The waitress had served us Cokes and coffee before we shook hands and said our first words to one another. “We can’t let you take photos,” Paul said. “Yeah,” added Pauline, “our bosses would retaliate and we’d lose our jobs. We ain’t got any rights.” Both looked over their shoulders somewhat furtively as if to sot eavesdroppers.
“Virginia has a kinda deep state that is populated by folks like us,” Paul explained, “and it’s run by a political theocracy the newspapers call the Virginia Way.” Pauline picked up the commentary, “Ya know, they do things with a wink and a nod for themselves and their friends and cronies and have been doing it since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction.”
Three of us were huddled in a diner, boothmates, ostensibly to discuss legislation pending in the General Assembly. In particular, the subject was a bill to lift the exemption for newsboys, shoe-shine boys, doormen, ushers, theater ticket cashiers, and babysitters under the state’s Minimum Wage Act which allows employers to pay less than the minimum wage. The exemption arose from Jim Crow laws intended to restrict employment of African-Americans which, in part, explains the term “boys.”
“Ya know,” Pauline continued, “I’m here because many of us are not boys or men. I’m a doorlady and have been for years, a whole career’s worth.” “And,” Paul chimed in, “employers and bosses fear the women more than the men because they think the women, especially the babysitters, will teach their children about our plight, advocating socialism, they’ll say. The same way they’re afraid of gays and liberals.”
VoxFairfax had arranged the interview agreeing to accept anonymity and pseudonyms to preserve and protect the sources and the scores of deep state citizens covered by the exemption. If the exemption were lifted, they faced an economic epiphany in the Commonwealth. However, bad news had arrived only the day before as a House committee failed to advance a companion piece to one that the Senate had approved.
Paul noted that he believed chances for the lifting of the exemption became even slimmer when the ERA approval failed. “We rooted for the ERA,” Pauline said, “because it would have insured that women, not just boys or men or girls, would benefit from lifting the minimum wage exemption. But the Republicans still control the legislature due to gerrymandering.” “It doesn’t matter the hell a great deal,” Paul concluded,”both parties suffer from deafness and blindness when it comes to us.”
The duo was eager to reveal plans for their group of economically suppressed members to organize. “Not as unions,” Paul offered, “but as guilds like the Screen Actors Guild and Screen Writers Guild. Union’s a bad name in Virginia but guild is classy, more upscale with professional meanings. Guild speaks to the Virginia Way.” The group is represented by a lobbyist in Richmond and supported creation of a retail sales tax exemption for print newspapers in an effort to secure newspaper backing, especially for the newsboy members.
“For now, we’re convinced that we need a Democratic majority in the General Assembly,” Pauline said emphatically, “or we’ll never be covered by the minimum wage.” Just think, she said with energy, where we would be economically and socially if the legislature had adopted minimum wage increases and the ERA and lifted the exemption that holds our hourly wage on the floor. Then, as a guild, Paul contributed, we could affect our own destiny, just like most folks in the Commonwealth.