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Image: Wikimedia Commons.

by Patti Giuffre

The customer is always right. I found out about this idea soon after I started working as a hostess, and then moved up to be a cocktail waitress, bartender, and food server. I did this work because the managers offered me the job on the spot, and, I took home quite a bit of tip money as a teenager and during my twenties. During most of the shifts that I worked, men customers engaged in sexist or sexual comments or innuendos. Not once in over 8 years in three different restaurants and bars did I say, “You’re making me uncomfortable.” I wanted a big tip! I also didn’t know what to say, and I certainly didn’t want to tell my managers because I thought it would make them uncomfortable and make me (the employee) look bad. I once mentioned a customer who was touching me too much and my manager said, while rolling his eyes, “What do you want me to do about it?” We received the message that the customer is always right in many ways when management sided with customers, no matter how obnoxious their behaviors.

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Image: Lestatdelc, via Wikipedia, Creative Commons 3.0

by Linda Grant

A recent report by a steering committee at University of California-Berkeley, praised for its methodological rigor, provides gratifying news that gender gaps in faculty salaries appear to be diminishing on that campus. At the same time, the report underscores the complexity of the issue as one looks across disciplines and highlights the difficulties in devising effective strategies to eliminate lingering inequalities.  

An article about the report appearing in Inside Higher Education suggests strong administrative commitment to gender pay equity. Vice-Provost for Faculty, Janet Broughton, commented that UCB sought to create a “richly inclusive culture” and a “ salary program that can let us progress toward our equity ideals.” I find it heartening that her comments acknowledge that salary equity and supportive institutional climates are properly the responsibility of administrators and not, as too often has been the case, problems that must be addressed by the victims of inequities.

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Photo via http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/01/26/highlights-president-obamas-visit-india

Photo via The White House

Excitement about India’s role as a rising power was again highlighted by Barack Obama’s state visit to New Delhi in January. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has also made a series of high-profile international visits since his election victory last year. But, as I originally blogged at Progress in Political Economy in February, the reality of work and life in the new India is radically different to the sparkle of Modi’s globe-trotting.

This contrast has been highlighted by many writers (including my colleague, Dr Elizabeth Hill – see her review of Rina Agarwala’s important new book on informal labor in India) and is something I take up in my new book, Informal Labour in Urban India: Three Cities, Three Journeys. The last quarter century of rapid economic growth in India has been underpinned by the mass employment of ‘informal labor’. The book uses case studies of economic development in three urban regions of India: Mumbai, Bengaluru (Bangalore) and the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. I wrote this book after undertaking seven years’ research on India’s informal economy, including my doctoral research with the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. When I first considered undertaking a PhD, I was interested in the impacts of trade and investment between India and Australia on labor markets. I quickly discovered what, for me, was a far more interesting story about India’s transition from a relatively inward-looking, low-growth economy to a globally-integrated, high-growth economy and the impact on employment and livelihoods.

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Walmart-Logo_color_0Walmart made headlines recently by announcing it is raising its base wage rate to $9 per hour (going to $10 per hour in 2016). In response, Gary Silverman of The Financial Times suggests that “Walmart stirs hopes of a Fordist revival,” referring to Henry Ford’s famous implementation of a $5 day in 1914 – double the going rate at the time. Similarly, Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, argues that Walmart’s “wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to” rising real wages and declining inequality for nearly three decades after the Second World War.

While the comparison between Walmart and Ford is apt in some respects, unfortunately, the broader institutional context of today’s postindustrial, globalized, financialized economy is far different from that of the post-WWII years. As a result, the move by Wal-Mart is unlikely to signal a broad reversal of the current trajectory of the American labor market, which is characterized by stagnating wages and rising inequality.

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Image via Starbucks Newsroom.

by Ellen Berrey

Corporate executives and university presidents are, yet again, calling for public discussion on race and racial inequality. Revelations about the tech industry’s diversity problem have company officials convening panels on workplace barriers, and, at the University of Oklahoma spokespeople and students are organizing town-hall sessions in response to a fraternity’s racist chant.

The most provocative of the efforts was Starbucks’ failed Race Together program. In March, the company announced that it would ask baristas to initiate dialogues with customers about America’s most vexing dilemma. Although public outcry shut down those conversations before they even got to “Hello,” Starbucks said it would nonetheless carry on Race Together with forums and special USA Today discussion guides. As someone who has done sociological research on diversity initiatives for the past 15 years, I was intrigued.

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busy-600x600Before you continue reading, I want you to do an experiment.  Go to the first person you see and ask them, “How are you?”

My guess is that a lot of people you asked (especially if you are at work) said, “Busy.” (I suspect the runner-up responses are “Tired” or “Stressed” which are related to being busy.).

If you are wondering what happened to the response “I’m fine” or “I’m OK,” read on.

In her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the TimeBrigid Schulte draws on research from psychology, sociology, management, economics, medicine, and personal experience to talk about being “time poor” or simply  being busy.  The book has generated a great deal of interest, been reviewed in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and was named a top book of 2014. Read More

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Image: Francisco Martins CC BY-NC 2.0

The news in 2014 was regularly punctuated with stories of care home residents suffering abuse. As a result, care workers have been prosecuted and sentenced and homes have been closed, yet hidden camera exposes produced by residents’ relatives and by documentary film makers continue to highlight further incidents. The picture is grim. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that we have heard resurgent calls, from politicians, professional bodies and journalists, for a return to ‘compassionate care’. These calls usually emphasise the need for care workers to be re-trained so that they can learn (or re-learn) empathy. Sometimes this is juxtaposed to an emphasis on professional qualifications. For instance, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron suggested that ‘nurses should be hired and promoted on the basis of having compassion as a vocation not just academic qualifications’.

Yet, this widespread interpretation of recent crises in the care sector misunderstands the logic of care work. Simply put, it ignores the fact that care work is a type of what scholars have termed ‘body work‘: paid work that requires workers to touch, manipulate or otherwise work on, and in direct contact with, the bodies of others. For various reasons, summarized below, body work is extremely difficult to standardize or make profitable. Yet a privatized care regime is premised on companies’ ability to do precisely this: realize profit through standardization and capital-labor savings. In this context, one in which private care companies attempt to achieve largely unachievable goals, there is no reason to believe we have seen the last harm to residents nor a shift away from care practices that systematically undermine the dignity of those being cared for. Meanwhile, care workers employed by private companies have become residual casualties; unable to compensate for the structural problems endemic to privatized body work and demonized by the media when things go wrong. Read More

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