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Who Makes Decisions At Work

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The Great Resignation isn’t just a wave of Americans leaving their jobs for greener pastures. Some of the people who’ve quit are older workers who decided to retire early. Other people left because the pandemic forced them to stay home to take care of kids or other loved ones. Even so, a lot of people quit because they were unhappy with their work situations. That was especially the case for low-wage workers. Last November, a million people left leisure and hospitality jobs. And a lot of those people left for political reasons. They wanted to make a statement. Did it work? Was the Great Resignation akin to a general strike?

According to anthropologist Ilana Gershon, who’s spent the past couple years talking with people about work and how decisions get made in workplaces, those attempts at political statements didn’t have their intended effect. Which maybe isn’t that surprising. Most of the people who quit did it individually. Quitting isn’t the same as striking, although there’s been a big uptick in strikes, too.

So why are so many people leaving work feeling like that’s how to show their employers how badly they’ve been treated? Ilana Gershon thinks it’s about our relationship to contracts.

According to Ilana’s research, for most of us in the workforce, our imaginations are limited by those contracts we sign with our employers. It doesn’t even matter what the contract actually says. Turns out, most of us don’t know exactly what our contracts say. Also, contracts can’t really spell out every part of a job. But even so, for most of us, the process of signing our contracts usually means accepting the fact that we’re trading away certain kinds of freedom for a paycheck - and, often, health insurance, because this is America.

But then the pandemic started, and suddenly those contracts - which is to say, what our employers could tell us to do - suddenly those mostly unspoken agreements came into sharp focus. They had to be spoken. Who gets to decide whether you can work remotely? How much does your employer really care whether you’re exposed to a deadly virus? Whether you live or die? Those questions came to the surface, and it turned out, so many of the answers had to do with our relationship to contracts.

And that is what my conversation today with Ilana Gershon is about: who gets to decide what in the workplace, how employees and employers wield power, and ultimately, what that says about how we relate not just to our employers, but to our government.

A Conversation with Lucinda Williams

From working to playing music. Next, we turn to WFIU's Yaël Ksander, who brings us a conversation with singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. Bloomington, Ind. is a regular stop on Lucinda Williams’ touring schedule – her show Thursday, April 14, 2022 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater will be the Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s sixth performance in Bloomington in just over 12 years. There have been some significant impediments to that schedule since her last appearance at the Buskirk in August 2019: along with the chill cast over live performance generally by the COVID pandemic, Williams’ own health issues further preempted tour plans. As Yaël happily discovered during their conversation over Zoom, Williams is doing well after suffering a stroke in November 2020, writing her memoir and back out on tour promoting her 15th album, Good Souls, Better Angels. “Few albums connect with this much pure emotional fury,” noted Hal Horowitz in American Songwriter, “let alone those from artists well into their 60s."  Rolling Stone has named Williams one of the 100 greatest songwriters and one the 100 greatest country artists of all time, and Williams has received an honorary doctor of music degree from the Berklee College of Music.  But recognition took some time. Williams was already in her forties when she received the Grammy for best country song – for someone else’s cover of a song that she’d recorded six years earlier.  In her chat with Yaël, Lucinda reflected on the twists and turns of her career, the cost of sticking to your guns artistically, her evolving relationship with the dark side, and … men.

Music

Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music.

Ilana Gershon

Anthropologist Ilana Gershon (Courtesy of Ilana Gershon)

The Great Resignation isn’t just a wave of Americans leaving their jobs for greener pastures. Some of the people who’ve quit are older workers who decided to retire early. Other people left because the pandemic forced them to stay home to take care of kids or other loved ones. Even so, a lot of people quit because they were unhappy with their work situations. That was especially the case for low-wage workers. Last November, a million people left leisure and hospitality jobs. And a lot of those people left for political reasons. They wanted to make a statement. Did it work? Was the Great Resignation akin to a general strike?

According to anthropologist Ilana Gershon, who’s spent the past couple years talking with people about work and how decisions get made in workplaces, those attempts at political statements didn’t have their intended effect. Which maybe isn’t that surprising. Most of the people who quit did it individually. Quitting isn’t the same as striking, although there’s been a big uptick in strikes, too.

So why are so many people leaving work feeling like that’s how to show their employers how badly they’ve been treated? Ilana Gershon thinks it’s about our relationship to contracts.

According to Ilana’s research, for most of us in the workforce, our imaginations are limited by those contracts we sign with our employers. It doesn’t even matter what the contract actually says. Turns out, most of us don’t know exactly what our contracts say. Also, contracts can’t really spell out every part of a job. But even so, for most of us, the process of signing our contracts usually means accepting the fact that we’re trading away certain kinds of freedom for a paycheck - and, often, health insurance, because this is America.

But then the pandemic started, and suddenly those contracts - which is to say, what our employers could tell us to do - suddenly those mostly unspoken agreements came into sharp focus. They had to be spoken. Who gets to decide whether you can work remotely? How much does your employer really care whether you’re exposed to a deadly virus? Whether you live or die? Those questions came to the surface, and it turned out, so many of the answers had to do with our relationship to contracts.

And that is what my conversation today with Ilana Gershon is about: who gets to decide what in the workplace, how employees and employers wield power, and ultimately, what that says about how we relate not just to our employers, but to our government.

A Conversation With Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater
Lucinda Williams and her band at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in 2017

From working to playing music. Next, WFIU’s Yaël Ksander brings us a conversation with singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. Bloomington, Indiana is a regular stop on Lucinda Williams’ touring schedule – her show Thursday, April 14, 2022 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater will be the Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s sixth performance in Bloomington in just over 12 years. There have been some significant impediments to that schedule since her last appearance at the Buskirk in August 2019: along with the chill cast over live performance generally by the COVID pandemic, Williams’ own health issues further preempted tour plans. As Yaël happily discovered during their conversation over Zoom, Williams is doing well after suffering a stroke in November 2020, writing her memoir and back out on tour promoting her 15th album, Good Souls, Better Angels. “Few albums connect with this much pure emotional fury,” noted Hal Horowitz in American Songwriter, “let alone those from artists well into their 60s."  Rolling Stone has named Williams one of the 100 greatest songwriters and one the 100 greatest country artists of all time, and Williams has received an honorary doctor of music degree from the Berklee College of Music.  But recognition took some time. Williams was already in her forties when she received the Grammy for best country song – for someone else’s cover of a song that she’d recorded six years earlier.  In her chat with Yaël, Lucinda reflected on the twists and turns of her career, the cost of sticking to your guns artistically, her evolving relationship with the dark side, and … men.

Music

Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music.

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