As election season nears, grandstanding Democratic and Republican politicians will discuss the importance of educators and not teaching to a test. Then, with their empty rhetoric still in the air, they will enact laws that base evaluations on test scores, weaken due process, and inject competition. Meanwhile, many news organizations, who have failed to report on why many educators are against these things, will hail their efforts.
A notice has been given to Occupy Providence members and has been posted around Burnside Park: they have 72 hours to vacate or they will be evicted. Given that so many other groups have expressed solidarity with the Occupy movement, it is unclear how this is going to play out. My hope is that it plays out non-violently, and also that the movement is not diminished in its importance. There is so little space for people to rally around an important cause at this point, and corporate pressure is increasingly squeezing out the voices of the 99%. We need to keep our ears and eyes open to what the opposition is saying or we will be increasingly dominated by corporations and their single-minded goal of increasing profits.
Mother Jones has a fine article where workers tell their stories of speedups, add-ons and working off the clock.
In my part of the warehouse, we load products like cigarettes, shampoos, or lotions into totes that get sent down the rollers to where the trucks are. We’re given orders by scanning our badges and totes into a computer system, which tells us what to pull and how quickly it has to be done. Back when I started in 1999, the rate wasn’t so bad, but for about a year, they’ve been gradually ratcheting it up. Say the old rate was 100 orders a day. Now they’re up to 160, sometimes even higher.
‘Harrowing, Heartbreaking Tales of Overworked Americans’ first-person stories from the job, whether the job is maid, teacher or doctor, the squeeze is on to do more with less.
A guy I used to know, who was a pretty good writer but needed a day job was posing for the life drawing class at RISD.
“It’s the essence of job,” he said.
“You go to work, you plant yourself there and stay for a number of hours. Afterwards you get paid for the number of hours you were there.”
There’s something to that, although there are many people planted in cubicles who are less aesthetically pleasing than a model striking a pose. And whose work does not advance a great cause, such as art, and making sure youth do not draw people looking lumpy and ill-proportioned (unless they are doing it on purpose of course.)
Someone somewhere mentioned that NPR, often accused of a liberal bias, has a show called ‘Marketplace’. But there’s no show called ‘Workplace’.
I have wanted for a long time to remedy that, and I’m starting a series on this blog where we talk about work.
I want to invite our readers, especially some of our most dedicated commenters, to submit work stories.
Please do use pseudonyms. I don’t know the legal implications, but I don’t want Burger Chef to rise from the dead and sue us if someone discloses what happened after the patties defrosted and the manager refroze them. That’s just a hypothetical. Burger Chef is really dead, right?
Other than avoiding slander, guidelines are to make work the focus of your post, the more real details of the actual work, the better.
Send submissions to me at Ninjanurse9@cox.net.
Let’s break the last taboo– what do you do at work all day?
First confession– I haven’t pushed a linen cart for over thirty years, but I feel called to expose the fundamental truth about the maid biz.
It’s about cleaning rooms.
The people who go to work every day and keep our hotels, motels, hospitals and public spaces from becoming dens of contagion and unlivable don’t usually get a lot of press. The work is unglamorous, the pay is low, the likelihood of promotion is less than the risk of demotion. A back injury can pretty much end your future in the hospitality industry.
The DSK case has thrown a spotlight on hotels, and intrepid reporters have actually interviewed some maids. This is a good thing.
But the reporters are focusing on the dangers and disrespect workers may face, leaving the impression that most of the workday is spent eluding pervs. Let me set the record straight. Most of the day is spent cleaning rooms.
I worked in two motels near Green Airport when I got out of high school. Later, finding myself unemployed, with even the factories drying up, I worked at a big motel near the State House. There was not much difference between them, and as far as I can see, the job has not changed much. Two of the motels are long gone, the third has brigades of lawyers and a special relationship with God, so I’m not going to name names.
A typical shift is 9am-2pm. You get a list of rooms to clean. If the– the management calls them ‘guests’, but they weren’t my guests. If the transients are checking out you have to change the sheets and scrub the tub. Otherwise you make the bed and vacuum around their stuff, mop the bathroom and replace towels. Wipe the toilet with a rag and put on a paper strip that says, ‘Sanitized for Your Protection’.
Management supplied our uniforms, baggy polyester pantsuits in weird colors. Mint green, and later, the shade of orange people wear in the woods so they are not mistaken for deer. I think that was so the manager could spot us at a distance. I kind of envied a high school classmate of mine who I discovered working at the front desk. Her pantsuit was chocolate brown.
The women and girls I worked with came from all kinds of backgrounds. They were kids on their first jobs and mature women keeping the bills paid. We took pride in our work, but had little regard for the transients. It was a hindrance if they were around. I remember a minor TV star, who stood in the hall asking in a whiny voice if he could get his pants pressed. We just gave him a ‘where do you think you are, the Biltmore?’ look.
We despised the owners, who liked to strut around in suits uselessly. “There go the big s–ts.” my friend Olivia said. Olivia was an undiscovered artist and fun to talk to on breaks. The suits, I heard, had a party and invited some of the maids and assaulted them in a swimming pool. Although I blamed the suits, I also wondered why any woman would trust these guys. They wore white loafers with matching belts and stinky cologne.
Speaking of smells, I think my dislike of air conditioning comes from walking from summer heat into those stale, chilly motel rooms. Maybe they never changed the filters in the air conditioners. Nothing really had to be clean, it just had to look clean.
The transients were mostly away during our work hours. I drew some conclusions from what they left in the rooms, and here is my rating of transients– good, bad and ugly…
Do Not Disturb– Best. You don’t have to clean that room and still get paid the same.
Truckers– Good. They arrive, walk to the bed, fall on top of it, check out the next day and don’t stick around to make a mess.
Tourists– Okay. As long as they don’t eat in their rooms.
Tourists with kids– Messy, cluttered, hope they’re out touring something.
Jehovah’s Witnesses– Bad. They bring hundreds of suitcases and tons of food. There is only a narrow strip of rug you can vacuum and that is strewn with sunflower seeds. This is the highlight of their year and they are going to make the most of it.
Shriners– Very Bad. They bring enough liquor to open a package store, and if you are walking behind them with an arm full of linen they will let the door slam in your face. And they dress weird. I would explain this to the Ladies Auxiliary, when they called me for donations, and finally they stopped calling.
My High School English Teacher– Spotted sneaking out of a room. I felt sorry for him, that he couldn’t afford an apartment.
Three Guys Who Appeared in a Deserted Hall and Tried to Get Me to Open a Door– Ugly. I pretended to try, they went away. This is one reason I believe that a maid could be in danger and no one would know. I was lucky that time.
Transient who accused me of stealing a glass– I thought it belonged to the motel and put it on the cart. What would I want with their glass? The wife gave me a dollar tip, I guess to make up. Jeeze.
That was in the big motel in Providence. My career there started with a mandatory unpaid inservice, but they served lunch. They showed us a cartoon about a very bad thing called ‘unions’, so that our tiny minds would be converted.
The job was the basic cleaning, and they continued to serve lunch, which was good. One day they served Brie from some banquet, and most of the maids thought it was something that had gone bad and wouldn’t touch it. More for me. Later there was a scandalously expensive wedding– just before that kind of thing became commonplace. A million dollars they said it cost, and none of the transients left a tip.
For a couple of weeks I was assigned to work in the laundry, and soon realized that I was the only person there who was not impaired. One poor young woman with Down Syndrome lasted about half a day, then spent the next few hours standing in front of the wall and rocking. It was about 100 degrees, but a dry heat, from all the dryers. There was only one man, a jovial guy named Ralph, who’d look at us benevolently and say,
“All the girls are happy today. All the girls are making money today.”
He would say that a few thousand times. And then the next day he would say it again.
One day he was gone. Pat told me that the day before, Ralph had been going off on his usual and Agnes just flipped. She took a big stack of sheets and whacked him over the head. He ran out and stayed away for weeks.
I was supposed to throw away a bunch of those sheets because of minor spots, but I asked the manager if I could take them home. After consultation with someone important, he said yes, which was a great concession on their part and I had to be grateful, but sheets are expensive.
Sheets were the only enduring benefit I took away from that job, the pay was spent before the next check came in– minimum wage.
I found a job in photofinishing and I was out of there.
Reading about the DSK case, I noted many misconceptions about what a maid’s job is like. Some underestimated the isolation and vulnerability of the workers, and others gave the impression that maids tolerate constant insults, which is not true.
I thought the Sofitel’s response to the incident was quick and appropriate, and I think the union deserves a great deal of credit for maintaining a culture of respect for the workers. Management, too, performed admirably. I hope they won’t pay too high a price for not covering up an allegation against an important customer.
I was lucky to get a job when I needed one. I don’t mind honest work. Toilets don’t clean themselves. I do think that if I had to look forward to a life of living on minimum wage the future would have looked pretty bleak.
The Sofitel paid a living wage with job security and health benefits. The maid was robbed of a good job. She’s paid a heavy price for reporting the crime. My friend Ruth, who helped me recall my motel maid days, gave me a quote from Barbara Eherenreich, author of ‘Nickled and Dimed’.
“There’s no such thing as unskilled labor.”