Stylized drawing of a maid on a Works Progress Administration poster via Wikipedia
Today is Labor Day in the US. This is the day we honor those whose labor keeps this country running. Over the course of my life, I have worked in a wide variety of jobs.
Child care was always an issue. Sometimes I had subsidized child care, which was the only reason I could work. Later, my kids were latch-key kids, the older ones taking care of the younger. My uncle also cared for my youngest daughter until she was about 10. Because I had that child care subsidy when my youngest was not yet of school age, I was able to live without government food stamps, and was able to support my family relatively well.
- automobile detailer
- a field hand for a (now defunct) multi-national Christmas tree company
- photo lab tech
- waitress in a bakery and a deli worker
During the late 70s and early 80s I worked for the J. Hofert Company (Christmas trees) and absolutely loved the work. It was outdoors, and only paid $3.25 an hour, and it was seasonal, but I was able to work a lot of overtime during certain seasons, as field hands were as hard to get then as they are now.
- a hotel maid
- a photographer’s assistant and darkroom technician
- a bookkeeper, and an office manager
Sometimes, especially during the Reagan years and up to 1996, wages were low and jobs were scarce. I held two, and sometimes three, part-time jobs just to keep the roof over my children’s heads and food on their table. Trickle down economics never quite trickled down to my town. I was divorced in 1997, and oddly enough, things became much easier, and I was able to get by with only one job, even while raising my last teenager.
- a bookkeeper, tax preparer, data entry.
In 2014 I began writing full time, and have no regrets.
None of the jobs I held were glamorous, but I worked with great people, many of whom are still my close friends. My favorite job was as a hotel maid at a large hotel in Olympia–the work was hard, but I enjoyed it for 12 years. For most of the 1980-90s, it was my weekend job that I kept along with my bookkeeping job because the hotel was a union shop.
I worked every weekend and every holiday and yes it was not easy, but it was what it was. My kids were good and supportive and knew I was doing my best.
In 1993 things were easier. As a bookkeeper/office manager, I had earned $7.50 an hour (two dollars over minimum at the time) and worked less than 30 hours a week with no benefits whatsoever. I drove for an hour each way, morning and afternoon, for that job. As a hotel housekeeper in a union shop, I made $8.50 (three dollars over minimum) and worked about 20 hours a week, giving me enough from the two jobs to live on and provide for my children. I was still legally married to my third husband, but he was seldom in the picture. The marriage was a shield that protected me from having to date the men my friends kept trying to set me up with. (See? Everyone has a story out of a soap opera, right?)
For all the years I was married to my 3rd husband (13 long years) no matter what other job I had, I kept my weekend job at the hotel. I kept it because I always had that to fall back on, and I could work full time whenever the other jobs went away.
At the time I worked there, my hotel was affiliated with S.E.I.U. Because of the union, we who did the dirty work earned a little more than maids, housemen, and laundresses at other hotels. We also had a few benefits, such as paid sick leave, up to two weeks a year paid vacations, good health insurance, and a 401k, to which our employer matched our contributions.
We were maids, the lowest of the low. No one is lower or of less social value than the person who cleans up after other people. We would have had nothing more than minimum wage without the union.
Not every union is good, and not every union is reasonable. But while I don’t agree with everything every union does and stands for, I do feel gratitude that my family and I were protected by a good, reasonable organization during those years that were such a struggle for me. Every worker deserves that his/her employer treats them with respect and a fair wage in return for their labor.
I write books now, and the world is a different place in many ways. Even so, someone must do the dirty jobs, the work that no one else wants. I have nothing but respect for those who work long hard hours in all areas of the service industry, struggling to support their families.
Look around you, and see the people who make your life easier, by being there every day doing their job.
Every one of them is a person just like you, a living, caring human being with hopes, ambitions, triumphs and tragedies. Every one of them has a story and a reason to be where they are, doing the task they have been given.
Say a little thank you to all those who take your unintentional abuse when you are stressed out and “don’t have time to wait,” or are upset by things you have no control over and need to vent at someone who can’t or won’t fight back.
Give a little thanks to those who do the dirty work and enable you to live a little easier.
Parts of this post were previously published in Sept of 2015.