The Time My Job Made Me Poorer (More Poor?)

Today, I quit my job as a tourguide.

It was not an easy decision to make, partly because I like the job very much and it was perfect for working around an audition/rehearsal/other job schedule, and partly because my serving job is so slow as to be pretty much nonexistent at the moment, so these tours were my only source of income.

But let me repeat that: MY ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME. I already knew that as soon as my serving job slowed down, money would be tight- and that’s with the help my parents are giving me. But I did the math and I knew that if I put every paycheque from touring in the bank, as well as most of my tips, from December to March, I would scrape by without much of a problem. This seemed like a smart, frugal plan, but a wrench was thrown into it when something beyond my control started to happen, or rather, not happen: I wasn’t getting paid.

I’m a nice person, sometimes an overly nice person. I let people get away with a lot of stuff, making excuses for them left and right. I’m not as lenient as I used to be, but between being nice and hating confrontation, I don’t really question people when something like not getting paid happens. And throughout October and even November, when I hadn’t been paid for a growing number of tours, I was able to ignore it because I still had a fair amount of serving money coming in. But toward mid-November, the serving job slowed and I hadn’t received any payment for nearly a month of working for the tours. Again, I made excuses for awhile: Maybe they pay monthly. You’re just lucky getting paid every two weeks with your other job. So I waited until it had been a full month since I had started working for them and sent my manager an email inquiring whether I had been forgetting to pick up my cheques. She answered that my cheques would be sent to me. Okay… So I waited.

Then my serving job, to my shock, got even slower. Like, one shift every two weeks slow, and I ended up having to give up all of those shifts because I was either in rehearsal/show, or I was working, you guessed it, for the tours. I had been given some hush money by the  tour company (if you can call $40 hush money), and had gotten maybe one other paycheque from them since I had sent the first email, but the amount of money they owed me was slowly climbing into the hundreds. A week or so after Thanksgiving, I did the math and was floored to see that I was owed nearly $700.

The amount of owed money kept climbing, but the boss managed to keep the number from hitting $1000 by picking and choosing my lowest-amount weeks and sending me cheques for those… for about three weeks in December. Then the money stopped altogether. Even worse, because she was picking and choosing- three tours from that one week in November, one tour in October, etc.- it was very hard to keep track for which weeks I had been paid. To date, I haven’t received a cheque from them since mid-December. Admittedly, I spent a good amount of money on Christmas gifts, but even so, I shouldn’t have felt like I got a hit by a truck when I looked a the number in my bank account.

While at my aunt and uncle’s for Christmas Eve, I was telling my family my story of woe, just in conversation. As it happens, my uncle is a lawyer, and he was pretty disturbed by what I was saying. In the end, he mentioned that if I needed him to sent what my dad called a “nastygram”, he could do that, since usually official-looking letterhead is enough to scare people into action. I said thanks, but I was sure everything would be fine.

Christmas came and went. So did New Year’s. No cheque. Again, I made excuses. ‘It’s the holidays, of course she’s not working’ (even though I was working either on or around both of those holidays, for her, as well as picking up every single emergency shift for which they needed coverage.) On January 2nd, I sent the boss a polite but firmly worded letter saying that I absolutely needed to be paid for my work for the past three months. I requested that I be paid in full by January 31st, 2013. Usually she’s not so great about answering e-mails, but this one got her attention. She wrote back less than twelve hours later, apologizing profusely, claiming that 2012 had been a slow year, but the funds would be in soon and everyone would be paid. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then last week happened. After every tour, we’re required to text both our Philadelphia manager and the boss in Chicago, letting them know how the tour went. They always text back, and when I got my response from the boss, she added, “By the way, I just sent a cheque your way for $120.” Well, $120 is better than nothing, but, compared to what she owes me, is pretty close to nothing. Since she had opened the door to the payment conversation, I barged right through. “Thanks,” I texted back. “Will I be paid the full sum by the 31st, as requested?” I waited nervously for her answer, but when it came, my nerves were replaced by anger. Because instead of “Yes, absolutely, don’t worry!” the gist of the text was, “Um… well… maybe? But probably not.”

What?

“But I haven’t been paid either!” she added. But I didn’t really care about her situation; as the business owner, she can choose how and when to pay herself, but leaving about twenty people hanging financially is not cool. I honestly have no clue how my fellow tourguides handle this. I know that many of them are still in college, and some have significant others to help them with bills, but even so, people usually get jobs because they need the money. To get that money late or not at all makes life pretty hard. When I first got this job, I did the math and thought excitedly that once my serving job picked up, I could probably pay ALL of my bills on my own, if I worked both jobs at a regular pace. Now that plan is shot and I must go job hunting again.

I wish things had turned out differently; this job is marketed to actors for a reason, and it was working out perfectly in every other way. But sadly, I don’t have the funds to work for no pay. So I wrote the emails- one to the managers of Philadelphia and Chicago, and one to the boss- and I talked to both of my parents about it and then I sent the emails. A lot of cringing went on as I hit ‘send’, and I’m sure the cringing will continue until it’s all finalized. I’m not a quitter. But I’m also not a doormat. And unless I choose for my work to be volunteer, I will not allow it to be so.

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