Ever so often, I tweet something along the lines of this:
Anyone who has watched well-to-do people be completely flummoxed by the self-checkout aisle might have a take on ‘unskilled’ labor that is more close to this (boldface mine):
IN the casino restaurant where I work, the rush arrives at 10 p.m. The nearby show releases, sending 30 guests into my section all at once. For the next three hours, my body is in constant motion, quickly navigating tables, balancing pint glasses between my fingers, managing a growing mental checklist without ever expressing panic.
In a fast-paced restaurant, these are key skills. But in our economic rhetoric, they are categorized as “low skills.”
Taking orders does not demand a college-level education. Carrying trays of cocktails requires physical endurance, but no extensive, complex knowledge. Most people walking through casino employee hallways — janitors, housekeepers, retail workers — are categorized as unskilled laborers, and the laws of capitalism clearly state that we are all easily replaceable: Anyone can be trained to do our jobs….
But on some nights, when my multitasking, memory and body are in sync, when I find myself moving calmly around a room full of slightly buzzed and cheerful people, I feel confident that not every person can do the job as well as I can.
The terms “unskilled” and “low-skilled labor” contradict the care and precision with which my co-workers, who have a variety of educational backgrounds and language fluencies, execute their tasks. A newly hired server assistant can learn to, say, “Take these plates from here to there,” but a skilled server assistant can clear a table in one trip versus two, simply with more careful placement of dishes along his forearm or between his knuckles.
In the restaurant business, we call this a “nice carry.”
…the routine, repetitive nature of these jobs is perceived to define workers’ limitations, rather than their capabilities. And although most low-skill work requires a constant interaction with people, because of its low-paying status it is deemed a dead end, rather than a testament to an individual’s ability to acquire, adapt and specialize.
The labels “low-skilled” or “unskilled” workers — the largest demographic being adult women and minorities — often inaccurately describe an individual’s abilities, but play a powerful role in determining their opportunity.
A little humility and appreciation go a long way. Or as Dave Barry put it, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.”