Friday, September 5, 2014

What Independent Contracting Has Taught Me About the Minimum Wage Battle

I work in IT. Despite having a 4 year degree, industry certs, and 8 years' experience in the area, very few employers will hire me to work in house IT. In fact, sadly, all of that often works against me, as I see people hired quite literally out of convenience store jobs into IT because the businesses want $10-12 an hour techs, they do not want $50K a year Network Administrators.

So I decided to go it on my own. Basically, I wind up going to many of those companies to troubleshoot what their nearly minimum wage IT staff cannot. And I do the back and forth dance with buyers over rates.

I am currently holding out against an employer who wants me to drive two hours, pickup a part, deliver it an hour away, wait in line for over an hour to clear security at the site, perform the work, and return home. Basically a minimum of five hours for the company, with a pay rate that nets me less than minimum once all is said and done.

And so I countered with what I needed. They refused.

This is a common scenario. They can pay more, they are authorized to pay more, but their job is to pay me as absolutely little as they can and still function. I've been on holdouts like this before. They will give the job to lesser experienced providers, and after a series of revisits or a provider who gets fed up with the demands of the assignments, will be shopping it out again. This same site has been shopping for consistent techs for the last four years.

Ultimately, though, they need to get the job done, and they will pay what they need to to make it happen.

I used to feel guilty about this, but eventually I realized this is how it works: you have two competing factions, one that will do whatever it takes to pay as little as they can, and you, who have to negotiate to make a livable wage. And yes, there is such a thing.

When this plays out on minimum wage jobs, though, the employee has little room to bargain. Business owners exploit this by paying as little as they can get away with and then complaining about the turnover. Well, a minimum wage worker cannot be expected to have ANY loyalty to their employer, as they have to negotiate the best rate they can (whether that means a better paying job, a job with less travel, or anything else that gives them an advantage). Doing that is doing THEIR job.

It's a delicate dance that shouldn't exist. Workers should never have to feel guilty about negotiating what they need to survive. And employers should never feel that squeezing that dollar harder is more important than protecting their most important assets: their employees. In fact, paying workers more helps retain quality employees by giving employers a competitive advantage in hiring.

I'm not sorry that I work as an independent contractor. It has its ups and downs, but the freedom is a payoff that has incalculable value. But it has taught me more about real world economics than any college course ever could. And it has taught me that making a fair and living wage will always be a struggle for the working class.