Friday, May 28, 2010

No Vow of Poverty

Like most people I know, I’m a member of several professional email lists. An ad appeared on one of them recently from a local outsourcing company seeking workers.

Soon afterwards, one of the list members posted a link to the company's brochure, suggesting that we read a certain excerpt. She ended her post by wishing us appropriate, gainful employment. Although she did not tell us what she had discovered or include an explicit warning, her tone was clear enough.

When I clicked on the link, I found the following:

In the current economic climate especially, clients would gladly outsource these services if they could save money without sacrificing quality. The challenge? Finding qualified Americans (and other Anglos) who will work for wages considerably less than the US standard.

The solution? Israel! There is a wealth of American/Anglo émigrés to Israel. Most are highly credentialed, highly motivated professionals with limited job options. Salaries in Israel are generally lower than in the US, demand for jobs is high, and this group, who accepted material sacrifice when they moved to Israel, and with limited knowledge of the local language, are happy to accept work at much lower than US rates. It’s a win-win – a difficult to employ group gets challenging work in a congenial work environment while earning a living wage and [redacted] gains the ability to offer higher end services to its clientele....

My first thought was: what hutzpah! This company posted an ad looking for workers, and at the same time describes in their brochure how they intend to take advantage of them! Still, I can say one thing in the company’s favor: at least they’re honest about it.

I was also offended at the thought that the founder of this company, himself an English-speaker living in Israel, is so willing to cash in on his fellow immigrants’ economic plight. But then, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened in Jewish history. Jews were sweatshop owners, too, back in the day. (And worse than that—but that’s a post for another time.)

I also felt personally insulted—as though this particular employer were portraying English-speaking immigrants to Israel as a bunch of miskenim (Hebrew: poor, pitiful creatures) at worst or, at best, starry-eyed idealists who took a vow of poverty on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. No, Mr. Company Owner, none of us “accepted material sacrifice” when we moved here. Yes, we put up with certain disadvantages in order to live in a Jewish country, but I do not know anyone who is resigned to them. Every single person I know who lives and works here is constantly trying to better his or her situation, as am I.

Not only that. Many of these “credentialed, highly motivated professionals” who are forced to accept “wages considerably less than the US standard” end up leaving Israel after a while. The long, relentless struggle to meet basic living costs and cut expenses can be extremely wearing and, in many cases, dangerous to health. Over the past several years, quite a few of my friends have left the country because even with all their training, ability and motivation, they couldn’t make a living here. They would have preferred to stay, but their circumstances deteriorated beyond mere “material sacrifice” to outright poverty, and at a certain point, they’d had enough. Just last week, a friend of mine, a brilliant, capable English-speaker who works three jobs, all in her field, told me that with all the work that she is doing, she can barely make ends meet. She hasn’t given up, though. She constantly takes courses and expands her field of knowledge in the hope of finding better employment.

I don’t think anyone needs a degree from Harvard Business School to figure out that companies do better when their employees are pleased and feel appreciated. Desperate, embittered employees earning subsistence wages do not make for a stable, productive work force.

Speaking for myself, Mr. Company Owner, I do understand. Really. You want to make a profit and live well. There’s nothing wrong with that. Only there’s this one thing: so do I. Like any reasonable person, I prefer to work where my employer appreciates me and pays me what I am worth.

When you are willing to do that, sir, we can talk. Until then, I hope and pray that I will never be desperate enough to need a job at your company.

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