09 December 2007

On being shafted

Science research isn't exactly the most well-funded endeavor in the country. Especially when the research isn't medical or otherwise of direct human impact. Ocean research is fairly low on the priority list overall, even in the best of times. Education is likewise not exactly a high priority here. The politicians talk it up, but when it comes time to fund it, the money isn't there.

In the economic climate of the past six years, the entire University System of Georgia was well and truly squeezed. The state budget proposals called for more and more cuts each time, until whole universities would've had to close. Every institute-wide meeting we had was doom and gloom about our lack of ability to pay for anything. There was a lot of pressure on the faculty to find funding from other sources than the state. There were layoffs. My boss was constantly worried about keeping all his own underlings paid.

Meanwhile, living expenses continued to rise. The price of gas skyrocketed, both for cars and for winter heating. Rent kept going up, as did utilities and the cost of doing laundry in the complex's coin-operated machines. The complex started making us pay for our own water. Each individual thing was only a little bit, but it adds up.

So I got a second job. I did it to avoid asking for a raise. I considered it my part of the sacrifice of the hard times we were in, because even with the low pay, it was better to have a job at the institute than not have it. I thought it made sense that it was better to have a job at low pay for a long time, than to have high pay for a short time and then become unemployed, which almost happened with my previous boss when his grant funds ran out earlier than he expected.

Sometimes people from the institute would buy food while I was working there. They were always surprised and cheerful about seeing someone they knew, and I would tell them I was "just helping out a bit for some extra pocket money," and then they would pick up their food and obliviously go on about their lives, not stopping to really wonder why.

I also kept my heat ten degrees lower than is actually comfortable for me, ate a lot of butter, and stopped going anywhere other than work, home, and the grocery store in between.

Imagine my surprise when, last summer, I discovered that I was the only one who hadn't had a raise in those entire six years. Not only that, I was now the lowest paid research grunt in the entire institute - and quite possibly the lowest paid full-time employee period.

Tonight my boss met my other boss. It was the first he knew. I wonder if he'll be observant enough, recalling the rage that made it impossible for me to speak to him for two days, and the ensuing straightening wherein I got a 12% raise and was promised another 8% raise next fiscal year, I wonder if he'll figure out how it really happened.

The economy has improved in the past year or so. We have money now to repair our existing infrastructure, upgrade our docks, replace old vehicles, and even build a whole new building. The future is looking good.

But never again when I hear about funding crises will I just quietly understand.


Anne said...

I have felt that sort of shafting. I don't know if it was to the degree that you felt it (I didn't have a second job, but I also didn't have a car. I shared an apartment, didn't go anywhere, too the bus or walked to work, etc.). When I was leaving that job, a friend/co-worker councilled me on what I should be asking for at the next job. I followed her advice and got 50% more than my shaft-job. Modesty points out that I may have been a little overpaid at that point and when I came back into the working world three years later after taking time off to do grad school, I asked for the same amount (this was also after 9/11 and the economy had shifted).
That being said, I am hyper-sensitive to being properly compensated now. Benefits I can be a bit soft on as long as I have the basics, but I take my salary very seriously now.

Being shafted seriously messes with your trust of management too. I have a good friend in a managerial position (not at my firm) and my distrust is just something we don't talk about because it's too ouchy a subject.

Good luck. I hope your job continues to rectify the issue!

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, I do feel your pain, and I fully understand your rage at having your altruism rewarded with the shaft.

Like Anne, I take my compensation package very seriously. After years of eating Top Ramen and being the top performer in every group I was in, I was appalled and hurt to learn I was a the lowest end of the pay scale for my job. My various bosses kept telling me "their hands were tied" because only 6% raises were allowed, we don't have the money to increase salaries, blah, blah, blah.

Well, I finally had a "come to Jesus" meeting with my boss, and told him that if company policy dictated only a 5% raise, then my policy dictated I would only do 5% more than the average worker as opposed to the 25% I was currently doing. That seemed fair to me. He got a bit wild-eyed and found the money.

Without being a complete cynic, I have to say that watching out for you own financial well-being really is your own responsibility. It seems apparent from this experience that if you leave it to your boss or your institution, you really will get the shaft. It sucks salt water, but there it is.

MWT said...

To be fair, my boss is a decent guy. He's just also the absent-minded variety of professor - and the problem did get fixed as soon as he knew about it. (And he had the presence of mind to ignore all the rabid disparaging remarks I made about everyone else at the institute during that time... *cough*) But yeah - next time it comes up, "I don't care, pay me anyway" is likely the first thing that will come to mind as opposed to the last.

Jim Wright said...

Nice guys finish last, isn't that what they say? I hate that, but damned if it isn't true - most of the time.

Consider it a learning experience, an expensive one. On the other hand, you can be proud of the fact that you didn't go around stabbing everybody else in the back to get ahead. Of course, when you've got to get a 2nd job just to make ends meet - well, a little stabbing starts to look not so bad :)

Alcar said...

Ow. That just bites. I'd have been seriously livid, too. I've had jobs that burned me for, well, working too well. "Here, you can do X as well as Y. Nah, we won't pay you *more* for doing it..." and I just went along with it blithely, never even being puzzled when they begged me to stay - for some reason - when I was moving, even going to so far as to offer housing. I suspect the fact that the bastards never paid vacation pay, and I didn't know they had to, helped a lot as well ... not good memories :P

On the other hand, I've had jobs where the employer was remarkably upfront about wages and the business. The downside being that I didn't work for three weeks once, and once worried the place had gone under without telling employees :) But on the whole they paid what they could, gave out free meals and drinks and, if you needed it, money without asking sometimes as a bonus.

Never worked in government, though. I'd always had this suspicion that no matter how bad the times, no one did take cuts to pay because, well, it's the government (or funded by at least). At least it was rectified, if only by proving that sometimes a gentleman has to be a bit of a bastard as well since 'nice' doesn't cut it.

Jeri said...

Yikes, what a horrible experience! My reaction would have been rabid, too.

I've never had the problem to that degree - but at one point I was being paid $10K less than all my equally qualified male colleagues in the same position. That changed after my "come to Jesus" meeting with my boss.

I'm glad you got a positive response to your requests for more!