Of late, I've begun reading the Coffee Room section of the Voice of Lakewood. In it's pages, various issues of importance to the residents of Lakewood are debated back and forth. The current "hot issue" is whether or not the elementary schools should translate Chumash into Yiddish, even if the kids don't understand it. But that's not the issue that brings me back to my blog today.
Another debate that has been going on for the last few weeks is the rising price of cleaning help in Lakewood. Various people have put forth suggestions including capping the salaries of cleaning ladies.
What I find interesting is the complete one-sidedness of the attitude of those who seek to restrict the salaries of cleaning ladies. In the Nov 14 issue, a writer complains that her cleaning lady had the nerve to ask for more money (after having gotten a raise) because she received a better offer elsewhere. The money quote (pardon the pun):
I would like to know when everyone will realize that cleaning ladies shouldn't be allowed to be in control. If we keep on giving in to them, they will keep requesting more per hour. Let us put a stop to this bidding game. There has to be a specific amount that is approved to be the ceiling amount. Why can't $10 be the ceiling amount? No one should give more than this ceiling amount. Otherwise, we will be constantly wrapped around the cleaning ladies' fingers. We must stop this before it spirals out of control.
It would seem, based on this letter and similar ones like it, that there is a shortage of good, reliable cleaning help in Lakewood. The fact that cleaning ladies are in demand for higher and higher rates indicates that there may not be enough cleaning help to go around. This is basic, simple economics. The letter writer wants to impose a wage ceiling on cleaning ladies, thereby circumventing the natural equilibrium between price and demand.
Of course, as most people know, these types of mechanisms tend not to work very well. There are several things working against the imposition of a wage ceiling, including the fact that there's no enforcement mechanism, there is probably a market for cleaning help outside the yeshivish community and the fact that the cleaners may choose to find other work to do if their wages are capped (which would further exacerbate the underlying existing problem).
What's troubling about the letter, however, is that the letter writer advocates something for the cleaning help that she would never accept for herself. Imagine if she went for a raise and was told that not only can she not have one, but that all the employers in town have agreed to limit the salaries. Would she agree that this is fair and proper? Would she be willing to accept that for herself or for her husband? My guess is that the answer is no -- she would not. But when it comes to (presumably) non-Jewish help, then it's all well and good.
To be fair, there has been another writer in the Voice trying to make the point that there is an equilibrium between supply and demand and that the community cannot (and should not) be capping salaries. I'd be very curious to see how the "cappers" respond to this person in the coming weeks.
You might think the attitude expressed in the letter above is sickening and silly, but believe it or not, it actually gets worse. In this week's (Dec 19) issue, a writer pens the following:
Recently there was a back and forth about putting a ceiling price on cleaning ladies to avoid losing your help. However, the real issue is that it's become accepted to take someone else's lady!! Why is this normal? It's outright stealing!
Don't take someone's cleaning lady the same way you wouldn't take their money or possessions...
Messed Over Many Times
I'm utterly shocked and flabbergasted that she views a cleaning lady as her own personal property. In the letter writer's eyes, she no different (other than the fact that you have to pay her) than a car, a toaster or any other possession. So outraged is she by this that she's willing to label as a thief someone who makes *her* cleaning lady a better offer. She would advocate that no one be allowed to hire someone's cleaning help without first obtaining their permission.
Again, however, the issue of fairness comes into play. How would she feel if she found that her employer was allowed to preemptively block and other offers of employment for more money? How would she feel if that was done to her husband? You can bet she'd be outraged, and rightfully so. But when it comes to someone outside the community, virtual indentured servitude is seemingly okay.
The fact that there is a segment of the Lakewood population that thinks that fairness is a one-way street and that seek to impose oppressive economic rules on others that they would never accept on themselves is just sad.