September 2023 Newsletter
Studs Terkel, an American author, first published “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do” in 1974. His style of writing focuses on oral history, where the people lead and tell their own stories, absolutely shines. We hear from dozens of workers in various industries, from flight attendants and servers to teachers and autoworkers, about their ambitions and frustrations with this thing called work. Terkel’s book is a first-hand account of motivation, self-actualization, and the American labor experience.
Certainly, much has changed in the last 50 years, right?
Earlier this year, “Working: What We Do All Day” debuted on Netflix. The four-part documentary, directed by Caroline Suh and narrated by Barack Obama, gave us a glimpse into the experiences of workers today. The documentary follows people from across the country doing their best to find economic stability and navigate the changing field of employment while building a fulfilling life.
One constant that stood out like a neon light was how strongly workers from both the documentary and book wrapped their sense of identity and self-worth around their job; and thus they demanded more from them. As Terkel wrote, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” As recounted in the book, Mike LeFervre’s frustration with pouring into his job at the steel mill without getting anything back parallels hauntingly to Randi of the Netflix documentary, who opts for lower wages to have a job with meaning and impact.
A significant piece left dangling in these stories is how these workers deserve more and how we, as a society, can do better for them. You shouldn’t have to choose between helping the community and putting food on the table. A job where you are entrusted to take care of the most vulnerable of people should not pay $9 an hour, and you should not have to disassociate from your body to get through the day. Everyone deserves to live a full life, one where their heart swells with the respect that is felt at home and at work. We are proud to help rework the Bay Area economy into a place where workers get a little more out of clocking in.
Janelle, Brianna, + Rob