Our Weekly Discontents, 5/3/21

Time to lean time to clean

By now you will have digested and deposited the saga of the very mad chef Andrew Gruel, proprietor of some chain or other in California, who claimed, somewhat infamously on Twitter the other day, that he was having trouble hiring dishwashers for $21 an hour. (Whether or not he was lying about actually offering that wage was the subject of some debate.) This episode culminated how it was always going to with an appearance on Fox News where Gruel was provided a platform to talk about how unemployment insurance has become too generous (during a pandemic lol) and that it was depleting the supply of labor for restaurants. 

This is Luke from Hell World by the way. Hello.

“We have to decrease the amount of unemployment benefits that we're giving because there isn't a requirement that you look for work,” he told Laura Ingraham. “I've got some employees that I know who are even double dipping because they're not checking.”

He did not mention just how dangerous working in a kitchen in California has been throughout Covid.

While Gruel has become the latest figurehead of this type of management-side crying of late, it’s not only the, shall we say, more colorful restaurateurs that are on board. Republicans by and large are also very upset.

Need people to suffer and die so I can get my little roast beef treats faster.

Throughout the emergence of this narrative, a lot of media, even the ostensibly “good” outlets, as usual, have largely aligned themselves with management interests, pumping out dozens of versions of this tale in the past couple weeks. Like with police it’s not considered biased when a reporter operates as a turnstyle for ownership against workers.

There’s no one who wants work! the stories say. Has the social safety net gone too far? What does this mean for restaurants going forward? they ask. Owner of the Eating Shit and Getting Kicked in the Balls factory says he can't find anyone to work the line despite offering a robust .75 cents an hour! they cry.

One common thread among these stories is that they are almost all devoid of any worker voices. The premise that no one wants to work because the government is doing a socialism too much is not interrogated at all and passed along as true by many of the journalists covering the story. 

If anyone bothered to ask potential workers who aren’t seeking out restaurant work right now you might hear a slightly different framing. Setting aside, as if we can, the fact that we are still not fully emerged from a deadly pandemic, conditions working in restaurants even in normal times typically, to put it lightly, fucking suck shit. For servers and bartenders often times the tipped minimum wage lags well behind regular minimum wage (see a state by state break down here) and while generally speaking it’s all supposed to even out over the course of a week, perhaps the prospect of securing childcare if necessary, finding a ride which may or may not be available, and then showing up to work, masked all night, around the unmasked, in vastly less busy restaurants than usual for like two bucks an hour isn’t exactly appealing? Understandably so I’d say but then again I don’t own a restaurant. 

I don’t think the slower shifts here can be overlooked either as a huge factor. As anyone who’s waited tables will tell you, when it’s slow there’s always some fucking hero manager standing there telling you to go deep clean the entire joint for poverty wages. Time to lean time to clean they used to say in my day. Then if it’s really dead they’ll just send you home after an hour or three. Sorry! Fuck you though. Try again tomorrow. Don’t miss your shift or you’re fired. 

As for the back of the house, owners may or may not be offering higher wages than usual, but the end result is just going to be getting scheduled (randomly and differently every week) no more than 39.5 hours a week, so there’s not a chance they have to pay you anything coming close to overtime. 

I love restaurants, I worked in them for about twenty years, and I want to see them make it through this, especially the small independent ones, (although small business tyrants are sometimes the worst!) but the entire industry is exploitative and basically built on vapor and so coming out of this (fingers crossed that we are) if instead of having 100 places selling $29 broccoli in a city we have to make due with merely 50, and perhaps somewhat fewer Hardee’s locations, maybe that’s… fine.

In the meantime sorry to all the owners that some workers are suffering slightly less than usual in this one specific instance during this one year of history. I’m sure it won’t happen again. 

Elsewhere on Hell World this week I published a dispatch from Hawaiʻi on how the island state has fared throughout the pandemic by local journalist Michelle Broder Van Dyke which you can find here.

The unique geographical position of Hawaiʻi allows us to isolate, so it seemed like an obvious idea to stop incoming travel, but our governor, David Ige, was dragging his feet. He is notorious for being slow to take action — this is the same governor who was in charge when the terrifying false missile alert was sent to everyone and he couldn’t immediately let people know it wasn’t real because he didn’t know how to access his Twitter account….

…Without visitors here there was a golden opportunity to make big changes in terms of job diversification, sustainable tourism, and paying a living wage, but almost nothing has been done. Nearly a quarter of Hawaiʻi’s working population lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic and nine percent of the population is still unemployed — the highest in the nation.

Ok time to turn it over to the rest of the gang. Please subscribe to this newsletter if you can and help spread the word if you like it!


The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

This week at The Flashpoint I'll be talking to restaurant and retail workers about returning to work after over a year of industry instability. 

Here's a sneak peek:

Alan, a former dishwasher, said he’s finished with the business—and that pandemic unemployment insurance is a big part of the reason. 

“I was a dishwasher until we had to shut down because of restrictions,” he told me. “The stimulus and unemployment benefits have definitely helped me be more picky about what jobs I'll take since I don't have to take anything I can get in order to cover rent and groceries.”

Last week, I discussed the ongoing, stomach-churning rehabilitation of George W. Bush and shared audio of my conversation with The District Sentinel on Joe Biden's first 100 days. 

Stay tuned….

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

This week we spoke to Earther’s Dharna Noor about the Earth Day Climate Summit and the Biden Administration’s climate agenda (which, as we know according to conservative media, includes a comprehensive ban on burgers which begins immediately). At the Summit, Biden and other world leaders like Justin Trudeau made all kind of bold, ambitious promises. When you don’t think about it all that much, it sounds kind of nice? Unfortunately, when you actually scrutinize these kinds of promises in the context of decades of similarly inspiring rhetoric, missed targets and rising emissions, it starts to get kind of hard to take any of this stuff seriously. What are we actually doing? And what guarantee is there that the American political system (or any western political system really) is in any way equipped to deliver the rapid, profound systemic change that we need in order to avert a catastrophic future? Turns out there is no such guarantee. Yep, this is another lighthearted, hopeful, positive episode! Hey btw I also have a new video about this topic on my youtube channel. Don’t tell Jordan I was promoting that here though. It’ll just be our little secret.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

There is an office in the White House that decides whether or not a missile fired from a robot counts as within a war zone. It’s a distinction that matters, though by degree. Last week the New York Times broke the news that Biden had rolled back some of Trump’s rules for drone strikes.

Biden's rules now require formal White House approval for air strikes launched anywhere except Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, a change from a more permissive Trump administration. This rule change doesn’t outright ban new airstrikes on, say, Somalia, but it does mean there’s at least another hurdle to clear before bombing some folks outside those three approved war zones.

From the NYT:

The review, officials said, discovered that Trump-era principles to govern strikes in certain countries often made an exception to the requirement of “near certainty” that there would be no civilian casualties. While it kept that rule for women and children, it permitted a lower standard of merely “reasonable certainty” when it came to civilian adult men.

Removed from the sterile language of official policy, these rules permit the killing of civilians if the administration offering the strike feels like it can make a minimal excuse for why this happened. Before Obama put forth some executive order (and thus easily overridden) constraints on his own drone war in July 2016, we saw a similar logic: drones killed people in groups of 30 or so, always “military aged males” or “suspected enemy combatants” until proven otherwise.

It’s hard to know if Trump would have launched a fresh drone war had it not been active when he assumed office. But the machinery remained in place, and so what-ifs become mostly irrelevant. Obama built a machinery of extrajudicial sky murder, handed it off to the least scrupulous people, and those people used the machine to kill again and again. 

In the upcoming issue of Wars of Future Past, I touch upon this and the other long legacies of trying to rationalize a war that was broken from the start. If Forever War is to have a meaningful end, it won’t just be the withdrawal of infantry from distant bases, it will be an end to execution by missile based on “reasonable certainty.”


Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

There’s a tendency among the U.S. public to treat migrants as if they disappear once they’re on the other side of the southern border. Even people who are broadly sympathetic to asylum seekers’ plight in the asylum process and detention often stop paying attention once people have already been deported, expelled, or otherwise kept away from the glare of the border and its attendant TV cameras. But migrants don’t simply vanish into the ether once they’re sent away.

With the Title 42 order still in place, many of the disoriented and unprotected would-be asylum seekers unceremoniously sent back into an unfamiliar Mexico actually end up in the sights of kidnappers, as we explored last week. Organized criminal gangs see them as easy pickings: people with nowhere to turn, who don’t know anyone in northern Mexico and often have relatives in the U.S. who can be extorted for money in exchange for their safety.

The Biden administration, instead of getting rid of Title 42, now appears to be considering a system of exemptions to allow the most “vulnerable” migrants to enter and pursue their legally protected right to an asylum process. It’s not clear whether they’ll ultimately take this step, or what the criteria will be, but any way you cut it the plan is like slapping a band-aid on an amputation. Thousands would still be blocked from even presenting a humanitarian claim, and become fodder for kidnappers and violent attacks. The fact that an exception is being considered at all, in fact, is a sign that Biden intends to keep the restrictions in place, no matter how flimsy the rationalizations become.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

Long-time Chadian dictator Idriss Déby was killed last month, apparently (though details remain sparse) while visiting the front line of a battle between his army and a rebel group called the “Front for Change and Concord in Chad.” The Chadian military quickly moved in to suspend constitutional order and impose a military government headed by Déby’s son, Mahamat.

Chad, the Sahelian darling of Western governments for its counter-terrorism cooperation and a key contributor to several regional military operations (the G5 Sahel Force, the UN’s Malian peacekeeping operation, and a multi-national effort to combat Boko Haram and the Islamic State in the Lake Chad region), now finds itself facing popular unrest over the military takeover as well as internal pressure from the rebels and external pressure from Western governments who would prefer a little more civilian window dressing on the military government. On the newest Foreign Exchanges podcast, I was joined by historian Nathaniel Powell to talk about Déby and what his death means for Chad and the Sahel region. Please check it out!