Home Work

Ideas and Issues
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Little Rock      There is talk everywhere about “re-opening.”  When?  How?  The “new” normal is a question on everyone’s mind.  I find it interesting and curious how much you hear about people working from home.  The Times cited a poll the other day, saying that

Gallup found that almost 60 percent of Americans working from home would prefer to work remotely “as much as possible” after restrictions are lifted, with 40 percent saying they preferred to return to the workplace.

In the article the reporter offered the usual disclosures that this was a white-collar privilege and presumed people fortunate enough to be able to have a job that allowed them to in fact be working at all.  The reporter in interviewing several mothers with younger children didn’t point out how fortunate they were with schools and day care centers being closed to be able to also work with home with their children, rather than being “essential” and having to find a waystation for them.  In another article in the paper they reported on a poll on home schooling where men claimed they were doing about half of the job and only 3% of women agreed that was the case when they were polled.  Clearly, women are holding up way more than half the world in this pandemic, but once by default that assumes women are available at home for such schooling, which ignores the huge percentage of women who are essential workers.  I found a quote from Cecilia Nibbs, a 30-year Brooklyn-based grocery store worker to be telling on this subject when she stated flatly about her essential work, “Some people be a doctor, some people be a teacher, and some people be like me, a worker.”

Citing the arguments for home-based work, the list included less commute time, a claimed savings on gasoline and day care of between $2000 and $6000 a year, as well as a possible 13% increase in productivity, and more job satisfaction if they only had to work no more than 15 hours a week at home.   This is pretty thin soup if people are assuming that home work is likely to increase after the pandemic.

Embedded in the savings for daycare is the assumption, once again, that someone is able to both work productively and watch, and perhaps teach, the children at the same time, and presumably that means women.  That’s not a good bet.  There was also an assumption that home work has to be “set up properly,” and that means having equipment, great internet, a great telephone or cell package, and the ability to outfit a mini-office.  Anyone who believes that companies who have invested in office space and all the physical and technical infrastructure that goes with that space are also going to finance an at home equivalent, is misguided.  Our union had to loan an organizer a desk to work from home, because his coffee table wasn’t making it, and no one believes work from a bed is going to end up being permanent.

No one can make a case that people-based and dependent work is home work.  Nor can anyone make the case that Zooming and teleconferencing can really replace people-to-people collaboration and meetings face to face either at the office, on the road, or in conferences.  Home work may have some advocates, and there have always been people who either had to work from home or felt that worked for them, but I’m doubtful that this will be a trend that dominates the near future.  I’m also skeptical that it should.  We need to make workplaces better for all workers, not increase the class divide between homes and offices that allows some to retreat, while the rest of the workforce soldiers on and fights to advance.