Stevens: Hard work doesn't pay off

Doing 15 hours of manual labor a day would break anyone’s spirit. My experience working the long hours of a blue collar job with unhappy, downtrodden coworkers has given me a new perspective on the jobs and people that keep our country running.

First, it is important that we define blue collar as a non-professional job that does not require higher education. Typical blue collar industries are manufacturing and mining, but the label can also include most manual labor employment.

I spent my last three summer vacations working at a moving company in Portland, Oregon. I saw many faces come and go. People were fired for drug or alcohol use, sexual harassment or general misconduct. It’s a trend that affects most of the blue collar world. At my company, employees were few in number and many of those that worked year-round had their good health and attitude sucked away by the endless work. 

A combination of outside factors and internal responses creates this inhospitable environment.  A lot of people, particularly the young and well-off, have little regard for blue collar work. Men and women exhaust themselves doing manual labor, getting little respect from the people around them. 

There was a feeling of isolation at my moving company. On long drives, I would listen to the older employees talk about missed opportunities and their alienation from old friends and family. Blue collar jobs can pay well but many require working an unreasonable amount of hours, which adds to their sense of isolation and frustration. 

This environment can be conducive to drug and alcohol use. These workers, who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse, are often forgotten in a society that places value in white collar career paths. Seeing my coworkers fall prey to any number of vices was not encouraging. 

There was a generational pattern at the moving company I worked at. Father, mother, daughter, son, all working at the same company. Age was irrelevant. Nineteen-year-old girls worked alongside their 50-year-old fathers with solemn regularity. 

The long days of hard work go mostly unnoticed, especially when everyone in the community is living a similar life. This is a part of the cycle that keeps these workers down. There is a sense of pride in their work ethic, but it is diminished by the unspoken communal exhaustion and feeling of defeat.  

We as citizens have the ability to acknowledge and treat these workers better. There is a debt owed by society to those who keep our basic systems and lives going. Before serious changes can be made to the structure of blue collar jobs, people must stand in defense of the workers. I am only able to comment on my three summers of experience in the moving industry, but many people, jobs and communities face these challenges across the country. 

Everyone who is able should work a job in the blue collar industry at some point in their lifetime, but beyond that, we need to take the time to specifically give thanks and show our appreciation to the laborers we may encounter on a daily basis.