Tag Archives: workers

Essential Workers and Pay Equity

New Orleans      In a moment of youthful recklessness more than fifty years ago, I allowed myself to get into one of those dangerous political conversations with the father of a woman I was seeing.  He was a good, decent guy and Republican to the core, even in those days when Louisiana was deep, deep blue, so blue that my own father once said you had to register as a Democrat, or you would only get to vote every four years.  Hard to believe, but those were the days.

In September 1968, garbage workers in New Orleans, who were then employed by the city directly, struck for recognition of their union and a pay increase.  Drivers were making $235 per month and hoppers, the laborers on the back of the truck, were making $231 per month.  They were demanding a $15 per month increase.

The conversation started innocently enough.  He, like everyone else, wanted his garbage collected.  As a smart aleck twenty-year old, essentially, I asked him what it was worth to him?  He was a manufacturers representative selling to railroads who had taken over the family business.  I started asking him to compare a garbage worker to the value of the service and labor performed, rather than the way it was valued usually.  Asking him to value garbage collection compared to other jobs on the basis of equity, he followed me down the rat hole, at first unknowingly without giving it much thought, and finally more angrily, as we reached the point where he fell in my logic trap and was forced to begrudgingly agree that a garbage worker should be paid the same as a lawyer, perhaps more because it was harder, nastier work and more important to the community.  I’m not sure he ever forgave me, as he huffed out of his living room.

In this time of the pandemic we are being taught the value of essential workers as a matter of life and death not some idle conversation.   Pay equity rather than the pay gap needs to be the conversation.  Comparable worth and equal pay for work of equal value and effort, regardless of race or gender needs to be the policy, not just my youthful argument.

A law just took effect in New Zealand that seeks to move in this critical direction.  The law focuses on occupations that have become gender-based and because of that bias, pay less.  When we visited New Zealand in 2018, talking to union brothers and sisters, we heard about the court victory where a woman caregiver won a raise when compared to male occupations, like prison guards.  Negotiations between industry, unions, and government had led to increases in wages of between 15 and 49% for 55,000 government workers.

That’s huge!  It hasn’t spread to the private sector there yet, and certainly, it hasn’t spread globally, but it needs to be part of all of the discussions about wages.  In the United States we are finally hoping for an increase in the minimum wage, but it is neither foolish nor reckless now, in the wake of a new understanding of essential work, for us to begin to talk about pay equity between jobs as well as between people in the same jobs.


Pandemic Changes Could be Permanent

Chicago          Understand me clearly.  I was lucky.  I had a dawn run from Columbus to Chicago and then onto Atlanta in the weirdness of travel during the pandemic.  It made sense to stay as close to the airport as possible, and I ended up at a Hampton Inn, now a Hilton property, there between the construction of a new parking garage and the rental car return.  Location, location, location, so I was a happy camper on that score.

The Hampton was doing a good business.  The lot was pretty full by my reckoning.  There were a lot of pandemic signs and adjustments.  Masks were required.  Sanitizer was available.  Plexiglass was in front of the front desk.

In a nice move, although they had shut down free breakfast, they at least showed signs of some grace and were giving a nosh to go in the morning.  In my mind, I noted a job or two lost for the workers who once arrived early, got the food together, kept the coffee brewing, and then cleaned up with others when it was over.  A good four-hour shift for a couple of hourly service workers.  I wondered if this would be permanent?  The housekeeping director was passing out the boxed snack.

I was out early for meetings in Marysville, Ohio with my partner on the Voter Purge Project, Steve Tingely-Hock and back after dark to catch up on email, work, and be ready for the first flight connections out to Atlanta.  I walked into the room, and was surprised to see everything just like I had left it.  No coffee had been replenished.  No bed made.  Despite the notes about where to put the towels for cleaning or reuse, everything was the same.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t trash out a hotel room, when I’m called to duty.  I’m glad to DYI all the way, but when the organization is paying almost $100 a night, I felt kind of ripped off.  I assumed they had been short staffed.  Stuff happens.  I walked back to the front desk so I could get a couple of coffee packets for the next morning.

When I talked to the night man, and said, “sorry, but my room didn’t get cleaned, so can I get some coffee,” he replied, yes to the coffee, but then launched into a rap where the main theme was, “didn’t you know it wouldn’t be cleaned.?  It’s only done on-demand.”  How as I supposed to know that I asked?  No one said a word when I checked in?  He claimed it was posted on the door and two other places in my room.  Really, I said?  Seems like this has less to do with the pandemic, and more to do with cutting the payroll?  Going back into the room, I could only find one notice, affixed to a mirror over the desk table.

No worries.  We overpaid, but I’ll live.  What really worries me is that this seems mainly a way to cut the payroll.  The nightman was still on duty as I left in the morning.  He tried to apologize.  I said it wasn’t necessary.  This was just company policy to cut the staff, right?  He shrugged, and said, yes.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to organize hotel workers and cleaners.  The DC court of appeals recently sent an NLRB case back for rehearing when a union tried to petition for a housekeeping unit separate from food-and-beverage, exactly the case we won against the Hyatt almost forty years ago.

Once companies as big and bold as the Hilton can figure out that they can reduce the housekeeping and cleaning staff down to almost nothing and charge the same prices as always, will these pandemic pushouts ever be called back?  I wonder.  I doubt it.