On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane
Emily Guendelsberger. Little, Brown, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-50900-8
In this spiritual sequel to Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 Nickel and Dimed, journalist Guendelsberger takes jobs at an Amazon fulfillment warehouse, an AT&T call center, and a McDonald’s franchise to investigate the sheer implausibility of living on minimum wage and the Kafkaesque features of service industry work. These include the Tylenol- and Advil-dispensing vending machines at the Amazon warehouse, a symbol of the excruciating pain that is an expected part of the job; bosses changing time sheets to deduct minutes employees spent in the bathroom; and screaming customers flinging condiment packets. Guendelsberger’s coworkers are charismatic and charming, and completely unaware that they deserve a lot better from their employers: one of her fellow employees suffers a panic attack that requires emergency services and another attempts dental surgery on herself. Interspersed throughout are references to early 20th-century moguls like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford (who pioneered the use of assembly lines to control workers’ pace, a predecessor to Amazon’s pace-tracking practices), giving historical background on how the plight of today’s overburdened working class came to be. Guendelsberger’s narration is vivid, humorous, and honest; she admits to the feelings of despair, panic, and shame that these jobs frequently inspire, allowing for a more complex and complete picture of the experience. This is a riveting window into minimum-wage work and the subsistence living it engenders. [em]Agent: Lydia Wills, Lydia Wills LLC. (July) [/em]
Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the year Nickel and Dimed was published.
Reviewed on: 04/16/2019