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The Old "Shape Up" Is Used Again

“Shape up” the old way employees were hired on the docks when there were no unions. The shape up used by Maritime companies would force dock workers to beg and bribe their way into a job each day just like farm laborers or day laborers do today. They usually stand in a parking lot or on a street curb early in the morning for a day’s work. I have found the shape up system being used at a junior college in northern California. It is used to hire adjunct instructors and other jobs called class aides. The way it works is the college has a tenured dean, who is in charge of so many departments, who hire department directors, who is an at-will employee with a yearly contract. Each director then hires adjunct instructors and their class aides and none of these wage slaves have protection or benefits and are at-will employees. The power is all with the deans because most all tenured workers are deans nowadays and on up the administrative chain, who are given a budget and this is the responsibility of the at-will director to ensure the program works with at-will employees. They are workers in a precarity system just like the old dock workers before they were organized. These college employees are the new precarious workers, who are all part-time now. This is not a new phenomenon, but a natural state of affairs occurring when the balance of power tips in favor of employers and this is why last month I quit my college job. I did not feel good about working in precarity system, which makes its employees precarious wage slaves. This is not a healthy way to work. In the five and one-half years I worked for this college I had four different deans and four program directors, which is a good example of the precarity system. I also witnessed employees go after other employees to make themselves look better in the eyes of the dean—this is what happens in a shape up environment. The employees are the only ones who can change this system. The worker must summon the will to reverse this tide even if it costs them their jobs.

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