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Different Name for the Same Old Crap
Somewhere along the way, I became an associate. Before that, I was a waiter who became a server. Hell, Ive even been periodically transformed from a barkeep into a mixologist.
The dishwashers are now sanitation engineers. The doorperson has become the valet. The people who used to be housekeepers are now room attendants. By the way, those guests are the people we used to call the customers. It just sort of happened. One day the bosses started calling everyone associates; not just our managers, eitherwho are now job facilitatorsbut the general manager, who doesnt usually talk to the hourlies, started telling us what good jobs weve been doing and how well we represent the company and keep up the good work and blah, blah, blah.
The thing is, though, nothing really changed other than what they started calling us. I may have become an associate, but the jerk at table 42 still wouldnt get off his cell phone so I could take his order, the people in the back booth still think its cute to let their brats run between everyone elses tables while theyre trying to eat, and the businessperson who just downed his eighth gin and tonic is still pissed because I cut him off after he wouldnt quit hitting on the two married women who come in after they get off work every Tuesday to sit there and drink three martinis each while complaining about their husbands.
Oh yeah, Im still making a little over two bucks an hour, plus tips. The company attaches memos to my paychecks extolling the virtues of their 401K plan, but if I put anything into it, I run short at the end of the month on rent. I have medical insurance, but the co-pays have gone up and the amount the insurance company covers has gone down. So its better just not to get sick. I still sometimes get sent home early if there are too many of us for the amount of customerser, guestscoming through the door .
But it isnt just me. Everyone else is pretty much still doing the same jobs for the same money as they were before, only now with new-and-improved job titles and a pat on the back and a few added responsibilities here and there.
Heres why I think that is: somewhere along the way the bosses got together and figured out that if they tricked the hourlies into thinking that were more important than we actually are, then wed be less likely to complain about stuff like not getting raises and having to do more work for the same amount of pay. The best way to do that is to give us titles that make our relatively dull jobs sound glamorous enough so that well take ownership of stuff and develop a renewed sense of pride in being barely able to scrape out anything other than a subsistence-level lifestyle.
You know what? For the most part it works. Like the other day. They had Diegoone of the sanitation engineerson his hands and knees (when he wasnt scraping crap off of dirty plates and loading and unloading the dish machine) scrubbing the kitchen floor without gloves or anything, using some kind of blue chemical that said poison on the bottle. The thing is, they used to bring in these guys between midnight and three in the morning to do that stuff, guys who brought their own HAZMAT suits with them and seemed to have a pretty healthy fear of the stuff they sprayed the kitchen with. But someone high up decided they could save some money by not paying those guys any more, so instead they gave ownership of scrubbing the kitchen gunk to the former dishwashers.
Another way the job title trick thing works is when they add another title on top of the one you already have. They do this by making certain people trainers in their departments. This is how it works. If they see an hourlie regularly taking extra initiative on the job, then they give him or her the title of trainer and have them start being responsible for teaching the new hires how the company wants them to perform. The company even holds meetings to teach the trainers whats expected of them and these meetings usually have corny business seminar names like train the trainer and stuff like that. On completion of the trainthe trainer meeting/seminarthe trainers are usually given some kind of worthless token to recognize their new status, like a cheesy pin for their uniforms or a desktop-published diploma to hang on their walls. Like anyone would hang anything that stupid to begin with. (Hey, you wanna come over and check out the cool diploma I got at work?) I even worked in a place once where the trainers got to wear different uniforms than everyone else, but no one other than the trainers seemed very impressed with that whole thing.
Another trick is to give the hourlies prestigious recognition that really isnt. This is usually done with things like employee of the month awards and reserved parking spaces with signs that say stuff like star of the month or some crap like that. The thing about the employee of the month award, though, is that everyone eventually ends up winning it, if they stay long enough or dont get fired first. To me, that pretty much waters down the award. Hell, Ive worked with people who were special enough to be named employee of the month one week only to get their sorry butts fired the next. But for a while anyway, they got to park in front of a really cool sign.
Thats another thing. They dont call it getting fired any more. Ive seen places mutually terminate their relationship with employees as well as move them closer to a more compatible career path. Ive witnessed former co-workers reintroduced into the labor pool and seen them downsized. Ive stood by as they decided to pursue more viable options and were given the freedom to look for better opportunities. I think the bosses figured out that if they softened the process of firing people, then the rest of the hourlies would be more inclined to think of the company as a place where they could share values with like-minded individuals, rather than as the big, impersonal profit- generating machine it actually is.
But what all this is really about is companies maximizing their profit margins by tricking their lowest-paid employees into doing more work for the same amount of money. You know what? If I allow them to successfully convince me that its in my best interest to trade what used to be an annual cost-of-living adjustment (raise) for the prestige of being employee of the month, then I suppose I deserve the repercussions that accompany that decision. Last time I checked, the phone company doesnt give a crap where I park my car and my landlord couldnt care less about my job title as long as the rent gets paid on time.
Now dont get me wrong. Theres nothing abnormal about acknowledging employees for exceptional performance. In fact, it actually feels pretty good when the general manager periodically tosses you a job well done bone. But Im guessing the general manager is ultimately in the gig for the same reason as youto get paid. Somewhere along the way, getting paid came to mean trading financial reimbursement for a bunch of stuff that not only doesnt pay the bills, but really is kind of insulting when you stop and think about it. At least for the hourlies, anyway.
I mean, come on. Every time they call us associates, the powers-that-be are really reminding us of our proper places in the order of thingsas status-challenged underlings who should quit whining and be grateful for the tidbits were graciously allowed to receive.
Or maybe not. Maybe the salaries consider the hourlies to be an inferior species and think that they can prove their superiority by coming up with a title they can bestow on usassociatesthat will keep us in our place without our really knowing it. Maybe thats whats really going on and were just too damned numb and/or mesmerized to recognize it. Or maybe we just dont fucking care.
So the sanitation engineer still makes the same as when he or she was a dishwasher and the door-person-turned-valet is still working for tips. Different name for the same old crap.
But I have an idea. Rather than allowing ourselves to be seduced into taking on extra responsibilities so the stockholders can see a better bottom line, we should instead be taking ownership of our lifestyles and personal standards of living. The company will continue to act primarily in its best interest as long as its employees give it permission to do so, so why shouldnt our agenda include demanding that our employer ante-up something other than a barely-makin-it lifestyle for the people who are its true backbone? If it continues to view that as a non-viable option, should it morally be in business in the first place?
But enough about all that. Its time for me to get ready for work.
Terry Evertons cartoons have appeared in Z and elsewhere for many years.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
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HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
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MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.