Blue-collar and service industry employees report being judged for working hourly-wage ‘jobs’ versus pursuing ‘careers’
There’s no shame in an honest day’s work — except when there is.
Former “Cosby Show” star Geoffrey Owens was job-shamed this week because he’s spent the past 15 months working at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey. The Daily Mail ran a story under the headline “From learning lines to serving the long line!” along with a quote from a customer that read, “It was a shock to see him working there and looking the way he did. It made me feel really bad. I was like, ‘Wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier.’” Sadly, his experience is shared by service industry and blue-collar employees every day.
New York actress Talia, 36, who declined to give her last name, told Moneyish that she’s worked in restaurants since she was 16 — including waiting on reps from the agency that represented her when she lived in Los Angeles.
“I definitely had numerous instances where I was either outright or backhandedly shamed, often by men — and specifically men whom I was beginning to date,” she said. “I’d tell them that I was an actor, and they’d ask, ‘What restaurant do you work at?’ in a way that really devalued my work and my work ethic.”
And she said that as a woman of color, she has often had customers second-guess her menu or beverage recommendations, or treat her as if she wasn’t educated. “I’m Latina and Black, and I’ve had people assume that I didn’t speak English, or challenge me — especially at nicer restaurants — when I’d suggest a wine,” she said. “I learned to brush it off. But we need to think more about how we treat the everyday people who service us throughout the day — not just when it happens to a celebrity.”
View this post on Instagram
FULL INTERVIEW: GMA EXCLUSIVE — "There's no job better than another…every job is worthwhile…" Actor Geoffrey Owens speaks out, responding to job shaming and backlash after a photo of him working at a grocery store was posted online: gma.abc/2LRFAtN – Thank You 🙏🏽Robin for such a great interview this morning! Tune in! #GoodMorningAmerica #GeoffreyOwens #PushBack
Harlem musician Mitch Conwell, who performs under the stage name Fatherdude, is dropping a new single on Friday before kicking off a West Coast tour. But to fund this and his start-up label Deathrocket Records, he told Moneyish that he’s worked every service industry job and music venue gig imaginable, including coat check, bartending, catering and setting up for other bands.
“Even as I approached my 30s, I had gigs where I would run into people that are a little more successful than me, and here I’m working their event,” he said. “And every time I’ve ever felt shame about that, and said under my breath, ‘I can’t believe you have to see me like this,’ those people who are in a higher position have said, ‘Dude, I’ve done exactly the same thing.’
“And it’s true: who isn’t working hard?” he added. “We have to do what we have to do.”
He’s right — and he’s not alone. Blue collar jobs have been rebounding modestly since the 2008 recession to reach 19.6 million, or about 14% of total employment, while work in food service and drinking places has increased by 1.6 million since May 2013 to 11.9 million in May 2018.
And don’t pity these employees. A Harris Poll released on Labor Day found that 86% of blue collar workers (defined as working jobs requiring manual labor in construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, automotive services, maintenance, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting or utilities) said they are “satisfied” with their job. And 80% said their jobs “provide a good living.” Perhaps that’s because many of these blue-collar jobs, including bank tellers, maintenance workers, bartenders and property managers, have seen the biggest percentage jump in pay over the past year, according to Glassdoor’s latest wage report. And hourly workers at Walmart, CVS, Home Depot and Starbucks have been getting raises and better benefits, like paid parental leave, since Congress’ tax overhaul earlier this year.
And that’s why many on social media rallied to support Owens after his Trader Joe’s gig went viral. Owens told “Good Morning America” that he felt “devastated” at first by the job-shaming, but that “my wife and I started to read these responses from literally all over the world. Fortunately, the shame part didn’t last very long.” These responses included Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis, NFL star-turned-actor Terry Crews and director Tyler Perry — and the latter offered to cast him in his new OWN series aptly titled “The Haves and the Have Nots.”
Worked with @TheGeoffreyOwen. Wonderful actor and a better man. Our value is in our work ethic and character. And fyi…..less than 1% of our profession makes 50 grand a year or more from acting. Kudos for doing what you need to do. Much respect!!! https://t.co/75TPs4Kjwy
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) September 4, 2018
“Almost all of us have had jobs or have jobs that would be looked down upon by those who are shaming Geoffrey, so there is empathy for the injustice of how he was being spoken about,” psychologist Dolly Chugh, author of “The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias,” told Moneyish.
And where does the idea of looking down on one job versus another come from? Chugh cited sociological research showing a few forces at play; for example, our language. “Most of the jobs we call ‘unskilled labor’ [characterized by lower educational attainment and lower wages] are actually very highly skilled jobs that require manual dexterity, physical strength, endurance or patience,” she said. But by calling these jobs “unskilled,” she said, “we make assumptions of a person’s skills set, and what knowledge they have, which creates a social hierarchy.”
— terrycrews (@terrycrews) September 2, 2018
While many workers have been made to feel self-conscious for working a blue-collar or service industry job, however, the exploding gig economy is chipping away at some of that stigma. A musician from Ridgewood, Queens, who would only give his name as Benedict, told Moneyish that he spent the summer, “working at a pizzeria on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach; doing live sound at panels and lectures; working the front desk at a retail operation; and doing tech work at a theater setting up and breaking down equipment.”
But his peers are doing the same thing. “When I tell someone that I’m 35 and I work at the beach making pizza, we often exchange a look of understanding — that this is something I would rather not be doing, and perhaps they do something that they would also rather not go and do,” he said. “But this is a very 2018 set of circumstances, where more and more people are economically precarious and have to get a second job.”
One way people can overcome bias in how they interact with service industry and hourly-wage workers is to treat them like people. Look up from your phone or remove your earbuds, and actually make eye contact when ordering something, for example. Begin with “good morning/afternoon/evening,” and say “please” and “thank you.” If you see the same cashier, parking attendant, server or maintenance worker often, ask about his or her weekend or holiday plans. “When we engage with people and see their humanity, we’re less likely to dehumanize and ‘otherize’ them,” said Chugh.
#GeoffreyOwens I’m about to start shootings OWN’s number one drama next week! Come join us!!! I have so much respect for people who hustle between gigs. The measure of a true artist.
— Tyler Perry (@tylerperry) September 4, 2018
Workers and experts agreed that we also need to stop identifying people by their jobs and how much money they make. And that means many of us need to stop kicking off conversations by asking the most loaded questions on the planet: “What do you do?” and “Where do you work?”
“It appears as though you are sizing the person up based upon their profession,” explained etiquette expert Elaine Swann. Fellow etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life,” told Moneyish that it’s safer to lead off with questions like how the person knows your mutual friend, or how long they’ve been in your city. “Most of the time, people ask ‘what do you do’ because they’re sincerely just trying to build some kind of rapport … but you don’t know if somebody has been laid off or they are just not comfortable talking about their work,” she said.
Someone’s livelihood does not define their entire life. “Every job is worthwhile and valuable,” Owens said in his “GMA” interview. “I’ve had a great life. I’ve had a great career … so no one has to feel sorry for me. I’m doing fine.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved