The meaning of Steven Slater

Talk about instant celebrity!  JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater has become a folk hero among workers who lived vicariously through his actions.  As the Toast of the Internet this week, he surely is experiencing his 15 minutes of fame, and then some.

But some disagree

Of course, not everyone is singing his praises.  One of the most thoughtful responses to the contrary comes from veteran airline pilot Chris Manno, whose blog JetHead shares another perspective on life in the skies.  Here’s a snippet of his post on the Slater situation:

On the day he snapped, cursing a passenger on the P.A., blowing an escape slide, grabbing a couple beers and sliding off the jet, Slater negated the day’s work of his peers….

Because on that same day, thousands of flight attendants were treated rudely by thoughtless, boorish passengers.

But they didn’t snap. They didn’t blow a slide. And though many likely wanted to, they didn’t curse their passengers, at least not out loud.

Duty vs. Take this Job and Shove It

Okay folks, we’ve got something of a culture gap here.  Those who identify with stressed out, mistreated service workers are cheering the guy.  Captain Manno gets that too:

Don’t get me wrong; I know thousands of flight attendants nationwide cheered the actions of Slater. But in the fantasy sense of wow, what a great gesture. The public is too often rude, surly, inconsiderate and they get away with it.

But I’m wondering if his objections to Slater’s folk hero status are more reflective of the worldview of an airline captain and (from what I can gather) former military pilot who places a lot of importance on a sense of duty.  Something tells me that captain Manno and flight attendant Slater would not be hanging out together even if they worked for the same airline.

That said, I disagree with Manno when he suggests that Slater’s actions somehow dissed the often hard and stressful work of his co-workers.  No one in their right mind is thinking that Slater has inspired scores of flight attendants to use the PA system to call out a jerky passenger and then activate the emergency slide.

If anything, Slater’s actions called attention to the daily work experience of flight attendants and others who toil in an industry under considerable stress. As I wrote a couple of days ago, that work has changed dramatically since 9/11, in terms of both compensation and working conditions.  My guess is that more passengers have been sensitized to these realities as we fly around in these crowded tin cans.

And then there was “Jenny”

On the heels of the Slater incident came the Internet-fueled story of “Jenny,” who supposedly used a dry erase board to announce in a series of messages that she was quitting her job, photos of which she sent via e-mail to her co-workers.  Among other things, she excoriated her boss for treating her like dirt and exposed that he’s using his office computer to spend many hours a week playing the Facebook Farmville game.

The Internet went crazy for the story.  Here was yet another creative job departure, this one speaking to cubicle dwellers across the nation.  I blogged about the story but quickly took down the post when it became clear this might be a prank, which it was.

How about some labor activism instead of acting out?

Steve and “Jenny” aren’t resonating with the public for nothing.  There’s a lot of pent up stress, frustration, and anger out there among workers who are dealing with difficult work situations.  Many don’t have the option of saying take this job and shove it, but they’re getting a vicarious thrill from those who do.

If I had my druthers, some of these folks would gather together and form the good unions we need to give workers a collective voice in bargaining for better working conditions. In any event, this real and contrived street theatre may be inspiring others to be more forthright about raising legitimate concerns at work, hopefully in more constructive ways.  If that is the case, then Steve Slater, Jenny, and their compatriots will have given us much more than a needed laugh.

One response

  1. Pingback: JetBlue flight attendant got mad as hell and made a dramatic exit « Minding the Workplace

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