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As we've all realized by now, the core value of the Republican party is simple: They want cheap, disposable labor with no legal protections. Everything they do is geared toward that end. So they're especially infuriated when the Unwashed Unworthies like us actually manage to pull down a living wage. It disturbs them in a visceral way:
Conservatives these days walk a tricky line when it comes to wages. On the one hand, they strive to defend the just earnings of capitalist lords of enterprise. On the other, they try hard to foster resentment of any working people who might actually enjoy living wages and decent benefits. In a nutshell: while Wall Street bankers deserve every penny they get, public school teachers—to take just one example—are overpaid mooches who are leeching off society.
The latest hubbub illustrating this strange double standard came after the New York Times reported on a new contract between the New York Hotel Trades Council (UNITE HERE Local 6), representing city hotel workers, and the Hotel Association of New York, representing hotel owners. Over the course of a seven-year contract, hotel housekeepers will have received (cumulatively) a 29 percent raise, with a typical worker going from making around $46,000 per year to earning almost $60,000 per year. The contract also includes good union health insurance and other benefits.
It is a great contract, and members of the union should be congratulated for their work in securing it. But for some conservatives, the idea that a lowly hotel maid could possibly be paid $60,000 is an abomination. Fox News analysts called it a “nightmare.”
There’s plenty to say about their disgust. The first thing to note is the sheer hypocrisy of the right-wing revulsion. Back when we were debating the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, conservatives repeatedly rallied to assert that those making $250,000 per year were not at all rich. Among other absurdities, their apologetics produced the audacious spectacle of a University of Chicago professor with a household income of more than$450,000 per year complaining about how he is just barely getting by, noting that he and his wife “occasionally eat out but with a baby sitter, these nights take a toll on our budget.”
Fox News types worked overtime to back up such sob stories from those they dubbed the “so-called rich.” On the very same program where the right-wingers decried hotel workers’ $60,000 pay as a “nightmare” (Varney & Co.), analyst Chris Cotter previouslyasserted that, if you’re “in New York or San Francisco,” living on $250,000 is “very, very tough.”
It’s interesting to look a little more at what’s behind this contradiction. The conservatives aren’t really basing their criticism on the idea that New York City hotel rooms are overpriced. To do so would involve examining the price of a room and determining why it costs what it does. You’d have to figure out what percentage of the room rate goes to the workers who actually keep the hotel running, how much to executive compensation, how much to corporate profits, and so forth. Going down that road could lead to some uncomfortable questions, so they avoid it.
Nor are they standing up for the hotel owners, arguing that the new contract violates some tenet of capitalism. It doesn’t. The agreement was a product of employees collectively negotiating with their employers in fair market fashion. There are no government “handouts” here, no idle slackers who are not working for a living. In fact, according to the Times, the hotel owners’ association is very pleased with the contract: “In a constructive and cooperative spirit, we were able to reach this early agreement, which is good for our members, the union, and the city of New York,” association president Joseph E. Spinnato said.
So what’s the conservative objection really about? It comes down to their opinion of what a hotel housekeeper is worth. It’s a matter of principle: heaven forbid that a maid should have decent health insurance and make a living wage—even if that wage is a fraction of what elites themselves have a “very, very tough” time making due with.