Anyone who has worked with the public has likely dealt with irate customers. Abuse and aggression from customers is a common experience in ‘low wage service’ jobs. These are jobs that are customer facing, pay at or just above the minimum wage, and are precarious and unstable. Over the past 50 years the number of people Canada and the US working in low wage services has expanded so that it now surpasses the number of people working in manufacturing. Women and people who are racialized as non-white are more likely to be working in these jobs, as are LGBTQ+ people.
Given that LGBTQ+ people are frequently employed in low wage services, we decided to look at how gender and sexuality influence their experiences of customer abuse and aggression in a recent article in Work, Employment, and Society. As we expected, interviews with 30 LGBTQ+ service workers in Windsor and Sudbury, Ontario, revealed that LGBTQ+ people experienced customer abuse and aggression related to their gender identity and sexual orientation.
I was sitting in an open-ended police van with half a dozen policewomen, “hanging out” with them as they awaited orders to begin crowd control in that part of town.
A policeman came up to the back of our open-ended van and told us that it had to be taken somewhere else; we had to get off. The women grumbled good-naturedly as they began gathering their things and climbed out.
One of them, Ruqqaiya, began adjusting her headscarf so that she could also use it to cover her lower face. She then pulled out a black gown from her bag and began putting that on top of her uniform.
The “Great Resignation” has fueled growing conversations about the labor conditions facing American workers today. Millions of workers in this country, according to recent statistics, have left or are in the process of leaving jobs they have deemed unfulfilling in order to seek out something better. We are living in a moment where workers have both the ability and inclination to find new work if they are unhappy with their current job.
This moment—which is fundamentally about how workers think about jobs and strategize about their future employment—raises at least as many questions as it answers. For instance, how are workers who regularly face unpredictable schedules, pay, and changing employment status—sometimes called non-standard work conditions—able to manage job changes?
Over the last year, American workers quit their jobs at higher rates than ever before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4.5 million people quit in November 2021 – the most ever recorded since the BLS began publishing turnover data in December 2000. While the “Great Resignation” spans across the economy, quit rates were highest in the retail and food service industries, where workers have been resigning in droves since the beginning of last year.
Why are so many workers in retail and food service quitting their jobs? In addition to concerns over their risk of infection from COVID-19, many workers are quitting because they are dissatisfied with their poor working conditions and they hope to find better opportunities elsewhere. In particular, retail and restaurant workers report that frustration with inflexible and unpredictable hours is a primary motivation for quitting.
In a recent study, we investigate how and why unstable schedules might lead retail and food service workers to leave their jobs and assess if workers leaving these jobs are really able to find better opportunities after.
Work in Progress is a project of the American Sociological Association's Sections on Organizations, Occupations, and Work, Economic Sociology, Labor and Labor Movements, and Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility