That's what he does when he gets home. It's late, almost dark out, at a time of year when the days are longest. There was a public meeting tonight about an impending rate hike from American Electric Power, the local utility, and he was there to look out for the OCC and consumers. Still, after he arrives in a tie and glasses only to get back to work on his laptop, he continuously flashes a grin that demands to be described as toothy. At his work, people are getting ready to move their desks because the office is consolidating from two floors to one; the state Senate has proposed softening the OCC's cuts from 51 to 34 percent, but a lot of layoffs are still on the table. No one knows exactly what will happen when the budget is reconciled and signed at the end of the month, and right now Anthony is working on a freelance consulting project and looking for more of those and another job while the rest of us watch reality TV.
A dunk-tank fundraiser in Mt. Sterling, which dissolved its police force due to lack of cash"We're in that mode," Anthony says of his 81 coworkers, shaking his head, "where we're like, 'What the hell are we going to do?'" And he can fit in only a few minutes of searching and overtime, because Jocelyn misses him and won't stop pointing at him, so he picks her up to pace the carpet with her head against his shoulder, singing a soothing little song.
At 4:41 in the morning, Barack Obama finds his cat-magic way through a closed door and enters my bedroom. The Rodriguez house is as dark as the sky. But within an hour, lights are on, Jocelyn's burbling, and Anthony's walking around in shorts. As I am somewhat unaccustomed to this waking time, I'm looking sad about it under the kitchen fluorescents, I guess, since Anthony walks in and laughs at me.
It's one of Erin's last days of teaching before school lets out for the summer. It's a 40-minute drive out to her rural district, plus a quick stop to drop Jocelyn off at day care. Out here, there are a lot of long, empty roads and farmland. Out here, the public schools spend nearly 20 percent less per student than the national average. It's so hot outside that a school in a city nearby actually had to shut down the other day when its air conditioning broke, but Erin's middle school never has had AC. Her seventh- and eighth-graders are restless, sweating. She spends even more time than usual vying for their attention, especially in the computer class that has access to internet games.
I'm exhausted just watching her by third period, but she loves, loves, loves her job as a writing teacher, she tells me when we lock the door between classes so she can pump breast milk. Still, she'd prefer to be a stay-at-home mom to Jocelyn for a while. She's heartbroken every time she leaves her at day care, maybe even more than she is over the prospect of becoming a single-income family.
The workers on this shift all make about $9 an hour. That's a dollar less than I made at the moving company when I started there in 1998.
Actually, she's not totally free from worrying about becoming a no-income family; the Ohio Education Association says Kasich's budget will cost 10,000 public education jobs—nearly 5 percent of such jobs in the state. Already, Erin's school recently laid off a couple of teachers and cut a few more to half time. While her salary after eight years of teaching would normally be protected by a long-standing experience- and education-based pay schedule, a provision in the budget would require many schools—including hers—to move to a more merit-based pay system. Which sounds great and all, but what it means is this: Unless organizers get 231,147 signatures to put a repeal of anti-collective-bargaining SB 5 on the ballot in November, and then voters indeed vote to repeal it, her union will have far less power to help her if her cash-strapped school district decides she should make some arbitrary number of thousands of dollars less.
It's not like she's in it for the money. American middle school teachers work more hours than those in any other leading industrialized nation except one, but they rank near the bottom in terms of pay. Erin knew that going in, but still.
"How many of you have summer jobs?" Erin asks her afternoon batch of about 30 eighth-graders. Lots of them put their hands up. When she asks them how many have jobs because they're working for family farms or businesses, most of those with their hands up keep them raised. Job growth in this county is -0.16 percent. One 14-year-old without those kinds of family connections explains he's been looking, he's looking, but no, he doesn't have a job. When I ask him why, he pauses, surprised for a second, then says, "No jobs to be had."
When Erin and I were in college, I worked summers for a moving company. Before and after jobs, my coworkers and I hung around the cavernous warehouse full of cardboard boxes, the smell of heavy paper landing in the back of our throats in a thick and lingering way.
Erin Rodriguez and her daughter JocelynMy college girlfriend now works in a warehouse, too, as a supervisor—in a quieter, sadder warehouse, where people ship merchandise for big online companies everyone has heard of but that can't be named here. The company running it, which I also can't name, is a temp agency that provides staffing for a nationwide logistics contractor that handles getting those internet purchases from their origins—many of them Chinese factories—to people's doorsteps.
My ex's name is not Susie, but let's call her that so we don't get her in trouble. The first stop on the tour she gave me of her workplace: workers standing at tables, taking items out of a bulk box and putting them into smaller boxes with shipping labels on them. And...that's pretty much it. For efficiency purposes, every step of every process here has been broken down and separated out so that almost everyone does the exact same motion over and over. Like the people at the next stop, who are standing at tables and putting the labels on the boxes. Over and over. Sweating.
"It's hot in here," I say unhelpfully. It's 90 degrees outside, and the Midwestern humidity concentrates itself in this giant metal-and-cement cube. "Don't you guys have air conditioning?"
"We do, but it's controlled by the big guys in the suits." It is not, Susie adds, equally unpleasant for everyone. We pass by the loading docks, where a semi is backed up to the open door. A guy standing inside the cramped metal trailer bed catches taped-up, ready-to-ship boxes off the conveyor belt and stacks them in the truck. "That job sucks," she says. She shakes her head. "There's no circulation in there." She says in the winter, everybody in the warehouse wears hats and coats because it's freezing inside.
The workers on this shift all make about $9 an hour. That's a dollar less than I made at the moving company when I started there in 1998, but it's a lot more than the state minimum wage of $7.40 and way more than nothing, which is what 8.6 percent of Ohio workers currently earn.
These workers are all hired as temps by Susie's company. If they make it 90 days, they have the opportunity, in theory, if there's an opening, to become full employees of the logistics company, which means better benefits and about an extra dollar an hour. It has been six months since the logistics company graduated someone here from temp to employee status. At one of the other locations Susie manages, no one has been hired as a real employee for two years. One of the workers in this warehouse has been a temp for a year and a half.