Dignity At Work

July 6th, 2014

Among the more valuable perks of having a good education is the ability to pick and choose the kind of work you’d like to do while making your way through life.  My work experiences began at twelve, babysitting for the child of a divorcee for fifteen hours per week after school.   In later years, a Master of Arts degree opened portals that led me through many years as a speech pathologist in school settings and onward into university teaching and supervisory roles.  The sheer variety of activities was exhilarating over a twenty five year period until premature disability ended my career.  I’ve always sympathized with individuals suffering from repetitive motion injury. My sympathies were not limited to an understanding of their pain, but also for the nature of the work that called for the same set of motions to be used, again and again and again.  The mind becomes numb long before the muscles begin to tear.

A few months ago, I found myself in New York City, visiting a lawyer to talk about the potential for resuming the prosecution of my law suit.  Like the outlook for that possibility, it was also raining as I headed out for my rental car, parked on the other side of town.  No cabs in sight, I set off  to seek a bus stop when a young, Chinese male cycled up to me in what appeared to be a ‘rickshaw’, also known as a ‘pedicab’.  I’d never seen one before.

‘Pedi-cabs’ have turned the human-pulled, three-wheeled rickshaw of Asian fame into a pedal-powered cab rented from owners who don’t think twice about young men and women wrecking their joints, hauling weighty passengers about town.  Finding health care coverage ten years down the road to pay for knee replacements in these kids, might lead us to ask whether pedi-cab owners pay into state worker-compensation funds.  Occupational injuries aren’t billable to normal health insurance. On the other hand, why should people even think about losing body parts to this kind of labor?  My last glance at the calendar indicated this was 2014 and not 1914.  Our aspirations appear to be dropping while orthopedic surgeons may have to study in places far flung from New York City to learn about these problems.

A native New Yorker, I’d been following the end-of-life stages of the horse-drawn carriage industry. After years of debate as to whether this labor is humane to the animals who pull passengers and their baggage beyond the bucolic views of Central Park into busy streets, the carriages are about to be replaced by electric carts . The thought of having a human do what we’ve deemed to be unfair to animals was rather appalling.   Deep inhalations of particulate-laden air along with stress upon muscles and tendons evolved for other forms of labor are an awful price for a worker to pay for a few dollars.  Even in India, rickshaws are being replaced with electric models despite problems in finding places to recharge motors.  This can hardly be a problem in New York.

Immigration problems notwithstanding, we don’t need immigrants to occupy jobs that no person ought to be doing.  I politely refused the offer and walked to the bus stop as the young man looked after me in confusion.  Given the fact that he’d need a license to operate that pedi-cab, it may as well be a motorcycle license. That would offer him an additional ticket into a future as well as another way for New Yorkers to get from one place to another.  In fact, it might be a ticket for all of us to regard labor in a modern light.

Categories: Christian Science Monitor, commentary, NIH, WSJ

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