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 door person has become the valet. The people who used to be housekeepers are now room attendants. By the way, those individuals we refer to as guests used to be customers. It just sort of happened. One day the bosses started calling all of us associates; not just our managers, either – who are now job facilitators – but the hotel 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 couple in the back booth still think its cute to let their loin fruit 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 401(k) 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. And I still sometimes get sent home early if there are too many of us scheduled 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.

And 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 reloading the dish machine) scrubbing the kitchen floor without gloves or any other protective wear, using some kind of blue chemical that said poison on the bottle. The thing is, they used to bring in a crew 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 anymore, 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. Upon completion of the train the trainer seminar the newly minted trainers are usually rewarded with some sort of useless token to acknowledge their status, like a cheesy pin to stick on their uniforms or a desktop-published diploma to proudly display on their walls. (“Hey, you wanna come over and check out the cool new computer-generated diploma I got at work?”) I even worked at 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 stick around long enough or don’t get fired first. So the award essentially is little more than a pat on the back for not getting shit-canned. Yet. Hell, I’ve worked alongside people who were special enough to be named employee of the month one week only to get their sorry asses 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 anymore. I’ve seen places “mutually terminate their relationship” with employees as well as “facilitate their transition to a more appropriate career path.” I’ve witnessed former coworkers “reintroduced into the labor pool,” “promoted to customer” and “downsized.” I’ve stood by as they decided to “pursue more compatible career options” and were allowed the freedom to “explore more compatible 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. And 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 which 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.

Most employers not only encourage but reward stupidity. It’s good for the bottom line if you check your brain at the door when showing up for 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 or wrong with 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 crap that not only doesn’t pay the bills, but is ultimately borderline insulting. And every time they refer to us as associates, the powers-that-be are eagerly 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 inherently inferior and reinforce their superiority by coming up with a title they can bestow on us – associate – that will keep us in our place without our even thinking about 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 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 an enhanced bottom line, we should instead be “taking ownership” of our lifestyles and personal standards of living. The company will continue to operate 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? And 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. After all, there are guests waiting to be served.

Terry Everton is a cartoonist and “wage slave.” Read other articles by Terry, or visit Terry's website.