Being with time: an hourly worker’s simple thought on a simple freedom

Today I was thinking about my time working at the liquor store in Michigan. I was paid hourly then. I am paid hourly now, now in Washington working at a café. I was offered salary at the store, on more than one occasion. I did not accept it. I was a manager already—a “lead,” a we called it there, the Beer and Beverage Lead, to be specific—and I was content with the hourly wage. Rather, I was not content with it, I wanted a raise, a raise I had been promised before the promotion even. Salary wouldn’t have helped with that. I knew this. I’ve no idea how it is with the salaried managers there these days, but in those days, when I worked there, it wasn’t good. Salary was set, as they usually seem to be, assuming a forty-hour workweek. Only the salaried workers, as often happens, worked more than forty hours. “I looked,” I remember one of these managers saying, “I shouldn’t have, but I was curious. This last pay period I made $6.15 an hour.” I don’t remember his salary was, though he had told me at some point. I know he worked 50 or 60 hours those weeks. This was in middle-of-nowhere Michigan.

Some days, I confess, I feel like I am maybe failing those who educated me by working only for an hourly wage, for not yet being a teacher, for my laziness. They gave me more than this. I am, I think, failing them with my laziness. With the other things, I’m not so sure. I’ve begun thinking of it from a different perspective. Often, hourly wageworkers have a rather low ceiling on their income. At a certain point the pay switches to salary and hours aren’t considered as much. The pay is for a year, however many hours that means. It could be 40 a week. It could be 80. The pay is set. At most, there are bonuses. In any case, I was thinking about it from a different perspective: not about pay but about time, about time owned.

My employer will not let me work more than 40 hours a week if they can help it. On one hand, yes, this means no overtime, it means my cap is 40 x my hourly rate. On the other hand, it means, at most, they require 40 hours of my week. A week has 7 days. A day has 24 hours. A week has 168 hours. I don’t much care for breaking things down like this, mind you, but it was an interesting thought. So my employer will not let me work more than 40 hours. This means I will have, at least, 128 hours of free time. I sleep, more or less, 6 hours a night, so about 42 hours a week. (A strange thought, to be sure…) After work, after sleep, there are at least 86 hours a week that I am free. There is transit time to and from work, yes, and the making and eating of food. But this is beside the point. The point is, being an hourly worker, I am realizing I have 86 hours a week that are free. That they are free means also I am responsible for them. This is where I fear and feel I’ve failed my educators. I am terribly careless with my 86 hours. This is far more hours of free time than many—than most, even, of my friends have—as many of them have jobs that are salaried, jobs that allow overtime, or multiple jobs. (I do have a second job, only I usually can only do it a few hours a week, because scheduling.)

I am learning to not be idle with my time. I do not know how much longer this sort of situation will remain a thing in my life, this free time for which I am responsible. I am learning to tend it, cultivate it, only I am only still learning, and I am learning slowly. I am, however, coming to terms with the responsibility to tend to it. “Killing time” is not a thing I aim to do, yet still I do it often, far too often. I am, I’ll own, a bit given to a feeling of guilt about it, especially when I think of my friends and family who do not have the luxury of free time. I confess my undiligence with the cultivation and tending of my time.

Also, those of you who work the salaried, the overtimes, the multiple jobs, know that I have no small among of respect for you for it. You are sacrificing much, and most of you I know are doing so on purpose, with purpose and goals. I pray you sacrifice is noted. I pray when it comes time for me to join the world of the less-free I will have learned—will have become—someone who is responsible with the little bits of free time that arrive, I hope I learn this now, with these larger amounts of time. I pray also, and hope, that it will be for the sake of something vocational, less job or career. This is why I think fondly still of teaching. I do not know of another line of work for which it would be worth it to me to sacrifice my time. Money is and is not a thing with it. It is needed, yes, but there are far fewer necessary expenses than we often think. This is coming from someone living in Seattle at Kirkland’s minimum wage + tips and making ends meet and saving. It comes down to intentionality and purpose and a willingness to give up frivolities, conveniences, and comforts. It is, I think, a thing. But now, before I become (again) an idle speaker, I will bid you farewell. Cheers, workers. Do well, be well. Be how and who you could not become.

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