For decades, large corporations have been contracting whatever work they can to foreign suppliers—think manufacturing, call centers, etc. Meanwhile, the vitality of the domestic service sector, comprised of all those unable-to-be-outsourced jobs, has become an economic refrain. Yet large employers have also been rapidly shedding those service sector jobs, offering contracts to smaller firms that desperately squeeze costs, resulting in declining wages, eroding benefits, unhealthy workplaces, and greater inequality. In The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It, David Weil details the pressures of subcontracting, franchising, and supply chains, revealing the distressing state of the “secure” service sector. His book begins with the following series of “Vignettes from the Modern Workplace.”
A maid works at the San Francisco Marriott on Fisherman’s Wharf. The hotel property is owned by Host Hotels and Resorts Inc., a lodging real estate company. The maid, however, is evaluated and supervised daily and her hours and payroll managed by Crestline Hotels and Resorts Inc., a national third-party hotel management company. Yet she follows daily procedures (and risks losing her job for failure to accomplish them) regarding cleaning, room set-up, overall pace, and quality standards established by Marriott, whose name the property bears.
A cable installer in Dayton, Ohio, works as an independent contractor (in essence a self-employed business provider), paid on a job-by-job basis by Cascom Inc., a cable installation company. Cascom’s primary client is the international media giant Time Warner, which owns cable systems across the United States. The cable installer is paid solely on the basis of the job completed and is entitled to no protections normally afforded employees. Yet all installation contracts are supplied solely by Cascom, which also sets the price for jobs and collects payment for them. The installer must wear a shirt with the Cascom logo and can be removed as a contractor at will for not meeting minimum quotas or quality standards, or at the will of the company.
A recent immigrant to the United States and an aspiring entrepreneur in Boston starts a commercial janitorial service by purchasing a franchise from Coverall, one of the largest U.S. companies in this business. He is owner of the Coverall franchise and works long hours, cleaning clients’ businesses, including a Bank of America branch. He receives his clients from Coverall, which sets the price and quality standards, defines the geographic boundaries of his franchise, and loaned him capital to purchase the franchise. The prevailing market rate for janitorial services set by Coverall barely covers the royalties, loan repayment, and other expenses to the franchisor, the gas and car costs for traveling between clients, and compensation for himself and the people who work with him.