My first job in the US was being a cashier at a local KMART. Being a young immigrant with a lot of dreams, I was excited at the prospect of getting paid every two weeks.
I soon discovered some of the harsh realities of a minimum wage job. Your output is all that mattered down to the minute. You clock in and clock out. There were meticulous records of everything you did in a report that is generated.
How many burgers did you flip?
How many calls did you make?
How many customers did you help?
Everything was monitored and examined for a performance appraisal.
I was a bit surprised at the intensity of it all. Even more at the inhumanity of the supervisors and managers when it came to bathroom breaks. The customers over employees norm was a cultural shock to me. I distinctly remember one supervisor telling me that I couldn't take another bathroom break since there were customers there. I had to adjust my fluid intake to make sure the customers aren't inconvenienced.
It was clear that a minimum wage worker taking a bathroom break translated to a loss in the balance sheet. Apparently the federal government had to enforce a law stating that people working for 4 straight hours had to get a 15 minute break. So the only reason I was allowed to take a break was because it would have been illegal otherwise.
I was one of the youngest people working there. But there I was feeling the pain of manual labor - both physically and emotionally - for the first time in my life. I was surrounded by people in their 60s and 70s who had worked there all their life. Smiling and never complaining while working on their feet for hours. I just couldn't match their positivity.
After my first two weeks at work, my body was still adjusting. I was looking forward to my first paycheck. When I finally got it, I looked at the top portion... It was a nice big number of two weeks of minimum wage. I smiled. I had already done the math.
Then I looked at the rest and there was a lot of information I didn't understand. Looking further down, at the bottom was the check with about 30% less than the total.
Why? Are these people trying to scam me?
I was puzzled and angry at the same time.
I will show them that I am not a fool.
My first instinct was that someone was trying to steal from me. I lost my trust of people and institutions shortly after arriving in the US.
I walked straight to my manager and asked - Where is the rest of my pay?
With a blank expression he said - Taxes.
All those hours of standing on my feet. All those hours of not being able to take bathroom breaks. And I had to give over 30% to taxes? I felt robbed.