“How would you rate your fighting skills?”
“What types of narcotics have you recently consumed?”
“What would you estimate is the cash value of all the goods you have stolen from work sites in the last six months?”
If you answered “D. none” to all of the above you just might qualify for a job cleaning up construction sites, digging ditches, or dismantling a restaurant. All for minimum wage, of course. But the good news is wages are paid daily at the office, with a convenient ATM on site that will cash your check for a small fee. I know because I passed.But I never used that ATM, because luckily a bar down the street cashed Labor Ready checks. Nothing like a cold beer after a hard days work! (and 46 dollars in my pocket!)
It’s still dark when I show up at the Labor Ready storefront in downtown Oakland, California, just a few blocks from the plaza where the Occupy crowd threw up its tents against the one percent. From the sidewalk, the place looks vaguely illicit, with minimal signage and floor-to-ceiling shades that remain drawn 24/7. Later, I will come to think of this as the company “look”—unwelcoming and easy to miss—often tucked alongside a check-cashing business or payday lender.
The office opens at 5:30 a.m., but job seekers start appearing an hour early, hoping to snag a top spot on the sign-in sheet. By the time I arrive, 20 people, all but one of them men, are already inside—the space is essentially a waiting room with a long counter—standing or slouching in white plastic chairs. Behind the counter sits an African American woman with short hair and a bearing that suggests a low tolerance for bullshit. “I can’t remember the last time I got eight hours sleep,” a bleary-eyed man behind me announces to no one in particular.