Catch 22: Carrboro 2012
By Judith Blau
As many readers will remember, the expression “Catch 22” was made famous by Joseph Heller in his 1961 novel by the same title. More generally, it refers to a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem. It is a logical conundrum. The novel reveals unspeakable horrors as the airmen stranded on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa struggle to keep their sanity through bombardments. The novel asks us to think deeply about personal gain versus the collective good; about people who scramble on the backs of others in their pursuit of greed and self-interest; about the dangers of profit-seeking at the expense of others; about justice and human rights.
But if there is a conundrum – a Catch 22 – for the novelist’s protagonists, there is none for the reader. We want them to overcome their self-interest; we want them to be rescued; we want them to “live happily ever after.”
There is a Catch 22 hanging out in our community, and we need to solve it together. Some employers are altruistically taking the risks; others are ruthlessly exploiting their workers. Meanwhile, we stand by idle, twiddling our thumbs. That is not what Carrborites are known for. It is not what we are proud of.
Let me be specific.
Carrboro has an outstanding labor pool of skilled and unskilled workers, many of whom have been in our community for as many as 18 years. There is no path to citizenship, and this is the Catch 22 – employers want the skills and labor of undocumented workers, but they also consider such employment to be sub rosa.
Department of Labor laws cover all workers, documented or not: dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs48.htm
Unfortunately, independent contractors are not covered, and most undocumented workers are independent contractors: dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.pdf
However, if workers are employees of an LLC, their employment with other employers is protected. See the SCA Act: dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-sca.htm
I am reaching out to residents of Carrboro to help me pursue this path, in the spirit of “Alice’s Restaurant,” another 1960s classic that also revealed a Catch 22. You youngsters can find the lyrics to Arlo Guthrie’s song here: arlo.net/resources/lyrics/alices.shtml
Judith Blau is the director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and a professor of sociology at UNC.
Comments are closed.