By all accounts it wasn’t fair.
The men had arrived at 5:30 am, the frost still biting on the ground, coffees in hand. They formed a rough line along the sidewalk, standing facing the street. Mostly, they were the illegals. At about 5:40 the first trucks began to appear and man by man they were called over to jump in the back of the truck. By 6:15 only the motley were left – one with an obviously gimped leg, another whose bleary eyes betrayed the night before, another who just looked too damn timid for the hard work of the fields.
The trucks dispersed across the land to the vineyards where the men expertly got to work, picking, picking, picking. First the sun warmed and cheered the morning. By mid-day it was merciless and water breaks were an unwelcome intrusion, but necessary to keep up the relentless pace until sundown.
At 4pm, something unexpected happened. Another truck arrived, carrying the men who had been left behind in the morning. Those leftover men got a quick tutorial from a supervisor, and joined in the silent work. During the next quick break, word got out: the landowner had a larger quota than usual to supply to the chain store the next morning, and needed the berries picked asap.
Finally 8pm came, and the men lined up for their money – cash, of course. The gimped-leg man was first to be paid and word spread like wildfire that he had received a full days wages. Same with the timid man. That’s when the rumours flew: The daily rate had jacked up. The crew of leftover men received the usual full days wages, but in fact it was only half-days wages because of the new rates. So those who had started in the early hours of the morning would be getting double their usual today.
As news of this spread down the line, each man immediately calculated what they would do with the extra money and started the math: What would they make this entire week, then? For some, it meant something as earthy as a whole lot of booze. For others, it meant getting some better boots. Some of the more sentimental among them thought of surprising their children with gifts.
But it didn’t work out that way. Not at all. When the first labourer who had started with the early morning crew expectantly held out his hand, he received the same amount as usual, that is to say, the same amount those who had started at 4pm. received. He stood there a moment longer, looking at the boss. The boss shrugged and turned his body to the next man waiting his pay. Same thing. The usual amount. And just as quickly as the excitement had built down the line, the disappointing news spread.
Strange how what feels normal and fair at the beginning of the day can be a real letdown mere hours later.
As the men clustered back to the waiting trucks, their tones were bitter. And their tones were overheard by the landlord who had just driven in to review the day’s harvest. Seeing the resentful looks, he approached one threesome and asked what the problem was. Two of the men just looked at the ground but Joe spoke up: We worked all day for you. From the cold morning through the heat, all day into the evening. But your boss gave us only the same amount as he gave the crew that arrived at 4pm.
A flash of understanding and some anger crossed the landlord’s face. “What is it to you, what I paid them? Did I cheat you? Didn’t you agree to the wages at the beginning of the day? Aren’t those very wages now in your hands?”
The men still looked at the ground, saying nothing.
“Look,” the landlord said, “It’s my money to do with as I please. With that last crew, I wanted to make sure they could feed their kids tonight and pay their rent – it’s rent day, remember? Are you angry that I was generous?”
End of story.
- In what ways are you resentful of those who seem to have gotten a better deal than you? (I ask myself this too).
- In what ways does our culture set us up for this resentment?
- How would it benefit you to instead by content with what you have?