Is the Worker Worthy of His Wages?
LOOK at them! They seem barely to survive, often in squalid housing, many times with only the bare essentials, even though many of them live and raise families in an affluent nation. They are the migrant workers, as many as five million in the United States alone, who pick the fruits and vegetables for some of the nation’s largest corporations.
See their scarred and aching bodies laboring in the broiling heat. Watch them try to straighten their backs after long hours in a stooped position, picking vegetables that will adorn the shelves and bins of distant stores and supermarkets. From sunup till sundown, six and seven days a week they will be there. See the children, working alongside their parents and often their aged grandparents. Many of the youngsters are taken out of school at an early age because their parents follow the crops that come in, season after season. All of this just to eke out a mere existence.
Does the constant noise of low-flying aircraft bother you as you watch these laborers toil in the fields? Do the noxious pesticides from the plane’s spray nozzles cause your eyes to burn and your skin to sting and itch? Are you afraid of the short- and the long-range dangers to you? The workers are. The spray is ever on their clothes, in their nostrils, in their lungs. They have watched these pernicious chemicals take a toll on their children and aged parents. They have seen family members and fellow workers incapacitated at an early age because of pesticide poisoning.
One child, now in her early teens, was born with a dislocated hip, no chest muscle on the right side, and one side of her face paralyzed. Her father believes that her deformity was caused by pesticides sprayed on strawberry fields during her mother’s pregnancy. It has been reported that pesticide exposure alone affects 300,000 workers a year and that migrant workers have a disability rate five times that of workers in any other industry.
If your emotions are not overtaken by the mere sight of them toiling in the fields or by seeing their squalid living conditions, then listen to their words. “This work makes you tired to death,” sighs one mother of seven children after a long hard day in the field. “I’ll probably just wash and go to bed. I slept past 4 this morning and didn’t have time to make lunch, so I haven’t eaten. Now I’m too exhausted to have a meal.” Her hands are blistered. A fork or spoon would make eating painful.
“[Our children] help us sometimes on weekends,” said another mother, “and know what it’s like to work in the fields. They don’t want to do that for a living. . . . I still have splinters in my hands from picking oranges last winter.” Said her husband: “We work from sunrise to sunset six days a week. . . . But we’ll probably be doing this our whole lives. What else are we going to do?” Together the couple earns a meager $10,000 a year—poverty level by American standards.
Workers are afraid to complain for fear of losing their jobs. “You complain,” said one, “they won’t call you back.” Many of the migrant workers are husbands and fathers who have had to leave families behind to follow the crops, since housing, often cinder-block barracks that quarter up to 300 workers, is too filthy and cramped for other members of their family. “It would be sweet to live with [my family] year-round,” said one father, “but this is what I have to do.” “We’re already at the bottom of the barrel,” said another. “We’ve got nowhere to go but up.” To add insult to injury, many of these are also at the bottom of the pay scale. To some, $10,000 a year for a family of workers looms large, a salary they cannot hope to reach. “Growers can pay Third World wages and simply expel any workers who don’t do exactly as they are told,” wrote People Weekly magazine. “The worker is worthy of his wages,” Jesus said. (Luke 10:7) Migrant workers must wonder when this principle will apply in their lives.
Those Who Teach Our Children
Consider, now, those whose occupations have made them responsible for teaching children and adults reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, basic science, conduct in the workplace—components of a basic education. In institutions of higher learning, educators teach law, medicine, chemistry, engineering, and high technologies, fields that command the more lucrative jobs in this computer and space age. Because of the extreme importance of the teaching field, would these educators not rank high as those worthy of wages appropriate to the invaluable service rendered? When compared with people whose wages seem outrageously out of proportion to the work they do, it would appear that society has placed a low valuation on the teaching profession.
Late in this 20th century, teaching has become a high-risk occupation in some places, not only in high schools but in elementary schools as well. In some localities teachers are instructed to walk with sticks in the classrooms and the playing fields to defend themselves against unruly children. Guns and knives are carried by schoolchildren of all ages, on their person and in lunch boxes.
Teachers, both men and women, have suffered bodily harm inflicted by students. In secondary schools in recent years, more than 47,000 teachers and 2.5 million students became crime victims. “The problem exists everywhere,” reported the teachers’ newspaper NEA Today, “but it’s worse in urban areas, where each year a teacher faces a 1-in-50 chance of being attacked in school.” The widespread use of drugs and alcohol in schools has increased the frustration of teachers.
To add to their burden, in some areas teachers are expected to continue their professional growth throughout their career, to use their vacation time to take advanced courses or to attend conventions or seminars for teachers in their field. Yet, would it surprise you to learn that in some major cities in the United States, the pay level for school custodians—those responsible for keeping the schools clean and repaired—can top teachers’ salaries by $20,000?
Salaries for teachers vary from country to country, from state to state, and from district to district. In some countries the pay scale for teachers is the lowest in the nation. Even in more affluent countries, reports indicate that for the responsibility resting on the shoulders of educators, their wages are inequitable.
As reported in The New York Times, one critic of the pay scale for teachers and educators said: “The vocational professions in the United States, such as teaching . . . , have always been very poorly compensated or rewarded. The public has always thought, ‘well, that’s their [thing], that’s what they’re happy doing.’ I don’t think that is very fair, and I don’t think it is very intelligent.” Consider, for an example, this report published in The New York Times: “College and University faculty salaries in the 1991-92 academic year rose at the smallest rate in 20 years,” an average of 3.5 percent. “When the 3.5 percent increase is adjusted for inflation,” a researcher noted, “salaries grew at a minuscule 0.4 percent.” Concerns mount that because of low salaries paid responsible educators, many might be forced to leave the teaching profession for better paying jobs.
And Then There Is Sport
A contrasting example of salaries out of control is the sports world. How do the poverty-level migrant workers and inequitably salaried educators view the extravagant take-home pay of sports figures?
Does the average policeman walking his beat and the fireman living by the alarm—people who risk their lives every day on the job—smile with approval at the outlandish salaries that professional athletes are paid because they are heralded as stars? In the United States, over 700 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last decade. Fireman fatalities are also high. Yet, these highly trained professionals have been universally recognized as being grossly underpaid. Would they not question the value society has placed on their jobs and lives?
Consider baseball, for example—a major drawing card for sports fans in the United States, Canada, and Japan. More than 200 major league players in the United States earn more than a million dollars a year. At the end of the 1992 baseball season, 100 players signed contracts guaranteeing them $516 million. Of these, 23 signed deals worth more than $3 million a year. Eclipsing these staggering wages of lesser-known players are the contracts of those more in the limelight, who signed for more than $43 million for six years of play and $36 million for five years. Each year salaries keep soaring, and new records are set for the highest paid in baseball history. Football too has seen players’ salaries skyrocket to an average of $500,000.
These salaries prompt the question, Can the average reader imagine picking up a weekly check for $62,500? “Yet that is exactly what all those million-dollar quarterbacks in the National Football League do each week during the 16-week season,” reported The New York Times. “Or how about a $2 million baseball player, who gets a $75,000 paycheck every two weeks? After taxes, he has $50,000 to tide him over until the 15th of the month.” This does not include the money paid the sports star for product endorsements, autographed baseballs, autographs for fans, and appearance fees, which together can run into the millions. Here again, what is the underpaid teacher to think when he or she makes less in one year than an athlete can make in a single game?
Because of the power of television, professionals in golf, tennis, basketball, and hockey have also come into a monetary bonanza. Stars in their fields can count their income in the millions. A $42-million contract is signed by a leading hockey player for six years. Another hockey player gets $22 million over five years, an average of $4.4 million a season even if he never puts on a pair of skates for his team because of injury or illness.
In one tennis match between two top professionals, one male and one female—billed as the “Battle of the Sexes”—the two dueled it out on the court for a winner-take-all purse of $500,000. Although the male won the prize, it is reported that they both got “substantial appearance fees, which weren’t announced but were estimated to be anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 apiece.”
In such countries as Britain, Italy, Japan, and Spain, to name a few, salaries for professional athletes have gone through the roof—unheard-of sums in the millions of dollars. All of this prompted one top professional tennis player to label the salaries of the ’90’s “obscene.”
This is not to say, however, that professional athletes carry any blame for these high salaries. It is the team owners who bid for talent. Players merely take what is offered. Players can take credit for bringing in the fans to support the teams. The 1992 baseball and football seasons, for example, saw record attendances in many stadiums. This and television rights have brought in more revenue for the owners. Hence, some reason that the players are merely receiving their fair share.
The extravagant salaries paid for hitting a ball over a net, into a tiny hole, or out of a ballpark, in contrast with the poverty-pay of migrant workers who toil long hours under a hot sun to harvest our food, is a sad commentary on the sense of values of an affluent society.
Consider another study in contrast, the profile of another well-known professional. Operating with less than $2 million for research on a vaccine for preventing polio, the American scientist Jonas Salk and his fellow researchers toiled long hours in a laboratory formulating vaccine after vaccine, testing and retesting. In 1953, Salk announced the development of a trial vaccine. Among the first to receive the vaccine test were Salk, his wife, and their three sons. The vaccine was found to be safe and effective. Today, polio has been virtually wiped out.
Salk received many honors for his outstanding contribution in the prevention of this deadly and crippling disease. Yet, he refused to accept any cash awards. He returned to his laboratory to improve the vaccine. Obviously, his real reward was not money but satisfaction in seeing children and parents free from the fear of this grave danger.
Finally, consider being taught the prospects of living forever in a paradise earth, where sickness, disease, and sorrow are abolished forever. Imagine the handsome salaries that teachers of such good news could reasonably garner. Yet, there are such educators, and they are teaching free! No monetary reward for them! When Jesus said that ‘the workers are worthy of their wages,’ he was not talking about salaries for these teachers of this good news. (Luke 10:7) He said that they would receive their necessities. To such ones he also said: “You received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:8) What will be their reward? Ah, exactly what Jesus, the greatest man who ever lived, promised—eternal life in a cleansed, paradise earth. Salaries in the millions of millions cannot equal that!
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Money, Fame, or Drugs—Which?
The lure of fame and of millions of dollars to be earned in professional sports has prompted youths to resort to the use of anabolic steroids to build massive bodies and bulging muscles in an abnormally short time. Dr. William N. Taylor, a member of the U.S. Olympic Drug Control Program, warned that the use of these drugs has reached “epidemic proportions.” It is estimated that in the United States alone, some 250,000 adolescents use steroids.
“The pressure to use steroids in college is unbelievable,” said one professional football player. “Athletes don’t think 20 years ahead to what the problems might be if they use steroids. They don’t think 20 days in advance, especially at the collegiate level. The makeup of the athlete’s mind, particularly at a young age, is: I’ll do whatever it takes to get it done.”
“If I want to be a player,” said one aspiring pro-footballer, “I’ve got to do them. . . . There’s so much competition in the weight room. You want to be bigger and stronger each year, and you see other guys making these gains, and you want to make gains, too. That mind-set takes over.” In spite of that feeling, however, this athlete, without the aid of steroids, became what he set out to be—a professional football player. He believes that steroids are “more dangerous to the game than street drugs.”
Reams have been written not only by doctors but also by those who have suffered the terribly harmful effects of steroids and other body-enhancing drugs. The most serious reactions have resulted in death.
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Migrant workers harvesting garlic at Gilroy, California
Camerique/H. Armstrong Roberts
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Do not teachers rank high as those worthy of their wages?
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Over 200 major league baseball players in the United States earn more than a million dollars a year
Focus On Sports