Monday, December 23, 2013

Wages And Attitudes In Lakewood

Of late, I've begun reading the Coffee Room section of the Voice of Lakewood.  In it's pages, various issues of importance to the residents of Lakewood are debated back and forth.  The current "hot issue" is whether or not the elementary schools should translate Chumash into Yiddish, even if the kids don't understand it.  But that's not the issue that brings me back to my blog today.

Another debate that has been going on for the last few weeks is the rising price of cleaning help in Lakewood.  Various people have put forth suggestions including capping the salaries of cleaning ladies. 

What I find interesting is the complete one-sidedness of the attitude of those who seek to restrict the salaries of cleaning ladies.  In the Nov 14 issue, a writer complains that her cleaning lady had the nerve to ask for more money (after having gotten a raise) because she received a better offer elsewhere.  The money quote (pardon the pun):

I would like to know when everyone will realize that cleaning ladies shouldn't be allowed to be in control.  If we keep on giving in to them, they will keep requesting more per hour.  Let us put a stop to this bidding game.  There has to be a specific amount that is approved to be the ceiling amount.  Why can't $10 be the ceiling amount?  No one should give more than this ceiling amount.  Otherwise, we will be constantly wrapped around the cleaning ladies' fingers.  We must stop this before it spirals out of control.

It would seem, based on this letter and similar ones like it, that there is a shortage of good, reliable cleaning help in Lakewood.  The fact that cleaning ladies are in demand for higher and higher rates indicates that there may not be enough cleaning help to go around.  This is basic, simple economics.  The letter writer wants to impose a wage ceiling on cleaning ladies, thereby circumventing the natural equilibrium between price and demand.

Of course, as most people know, these types of mechanisms tend not to work very well.  There are several things working against the imposition of a wage ceiling, including the fact that there's no enforcement mechanism, there is probably a market for cleaning help outside the yeshivish community and the fact that the cleaners may choose to find other work to do if their wages are capped (which would further exacerbate the underlying existing problem).

What's troubling about the letter, however, is that the letter writer advocates something for the cleaning help that she would never accept for herself.  Imagine if she went for a raise and was told that not only can she not have one, but that all the employers in town have agreed to limit the salaries.  Would she agree that this is fair and proper?  Would she be willing to accept that for herself or for her husband?  My guess is that the answer is no -- she would not.  But when it comes to (presumably) non-Jewish help, then it's all well and good.

To be fair, there has been another writer in the Voice trying to make the point that there is an equilibrium between supply and demand and that the community cannot (and should not) be capping salaries. I'd be very curious to see how the "cappers" respond to this person in the coming weeks.

You might think the attitude expressed in the letter above is sickening and silly, but believe it or not, it actually gets worse.  In this week's (Dec 19) issue, a writer pens the following:

Dear VOL,

Recently there was a back and forth about putting a ceiling price on cleaning ladies to avoid losing your help.  However, the real issue is that it's become accepted to take someone else's lady!!  Why is this normal?  It's outright stealing!

Don't take someone's cleaning lady the same way you wouldn't take their money or possessions...


Messed Over Many Times

I'm utterly shocked and flabbergasted that she views a cleaning lady as her own personal property.  In the letter writer's eyes, she no different (other than the fact that you have to pay her) than a car, a toaster or any other possession.  So outraged is she by this that she's willing to label as a thief someone who makes *her* cleaning lady a better offer.  She would advocate that no one be allowed to hire someone's cleaning help without first obtaining their permission. 

Again, however, the issue of fairness comes into play.  How would she feel if she found that her employer was allowed to preemptively block and other offers of employment for more money?  How would she feel if that was done to her husband?  You can bet she'd be outraged, and rightfully so.   But when it comes to someone outside the community, virtual indentured servitude is seemingly okay.

The fact that there is a segment of the Lakewood population that thinks that fairness is a one-way street and that seek to impose oppressive economic rules on others that they would never accept on themselves is just sad. 

The Wolf


G*3 said...

"Sad" isn't the word I would use. "disturbing" and "disgusting" are more apt.

This is the danger of insularity. The inability to see people who are outside your community as people.

tesyaa said...

The "stealing" issue is an old one and not exclusive to the Jewish community. In non-Jewish and non-frum communities, it is verboten to "steal" another family's nanny. Seeing a great nanny in the playground and offering $700 a week when you know the going rate is $500 is completely unacceptable - even though the extra $200 may do wonders for the nanny's quality of life.

You can argue that a nanny has a special relationship with her charges. While there are varying levels of cleanign skill, to be sure, cleaning ladies are, for the most part, interchangeable. I agree. However, how is it fair to a nanny that a group of parents has implicitly decided that it's unacceptable to offer a stellar performer the chance at higher wages??

So this problem is not exclusive to insular communities.

Gil Student said...

There are many disturbing aspects to that exchange but I don't believe that "stealing" is one of them. Poaching employees may not be stealing someone's literal property but that doesn't mean it is ethical or halachically acceptable.

AztecQueen2000 said...

Cleaners are independent contractors and should be treated as professionals. They are doing a job to earn enough to live respectably. Capping their wages at $10/hour is not only demeaning, it also makes it impossible to live in this economy. If you can't pay your cleaner a decent wage, then do the work yourself.

Garnel Ironheart said...

When it comes to capping wages the market has to decide the going price. Unfortnately in Lakewood it's not about the market. Has Daat Torah been consulted to determine the halachic answer to the question "What to pay the cleaning lady"?
(Above comment was sarcastic)
On the other hand, while it's not stealing, poaching someone else's employee is not ethical. A good friend of mine had an excellent secretary in his office, so good that a colleague of his came along and said "Hey, I'll pay you more to work for me". Now for the secretary it's a no brainer but consider what her old employer has to now go through. He has to find a new secretary, take the risk as to whether or not he or she will be a reliable employee, has to take the time and cost to train the person and wait years until the experience level builds up to where the old employee was. So I can understand the second person's outrage.

Zachary Kessin said...

You know if you don't want your staff to quit and take a better offer make it worth it for them to stay. Why do you think startups offer stock options? It to make it worth it for the staff to stick around.

Simply saying that all the employers will refuse to pay more than X is unethical, and may well be illegal. (not to mention really scummy).

The idea that you will get out of high school get a job and work there until you retire is dead. In today's job market people change jobs. The ruby rogues podcast did an episode on this

BrooklynWolf said...

Re: the comments on poaching... is it actually poaching, or is it the cleaning ladies seeking out other (better) opportunities on their own, which would certainly be ethical?

The Wolf

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

It's both. On hand one you can't blame the cleaning ladies for seeking out better opportunities. They'd be stupid not to.
If the cleaning lady saw the other person's job offer in the want ads there would also be no problem.
On the other hand the person doing the poaching is causing damage to the current employer. He has no obligation to seek out your cleaning lady that has used her position in your home to gain experience and specifically hired her causing you a loss.

Ksil said...

Since when do care about the shiksa?

Zach Kessin said...

Since when do care about the shiksa?

At $9.50/hr I would say that counts as not caring very much at all

mlevin said...

While I agree with your post, I'd like to add that if cleaning help gets too expensive, the Jewish women could always quit their own low paying jobs and hire themselves out as cleaning ladies. I, personally, would love to have a Jewish frum cleaning lady so I could rely on her to do my kitchen.

Dave said...

[...] specifically hired her causing you a loss

It's only a loss if someone takes something that is yours.

You have no right to *future* labor from an employee, unless you purchase it from them. If you want to give up the freedom of American "at will" employment law and sign a detailed employment contract with your household staff, go ahead.

Otherwise, no, no loss. If you want to have people work for you and not get poached, then you need to make sure they are happier working for you than for someone else.

Ben Waxman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Waxman said...

elephant in the room question: what is the skin color of the cleaning help and how does that factor into peoples' complaints about uppity women? i

Chana said...

"We can't let the cleaning ladies get the upper hand"--Wonder if they said the same thing about the uppity seamstresses at Triangle Shirtwaist.

Torah Jew said...

Illegal violation of Federal anti trust laws.

If any Beit Din or Rabbi decided to support such a rule they should look forward to Obama putting them in prison for many many years.

As well as millions in fines.

stlfansince77 said...

I absolutely understand how the author saw the 2nd letter as treating people as property and shouldn't have the option of making their own decisions about what best for her. I see how you read it that way. But I read it differently and saw it not as Jews treating non-Jewish "help" as lesser, but as entreating frum Jews not to work underhandedly against their neighbors. Whether you want to go on and on about economic theories and supply/demand ratios, and thereby justify that these "takers" believe they are entitled to what their fellow Jews have if they can use their money (the bracha that Hashem bestows upon their home) to buy simply by out spending someone else. Often a housekeeper takes care of children who have grown a certain attachment to them. That is a healthy beneficial relationship for children, let alone the rest of the household. To simply take that away from a household, and family, just because you wanted what they have. Come to think of it, that seems like what the 10th of the Aseres HaDibros commands against.

The letter wasn't about the workers, it was about how Jews in a community should behave towards on another.

Anonymous said...

Hi I just read this post and find it very disturbing. Many of these ladies are being paid under the table - saving their employers payroll taxes but also eliminating these ladies' ability to generate sufficient savings for future social security earnings. In addition these jobs provide no benefits. When I hire someone to work in my home I delight in paying competitive rates. Above all these people are human. Also I think it is important to avoid a chillel hashem (sp?) These interactions may be the only interactions some of these ladies have with Jews, or at least religious Jews.