetris” with their calendars, trying to dodge endless meetings. Sometimes they log on to two meetings at once. They use paid time off — in some cases, unlimited — to juggle the occasional big project or ramp up at a new gig. Many say they don’t work more than 40 hours a week for both jobs combined. They don’t apologize for taking advantage of a system they feel has taken advantage of them.
Of course, one can, and should, blame companies for being so negligent about their employees. They are not demanding much work, and their systems seem to accept every excuse in the book for employees not doing things.
Fissures in our society need to be addressed as COVID works its way through.
But there is a bigger issue. These employees are lying to their employers. They are saying, “Sorry, my Internet is spotty, and I can’t get online” when the truth is that their other job is holding a meeting at the same time.
Over on LinkedIn, a recruiter was praising his employer because when he requested Personal Time Off to attend his son’s first day of school, the employer told him that the request was denied because “you don’t need to use PTO for family; just go enjoy your time.” That is very nice, and the piece has 100,000-plus “likes,” but is it really fair? Consider two people doing equally valuable work, but one person has a spouse, four children, parents and grandparents to look after. He is allowed to take countless days off, while the other, with no family, is not permitted to take time off. And, indeed, when the family guy takes off, it’s the non-family guy who winds up staying late to make up his work.
The Governor of Oregon, a Democrat, signed a bill that dropped the requirement making high school students prove proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics before receiving a diploma. It was a very weak requirement. Students didn’t have to take standardized tests; they could simply attend “workshop style” courses. The Governor’s deputy communications director explained that the bill will benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”
He further explained: “Leaders from those communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports.” There was, however, no substantial expansion of learning opportunities passed this year, for any group or for all students.
In other words, the Governor and the Democratic legislature did nothing to improve the education of minorities. They just degraded a high school diploma by saying it should no longer be interpreted as evidence that a graduate can read, write and do math.
Over in Afghanistan, there is a human and strategic catastrophe underway that is hard to overstate. Molly Montgomery, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in the Biden Administration, tweeted her concern: “Woke up with a heavy heart, thinking about all the Afghan women and girls I worked with during my time in Kabul. They were the beneficiaries of many of the gains we made, and now they stand to lose everything. We empowered them to lead, and now we are powerless to protect them.” (Her tweet was taken down.)
Right now, our concerns are the pandemic and our domestic affairs. After all, there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks in the United States that originated in Afghanistan since the fall of the World Trade Towers in 2001. Yet, it is very likely that our operations in Afghanistan have kept enemies of America and of freedom on the run, trying to stay alive. So, having left, with our allies collapsed, we will probably have to return when the nation becomes a center of anti-American efforts.
There is so much more that could be written, but the success of an industry such as produce cannot be ensured only based on PACA and other specific rules. We need a society that functions. Coming out of the pandemic, that seems to leave a great deal to do.