ON THE CLOCK by Emily Guendelsberger


What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane
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A young journalist’s account of her experiences working low-wage jobs in Kentucky, North Carolina, and California over a two-year period.

When Guendelsberger lost her newspaper job in 2015, she decided to get “in the weeds” with millions of blue-collar Americans working in the service sector. Her odyssey began in Louisville, where she found seasonal work at Amazon. For two months, she walked 15 to 20 miles per day finding warehouse merchandise to fulfill online orders. The scanning gun she used to record each item also served as a countdown device to keep her perpetually on-task, and vending machines sold pain relievers for the raging body aches that came with the work. Turnover rates verged on astronomical, and while those who stayed claimed to love their job, they also called it “oppressive.” The following summer, Guendelsberger headed to Hickory, North Carolina, where she took a job with Convergys, where she handled a high volume of telephone traffic while trying to avoid becoming the target of verbally abusive clients. As had been the case at Amazon, all breaks were timed down to the second, and any deviation was considered a form of theft. The author then went to work at a McDonald’s in downtown San Francisco. Due to that city’s efforts to increase minimum wage, her wages were “twice as much as the average McDonald’s crew member,” which ultimately meant little in one of the most expensive cities in America. At the mercy of a changeable work schedule, Guendelsberger dealt with never-ending lines of demanding customers every day, the worst of whom threw food at her. Detailed, intelligent, and well-researched, the book provides a sobering look at the inhuman world of blue-collar work while suggesting that creation of a better world starts by connecting to others who also believe “the status quo is cruel and ridiculous.”

An eye-opening, unrelenting exposé that uncovers the brutal wages of modern global capitalism. A natural choice for fans of Nickel and Dimed.

Pub Date: July 16th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-316-50900-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2019


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