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Biz & Books review: Overworked and underpaid has new meaning in ‘Worked Over’

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Special to the NNBW

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  • The book: “Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work is Killing the American Dream”
  • The author: Jamie K. McCallum
  • The details: c. 2020, Basic Books, $28.00, 261 pages

Overworked and underpaid. It’s an old, jokey statement that’s not so funny now. No, it seems like you work more hours than you ever did, and your ends still come up two feet from meeting.

You’re overwhelmed because you’re underfunded month after month and you don’t know why. Read “Worked Over” by Jamie K. McCallum, though, and you’ll understand.

Fifty years ago, American workers looked forward to their weekends.



That, of course, was no surprise. Today, we feel the same but there’s one big difference: blue-collar Americans in 2020 work more hours than did workers in 1974 – an uptick of about 13 percent that happened in the years 1975-2016.

The reasons, says Jamie McCallum, are many. 



The biggest issue seems to be that of low blue-collar wages combined with our 24/7 world and with algorithms that many employers use for staff scheduling. This leaves workers with irregular hours and an inadequate paycheck, forcing many to seek second or even third jobs — which may become difficult to keep because of those algorithms.

Worse yet: minimum wage laws that are poorly enforced; employers who’ve been allowed to legally require tasks for which workers are unpaid; and gig jobs that sometimes pay the equivalent of pocket change or that make demands on workers that keep payouts low.

Courtesy Photo

McCallum says that even white-collar workers are starting to see time/pay issues, especially during this pandemic. There are things that can be done to alleviate these problems. Employees, says McCallum, “could be motivated by something else besides money,” such as better scheduling, enhanced benefits, more flexibility, or longer break times.

Job performance demands might be relaxed somewhat. Employers can eliminate the pressure to do more in less time, and stop demanding that employees compete with robots. We can re-examine our “new work ethic.” And unions, he indicates, shouldn’t be off the table…

Despite that it’s for anyone who’s employed, the way you approach “Worked Over” will depend on which side of the paycheck you’re on. It does lean more toward employees – and blue-collar workers, at that.

Indeed, author Jamie K. McCallum doesn’t touch upon white-collar work much, though the relevance for them exists in his examples and information; in fact, worker-readers hailing from all business-types will find outraging tales; stories of workplace politics; and horror-story-like, near-dystopian hints of the future of employment. If it weren’t for the somewhat Norma Rae tone and the solution-ideas, it would be enough to send a worker, screaming, to the break room to hide. 

For business owners, McCallum explains why it’s necessary to put employees first and re-think algorithms for all workers, and why robots may not be the employment solution you think they might be. He shows how some workplace practices have detrimental trickle-down effects on blue-collar workers (and, by extension, you), and how the biggest picture may be the scariest.

Reach for this book with an open mind and there’s much to learn, whether you’re the owner, supervisor, or an in-the-trenches worker. One job, two jobs, three jobs or more, “Worked Over” can’t be overlooked.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the reviewer behind “The Bookworm Sez,” a self-syndicated book review column published in more than 260 newspapers and magazines. Reach her at bookwormsez.com.


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