A Republican politician in North Carolina has successfully recruited two unemployed workers to clean up his yard after the first jobless constituent he hired in May quit after just one hour.
Kathryn Treadway of Goldsboro, N.C., had dared state Rep. Stephen LaRoque to hire her so she could prove she wasn't too good for manual labor. But Treadway gave up because of a sore back and because she thought LaRoque was deliberately trying to humiliate her. He paid her $8.
LaRoque told HuffPost on Thursday that several laid off workers contacted him about the yard work after hearing about the job in the news. He said he's hired two people who've been working on his 3.5 acres for the past two weeks.
"They contacted me. They read about it, heard about it," he said. He's paying one guy $8 an hour and another guy $10 since that person had some of his own equipment. LaRoque described the work as "picking up tree limbs, raking... digging up some grass, pulling up weeds, getting it ready so I can put some more grass seed down. Basically yard work."
Back in May, a standoff between Republicans in the state legislature and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue halted unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of North Carolinians, including Treadway. She emailed LaRoque asking Republicans to relent; he responded with some job leads she'd already tried. (The legislative impasse has since ended, restoring the benefits.)
"Most anyone can find a job if they can pass a drug test and are physically able to work," LaRoque wrote. "I have tried to find people to do yard work but it seems most are too good for manual labor. Based on the tone of your email it is not difficult to see why you can't find a job."
LaRoque also received lots of emails from people near and far regarding his unconventional response to Treadway.
"Some were good, some were not good," he said. "I always found it amazing people that complain about the wages. It was above minimum wage. It was above what they'd get if they go to work at McDonald's. They think I'm some bad guy for offering $8 an hour. Are these people offering anybody any work?"
The minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25, no higher than the federal minimum.
In a May 28 email, Kelley Lightner, a 42-year-old insurance agent in Osceola, Ind., tried to convince LaRoque that people can be unemployed through no fault of their own, that sometimes it's just impossible to escape their circumstances.
"I'm probably the average Republican voter: middle class, white, college graduate, married to an executive for 15 years with two children. I am no longer middle class. Not because I have a bad attitude, or because I'm lazy," Lightner wrote, explaining that a tough divorce dropped her a couple rungs down the financial ladder. "Like the 35 year old mother of two who went to you for help, our family had a sudden unforeseen financial blow. Instead of helping, or even listening, you humiliated her, as did the agencies I crawled to for help."
"I'm sorry you and everyone else who is unemployed aren’t working," LaRoque wrote back. "I wish every abled bodied person would have a job. However, I had nothing to do with the economic situation that anyone finds themselves. I tried to help this person and she offered to come and do yard work at our house. ... I even offered her husband the same work but he had to go back to her parents house because they own a plant farm and they were having a big sale yesterday. Maybe she feels it is fine for her husband to work for $8 an hour but she is too good for that. No wonder we have so many illegals in our country."
Lightner said she drafted another long letter but didn't send it because she didn't think she could change his mind. "I mean, illegal aliens?"
Indeed, LaRoque's attitude toward the unemployed hasn't changed a bit.
"If people need a job, they need to go looking for a job, and they need to take what they can get until they can find something better," he said. "I still think that a lot of those people are not actively looking for work."
Treadway, for her part, has tried to put it all behind her. She did not enjoy receiving nasty emails or reading the biting comments readers made on the stories she was featured in. "People just anonymously tell you that you suck and you're a lazy bum. I was physically unable to do what he was asking me," she said. "I was totally humiliated. It was not cool at all."
As for the yard, LaRoque said, "It's looking a whole lot better."