With an election year on the horizon, a tyrant as POTUS, and news of ever-escalating global tensions and climate-fueled destruction coming in daily, it is easy in a blue city such as Boston to overlook the discrimination, exploitation, and hardships of our friends and neighbors in the service industry. These folks face daily hardship and exploitation as we ourselves struggle to survive, let alone make art and build community.
To that effect, this address is not for the endless stream of yuppies and college students that the academic institutions and big tech and pharma firms would like to claim as the nexus of Boston. It is for those who need to work to provide both the basic and excessive comforts of the aforementioned class. These workers are the real namesake of Boston and they are young, they are queer, they are people of color, they are women, and they are immigrants.
This real face of Boston is the working class and anyone else who struggles to make ends meet in the face of gentrification. These folks are anyone who struggles with health and mental disorders in the face of a system that does not provide adequate coverage (search for a shrink for ten minutes with state-provided insurance and you will know exactly what I mean) and even pretends they do not exist; those who in the words of Vivian Maier, are, “too poor to die.”
While we usually utilize the medium of bostonhassle.com as a vehicle for pointing out the art disparity in our city, I am using this column to launch a critique of the ACTUAL disparity that exists in our city: the inherent class disparity that means if you are a person of color with three kids and three jobs you are valued less than an incoming BU freshman from the Midwest whose sights are set only on their own financial and social striving. The class disparity means if you are a person of color, queer or disabled, there are fewer opportunities for you (and more discrimination) than if you were a graduate student at Harvard, MIT or any other graduate program that continues to cater to a whiter, wealthier, and more privileged class.
If this story angers you, or if the brutal cleansing of Methadone Mile chilled your spine, or if the stories of harassment towards your femme and trans friends are any indication that something is wildly wrong in our world, then, (and I do not think I am going the wrong way down the Pike in saying this) it is time to acknowledge that our current systems of wealth and infrastructural redistribution have drastically failed us.
It is time to rethink these systems for the new decade and beyond, for the new generation of workers.
I am writing this essay as a food service professional who has worked in the service industry for over fourteen years. I’ve seen a lot. Unsafe workspaces? Check. Illogical, manipulative customers and coworkers? Check. Discrimination based on my sex and gender? Check. Managers stealing money from me or flat-out not doing their jobs while they lie and mislead staff? Check. Wrongful termination? Check. The list goes on and on.
It is important to note, however, that I am not asking for pity here. I am stating that issues like these and other similar scenarios are simply ANOTHER DAY ON THE JOB in the food service profession. Many other service-based professions suffer similar fates.
But what can we do about it?
Though this question has thrashed my thoughts for as long as I can remember, one can too easily fall into the trap of finding no solutions and getting disillusioned in the process.
But I remain hopeful that there are answers out there that would provide better access to resources and opportunities for service industry workers. So, in order to find solutions, or even come to a deeper understanding and rationality of our own circumstance, I am opening up my email address ([email protected]) to you, the Boston Hassle reader, to dig up answers to my previous question.
Well, y’all, what can we do about it?
Please email me at [email protected] with your input about the problems persistent in the food service industry as well as any potential resolutions to help fix these problems for service workers (you). Even if you just want to send your service industry-related gripes, that is cool too, because one first needs to realize something is wrong to be able to fix it. If the responses are plentiful enough, I will publish them in a separate piece in the next month or so on bostonhassle.com.
To kick things off, I have listed a few solutions below.
1. More, not less, unions.
You were definitely sleeping under a rock if you missed the Stop and Shop Strike of 2019. Unionizing, contrary to its negative stigma in producing Trump voters, is one of the most powerful platforms for workers to voice their concerns inside and outside of the workplace. Shout-out to Local SEIU’s across the North-east and shout-out to anyone on the picket lines fighting for fairer pay.
2. Call employers’ out on their BS.
While this one may seem obvious while you are reading this, when you’re shaking in your clogs, covered in grease, and are looking at 20 tickets on your station for weekend brunch, it may be more difficult to spot mistreatment or even simply call it out for what it is. Further, if you are being discriminated against the cost of taking a workplace discrimination case to court is costly and, at best, you have a less than half a chance of winning, even if you are properly prepared. So don’t take BS from customers, your coworkers, and especially your bosses. Bite back in a reasonable, measured manner so that it may show your bosses and/or clientele that you will not tolerate or support inappropriate, ILLEGAL behavior.
3. Make jokes, sing as loud as you can, and embrace your coworkers.
No one would wants to join the union started by the workplace brute. Never mind joining the union, no one wants to work in a toxic work environment. While you could interpret my above account as “all workplaces are toxic”, the positivity, empathy, humor, and hope starts with you. So let loose and bring your best self to work. You may gain some unexpected allies.
4. Throw a party for you and your co-workers.
Go ahead. It will be fun! We’d love to come!
Happy kvetching y’all!
Many, many thanks to Sophie Lou and Hassan Ghanny for their thoughts, patience, and edits. I could not have done this without them and the rest of the lovely, supportive crew of the Boston Hassle.
Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Art & Extra Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.