1st Edition

Excess Baggage Leveling the Load and Changing the Workplace

By Ellen Rosskam, Ray Elling Copyright 2007
    288 Pages
    by Routledge

    288 Pages
    by Routledge

    Based on groundbreaking research on the working conditions of airport check-in workers in two countries, a previously unstudied category of predominantly women workers, Ellen Rosskam describes a form of work characterized as modern-day Taylorism. An occupation greatly affected by new forms of work organization and management practices-caught in the throes of rapid change due to international competition, alliances, mergers, and the application of cost-efficiency strategies-check-in work has been undermined in recent years by the adverse effects of liberalization and technological change.By peeling away the veneer of glamour associated with airport check-in work, Rosskam reveals how changes in work organization in this sector have de-skilled, disempowered, and ultimately demoralized workers. In "Excess Baggage", weaving through the psychological distress, physical pain from musculoskeletal disorders, strain, and violence that check-in workers experience and describe in their own words, a picture emerges of a job perceived to be "safe," "clean," "glamour girl" work, but which is comparable to industrial workplaces that require heavy manual lifting, obligingly performed in skirts, dresses, and pretty little shoes.

    Chapter 1: The Insecurities of Service: Airport Check-In Workers
     This chapter provides an overview of the study undertaken examining the occupational health of airport check-in workers and the management practices dominating the occupation. Check-in work is a service-sector job performed predominantly by women, high in demand but low in control, the kind of job shown in other sectors to produce increased job strain that manifested as heart disease, anxiety, MSDs, depression, burnout, and other physical and psychological effects. Costs are discussed in relation to work related musculoskeletal disorders. The chapter discusses a growing variety of insecurities faced by workers, increasing in a fierce globalized economy, where pressure is mounting for workers, managers, and companies. The chapter reviews the evidence showing that a work environment characterized by authoritarian supervision, a delimited task structure, low work control with high demands, and repetitive and monotonous work may increase short-term productivity, but it has long-term adverse consequences for the work force.

    Chapter 2: Check-In Workers: A Forty-Second-Per-Passenger Machine
     This chapter explains why there has been no previous research on airport check-in workers, an occupation perceived to be "clean", "safe", and even "glamourous", but where numerous risks exist, and which are now uncovered. Check-in work is viewed as an entire system, where physical, organizational, psycho-social, and worker characteristics work conjointly as determining factors of musculoskeletal disorder. The value of research through an action-oriented approach is discussed, and a profile of the methodology presented. Airport check-in work is compared with three similar jobs: computer clerical workers, supermarket check-out workers, and airport baggage handlers.

    Chapter 3: Strong Backs, Strong Shoulders: So Why Musculoskeletal Disorders?
     This chapter discusses what is known about the extent and etiology of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the need to focus on their multi-factorial causality, to give special attention to the contribution of management practices and psycho-social factors to the development and severity of musculoskeletal disorders, and their occurrence in jobs performed by women. The chapter speaks through the voice of check in workers, and presents empirical findings on musculoskeletal disorders in airport check-in workers.

    Chapter 4: Afflictions of Service Work: Psychological Distress, Violence, and Poor Management
     This chapter discusses the growing phenomenon of work-induced psychological distress, the afflictions of workplace stressors, the growing extent and costs associated with violence at work, and the growing extent of ground and air rage experienced by airport check-in workers.

    Chapter 5: Dehumanizing Managers: Making Workers Sick
     This chapter describes the abusive and unacceptable treatment that working people, including airport check-in workers, often are subjected to by supervisors or higher management, a main reason many workers leave their jobs. Destructive or dehumanizing managers affect workers' physical and mental health. Objective reasons for the need for workplaces to be governed by a culture of respect are discussed, of particular importance given that dehumanizing managers are proliferating in today's workplaces. Practical suggestions are made for recognizing unacceptable treatment, recognizing destructive managers, understanding why abusiveness fascinates, understanding how dehumanising managers harass subordinates, and how they destroy working conditions and worker health, as well as the organizational costs incurred by such perverse individuals. Steps are provided for dealing with destructive managers, for organizational action, and strategies for prevention. The behavioral dimensions of dehumanizers in the workplace are provided.

    Chapter 6: Not So Radical Concepts to Improve Workers' Health
     This chapter discusses the structural, organizational, and educational interventions that can reduce musculoskeletal disorders. The focus is on the application of protective strategies, how workplace democracy can improve performance, and the need to examine jobs holistically. A range of practical solutions for management and for workers are presented. A critique is made of certain modern-day management practices that can be described as modern day Taylorism.

    Chapter 7: Beyond the Previously Known
     In today's brave new world, workers are free to perform an impossible task, as modern day management practices create the illusion that working people are free to be creative and to participate, as management drives them to work faster and faster under conditions of chronic psychological stress and physical strain, under increasing insecurity, lacking autonomy or input to organizational decision-making. This concluding chapter sums up key findings on violence and MSDs revealed among airport check-in workers, and discusses the participatory action research methodology used in the investigation. It outlines why technocratic approaches related to workers' health should be avoided, and discusses the role of trade unions in organizing for change and managing change for workplace health, emphasizing the use of collective voice. Impacts of the structural and cultural hegemony are discussed in the context of the need for a rights-based approach to occupational health, a departure from the paradigm of the past.

     The Epilogue describes changes that have taken place since the completion of the study on airport check-in workers. Changes have taken place in various airports, and through various agents of change


    Ellen Rosskam, Ray Elling