Their union numbers about five boys and a nonelected leader, 12-year-old Eve, who boasts red hair, freckles and a frog voice that negotiates terms. Their going rate is a dollar an hour and, whenever I am tempted to increase it, something happens to remind me that this union hour consists of one-third talk, one-third fighting (verbal and physical) and one-third actual work. At that rate they are actually getting three dollars an hour, which is what I pay 14 -year-old Brian, who really hustles.
Eve's labor force is all male, because she has two younger brothers, and their friends are all boys of 10 and 11. They work because the allowance that is doled out on Friday is all gone by Saturday, and his leaves five days without candy, movies or comic books. I try to persuade them they've wasted their money , but I cannot in conscience suggest a savings account when the rate of inflation is double-digit. So I talk to these workers about the adivisability of investing in real estate, particularly land in our area. This strikes a responsive chord, because they understand land. It is the soil from which they dig up valuable old bottles (mine) and the woods they roam through (also mine). I suggest that Eve and her brothers pool their resources and let their parents take charge of the burgeoning dollar bills. While their eyes glisten at the prospect of becoming real estate tycoons, I know and they know that in a few hours their investment capital will have become jellybeans and bubble gum. I have heard tell of a certain youngster who, when asked to explain what it meant that the prodigal son "spent all his substance in riotous living," replied it was like spending your whole allowance on bubble gum. So my laborers are riotous livers, and I have small hope of making them less so. But I can at least try to teach good work habits. Such as not hitting your brother with the log you should be carrying to the woodbin. And if you leave off watering the garden to run home for lunch, at least turn off the hose before my well runs dry.
Sometimes if they have been very good, I dole out home-baked cookies, in addition to money, being careful that each of my workers receives the same bonus in exactly equivalent cookies, the precise number of nuts and chocolate bits within being counted. When I err, a lively labor war ensues. My heart goes out to the problems of management, but the challenges for a labor leader are equally great.
Today Eve appeared, as a light snowfall was beginning, with her brother Ronnie, who has the face of a mischievous monkey and a nonstop mouth that lands him in solitary confinement in his room about twice a week. The third laborite was a polite and wordly-wise 11-year-old blond boy who has recently move to our country road and is fast learning our ways.
"We need some money," lisped Ever rapidly, and the two others nodded their heads. "Got some work for us to do?"
I had seen, and heard, them coming down the long drive so had quickly toted up the undone chores. "How about carrying the small logs in the barn down to the cellar under my studio?" It was a job Brian could have done in half an hour using my small station wagon, but I was willing to promote local industry.
"How much work is there?" she asked. Translated this meant, "How much do we get paid?" My answer was firm, "Dollar an hour for each of you. You can work as many hours as you like." The prospect of unlimited booty lit up three faces, and they hurried off to the barn.
In 10 minutes I heard the usual arguing voices outside my bay window. An armful of logs was scattered in the driveway, and Eve was standing with a mutinous scowl on her imp face, mouth wide open with loud protests. "Why should I carry all the big ones?"
I pulled on my poncho and hurried out before I had a driveway full of logs. "Look, why don't each of you carry five small logs and work on your own?" They assented and returned to the barn.
Ten minutes later each had unloaded one armful of logs and appeared at my door. "We're tire. It's too hard carrying wood with the snow coming down."
I wasn't disappointed, we had been through this before. "OK. You've worked 20 minutes each, that's a third of an hour. What part of a dollar do each of you get?"
The bright boy answered, "Thirty-three-and-a-third cents." Fortunately, three times his calculation made a whole dollar, which I handed to Eve.
"We'll come back tomorrow," she promised. I was trying to think of ways to absent myself on the morrow.
Eve walked her crew of two up the driveway, conversing earnestly through the snowflakes with her hands wagging. I wouldn't have been in her shoes for anything. Doling out thirty-three-and-a-third cents to two candy-hungry colleagues was something only a labor leader would tackle.