Speaking of “class separation as a form of distinction”

In class today, but it’s entirely coincidental that Corey Robin posted this yesterday about a story from May of this year at the University of Chicago:

Two locksmiths with medical conditions were told to repair locks on the fourth floor of the Administration Building during the day. Stephen Clarke, the locksmith who originally responded to the emergency repair, has had two hip replacement surgeries during his 23 years as an employee of the University. According to Clarke, when he asked Kevin Ahn, his immediate supervisor, if he could use the elevator due to his medical condition, Ahn said no. Clarke was unable to perform the work, and Elliot Lounsbury, a second locksmith who has asthma, was called to perform the repairs. Lounsbury also asked Ahn if he could use the elevator to access the fourth floor, was denied, and ended up climbing the stairs to the fourth floor.

Click through to read the ending. For various reasons universities aren’t considered “fortified enclaves” in the academic sense, but of course that doesn’t exclude them from allocating the workplace along class-level employment lines. How dissimilar is this to Caldeira’s observation of private enclaves in Brazil (a highly class-segregated country), in which “different classes are not supposed to mix or interact in the public areas of the buildings?” Too close for comfort, I would hope, for many folks who still think class distinction in America only lives in the stories from the Gilded Age.

One other thing; this is another example of the plenary power that is often a feature, not a flaw, of the workplace. Of course what’s surprising with this story isn’t that it happened, per se , but that it happened at a public institution. Yet this type of arbitrary authority in action isn’t rare, especially in the case of service workers facing punitive obstacles for the sake of a superior’s ego.


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