I clean homes for a living and receive an hourly fee. I’m a service worker and am only paid while working and if there is work to do. You may claim this is how it should be, but let me ask if you ever benefit from paid sick leave, paid vacations, paid holidays, or can fuck around during the day yet still see the same amount in your paycheck each pay period. If you are a salaried employee, you still need to do your job well to keep your job, but you likely have a lot more security and flexibility than service and gig workers when it comes to economic changes like the ones we are experiencing because of the pandemic.
Service workers should still show up and do their jobs well, but if you are paying for and benefiting from the service, be sure to tip as well. Tips alone can’t sustain a person’s budget—or at least the people I know in the service industry—but they do help bridge the gap between low hourly wages and the ability to pay our bills.
According to a Harris Poll, 19% of Americans say they are tipping less now than they did before the pandemic started. This isn’t an overall drop because of fewer meals out; this percentage represents the lower amount of money given per dining out experience. Another study done by One Fair Wage reported that 80% of restaurant workers received fewer tips and 40% said they were harassed by customers more than before COVID-19. Part of this has to do with people’s dislike of being told to wear a mask while interacting with wait staff. People also dislike the ability to see their server’s face because of a mask—tips are often based on a person’s looks. And with contactless delivery and pick up food orders, the lack of human connection is making it easy for some people to justify not tipping well, or at all.
I also experienced fewer tips this holiday season. Most of my clients didn’t tip me this year, including several long-term clients whose tips I count on. I take pride in my work and the quality didn’t decrease, but my flexibility and patience did this year. From March to June, rightfully so, my clients weren’t comfortable with me entering their home to clean. I wasn’t comfortable either and also had to help my kids navigate through the rest of their virtual school year. Most of my friends were also juggling kids, but many were able to work from home and still collect a paycheck. I couldn’t do this.
I kept in contact with families and kept spots open for them until I finally picked up work again. I always wear a mask when entering a home and don’t remove it until I get to my car. I ask my clients to wear a mask around me and they are thankfully respectful about doing so, but I’m also working around adults and students working and learning from home. This means it takes me longer to do my job—but I don’t get paid beyond the estimated time it should take me to clean their house—because someone is physically preventing me from getting into a space or talking to me while I am trying to continue my work.
I don’t get paid for the time I am stuck in traffic or get caught talking to a client for an extended amount of time. If I have to call in sick or because of a sick kid, I don’t get paid. Or if a client cancels for any reason, I don’t get paid. Yet I need to be apologetic, flexible, and polite, if not charming, if I want to keep my job.
Tips tell me that I’m appreciated and that clients see the extra time spent to provide them a quality service. Tips offer some paid time off around the holidays—or make up for the time clients cancel because they are having another service provider install a fancy new shower or countertop. I won’t work less hard if I don’t get a tip, but I won’t go above and beyond for them either. This year’s lack of tips didn’t make me feel better about working around them while working through a pandemic—risking my health in order to make a living. And please don’t try to justify their lack of generosity as if they were financially strapped because of the pandemic. These are the same clients who openly mentioned how much they were saving by not being able to travel, go out, and send their kids to sports camps.
If you have the money for extras that make your life easier and more enjoyable, then you have the money to tip your barista, hairdresser, house cleaner, food server, hotel staff, valet, Uber driver, and manicurist. It’s not a debate, that’s a fact. What you consider a convenience—or necessity—is also a privilege many of us don’t have. And while it’s a privilege that I hate relying on, it would be nice to also rely on one’s recognition of it. Despite our economic differences, respect can be mutually exchanged. Service workers are hustlers and we often grin and bear our way through horrible customers while working our tails off to keep income we desperately need.
To be clear, my clients aren’t horrible, but I don’t always feel respected. The clients I am most comfortable around are the ones who see me as more than disposable, hired help. They leave thank you notes. They ask if they can reschedule instead of cancel all together and they show their gratitude through tips and paid time off. One client paid me for every visit missed because of COVID-19. I cried with appreciation and thanked them for their generosity. They told me they had already had it in the budget to pay me and recognized that I deserved whatever financial security they could offer during uncertain times. They made me feel appreciated and cared for; even though I am self-employed, clients pay my wages and that client provided my safest place of employment.
If you think service providers shouldn’t be tipped just for “doing our jobs” then the same attitude should be applied to salary workers when it comes time for a financial bonus or pay raise. Kindly remind your manager that you are already earning the agreed upon amount and are all set. Or you can tip your service providers because they make your life easier, and they deserve a living wage.
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