Tag Archives: New Orleans

The Disappearance of Service Industry Safety Net Jobs

New Orleans     Perhaps the most dependable host on WAMF, our low power noncommercial radio station in New Orleans, has been a product representative for a fine local distillery in the city.  Her show every Tuesday afternoon, “Road to the Ramones,” is a rocking, eclectic mix with feminist and contextual highlights that keep you thinking with your ears.  When I’m around, as I was the other day, she will always poke her head in and say, “Hi,” before she prepares to go on the air.  Since she travels from stores to watering holes in a three-parish area, she has often been my street side barometer on everything from mask-wearing to venue closings.

She has been particularly dark in her predictions on when – or if – there will be a recovery in the industry here.  The dateline keeps moving back in our conversations from the fall to the winter to next spring, and, more recently, she believes never.  As she sees the clouds over the industry, she sees no return to what was, only that a survival-of-the-fittest for those willing and able to adapt, largely to takeout and delivery.  Yesterday, we engaged in some gallows humor in this city where the service, hospitality, and tourism industry rules.  We joked that there would be TV shows and movies in the future called “February 2020” that were nostalgia plays on the “good old days” before the pandemic changed the city, the country, and the world.

She had always enjoyed this job, but she said everything she enjoyed about the job – especially dealing with so many people – was gone.  Her company was now making hand sanitizer.  She had a master’s degree in social work, and was thinking about other career paths and what might be out there for her.

Then she said something that at one level was so obvious, but seemed profound, because it had slipped by me, as I tried to keep up with the markers of change being forced by the pandemic.  She said she was worried that the current collapse of the service industry and its potential long demise would be crippling to her and a generation of workers.  She, like so many, had always thought, “hey, if this doesn’t work out” or “if everything else falls through, I’ll be alright, I can always get a job as a server or tending bar or something in the service industry.” In effect, been there, done that, I’ll be OK.  Now that’s gone.

Labor economists, politicians, and others have always thought these minimal wage and tipped service jobs were for younger workers or first-time employment.  Sure in Las Vegas, the union has made these career jobs until recently, and even at lower pay, the same could be said in New Orleans as a convention, festival, and tourism destination, but these jobs, as my DJ was saying, are more than that.  They also served as “safety net” jobs for the working class.  Only gig-type jobs are at the bottom of that barrel now, and for all the approbation that might be cast at service jobs, at least they are jobs with hours, schedules and fixed locations.  Gigs are still just gigs, and no one is sure exactly what that means, other than it’s not enough to live on.

This is a fear without a name yet, but one that workers and the unemployed are seeing much more clearly than anyone else.


Weather Warning Paradoxes

New Orleans   No question, weather warnings are critical.  Despite the unpredictability of nature, preparation is important regardless of how eminent the danger might be.  Despite the president’s reallocation of billions from FEMA funds as fires rage in California and the Gulf Coast areas face a rare, not since 1959, twofer where double trouble hurricanes might wallop us from different directions, we have to be ready.

The question is always for what and when?  Every family, business, and government try to appraise the information to make a plan.  It’s dangerous neoliberalism at our doorsteps.

The National Weather Service should be our primary source.  They have the chops.  They have the staff and resources.  Or, at least they did.  They have been subject to privatization and subcontracting for decades at the level of community information gathering.  We know because Local 100 represented hundreds of weather observers at one point.  One federal retrenchment after another has meant that most of these stations have been shuttered from small to large airports.  Of the ones that remain, lowest bid contracting flips the personnel every few years with the attendant problems that come with turnover in essential positions.

Then there is politics, when President Trump bullied the weather service director to overrule meteorologists to show a threat to Alabama and change the maps in the last hurricane season when they were not in the path, as their inspector general has verified.  Trump, the TV news president, was really just part of a trend of what we call “weather terrorism” around my house.  The Weather Channel and about every talking head on television has a vested and pecuniary interest in hyping the danger of weather events in order to keep eyes fixed on their channels, stations, and websites, often overwhelming the most cautious and accurate reports from the weather service in their spin.

New Orleanians, only days away from the 15th anniversary of cataclysmic hurricane Katrina, are easily moved to the razor’s edge.  No occupant in City Hall wants to take the chance of not having told people to get out of the way, but inevitably duds like the Hurricane Marcos nonevent that hardly gave the city a sprinkle, inure people to the latent danger as the credibility of the warnings decline.

I take as a prime example the black 60-gallon garbage cans lined up as sentinels on the neighborhood streets as axiomatic of this problem and the paradox.  The Mayor announces there will be no garbage service and city hall will be closed, but one house after another still puts their garbage cans out on the street.  Days later, they still stand tall and of course uncollected.  Everyone knows that the cans and their contents can go flying throughout the community in a hard breeze, much less a hurricane.  The fact that they all continue to stand out front, house after house, sends the real signal that none of them believe the reports anymore.

When no one knows what or who to believe, they believe no one.  We see that in the pandemic.  We see that in hurricane warning response.  The head nods don’t do it, when the feet contradict them.  The danger then increases when real threats emerge.  The masks and the garbage cans tell the real story, and it’s a horror tale.