Debate over the bill has featured plenty of behind-the-scenes maneuvering over which groups of workers, if any, should be given preferential treatment. But with the U.S. unemployment rate at historically low levels, there seem to be plenty of unskilled jobs to go around. Or at least that’s what many lobbyists representing agriculture, hotel owners and other service industries were telling Congress.
Or you could ask a hotel worker, such as myself. Up until 10 days ago my summertime schedule had mainly consisted of soccer during the day and Wonderland at night. I had also been doing some tutoring, and the mother of one of my tutees works at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. I went to the Omni to collect payment from the mother, who we'll call Janet. The Omni was buzzing, and I asked Janet if there were any jobs available. Her eyes lit up, and she looked to the ornate lobby ceiling and thanked the Lord. Then she looked at me, and noticing I'd biked there, asked, "Is $12 an hour OK?" I agreed, without any real idea of what I was getting into. I went home to put some pants on, and returned within the hour to start work in the accounting office. I had never worked in a hotel. Or in an accounting office. Or with women. My only real work experience is as an engineer.
The accounting office is mostly women, and mostly immigrant, from the Caribbean, Spain, Ethiopia, Russia, and Germany. Janet needs about 10 more people, and she used me to cover the phones and whatever emergency popped up. There was absolutely zero down time. The phone rang almost continuously with angry guests wanting to dispute their bill. Then I started two days of general hotel orientation, which was a relief, though exceptionally boring. There were 10 other new employees, mostly immigrants, from the Philippines, Eritrea, Latin America, etc. After sitting through hours of inane business slogans, I started to envy their poor English skills.
I came to realize the whole place is run by immigrants, from the Australian hotel manager to the Latinos and Eritreans who clean up the rooms. None of these jobs are fun, and there's a high rate of turnover. I'm fairly certain that the Omni Shoreham would go bankrupt without cheap immigrant labor, especially the unskilled kind. On Friday I informed Janet that I might consider staying if she raised my pay to $50/hr.