Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's called "Employment at Will"

Here's where the little libertarian in me comes running out. I have seen this story mentioned on multiple pages (ok, mostly feminist pages - I know, I know, I'm trying to quit...)

It has been universally (well, where I looked, which is a small sample) condemned as an example of just how horrid things are and how evil this man is for switching to a coffee franchise that has the women coffee stand employees wear skimpy outfits. All of the women (and they all did) who quit are praised as standing up to this "monster."

But truly, I think that just illustrates that the women were not forced into anything, and that all of them felt quite free to leave when the employment deal was not what they wanted. That's called employment at will. That means an employer can fire you any time just because he or she doesn't want you working there any more and that means an employee can also leave at any time for any reason. People might not like the lack of job security that gives you, but that is also what keeps our economy more flexible than, say, Europe, where employers are very reluctant to hire new workers because they can't easily get rid of them if there is an economic downturn, which potentially would place an entire company at risk. So instead, you have lots of young people who can't get jobs because of this.

And the job in this case, serving coffee, is not exactly rocket science. I'm sure there are millions of other coffee jobs one could get if one does not like this one. Many of the women who left plan on doing just that - getting another coffee job. Many of the customers I'm sure will go with them. Maybe some of the women will figure out that to avoid this sort of thing, the best thing they can do is open their own coffee stand franchise, then they can be the ones calling the shots. But until they have spent the time and money to do so, they are not the ones in charge, and so if they don't like what the owner does, they are free to leave, and they did.

Apparently the owner had no problem finding plenty of replacements for them. And those women are also acting freely. When I pointed this out in a comment I was told that until men are forced into skimpy outfits to work, this is not a good outcome. But truly, I couldn't care if it were men wearing speedos serving coffee or naked women wearing coffee. I would not buy from either because I think coffee is nasty and disgusting, and is simply an evil bean. And so I'm free to take my own business to the hot chocolate stand (with lots of whipped cream and vanilla).

I'm sorry, I just can't get upset about this. And it is not because men aren't pushed into speedos. If anything, women would probably pay men NOT to wear speedos - at least most men. I'm sure I'd be one of them. I would not gain any business in a speedo - I have a horrible body, I'm totally out of shape, and always will be. I'm sure the same is true of most women, who do not have model-like figures - most people don't want to see them in skimpy outfits, either. So really this is only about a small subset of women, those who look good in skimpy outfits. Where am I going with this? Nowhere. I just thought I'd point that out.


Replicant said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I live in the Seattle area where this is going on, and just about every week there is a story about another coffee stand switching to this kind of business. Generally the girls who work there (I say girls because some are still in high school and most aren't much older) like it and think it's fun. In fact I haven't seen (in the limited time I've watched) any previous female employees complain.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Ah DBB. You're not a dumbass, but sometimes you're a bit obtuse.

Why not, for instance, require that my secretary sleep with me or lose her job? It's a free market, she's free to quit, and find another job, no?

Unless you're willing to go all the way to chattel slavery, there have to be some non-economic limits on work at will.

Stripping is one thing: Even halfway decent strippers typically make a ton of money. But in this case we're talking about minimum-wage work-or-starve coffee-shop jobs. At this level, it's naked coercion, little different from holding a gun to their head.

apostate said...

The employer is not doing anything illegal, but my criticism of the situation was not on legal grounds.

I'll disagree with my husband, above, insofar as I do think you're a dumbass.

It's not a man's world any more (or so we'd like to think), and that people could imagine catering to male customers in this fashion is ok is beyond stupid to me: it's unimaginably insensitive, discriminatory and sexist.

The Barefoot Bum said...

There are notions of human dignity and worth that are not for sale at any price, much less to avoid starvation. I'm saddened that you do not see this situation in this light.

DBB said...

I did not get the impression that they would be stripping or slinging around stipper poles, I got the impression that they would be wearing uniforms that changed daily based on some sort of theme.

And I may be a dumbass, but it is somewhat obtuse to compare asking a corporate secretary to wear a costume (when normally they wear their own clothes to work) and have someone working in the service industry wear a particular uniform. And nowhere in the article did I see it mentioned that this man said any of his employees had to sleep with him. If you can't see the difference between that (which is clearly illegal as well as being disgusting) and what happened in the article, I will have company in "dumbassville."

What if the article instead said they had to wear really stupid costumes that were not revealing at all, but just made them look like dumbasses (like wearing oversized shoes and an oversized pirate hat)? That'd be reason enough for me to quit such a job.

It was my understanding it was a franchise that had these costumes - I suppose the equivalent would be working at Bennigans, and then having the place taken over by someone who changes it to a Hooters franchise. Why would the new owner be obligated to keep the old Bennigan's uniforms? He paid for the franchise, why can't he benefit from it? To me, it is no different than that sort of situation - which is why I fail to see the big quandry. New management took over, the job changed, workers opted to leave because they didn't like it. It sounds like corporate America to me, though usually everyone is just sumarily canned in those instances. I speak from the experience of being summarily canned.

If you think the guy is incredibly sexist, don't buy his damn coffee. Go out and ask others not to buy it, too. That is your right. I will happily join your boycott, though as I said before, I think coffee is disgusting.

I take it you also think Hooters needs to be shut down, too? I admit I've eaten there, once. It was not my choice to go there. Ironically enough, it was with some people from work, including women. The really funny thing was that the women (and men) I worked with then all agreed that we felt way more exploited than the Hooter's staff at the time, given the project we were on. And we were. I somehow doubt the Hooter's girls were working 40 hours of unpaid overtime each week. Maybe they suffered as much daily abuse from management that many of my co-workers did, I don't know, but I somehow doubt it. At least one of my co-workers ended up getting divorced and losing his family over that project because he was never home.

That's why I refuse to play the "I'm more oppressed than thou" game, though that is a tangent to this discussion. I just mention it because it starts to look to me like the "missing white woman" bias with the media - minority women and men of all stripes are missing every day and they are never reported in the national media (unless they are celebrities). So here, some workers lost a job after a change of management. But they get national attention because hey, they are young, pretty, white women. Cry me a freaking river.

Oh, and I haven't been back to Hooters. Why haven't I gone back to Hooters? Well, the food wasn't anything exciting, and I only go to places to eat where I like the food.

DBB said...

They say sex sells. Apparently that is true for this story. Again, workers do shit jobs all across the country, every day. But because some young female skin isn't involved, no one gives a rats ass most of the time.

If I had a choice between picking up human refuse every day and showing some skin in an indoor, clean establishment, I'd pick the skin. Does that mean my garbage man is repressed? It seems to me going around and picking up all of the shit we throw away, including probably used condoms with who knows what diseases in them, seems a bit more degrading and downtrodden to me than having to wear a stupid costume and serve coffee.

There's a judge here in michigan who is a horribly abusive asshole to everyone who works for him. I'm talking nasty yelling over the stupidist of things o a regular basis, to the point where one of his former workers had to be taken away in an ambulance for a panic attack. Seems to me that human dignity is for sale everywhere. That does not mean I approve of it. I particularly loathe abusive assholes. But that is just how things are. I do my part by trying NOT to be an asshole. Sometimes I succeed.

DBB said...

And look, I agree with you both that it was shitty for the women who had to change jobs. I guess I just don't see it as paritcularly unique nor as particularly bad as compared to the plight millions of others - the invisible ones, the ones who aren't pretty young white women, and so no one writes any articles about them. I feel more for them. But that's because I've known some of them.

Replicant said...

I don't think these coffee stands are "work or starve" jobs. As i mentioned, they're almost entirely kids employed at them. I don't think I've ever seen anyone over 20 working in one. They also work for tips. And I'll bet the women who stayed are now getting much better tips...

As for "exploitation", no one is forcing women to take these jobs. My older step daughter worked at more than one Hooters (3 different ones, I think, depending on where she lived at the time), because she wanted to. She could just as easily have gotten a waitressing job at a different chain, but she is an attractive girl and wanted to work there. Is there something wrong with that? My wife had absolutely no problem with it either, and encouraged her to go for it. I had zero input because I felt it wasn't my place to say one way or the other. But I WOULD have said, you do what YOU want to do and not what someone else wants you to.

Replicant said...

Man, is there any way to get ALL the comments from a blog in a feed? It sucks having a hundred different feeds for each post from a blog just to be able to follow the comments.

DBB said...

I don't do feeds, so I have no idea. I keep up with comments by reading the sidebar and seeing if anything new has been posted. That usually works unless I get more than 5 comments before I check it. Usually that doesn't happen...

Replicant said...

Ah, figured it out! Doesn't seem to be advertised by blogger, but this link in google reader will show all the comments on your blog