Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Working in the Real Key West

Citizen's Voice of the Day

"This is to the caller who said Key West will lose its work force. Key West will never lose its work force. There's millions of people from all around the world who will gladly work here, whether it takes 10 to 12 people living in a two-bedroom, or shipping them in three hours each way. There will always be someone willing to do that for the mighty buck."

Returning to a theme that I've touched on before, I'd like to offer a few observations and some commentary on what it's like to be a "worker" here. Now, as you may know, I'm a retired man. That means that I can choose to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. For me, that is an occasional computer job, and a variety of mostly volunteer work that I find interesting and challenging. Janet still has a few years to go before she can join me in retired bliss, so she has worked since we arrived, first at the Butterfly Conservatory and now at Albertsons supermarket on North Roosevelt Boulevard. She'd still be at the Conservatory had it not been for our need to have health insurance for her. Albertsons offered that opportunity so, with much regret, she made the switch.

The prevailing wage for many jobs here is usually above minimum, running somewhere between $8 and $10 an hour. Most of those jobs offer few if any benefits, especially health care, as the cost of insurance is so high as to make it unaffordable. There is a vast army of low-paid workers in the city, may of them foreigners, immigrants, legal and illegal. Many of them are actually employees of contract firms that sell their labor to hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. This arrangement relieves the actual employers from the complications of payrolls, wage and hour laws, benefits, social security contributions, unemployment and workers' compensation, and all those other onerous government regulations.

There is, of course, higher paying work to be found here as well. City and county government jobs are much prized and highly sought after. The Monroe County Department of Education is the largest employer in the Keys. Many of the better-paying jobs are either commission-based or tip-based, at least in part, and often in toto. Nevertheless, there's still a lot of apartment-sharing going on, sometimes with as many as eight people sharing (as I've described before).

The City is trying to cope with the twin issues of economic development and economic diversity. Clearly, there won't be any large manufacturing plants built any where in the Keys, since there isn't space or a labor force for such activity. I've always thought that the Keys would be a nice place for smaller high-technology companies to set up, not in large numbers, but companies that would find the location one that would uniquely attract employees to the life-style possibilities.

Hiring and, especially, retaining good employees, reliable ones who don't mind doing an honest day's work for modest pay and few benefits is one of the critical factors in operating a successful business here. Diane and Theo, who own and operate the Coffee Plantation, have been working seven days a week, for twelve and more hours a day including their travel time from and to Summerland Key where they live. As a start-up business, they aren't in a position to hire help, although they have the experience to be able to do that (having operated a successful florist business in Laguna Beach, CA for a dozen years. Katha, the Chicken lady, tells me of her inability to retain employees at all, much less find and keep honest employees who have that natural ability to sell that can make a real difference in sales receipts at the end of each day.

But, all that said, there is the reality of the Citizens' Voice comment cited above.

No comments:

Use OpenDNS