Cerabino: Old women don’t get a breather from the gig economy


You may have heard that we are increasingly living in a “gig economy.”

Rather than hiring workers for full-time jobs, some employers are opting for independent workers engaging in freelance short-term work. Brad Smith, the chief executive of Intuit, predicted that these untethered hired hands will make up about 43 percent of the workforce by the year 2020.

Which brings me to Florida’s significant, and underemployed, population of elderly widows.

Clearly, grandma needs to be more invested in the gig economy. And I’ve got the solution.

OK, it’s not fair to take full credit for this. I need to acknowledge my inspiration, Florida Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-North Miami Beach.

Like many people, Campbell found herself without electricity after Hurricane Irma blew by last September. People had to wait in the darkness without air conditioning for days and sometimes weeks while Florida Power & Light reconnected the downed lines.

Rather than wait her turn, Campbell typed out a message to an FPL lobbyist a day after the storm, asking for electrical service to be restored to her home as a priority.

What priority? Well, it would have been crass for her to assert that as a member of the Florida Legislature, she ought to be entitled to head-of-the-line privileges when it comes to disaster relief. So she got more creative.

A screenshot of her phone messages obtained by Rise News told the story:

“Can someone helps (sic) me with the power,” she typed. “I do have a sick person in my house and she’s using oxygen.”

She claimed her ailing mother needed the power restored to help her breathe. FPL quickly restored her power.

“Million thanks,” she typed back. “My sick Mom thanked you too.”

Sure, it’s ethically problematic for an elected official to use the “sick mother” excuse to jump her place in line, considering that many of her constituents waiting their turn without power might also have sick mothers at home. But what’s even worse, in this case, is that Campbell didn’t have a sick mother at home.

She didn’t even have a healthy mother. Campbell’s mother died years ago. And it’s well-known that dead people don’t need oxygen.

During an interview posted two years ago on YouTube, Campbell had described herself and her husband as people without a family in South Florida.

“His father and his mother died,” she said during that interview. “My father and my mother died. I don’t even have one family (member) in Miami here.”

This makes the “sick mother” excuse ethically challenging in a whole new way. Rather than cop to the deception, Campbell dug deeper by clarifying that the word “mother” has a different meaning for her.

“In Caribbean-American culture, you use that term for respected elders and to show deference,” one of her staffers explained to The Miami Herald.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

What she needed instead was a rent-a-mother — an actual person, a verifiable oxygen consumer who could step up and assume the temporary duty as Campbell’s mother in the event of a power outage. Somebody who could be wheeled before the cameras to corroborate, if necessary.

And my guess is there would be no shortage of elderly widows who would gladly accept the extra income to become rental mothers for all sorts of reasons.

A frail, elderly mother can do magical things, such as getting your whole family head-of-the-line privileges at Orlando theme parks, great parking spaces outside crowded events, and primo theater seating.

And if your cable TV service goes out, an elderly mom might be the charm to get it running again.

Just wheel her into the office and explain while she gasps for air.

“I don’t know what it is about Judge Judy,” you might say, “but when that show is on, it really opens up Mom’s airways. So if there’s anything you can do …”

Sure, you might feel sleazy at first. But technically speaking, aren’t we all “on oxygen”?

And you’ll be employing somebody who could use the money.

Also, if you do have your own elderly mother available, it would be nice not to involve her in your plots. She might object and blow your cover. You’d be better off with a fake mom during these subterfuges.

“Trust me, Mom,” you might say to your real mother. “You’ll always be my mother, but right now, I need somebody to get the lights back on, and so I’m going with a professional.”



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