(Host intro) It’s been pointed out that the definition of a living wage can vary, depending on each worker’s needs and hopes and circumstances.
As part of our series on getting by, VPR’s Nina Keck spoke with Steve Leonard. He’s a 24-year-old bottle sorter at the Beer King in Rutland, and he says he’s satisfied – at least for now – with the work and the compensation.
(Sound of cans spilling)
(Leonard)"I’m Steve Leonard from Rutland Vermont. Yeah, I’ve been doing this about two and a half years.”
(Keck) This is sorting cans and bottles at the redemption center behind the Beer King in Rutland. When I ask him what his official job title is – he hesitates for a minute – then breaks into a big smile.
(Leonard) "I guess I’m it’s a bottle redemptionist . . . a bottle redemptionist – as far as what the other kids write on the wall over here – they get a little creative."
(Keck) He walks around several bins of bottles and cans to where black graffiti provides a bit of historical perspective on the position.
(Leonard) "Yeah, I guess I’m a redemptionist because it says -‘Hail Betsy – Goddess of the redemptionists’ . . .( laughs) I don’t know who Betsy is. I don’t know how that came into the picture."
(sound of Leonard handling cans)
(Leonard) "A typical day is going to be starting somewhere around 11 a.m."
(Keck) If it’s a busy day, Steve will sort hundreds, if not thousands, of cans and bottles. His gloved fingers move quickly, tearing open plastic bags, dumping, sorting, throwing, dumping, sorting, throwing. . . . . it’s like a dance he does with his hands.
(Leonard) "Practice makes perfect.” (laughs)
(Sound of cash register, Leonard thanking a customer, and the sliding door closing with a soft thud.)
(Leonard) “Yeah, I feel that this is a job where I’m being paid adequately – there’s nothing unreasonable asked of me. You finish up for the day and you don’t have to take anything home with you. It’s not – you know, I’m never going to have a headache over something. So I’m pretty happy with it."
(Keck) Steve isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids to support. He’s 24 years old, lives by himself a few blocks from work, and doesn’t own a car. He makes less than $12 an hour, but says it’s enough to cover his expenses.
(Leonard) "I do have another part time job where I can get hours if I want to – that does help."
(Keck) But what about health insurance?
(Leonard) "I don’t have health insurance right now.
(Keck) "Is that a concern?"
(Leonard) "A lot of people tell me it should be, but I tend to disagree. I might be still stuck in that invincible teenager mentality. I don’t know."
(Keck) Steve Leonard says one of these days – when he needs to – he’ll get around to checking out his options on health insurance. But not now. He says he’d also like to go to college some day. But he’s not sure how he’d pay for it. Travel is another dream. But Leonard doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. He likes the fact that he’s helping people do something environmentally friendly, like recycle. Standing behind the counter at the redemption center, he looks relaxed and content.
(Leonard) "This job has taught me – you might not think what you do is important – but I think in any job the important thing is to just be there on time and keep your eyes open."
(Keck) When you work with the public, he says, you never know what you’re going to see. Maybe someone’s car breaks down, he says, or something worse happens. You need to be ready, says Leonard, to jump in and lend a hand.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.
(Sound of Leonard thanking a customer during checkout)