BTD Excerpt: Workfare in Action

In this excerpt from Chapter 16, Richie Amente finds out that he is the lucky recipient of two Blacks, courtesy of the Workfare Administration.

“We got two!”  Richie Amente excitedly ran into the kitchen where his wife was making dinner. “Sherry, we got two Blacks!”

Sherry didn’t know what her husband was talking about at first.  “Blacks? Wha?”

“The Workfare thing.  They accepted our application, and we qualified for the new business subsidy.  We get two of them 24 hours per day, seven days a week for a $1,000 a month!”

Sherry was surprised at the terms.  “What do you mean 24/7?  Where are they going to live?  Here?”

“Honey, I told you.  I am going to clean out the garage.  Better yet, we will get them to clean out the garage and fix the place up for themselves.  They can take some pride in it!”  Richie didn’t care where or how they slept.  He only cared about the dollars he could make with this cheap around the clock labor.

“How does it even work?”  Sherry recalled her husband mentioning something about Workfare and labor, but it didn’t register with her.  Richie always had the next great business idea every day, and she lost track years before.

“It’s simple.  Think of the Blacks as cars…  cars that we are leasing.  The leasing company still owns them.  We get to drive the shit out of them, especially if we get unlimited miles, and then turn them in for new model when the term runs out!”

“Richie, these are people we are talking about.”  Sherry did not understand how such a thing could even be legal.

“Of course, I know that, Sherry.  It’s an analogy.  Now, if a car gets stolen or breaks down, they must give us a temporary replacement.  Same thing here.  Except, they don’t get stolen, they run away.”

“Run away?”

“Yeah, they have this whole government division that tracks them down and retrains them if they skip out.  If they run, they guarantee a replacement within five business days.” 

“Richie, I don’t know…  I don’t like it.”  Sherry could not get over the fact that these were human beings being forced to live somewhere and do work that they did not choose to do.

“Sherry, I am maxed out as a one-man operation, and we can barely cover monthly expenses with my income.  With the cheap labor, we can expand and really start to make some money.  We can have the family we’ve always talked about.  I… we deserve this break.”  Richie pleaded.

When Richie submitted the Workfare application a month prior, he was not expecting to hear back so quickly, at least not with any good news.  He felt it was too good to be true, but figured he would try anyway.

“Those poor people,”  Sherry whispered, shaking her head.

The next morning, Richie and Sherry drove to the Fort David training center in Arlington, Virginia.  They planned to be there the entire day.  The email they received from the Workfare Administration Office included a detailed agenda.   The day would begin with a compatibility consultation designed to match employers with the ward that best fit.  When they arrived that morning, they waited in a line that was at least 20 people long, and that was just to wait for a meeting.

They finally called their names after about an hour and a half.   They were escorted to an empty meeting room where they were seated and waited for the counselor to join them.   The counselor, a young lady in her late twenties, joined them momentarily. 

She walked in and introduced herself.  “Hi.  My name is Karen Phelps.  I am your job match counselor.”

Richie was smiling ear to ear. “So glad to meet you.  I am Richie Amente, and this is my wife, Sherry.”  He shook her hand firmly and vigorously.

“Good to meet you, Ms. Phelps.”  Sherry chimed in.

Karen connected her laptop to the projector and opened a file called, ‘Amente’. “Well, first, I think congratulations are in order.  You are amongst the first group of private Workfare employers.”

“Thank you,”  Richie said proudly.  “We are really excited.”

“Excellent!  Well, let’s get right down to business then, shall we?”  She said as she opened the skill requirements form from Richie’s application.  “You wanted two people to handle physical landscaping work, with good communication and customer service skills.”

“Yes, to work with clients and telephone work,”  Richie added.

“Okay, this is Garth Johnson.”  She brings up a picture of a Black man in his early forties.  It is a full body shot, and he is only wearing his underwear.

Sherry gasped.  “Where are his clothes.”

“They can wear anything you want them to.  With these full body shots, you can get a better idea of their physical condition and strength.  We find it very helpful for positions requiring physical exertion as yours does.”

“Makes sense to me.  I can see this one is strong enough to do anything we would need.  What else can you tell us about him?”  Richie stared at the man who would live at his home and work with him all day.

“This is why this is a great match.  Garth was the groundskeeper for a public golf course for the past ten years.”

“That’s great.  How is he personality-wise?”  Richie loved what he heard so far, but was cautious to not just accept anyone.  After all, they would be living with him and his wife.

“He is a quiet, but serious man.  He is mature, so less chance of any shenanigans.  He wants to do a good job, complete his Workfare training, and move on.  He isn’t the type to cause trouble.”

“Has he been in trouble with the law?  Any criminal record we should know about?”  Richie was going through the mental checklist he made.

“No, no criminal record.  Stable employment and no trouble.  We feel he is a perfect fit.”

“Okay, I like what I have heard and agree.  What about the second one?” He asked.