Young, college-educated workers are shaking up the service sector, Nona Willis Aronowitz reports in GOOD magazine:
Behind the bar of a fancy New York restaurant, a 27-year-old bartender tidies her olive-and-cherry box. She attempts to look distracted while a middle-aged financial analyst holds her captive with small talk.
“So what else do you do?” he slurs, four Manhattans deep.
“Nothing,” she says. “I just do this.”
“Oh!” he answers. “That’s cool. Did you go to college?”
“Yup. I went to NYU.”
The man makes no attempt to hide his confusion. She leans forward and wipes away a few whiskey drops in front of him.
“I have loans,” she says, with a touch of attitude. “Don’t know what to tell you.”
Emily Sanders has been a waitress or bartender, on and off, for almost a decade. She’s made anywhere from minimum wage to around $1,000 a week, which is what she hauls in now. She has no health insurance, no 401(k), and a pathetic savings account. Most days, she gets to her first job at noon and leaves her second after midnight. If she’s sick but a little short on cash, she downs some DayQuil and goes into work anyway.
Willis Aronowitz profiles Erik Forman, a former humanites student at Macalester College who now works as an Industrial Workers of the World organizer in Minneapolis.
Forman played a leading role in a hard-fought but unsuccessful campaign to unionize ten Jimmy Johns sub shops in the Twin Cities.
“People didn’t want to admit that they were going to be in these jobs for a long time,” Erik says. “It’s a classist stereotype that these jobs don’t deserve to be good jobs,” he told GOOD.
Organizing in the service industry has languished since the 1980s, but a new cadre of professional organizers is coming of age. These activists were raised middle class, but they are downwardly moble. Many initially assumed that the service industry was just a temporary waystation on the road to a more lucrative career, but with unemployment stubbornly high, and student loan debt pressing in, they have decided to stand and fight for the jobs they have.
[Photo credit: Jezlyn26, Creative Commons.]