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Rant #404
(published October 16, 2008)
When Does a Start-Up Stop Starting?
(A Poor Mojo's "Bad Job, Good Times; Good Job, Bad Times" Rant Contest Notable Entry)
by A.K. Cotham
Dear Company,

A four-day workweek? Really? Let me think about . . . Oh. I don't have a choice? OK, then, I guess I'll sign the notice that says I legally understand. Gimme your pen.

Yes, I know, lots of companies have lately been moving to condensed workweeks by adjusting the hours per day. Supposedly, it promotes productivity and employee morale, and helps employees cut down on commuting costs. Whatever. But what we're doing is simply cutting down on paychecks. By cutting a day of work. One full day. Because you don't have the money to pay us as much anymore. It's temporary, you say—but is it really? Let's review.

Yeah, we all know—especially by now—what the word "start-up" implies. Over the past few years, everyone's been asked in some way to lend more than their God-allotted number of helping hands as well as time, effort, knowledge and hope. Those of us who have been here from the beginning have put up a hell of a lot more. For some people, that was money; for me, well, all I had to give was my reputation, dignity and sanity. We all chose to contribute because we believed in the product, and we likewise took it like good little soldiers when it came time to get screwed.

When I started here, I was new in town; I'd just left my old residence and job, and was essentially starting over with no community and a zero bank account balance. Anything was welcome. (If I'd known then how much I'd be asked to welcome . . . ?) But the other reason I took this job is because of the opportunity. Plain and simple, I won't deny that. The on-the-job experience has been invaluable, and that's how I've justified sticking it out for so long.

The other justification for so interminably sticking around is because, yes, I was determined to be paid. I know it surprised us both when my outstanding invoices suddenly reached in excess of $10,000. You think I can walk away from that? I can tell myself that it's worth the job experience, but you think my landlord's going to agree? I'm tired of paying for gas and groceries with my credit card. I did the work—now you hold up your end of the bargain.

And please, no more what-you-call reasons. "We'll cut you a check as soon as we get paid from X." "As soon as we are able to pay off Y." "As soon as Z comes through." "As soon as we get the funds transferred." Each time, the reason was different. (I eventually stopped keeping track, though I never stopped being amused.) When it came to tackling my invoices, it was: "We'll pay what we owe you in three installments." And then: "We'll pay what we owe you in 20 installments." And then: "We'll pay you $175 per paycheck . . . plus interest." You issued promissory note #1 (upon which you promptly defaulted) and then promissory note #2 (which I constantly had to remind you about). I was determined or desperate to get something. The meager amount added per paycheck was never enough to dent the Visa debt I'd accrued when you couldn't pay me at all. It was only ever enough to cover the random expenses that crop up in life: a parking ticket, a vet bill, a car repair, a doctor bill. P.S. No, I don't want your health insurance; it doesn't do me any good when you keep letting it lapse.

We'll ignore the bounced checks for the time being, as that's only happened twice so far. ("The funds just didn't get transferred to the payroll account in time. . . . But can you wait a week for a new check?")

I'm not the only one hurting. You can't not pay the phone company—they'll just cut your lines. You can't not pay the electric bill—they'll shut the lights off. But employees? Employees are desperate. You can ask them to hold their paychecks, just for a couple of days. Or you can bounce them. (The checks, not the employees.) (Well, maybe the employees too, if you think you can find cheaper labor.)

For a while, with a part-time job, I managed to hang on. When I became a full-time employee instead of a contractor and quit the part-time job, I managed to hang on. When the debt was finally paid off—your debt to me, but certainly not my debt to my creditors—I managed to hang on. Now I'm being paid eight hours less per week, and thanks to the $1,000 my brother just lent me, I am still hanging on.

Well, why don't I just quit? Move on? Find a new place, if I'm going to be whiny about it? Lord knows you can find other cheap labor, right? Because, at the bottom of all this . . . I love my job. It's unlike anything I've ever done before. I love the day to day, the excitement of a new project, my coworkers, the experience I'm still gathering. Despite the ongoing stress and the added necessity of cashing my paychecks to make sure they won't bounce in 10 days, at the bottom of all this, I just can't make myself quit. I stew and steam for days, but then we sit around brainstorming for hours, and it's as though I'd never been awake from 2-3 a.m. that morning imagining ways to blister your backside with my rants and then gather up the energy to revise the resume and hit the job boards. Thinking that, somehow, I'll keep making this work. I will. I will.

So I suppose the real question is, who is more deserving of this rant . . .

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