Different Name for the Same Old Crap


Somewhere
along the way, I became an associate. Before that, I was a waiter
who became a server. Hell, I’ve even been periodically transformed
from a barkeep into a mixologist. 

The
dishwashers are now sanitation engineers. The doorperson has become
the valet. The people who used to be housekeepers are now room attendants.
By the way, those guests are the people we used to call the customers.
It just sort of happened. One day the bosses started calling everyone
associates; not just our managers, either—who are now job facilitators—but
the general manager, who doesn’t usually talk to the hourlies,
started telling us what good jobs we’ve been doing and how
well we represent the company and keep up the good work and blah,
blah, blah. 

The
thing is, though, nothing really changed other than what they started
calling us. I may have become an associate, but the jerk at table
42 still wouldn’t get off his cell phone so I could take his
order, the people in the back booth still think it’s cute to
let their brats run between everyone else’s tables while they’re
trying to eat, and the businessperson who just downed his eighth
gin and tonic is still pissed because I cut him off after he wouldn’t
quit hitting on the two married women who come in after they get
off work every Tuesday to sit there and drink three martinis each
while complaining about their husbands. 

Oh
yeah, I’m still making a little over two bucks an hour, plus
tips. The company attaches memos to my paychecks extolling the virtues
of their 401K plan, but if I put anything into it, I run short at
the end of the month on rent. I have medical insurance, but the
co-pays have gone up and the amount the insurance company covers
has gone down. So it’s better just not to get sick. I still
sometimes get sent home early if there are too many of us for the
amount of customers—er, guests—coming through the door

But
it isn’t just me. Everyone else is pretty much still doing
the same jobs for the same money as they were before, only now with
new-and-improved job titles and a pat on the back and a few added
responsibilities here and there. 

Here’s
why I think that is: somewhere along the way the bosses got together
and figured out that if they tricked the hourlies into thinking
that we’re more important than we actually are, then we’d
be less likely to complain about stuff like not getting raises and
having to do more work for the same amount of pay. The best way
to do that is to give us titles that make our relatively dull jobs
sound glamorous enough so that we’ll “take ownership”
of stuff and develop a renewed sense of pride in being barely able
to scrape out anything other than a subsistence-level lifestyle. 

You
know what? For the most part it works. Like the other day. They
had Diego—one of the sanitation engineers—on his hands
and knees (when he wasn’t scraping crap off of dirty plates
and loading and unloading the dish machine) scrubbing the kitchen
floor without gloves or anything, using some kind of blue chemical
that said poison on the bottle. The thing is, they used to bring
in these guys between midnight and three in the morning to do that
stuff, guys who brought their own HAZMAT suits with them and seemed
to have a pretty healthy fear of the stuff they sprayed the kitchen
with. But someone high up decided they could save some money by
not paying those guys any more, so instead they gave ownership of
scrubbing the kitchen gunk to the former dishwashers. 

Another
way the job title trick thing works is when they add another title
on top of the one you already have. They do this by making certain
people “trainers” in their departments. This is how it
works. If they see an hourlie regularly taking extra initiative
on the job, then they give him or her the title of trainer and have
them start being responsible for teaching the new hires how the
company wants them to perform. The company even holds meetings to
teach the trainers what’s expected of them and these meetings
usually have corny business seminar names like “train the trainer”
and stuff like that. On completion of the train—the trainer
meeting/seminar—the trainers are usually given some kind of
worthless token to recognize their new status, like a cheesy pin
for their uniforms or a desktop-published diploma to hang on their
walls. Like anyone would hang anything that stupid to begin with.
(“Hey, you wanna come over and check out the cool diploma I
got at work?”) I even worked in a place once where the trainers
got to wear different uniforms than everyone else, but no one other
than the trainers seemed very impressed with that whole thing. 

Another
trick is to give the hourlies prestigious recognition that really
isn’t. This is usually done with things like employee of the
month awards and reserved parking spaces with signs that say stuff
like “star of the month” or some crap like that. The thing
about the employee of the month award, though, is that everyone
eventually ends up winning it, if they stay long enough or don’t
get fired first. To me, that pretty much waters down the award.
Hell, I’ve worked with people who were special enough to be
named employee of the month one week only to get their sorry butts
fired the next. But for a while anyway, they got to park in front
of a really cool sign. 

That’s
another thing. They don’t call it getting fired any more. I’ve
seen places “mutually terminate their relationship” with
employees as well as “move them closer to a more compatible
career path.” I’ve witnessed former co-workers “reintroduced
into the labor pool” and seen them “downsized.” I’ve
stood by as they decided to “pursue more viable options”
and were given the freedom to “look for better opportunities.”
I think the bosses figured out that if they softened the process
of firing people, then the rest of the hourlies would be more inclined
to think of the company as a place where they could share values
with like-minded individuals, rather than as the big, impersonal
profit- generating machine it actually is. 

But
what all this is really about is companies maximizing their profit
margins by tricking their lowest-paid employees into doing more
work for the same amount of money. You know what? If I allow them
to successfully convince me that it’s in my best interest to
trade what used to be an annual cost-of-living adjustment (raise)
for the prestige of being employee of the month, then I suppose
I deserve the repercussions that accompany that decision. Last time
I checked, the phone company doesn’t give a crap where I park
my car and my landlord couldn’t care less about my job title
as long as the rent gets paid on time. 

It’s
been my experience that most employers not only encourage, but reward
stupidity. It’s good for the bottom line if you check your
brain at the door when coming to work, thank you very much. Should
you decide to get out of line and point out that the company CEO
doesn’t seem to be struggling to meet the mortgage on his third
house, then perhaps you should consider “rearranging your career
path.” 

Now
don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing abnormal about acknowledging
employees for exceptional performance. In fact, it actually feels
pretty good when the general manager periodically tosses you a “job
well done” bone. But I’m guessing the general manager
is ultimately in the gig for the same reason as you—to get
paid. Somewhere along the way, “getting paid” came to
mean trading financial reimbursement for a bunch of stuff that not
only doesn’t pay the bills, but really is kind of insulting
when you stop and think about it. At least for the hourlies, anyway. 

I
mean, come on. Every time they call us associates, the powers-that-be
are really reminding us of our proper places in the order of things—as
status-challenged underlings who should quit whining and be grateful
for the tidbits we’re graciously allowed to receive. 

Or
maybe not. Maybe the salaries consider the hourlies to be an inferior
species and think that they can prove their superiority by coming
up with a title they can bestow on us—associates—that
will keep us in our place without our really knowing it. Maybe that’s
what’s really going on and we’re just too damned numb
and/or mesmerized to recognize it. Or maybe we just don’t fucking
care. 

So
the sanitation engineer still makes the same as when he or she was
a dishwasher and the door-person-turned-valet is still working for
tips. Different name for the same old crap. 

But
I have an idea. Rather than allowing ourselves to be seduced into
taking on extra responsibilities so the stockholders can see a better
bottom line, we should instead be “taking ownership” of
our lifestyles and personal standards of living. The company will
continue to act primarily in its best interest as long as its employees
give it permission to do so, so why shouldn’t our agenda include
demanding that our employer ante-up something other than a “barely-makin’-it”
lifestyle for the people who are its true backbone? If it continues
to view that as a non-viable option, should it morally be in business
in the first place? 

But
enough about all that. It’s time for me to get ready for work. 


Terry Everton’s
cartoons have appeared in Z and elsewhere for many years.