Working For Free?

If you're good at something, never do it for free. - The Joker

I try not to write about myself because first, this is supposed to be a blog about my team's interests, and not necessarily a blog about us personally. Second, I fear that any discussion of economic hardship that I'm going through while still living in Manhattan will make me sound a lot like Megan McArdle, a person I and others loathe.

The small business I work for had a nightmare day yesterday. Their AMEX card is frozen. Their bank accounts are frozen. They can't do payroll (payday was last Thursday). They owe hundreds of thousands to various shady suppliers. And one character owes the store money, but his last check bounced, in what might have been a retaliation for checks that bounced in the other direction.

So I ask a veteran salesman here when was the last time he was successfully paid (without the check bouncing). He told me five weeks. He explained that he was patient because he considers himself close friends with the family that owns the business.

But the question to myself is - how long do I work for free? Friends say that now is the time to go on 'strike.' But I am getting some decent experience updating content on the store's web site. And it is fun selling rocks (yes, one month in, I admit it).

Am I insane, or will working for free become a common experience in this economy? Now if a corporation missed payroll, it would be finished. But small businesses can cheat a little. And then there's the unemployment insurance issue. If I go on 'strike' I can't resume collecting NY State unemployment insurance. My understanding is that either I have to be laid off, or the company has to go under first.

So here I am, working for free at a small company that seems to be on the edge of Chapter 11, wondering if I can continue to hold on until either my next paycheck or the closing of the store.

In the meantime, I continue to read Paul Krugman's blog. In my opinion, he has been correct in his predictions for over 12 months now. So I urge everyone to rely on him as your macroeconomic weatherman.