Skip

No Fruit From Labor
September 1, 2014 9:04 AM   Subscribe


 
When I was in university I worked in food service for a while. 10 or 12 hour shifts were commonplace, with 15 minute breaks where we could wolf down leftovers and try to get some feeling back into our toes. This was in a silver service restaurant, working for minimum wage and no tips because it was part of a business conference centre where meals were included in the bill. But I still count myself incredibly lucky because at least I wasn't trying to support a family on that wage. I had the privilege of being able to quit any time (and I did). Lots of people don't.

I found out the other day through Twitter that a certain chain restaurant in the UK (which wasn't named, unfortunately) skims tips given through credit card transactions so the servers only get 25%. I now make sure to always tip in cash.

So yeah, thanks for posting this. Really important stuff.
posted by fight or flight at 9:33 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


my sister, who works in food service, just moved out of nyc and in with me because rents were pushing her out of Brooklyn.
Those of you who have worked in the restaurant industry: What do you think the possibilities are for improving wages and working conditions? Can this line of work be stable and secure?
By focusing on food service employment, she is missing the point that these problems define the "precariate" which forms an increasing large class of employment in the US. In 15 minutes you could write a laundry list of changes to employment law. But, the idea that you could have better employment regulation stops when you consider that the US doesn't really enforce the employment laws it has now, especially for low wage employees. There's no "good government" policy response when society, on multiple interconnecting levels, has effectively decided to impoverish large groups of people. You need large solutions.

The profusion of food service jobs in tied to the availability of capital to the demi-rich to start restaurants and other food consumption related ventures. How many semi-retired bankers have food side projects (which maybe employ a spouse or SO)? Why do financially secure people get loans (or self-fund) to start food-related businesses? Where does the money for those loans come from? As they say, follow the money.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:45 AM on September 1 [11 favorites]


>"But, the idea that you could have better employment regulation stops when you consider that the US doesn't really enforce the employment laws it has now"

And that's the real kicker. The food industry is full of employment violations because it exists at the nexus of a number of regulated-but-unenforced industries. It's hard to report your boss for underpaying workers when you know that the guy next to you on the line is undocumented, and you'll ruin his life by bringing in scrutiny. And it's hard to report your boss for skimming credit card tips when most of the waiters you work with don't report their cash tips (and so don't pay taxes on them). And so we all just muddle through as best we can, because we know that the food industry hires huge amounts of ex-cons and undocumented workers, and so there's certainly someone else out there who's more desperate than me, who'll put up with more shit than me; and in terms of job security, that's the only qualification that really matters.
posted by DGStieber at 10:03 AM on September 1 [39 favorites]


I've not read the article, but a few weeks ago when discussing wages with someone, I pointed out that it took someone working at Mc Donalds an average of 45 minutes to afford the typical extra value meal.

It's shocking how much of an extravagance eating fast food is for so many people.
posted by Ickster at 10:05 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


It isn't just restaurant workers.

Way back in the bad old days (~94ish), I used to have a job delivering furniture and appliances. It paid about 8 bucks an hour with incentives and whatnot, and although it wasn't great money you could get by OK. It was a pretty standard wage for that sort of work.

The guys who delivered my new kitchen appliances make 9 dollars an hour some 20 years later.

The cost of everything has more than doubled in that period, except people's time.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:05 AM on September 1 [38 favorites]


The cost of everything has more than doubled in that period, except people's time.

That's called an increase in "productivity", I think
posted by thelonius at 10:18 AM on September 1 [26 favorites]


The food industry is full of employment violations because it exists at the nexus of a number of regulated-but-unenforced industries. It's hard to report your boss for underpaying workers when you know that the guy next to you on the line is undocumented, and you'll ruin his life by bringing in scrutiny. And it's hard to report your boss for skimming credit card tips when most of the waiters you work with don't report their cash tips (and so don't pay taxes on them).

and that's just blatant violations... I mean, stealing from your employees is still stealing. Big corporations, like Whole Foods, have a host of internal regulations whose end result amounts to employment law violations. I'm sure they pay lawyers just to think up ways of subverting the existing, incredibly weak by European standards, employment regs.

My sister, who works now in a mid-sized "natural foods" coop grocery, just got disciplined by management after being scheduled to work 13 days straight, a schedule which clearly violates Massachusetts labor law, because customers complained she wasn't happy enough (and that's working after also cutting off part of her finger in a meat slicer, for which she had to take personal days off).

And that's at a local business, a cooperative which isn't a chain. This is what happens when you build a society of winners and losers.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:19 AM on September 1 [19 favorites]


I believe she says she's focusing on food jobs in this piece because it's one of the fastest-growing industries out there and so these are most likely the jobs that we're talking about when politicians say they created new jobs during their administration so yay economic growth!

I'm starting to wonder if we aren't heading for either a major economic revolution or some Malthusian tragedy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on September 1 [4 favorites]


Yeah, in general the big number people look at to see if the economy is doing well is how well a business is doing, not necessarily how well employees are doing. So McDonalds, Walmart and other big employers can post large profits and it's an indicator of how well the economy is doing, but Mcburger flipper of Walgreeter is out their filing for govt assistance because profit over people is SOP. And yet it's the under paid individual that people see as a drain on society not the giant engorged blood sucking leech attached to the throat of civilization.

this is pretty stark in food service, and not just the McTaco_$, but systemic in a large % of everywhere.

The US and most forms of high capitalism systems rely on un and under paid service. The US was founded on direct slavery the quintessential nadir of capitalism and has ever since been looking for ways to get the same benefit without having to use the 'S' word. Crop pickers to prison labor, made-in-china to full automation...
posted by edgeways at 10:23 AM on September 1 [25 favorites]


The cost of everything has more than doubled in that period, except people's time.

That's called an increase in "productivity", I think


Funny. I call it "wage stagnation".
posted by hippybear at 10:23 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Big corporations, like Whole Foods, have a host of internal regulations whose end result amounts to employment law violations.

How does that work?
posted by jeather at 10:25 AM on September 1


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "The cost of everything has more than doubled in that period, except people's time."

I know what you're trying to convey here, but inflation between 94 and now is only 60 percent. So yes, they're about 3 dollars short per hour of where they'd need to be to match your experience, but inflation is less than double in the past 20 years, not more than.
posted by pwnguin at 10:30 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


In LA, at least, there are a couple of restaurants (apart from those attached to hotels) where the workers are represented by HERE. I believe they make something like a living wage.

Generally speaking, the answer to "what is to be done?" about wage stagnation and exploitation is going to be help workers to unionize. Make it easier to unionize, support workers trying to unionize, increase penalties for retaliating against workers.

Worker centers like ROC are doing great work to adapt to the limitations imposed by anti-worker policies in the last decades, and they form a useful bridge from exploitation to power, but the answer will always be unions.
posted by univac at 10:31 AM on September 1 [4 favorites]


I know what you're trying to convey here, but inflation between 94 and now is only 60 percent.

That's OVERALL inflation.

Real effects, however are different. A gallon of gas in 1994? $1, or thereabouts. Now, it's nearly $4. A pound of 80% ground beef in 1994? Between $1 and $2. Now, it's usually $3.50 - $4. A 20oz name brand soda in 1994? $.75 - $1. Now, $2. Potato chips in 1994? ~$1.50 for a large bag. Now, $4, if not more.

The things people typically buy have risen dramatically in price, more than doubling for many of them. Maybe the price of pickles hasn't risen much in the past 20 years, but that loaf of bread is easily 2ce as expensive was it was back then.
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on September 1 [16 favorites]


(And that doesn't even take into account the grocery shrink ray, where items still COST the same per package, but are dramatically smaller than they used to be. When was the last time you bought a half-gallon of ice cream? Or a full 8 oz cup of yogurt?)
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on September 1 [3 favorites]


I can't easily search from here, but isn't it housing and energy (gas, heating, etc) that are way up, and food not so much?
posted by Dip Flash at 10:39 AM on September 1 [3 favorites]


How does that work?

The government doesn't care, the parts of the government that are paid to care are deliberately underfunded or deliberately staffed by anti-labor ideologues, and even when the government does care, the laws are so pathetic that it's cheaper just to pay the fine and keep on keepin' on.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:48 AM on September 1 [4 favorites]


For the restaurant workers at "nice" restaurants there is almost a collective Stockholm syndrome I kind of understand, but also find pretty alarming. I write about restaurants and I've had restaurant workers tell me that things like unpaid stages or absurd work hours aren't a problem. Part of it is that they all went through this themselves at some point and believe it's a rite of passage. The other part of it is that they are a community and even though they can't afford to pay to eat at the kind of restaurants they work in out of pocket, the odds are they are friends with people in the kitchen who will give them a free meal. There is a ton of bartering and gifting. They also will rally behind people with high medical bills and fundraise for them.

But it keeps them distracted from asking "Why are we having to fundraise for Katy's medical bills in the first place?"
posted by melissam at 10:50 AM on September 1 [34 favorites]




Big corporations, like Whole Foods, have a host of internal regulations whose end result amounts to employment law violations.

How does that work?


For instance, cashier's have a three strikes policy wrt drawer counts. If your drawer is under (or over!) three times total (i don't think this is even per year) you are automatically disciplined and put on probation to fire. if you've ever worked as a cashier, it's incredibly easy for the count to get off. The one person I know got almost fired because her drawer was over (i.e. she wasn't stealing.) I've forgotten much of the details since it's all second hand info for me, but the end result is that it's difficult to get seniority as a cashier at whole foods. but, i imagine the real reason is that it means that cashiers don't work the job long enough to learn how to effectively steal.

but my point is that WF has effectively created a 'fire for cause' situation out of a generic retail business problem, while at the same time made it more precarious (makes management more powerful) to work long-term (and thus get steps up in wages) as a cashier, all with a relatively neutral company policy.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:52 AM on September 1 [4 favorites]


For instance, cashier's have a three strikes policy wrt drawer counts

Not anymore, they changed it around the beginning of the year. Most regions now have drawers shared between multiple cashiers, with the imbalance at the end of the day averaged amongst the people who worked that drawer. If your amount off gets above a certain amount within the last 25 shifts you work, you get a written warning. Multiple warnings get you transferred to a non-cash handling job (like grocery stocker or something). Whole Foods is actually quite good to their employees, especially in the context of the american food industry, especially w/r/t job security.

My experience says most grocery stores are better for employees than small companies/franchisees/restaurants, because big companies have to have HR people, and have a lot more to lose if someone rats them out to the inspectors, and a lot more people who might rat them out. It's the littler places, where the "HR" person is also the owner is also the kitchen manager where the individual employees have fewer options.
posted by DGStieber at 11:14 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


imbalance at the end of the day averaged amongst the people who worked that drawer.

That sounds horrible and like it should be illegal.
posted by jeather at 11:17 AM on September 1 [11 favorites]


Productivity is a measure of rate of exploitation. Productivity is the amount of surplus value per hour that capital-holders can skim from the labor of those whose labor-time they buy. This is a description in Marxian language, but it's also the most straightforward definition of "productivity" as a concept. Back in the early 2000s it used to drive me up the wall when pundits would talk about the mystery of stagnating wages in an era of high, and rapidly rising, worker productivity; it's not a mystery when stagnating wages and high productivity coincide, because "high productivity" and "stagnating wages" are just two ways of saying the exact same thing.

seriously though, how does bourgeois economics describe worker productivity? Do non-Marxian economists have a working definition for it other than rate of exploitation, or something functionally equivalent to rate of exploitation? This isn't a rhetorical question; I've gone far down the Marx rabbithole and would like to hear another definition so that I can get something like a parallax view on the productivity concept.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:20 AM on September 1 [27 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: I suppose one could fairly consider it labor deflation, but I don't know either and, like you, would be curious to learn.
posted by wobh at 11:32 AM on September 1


hippybear: "That's OVERALL inflation.

Real effects, however are different. A gallon of gas in 1994? $1, or thereabouts. Now, it's nearly $4. A pound of 80% ground beef in 1994? Between $1 and $2. Now, it's usually $3.50 - $4. A 20oz name brand soda in 1994? $.75 - $1. Now, $2. Potato chips in 1994? ~$1.50 for a large bag. Now, $4, if not more.

The things people typically buy have risen dramatically in price, more than doubling for many of them. Maybe the price of pickles hasn't risen much in the past 20 years, but that loaf of bread is easily 2ce as expensive was it was back then.
"

It's an average. Some are above, some are below

Bread, for example rose 77 percent . Beef was remarkably flat until 2011, when the droughts raised feed prices and prompted ranchers to cull the herd, but yes, has doubled in the past 20 years, most of which was the past 3 years. Pork chops show a similar pattern caused by a swine virus in 2014, except they've only risen 30 percent over 20 years. Whole milk only goes back to 1995 for some reason, and its only up 47 percent. Bananas were historically a very seasonal crop, and which month you pick really affects the calculated rate, so it varies from 16 to 30 percent over that 20 year range, far below that 60 percent average. Something's gotta drag the average down, right?

Crops tend to be the noisiest bits of CPI, for despite humanity's best efforts, they encounter massive supply shocks and require substantial seasonal adjustments. There are alternative bundles of goods one could use if you dispute the CPI's weighting. The good news is that a raise may be in the works with or without ROC's help.
posted by pwnguin at 11:32 AM on September 1


I can't easily search from here, but isn't it housing and energy (gas, heating, etc) that are way up, and food not so much?

Housing, the thing that takes up the vast majority of most budgets? My housing cost is more than 50% of my monthly costs. Food is usually less than 20%. Inflation in housing hits hardest.

My experience says most grocery stores are better for employees than small companies/franchisees/restaurants, because big companies have to have HR people, and have a lot more to lose if someone rats them out to the inspectors, and a lot more people who might rat them out. It's the littler places, where the "HR" person is also the owner is also the kitchen manager where the individual employees have fewer options.

It has unfortunately been my experience that large companies (much as they suck) suck less to work at in general than small ones. Given the choice between the shit sandwiches of soulless bureaucracy and despotism, bureaucracy tastes just a little bit less awful on average.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:38 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Let's all strive to be negative-productivity workers. Because of power relations, achieving high negative productivity requires a fair amount of deviousness and subterfuge, but really, it seems like the only way for workers to free ourselves. Just as capital is interested in getting more value from the products of our labor than it spends on our labor-time, we must diligently aim to get more value for our labor time than the products of our labor are worth.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:56 AM on September 1 [14 favorites]


seriously though, how does bourgeois economics describe worker productivity? Do non-Marxian economists have a working definition for it other than rate of exploitation, or something functionally equivalent to rate of exploitation? This isn't a rhetorical question; I've gone far down the Marx rabbithole and would like to hear another definition so that I can get something like a parallax view on the productivity concept.

productivity is simply the value of output/number of employee hours, i.e.:

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 2.5 percent annual
rate during the second quarter of 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today, as hours increased 2.7 percent and output increased 5.2
percent. (All quarterly percent changes in this release are seasonally
adjusted annual rates.) From the second quarter of 2013 to the second quarter
of 2014, productivity increased 1.2 percent as output and hours worked rose
3.2 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively. (See table A.)

Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index of
real output by an index of hours worked of all persons, including employees,
proprietors, and unpaid family workers.

of course, the cost of those labor hours is perhaps the statistic most interesting to Wall Street (and business tho not exclusively so.) The problem is the general one that most economic news is information of most interest to the investor/owner classes regardless of any secondary Marxist interpretation. But, a Marxist economy would be even more interested in straight productivity statistics than a capitalistic one.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:59 AM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Perhaps the problem with marxism is the focus on seizing the means of production rather than on seizing the means of unproductivity.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:01 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "Just as capital is interested in getting more value from the products of our labor than it spends on our labor-time, we must diligently aim to get more value for our labor time than the products of our labor are worth."

And then what? Close the whole plant? Why would it stay open while running at a loss?
posted by pwnguin at 12:03 PM on September 1


I think the problem with most governments or large scale -isms is in implementation. Capitalism has benefits, our current implemented capitalism however is toxic as it's so unbalanced. Marxism - Democracy - etc all have good aspects, but concentration of long term power, economic and political will invariably mean bad things for the masses... Which is frustrating, because as we have seen with the Tea Party in recent years, the solution of just having a bunch of new people injected into the system doesn't necessarily result in better governance, sometimes the opposite.
posted by edgeways at 12:12 PM on September 1


And then what? Close the whole plant? Why would it stay open while running at a loss?

At least permanent summer fridays, come on.
posted by elizardbits at 12:12 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


ok so that was far more amusing when i misread it as "close the whole planet".
posted by elizardbits at 12:13 PM on September 1 [11 favorites]


Not just being able to afford to eat- in some circumstances being a food worker means you may burn to death in your rooming house. If you eat a cheap Chinese meal in downtown Toronto, part of the reason for the low cost is that the kitchen workers live in places like those described in the above article.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:23 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


So basically the way that bourgeois economics deals with the concept of productivity is by untethering it from the idea of the cost of labor altogether? It's about hours and units produced (or whatever), without concern for the cost of those hours?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:29 PM on September 1


See also. Although I have to admit that the first three paragraphs befuddle me. A restaurant courts controversy by adding a "living wage surcharge" to each ticket and and it ends up being only ¢35!? I guess I'm coming at it from a different perspective but that strikes me as an excellent argument for raising the minimum wage and what a negligible increase in prices it entails. Hell, how much of a raise would your workers get if I paid ¢50 more a meal? I'd be willing to pay a dollar more but I don't want to seem like a communist or anything.
posted by TedW at 12:35 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


Way back in the bad old days (~94ish), I used to have a job delivering furniture and appliances

You shoulda' learned to play the guitar; you shoulda' learned to play them drums.
posted by TedW at 12:37 PM on September 1 [17 favorites]


Happy labor day, America. :/
posted by buzzman at 12:46 PM on September 1 [5 favorites]


A woman died in her car, trying to get some sleep in between her four jobs.
posted by gorbweaver at 12:55 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


And then what? Close the whole plant? Why would it stay open while running at a loss?
posted by pwnguin at 12:03 PM on September 1 [+] [!]

Why do workers keep selling their labor time when we get less for it than the value of the goods we produce? Why don't restaurant workers just stop working when they're getting such a raw deal?

Well, I mean, it's obvious: because it's the best deal workers can get.

Because power relations, for the foreseeable future we'll have to maximize our negative productivity through goldbricking and underhanded subterfuge. If it comes about that we get to overtly stick capital-holders with a raw deal that they have to take because it's the best they can get, they can figure out how to deal, just like we're expected to figure out how to deal.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:13 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Workers in many proper restaurants get a free meal before service begins called the family meal or staff meal. It's become something of a trend for the more famous places to publish cookbooks based around those simpler staff meal recipes.
posted by w0mbat at 1:22 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "If it comes about that we get to overtly stick capital-holders with a raw deal that they have to take because it's the best they can get, they can figure out how to deal, just like we're expected to figure out how to deal."

I don't know where you think profits come from, but in your world of negative productivity, the best deal 'they' can get is closing up shop. If you think of profits as a pie, you're suggesting workers go on strike for 110 percent of the pie.

Also, protip for budding Marxists: the word you're looking for is called "sabotage".
posted by pwnguin at 1:27 PM on September 1


what? where did I talk about negative profits? Right now we do work that benefits employers more than it benefits us, but we keep doing it because we need that benefit to us. Why is it so unthinkable that employers might be forced into a situation where they're wedged into a position such that they have to offer jobs that benefit us more than them, because they need the benefit that they receive in order to continue getting food and shelter?

I mean, yes, this is an easy question to answer. It's unthinkable because of who holds power in the relationship.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:36 PM on September 1


where did I talk about negative profits?

I'm guessing it was this part:

"we must diligently aim to get more value for our labor time than the products of our labor are worth."
posted by The Hamms Bear at 2:10 PM on September 1


Meanwhile, in Switzerland ...
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:28 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


I suspect there's a disconnect between people over what I (not being any sort of economist, let alone a proper economist) think of as "virtual" profits. What I mean is, if I hire a worker to make widgets at my factory, and I pay him $1 for a widget that I can sell for $2, then I'm "taking advantage" of him for that $1. So the "labor should be compensated" side says "worker should get $2 -- that way, it's a wash for me whether I run the factory or not."

However, what if the worker I hired can't make widgets because my suppliers are late or the equipment is broken or whatever? I'm not "taking advantage" of him for $1 -- he's "taking advantage" of me for the $1 I pay him even though he doesn't make any widgets.

And this is what I mean by "virtual:" there are unrealized or potential costs that affect the computation of how much / to what degree I'm taking advantage of my workers. When things go smoothly, the costs don't accrue, and I pocket the money. When things go wrong, I lose my $1.

I think the failure to consider these contingent costs dooms any straightforward analysis, understanding or negotiation on these matters. In fact, I think the contingencies and the parties' ability to bear the consequences are critical aspects of these problems, and ones that cannot be overlooked (as it seems they are in YCTAB's comment).

I'm not saying that workers are getting 100% of what they deserve -- in fact, I believe that most workers get a bum deal, in large part because an employer can simply jettison them if whatever deal they have is no longer profitable for the employer. But you can't make good decisions based on a simple accounting of realized gains and losses (e.g. I paid you $1 to make a widget that I sold for $2, so I've taken advantage of you to the tune of $1.")
posted by spacewrench at 2:40 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Workers in many proper restaurants get a free meal before service begins called the family meal or staff meal. It's become something of a trend for the more famous places to publish cookbooks based around those simpler staff meal recipes.

I worked in one of the top restaurants in Chicago and we had family meals. Often they were simple, sustaining, decent... but family meals are sustenance and nothing more. Sure elBulli had great looking family meals, but for every elBulli there are thousands of Fine Dining restaurants that have family meals of meat and rice.

My "favorite" family meal was, I shit you not, mayonnaise sanwiches. Not even aioli, straight up closed face mayonnaise on grilled bread. But it was free and I was hungry so down the hatch it went.

Don't even get me started on the difficulties of being vegetarian in a family meal environment. They straight up don't care; you don't eat meat, most of the time you don't get a meal.

Oh, and at one place I worked? Another of the top fine dining restaurants in Chicago charged me .50$ per hour for the ability to eat family meals, which were served twice per day and always contained meat. Again, being vegetarian, this just meant my pay was docked.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 2:48 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


Workers in many proper restaurants get a free meal before service begins called the family meal or staff meal.

Pretty sure that given the choice between receiving the cost of the average dinner at their upscale restaurants or getting a free meal, most workers would choose the former.
posted by elizardbits at 3:13 PM on September 1 [10 favorites]


At one of the minimal wage places I work (not food service) workers are sent home when there's not enough customers that day. Of course that's unpaid time off and can be after they were there only for an hour. Of course there's the flip side of three strikes you're out, meaning if you clock in or out 9 minutes before/after your schedule then you're fired. (How fun it is to be helping a slow customer when your clock time is up...) And they have no qualms about calling you in early or your day off.

Labor laws mean nothing when you'd get fired for complaining, and one of the first mandatory training modules you have to endure is about how to report evil union organizers ....

Even if people worked a minimal wage position in the distant past, folks who're not doing so at present haven't seen what the lovely new economy is doing to people who serve.

Be nice to the sales smuck who's helping you or to the counter person taking your food order or the wait staff or the person picking up your trash or cleaning the restroom because their bosses consider three fellow humans as disposable. And they are because there's a lot of competition for these crappy jobs. And many of these workers juggle multiple jobs since few of them are full time with benefits.
posted by mightshould at 3:54 PM on September 1 [13 favorites]


[Predicting the deletion of your comment is in fact a good way to get your comment deleted, but not because of some Forbidden Truths situation; you just need to go to Metatalk if you want to talk about metafilter itself, not derail a random thread while complaining preemptively about being "censored".]
posted by cortex at 4:07 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


My "favorite" family meal was, I shit you not, mayonnaise sanwiches
My brother used to eat those, and I had repressed the memory. Thanks a lot!
posted by thelonius at 4:16 PM on September 1


A sandwich just isn't a sandwich without the tangy zest of Miracle Whip!
posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on September 1


A sandwich just isn't a sandwich without the tangy zest of Miracle Whip!

Misread this as "angry zest of Miracle Whip" and was like, well sure, Miracle Whip is icky .. but angry?
posted by dotgirl at 4:36 PM on September 1


seriously though, how does bourgeois economics describe worker productivity?

I don't know about economists, but economic historians talk about productivity as a function of how much can be produced given x amount of labour. The miracle of the industrial revolution was how much more stuff could be produced compared to a pre-modern economy, with the application of mineral-energy and new production methods.

Of course, the wages didn't follow productivity until unions got strong. In c1900, working class families in London ate as poorly (or worse) than working class families in c1700. It took unionism and strikes to get living wages out of the Industrial Revolution -- and we're fast forgetting that.
posted by jb at 6:53 PM on September 1 [5 favorites]


Why do workers keep selling their labor time when we get less for it than the value of the goods we produce?

Did you bump your head today? What you suggest here is that labour should cost more than the product made. As in, pay workers ten dollars to make something that sells for five dollars. If that seems sensible to you, you might wish to visit a doctor post-haste.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:00 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I'd like to emphasize that despite what wikipedia tells you, many restaurants charge their staff for 'family meal', and those meals are usually loveless and perfunctory. Try to imagine yourself as a cook in one of these places, making poverty level wages, not getting tipped out, sweating your ass off for 12 or 14 hours a day and destroying your body to make rent. Try to imagine how much you'd give a shit about the servers' dietary restrictions.

Granted, I've worked in places where staff meal really was a labour of love and we did our best to accommodate everyone. Those places are exceptional.
posted by Evstar at 9:38 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


This post hit home for me today. 14 hr shift, 40ºC in the kitchen, paid a daily rate so who cares how long I'm there. Happy Labour Day. Now get to work.
posted by Evstar at 9:44 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Oh, and at one place I worked? Another of the top fine dining restaurants in Chicago charged me .50$ per hour for the ability to eat family meals

You can thank the IRS for that. Free meals are considered to be income, and thus taxable. In order to provide "free" meals a restaurant has to charge the staff or it risks tax penalties. Typically restaurants charge theirs staffs $1 a meal, just to satisfy the tax regs. Sad and telling, but true...
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:39 PM on September 1


I've long been a fan of the Seattle Solidarity Network, among other things they have been supporting low-wage workers - in restaurants or otherwise - fight back, in small ways granted, but I still love it. Can't argue with people getting their wages or tips recovered. In more than a few cases they have proven to be more effective than small claims court or L & I... A few links from their website:

Workers Strike at La Lot Vietnamese Restaurant

Victory in Wage Theft Fight against the Bombay Grill

Jumbo sized victory for Marco and Seasol


Unexpected Visit Prompts Pizza Place to Pay Up
posted by Slimemonster at 1:09 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


My sister, who works now in a mid-sized "natural foods" coop grocery, just got disciplined by management after being scheduled to work 13 days straight, a schedule which clearly violates Massachusetts labor law, because customers complained she wasn't happy enough (and that's working after also cutting off part of her finger in a meat slicer, for which she had to take personal days off).

You know what gets me the most about this though? the weird sort of attitude that kind of environment cultivates. I don't really know exactly what you'd call it... horizontal oppression maybe?

Basically that i bet you could get a bunch of her coworkers, or a bunch of people who had similar jobs to talk about how this is somehow her problem/she deserved it/buck up/etc. It's seriously as bad as trying to have a conversation about sexual assault if you're around the wrong people.

The Seattle Stranger had a fucking excellent article about this that i can never find. It talked about the people who brag about working 14 12 hour days straight with no break, etc and hate on people like your sister for being "wimps" or doing a shitty job or whatever.

At all the jobs i had, that was by far the most toxic part of the culture. The people who were supposed to be your comrades but who were essentially agents of the shitty boss, or the shitty system above the boss.

As melissam said above, there's this huge bullshit culture of "well i went through it, so the guy below me should have to or it isn't fair! and i refuse to examine at all whether or not that thing is fucked in the first place". This exists in a lot of industries, subcultures, etc but in food service/retail jobs it's particularly fucked.

I can't easily search from here, but isn't it housing and energy (gas, heating, etc) that are way up, and food not so much?

If we're going to climb down that rabbit hole, i think it would be a disservice to not dig into the fact that housing near the work has gone way the fuck up too. It used to be fairly reasonable to except to get a studio, or split a decent place in the parts of town that would have a high concentration of bars/restaurants to work at. Now all the places the restaurants are concentrated in are 100% gentrified and the rents have easily doubled since even 7 or 8 years ago, much less the 90s.

It's not just about housing going up, it's about housing going up unevenly and people working these kinds of jobs not only being pushed out, but pushed into shittier/sketchier/slumlordy places. I know people working service jobs who are living in SROs that are basically tenements now.

Questionably legal bending of labor laws married to questionably legal bending of housing laws by shitty slumlords. Good times.
posted by emptythought at 4:19 AM on September 2 [10 favorites]


That's called an increase in "productivity", I think

And of course none of the benefits of these increases in productivity accrue to the workers.
posted by Gelatin at 5:30 AM on September 2


Yes, emptythought, it really does often feel like not only is our society run by vampires but the majority of people actually enjoy having the blood sucked out of them. Surreal.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:56 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


In order to survive modern America demands everyone be a ruthless, cold-blooded refugee without ties or concern for other people. No one hates the working poor more than people one paycheck away from being them.
posted by The Whelk at 8:10 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick:
So basically the way that bourgeois economics deals with the concept of productivity is by untethering it from the idea of the cost of labor altogether?
Yes. Well, not exactly untethered. In our bourgeois economics, labor productivity can be expressed in dollars per hour. Wages are also expressed in dollars per hour. This means that you can compare them, as you have been doing in this thread...
...they have to offer jobs that benefit us more than them...
This condition is met when wages are at least half of productivity.

Let's say WidgetCo sells widgets for $10 each. I'm a WidgetCo employee who makes one widget per hour. (Let's also suppose that the company's other costs are negligible.) Then the bourgeois economist says my "labor productivity" is $10/hour.

If WidgetCo pays me $5/hour, then for each widget I make, I get $5 and the company keeps $5 as profit. Here my wages are 50% of my productivity, so half of the company's income goes to me (labor) and the other half goes to the bosses (capital).

If WidgetCo pays me $9/hour, then for each widget I make, I get $9 and the company keeps $1 as profit. Now my wages are 90% of my productivity, so labor captures 9× more value than capital.
Just as capital is interested in getting more value from the products of our labor than it spends on our labor-time, we must diligently aim to get more value for our labor time than the products of our labor are worth.
Now instead of talking about workers getting paid more than bosses, you've suddenly switched to talking about workers getting paid more than their output is worth. This is where you are losing us.

If WidgetCo pays me $11/hour, then for each widget I make, I get $11 and the company loses $1. The more widgets we make and sell, the faster the company goes out of business. Unless it has VC funding. ;)
"high productivity" and "stagnating wages" are just two ways of saying the exact same thing.
Using the terminology above, they are not exactly the same thing but are linked by a third variable, profit. Suppose improved tools allow me to make widgets twice as fast. This means that my productivity will double, to $20/hour. The increased productivity can go toward increased wages, increased profits, or both. Of course, you already know where it goes in practice, here in the 21st century...

If you want increasing wages over the long term, you need increasing productivity (a bigger pie). But you also need to keep profits from growing to take up an increasing share of the pie.

And in the short term, you don't even need the pie to grow. Since profits have already grown to consume a huge portion of the pie, you can increase wages just by redistributing some of that existing pie back to labor. Which is exactly what you are on about all the time, so obviously I don't need to belabor this. Just trying to put it into the same language that the other people here are using, since you asked.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:09 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Fast food workers plan biggest US strike to date over minimum wage

That's planned for today, Sept 4.
posted by hippybear at 8:01 AM on September 4


« Older Jennifer Lawrence Nude Photo Leak Isn't A 'Scandal...   |   The Big Country/Run Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post