Monday, February 03, 2014

Footnote to the Workapocalypse

Thinking about all that talk re the non-future of jobs: I spend more time than is good for  me at a motel next to  campus, 90 miles from home.  I was reflecting the other day on the folks who make it happen.  In particular, the handyman/gardener/factotum.  He's a Latino, maybe 50, substantial, not portly.  Neatly dressed (neater than I sometimes, I suspect).  Thing is, he seems to be a happy man, and I suspect I might know why: fact is, he's got a pretty good job.   He gets to do different stuff in different seasons and on different days. He hoses down the parking lots. He moves around some of the heavy-duty trash (he has kind of a private trash yard out back by the fence). He manages those lovely gardens and flower boxes that change from season to season.  And he has one--no, maybe two--of those closets full of stuff that a handyman might need.

Of course I haven't any idea what he might earn and I suspect it is not as much as an investment banker (nor a law professor).  But if they know what is good for them (I think maybe they do), then they are paying him a bit more than the market rate.  Fact is, he is what someone on Downton Abbey would surely call "a treasure." You just can't get that kind very often.

But more than that, he comes close to being his own boss.   I suppose somebody tells him what to do sometimes, but I don't recall that I've ever seen it.  My take is that as long as he gets the job done--and it looks like he does--then nobody much cares how he goes about it. No, turn it around, then his bosses have the good sense to stay out of his way.   Interesting work at decent pay with no hassles from the boss--wouldn't we all want just that?

I suppose I can compare him to the gardeners on campus.  Back when I came first here, the gardeners seemed to work as "employees" or maybe even "labor"--with lots of managers, telling them what to do.  At some point a few years back, that seemed to change.  My impression is that now, each gardener has his own turf.  It's his (or her--several women) responsibility to keep it spiffy,. his (or her) decision to figure out how.  Maybe that, maybe something else--but whatever, it seems to work.  The place looks on the whole pretty nice and I don't recall ever seeing anybody just learning on a rake.

I think you may see some of that attitude evening among the janitors.  I get the impression that maybe they, too, are on a "results" model: all is well as long as the place does not smell like pee (okay, there's more to it than that, but I couldn't help myself).  I ran into one here on a Sunday. By way of small talk, I said, "don't they ever give you a day off?"  She said something like "well, I like to do my big projects on weekends when people are out of the way."  Wow.  On her free time?  Overtime?  Comp time?   Or just pride of craft.  Granted she has to clean up shit, but it is not a shit job in the David Graeber sense.

[Fn.:  Readers are invited to compare all those happy service employees to my favorite Simpsons character, Groundskeeper Willie,  Wiki describes him as "incompetent," along with "feral" and "quick to anger."   I'm not so sure.  My guess is that he might be better at his job than people realize, although he does seem to feel the need to keep the rest of the world at bay.]

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