Thursday, August 20, 2015

Explaining Retro

"Why am I even thinking about this in August? It's my vacation for chrissakes!"

"Look, don't get upset with at me over this. I'm just trying to help here"

"Ok. Ok. You're right. Fine. Let's start over. So, we're getting a retro check in October. Correct?"

"Correct", he said. "We're getting a partial retro check on October 1st of this year"

"October. Your'e sure"

"Yes. I've said it five times. I'm not sure how many more time I could say it without my head exploding."

He smiled as he said it, so as to break the tense moment that he himself had just created. It was a neat trick, actually. He'd say something snide and nasty so the person he was talking to felt like a dummy, then he'd corner them with a warm, genuine smile. Worked like a charm almost every time.

"I know. I know. I'm sorry." she said.  "It's just, I don't get this partial thing. Why only part?"

"Why? I don't know. I'm sorry.", he said, smiling again again. There was a pause.

"Sorry. I meant to ask, which part are we getting?"

"It's the small part", replied another voice from across the table. "It's not even gonna matter. I don't even know why we're here talking about this."

"Well, you guys asked me here to explain to you how much we're all getting in October. I'm here to help you understand. I'll try explaining one more time. Sound fair?"

He was beyond a smile at that point. He had given up more than his share of his own time going around trying to help people understand how much they should expect this year in their 'back pay' check. He did it out of a sense of obligation and out of a sense of solidarity to his fellow union members.  He knew folks' credit card bills had piled up during the recession, knew that rising costs hit teachers kind of hard during that time and he felt that, since he generally understood how much he was getting this October (about 4k; enough to pay off just one of his credit bills), he would go ahead and try to explain the process to whomever asked.

And folks asked. Oh, did they ask! He had been taking emails and phone calls and meeting for coffee and drinks with total strangers for almost a month now. Most times it was to convince people that they were actually getting something this Fall (Folks actually forgot. Could people's memories be that short?) but sometimes, every so often, like with this small group of friends, he was asked to explain the actually formula. The process itself. He always explained it as clear as he could. And it never turned out well.

Staring across the table at Mikhail, proclaiming how it didn't matter anyway -and simultaneously wondering whether he was right and, if so, why anyone (including himself) was even there- he realized this too would not turn out so well.

"Ok" she said. Asking for his attention again. "Try not to kill him. Just ... how much are we getting? I mean, how much am I getting?"

"Ok!' He started off, "You're getting twelve and a half percent"

"Twelve and a half percent of what? I'm no math teacher, but I know it's got to be twelve and a half percent of something"

 "Riiiight!" he said, smiling again. "It's twelve and a half percent of everything they owe you. "

"Everything", she said. She said it. Everyone knew she really asking something, but she said it as though it were a statement. His cute trick didn't work this time.

"Right. Look, it's just math here, ok? It's not like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane or anything like that. It's only math", he continued, this time with a more serious face.  "Twelve and a half percent of everything from 2009. Everything they owe you from November 1st, 2009 to today".

"Alright." She said. "Well how do I figure that out?"

"It's actually really easy. Take the total amount you earned from November 1st 2009 to May 1, 2015 and ..."

"And multiple that times 8, right? because that's what they they owe us; eight percent. Right?"

"No. Actually, they owe us four percent during this period of time"

"How do I even figure out what I made during this time?"

"Well, you'll have to Call HR connect. They'll help you out"

"Ok. So let's say I do that, what do I do next?"

"Ok. Then, take the total amount you earned from November 1st 2009 to May 1, 2015 and multiply that times .04. That's part of the amount they owe you"

"Now" he continued, "take the total amount you earned from 11/1/2010 to today and ...."

"Wait. What? Why 2010? And why until today and not until May"

"Because they haven't yet given us that part of the raise"

"What raise? I don't understand what you're saying"

He leaned back and signaled for another drink by waving his empty glass until the waitress nodded.

"You're right. I'm getting a bit confused. Look, I know this is difficult. I know this is confusing. But this is actually, quite easy once you put some thought into it. Please listen without interruption. I think I can make this clear."

He leaned in, elbows on the table, hand in the air."Take the total amount you earned from November 1st 2009 to May 1, 2015 and multiply that times .04. Then take the total amount you earned from May 1, 2015 to today and multiply that times .0608 Once that's done, take the total amount you earned from 11/1/2010 to 5/1/2015 and multiply that times .0416"

"Wait." she said ".0608? Where does that come from?

"It's compounded interest, off of the two percent that you're owed between 5/1/2015 and today. I'd be happy to explain another time. You should have three numbers when you're done. The amount you earned between eleven-one-o-nine to five-one-fifteen, TIMES .point zero four, the amount you earned from five, one, fifteen to today, TIMES point zero six zero eight, and the amount you earned between eleven-one-ten and five-one-fieten, TIMES point zero four one six. Add those up and that's what they owe you. That's what we lost. That's what we were screwed out of by them all" He showed them the napkin he had scribbled it on.

11/1/2009 - 5/1/2015 TIMES .04 plus
5/1/2015 - today TIMES .0608 plus
11/1/2010 - 5/1/2015 TIMES .0416 plus

The drink came. He grabbed it and, realizing it was the only relief he would have, took it all in one slow sip while everyone patiently waited. He noticed the look -that glazed over look that comes across educated people's faces when they don't understand what they're hearing but are too embarrassed to admit it. He'd seen it a hundred times before and didn't like it. But the vodka was good, the glass was cold and he just didn't care anymore. This was it. The last time he was explaining this to anyone anywhere -ever. He was done. The union mucked this whole thing up and confused everyone. Let the union explain it from now on. After finishing the drink, he reached for his phone and wallet, stared at the table, and slowly continued.

"Now take that number, and multiply it by", he made eye contact with her, motioned to her with his hand and simultaneously, slowly removed his body from the booth, first feet, then legs, then hips, "twelve and a half percent. See?".

Standing now, he gave them both a really big smile. "Just multiply it by point one two five. And that's the amount you should expect on October 1st." He started his turn for the door but was interrupted by a voice.

"Minus taxes, right?"

"Correct." he said, as he offered a partial turn and smiled again.  "Minus taxes. Guys, it was so great to see you all again. Let's meet up again sometime before the winter break, ok? Be well!"

As he turned again the leave the bar, he noticed black plaque with brass letters hanging over the door.
"An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way"

"Yeah. Done" he thought and headed on out the door.


  1. So the next 12.5% will be more than a the first 12.5% because at that point we still will be getting drips and drabs of our raises. Then the 25% will be more than double the 12.5% for the same reason. We will be getting retro for time we haven't even worked yet. Who is going to explain that one?

    1. Thank for the comment!
      Yeah, done.
      After this May, though, when the second half of the first '09 raise is here, we'll stop getting pay for that first '09-'10 period as retro. It will at least be mathematically possible to figure out what, from the first 4% they owe us.

    2. How the hell did 77% vote for this contract?!

    3. , he thought and headed on our the door.