New York is the city that never sleeps. But this renowned insomnia would not be possible without the more than 200,000 men and women who work the nightshift – the fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors and cab hacks, cops, docs, and fishmongers selling cod by the crate. Inverting the natural rhythm of life, they keep the city running as it slows but never stops.

In our book, NIGHTSHIFT NYC, we tell the stories of New York City nightshift workers. This ethnography of the night investigates familiar sites, such as diners, delis and taxis, as well as some unexpected corners of the night, such as a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan and a fishing boat out of Brooklyn. We show how the nightshift is more than simply out of phase, it is another social space altogether, highly structured, inherently subversive, and shot through with inequalities of power. NIGHTSHIFT NYC presents the narratives of those who sleep too little and work too much, revealing the soul of a city hidden in the graveyard shift of 24-hour commerce when the sun goes down and the lights come up.

But there is more to the story than found its way into the pages of the book. Here you'll find more stories of the night in New York City and around the country. And we hope you will add your own stories and comments in the months to come. Stay tuned and check back often...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Night Work for Women

For over 100 years, bans on night work for women have been on the books. As early as 1898, the New York State legislature passed a night work law that stated, “No female shall be employed, permitted, or suffered to work in any factory in this state before six o’clock in the morning, or after nine o’clock in the evening of any day.” Less than ten years later, the law was overturned as unconstitutional by the New York State Court of Appeals, but a movement against women’s nightshift labor was underway. Prominent political figures, such as the Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis and his tract “The Case Against Night Work For Women,” helped to create bans against women’s nightshift labor in twenty-four states by 1913. By 1919, the movement went global when the International Labor Organization (ILO) passed Convention No. 4 prohibiting industrial night work by women.

The 20th Century proceeded with greater and greater restrictions on women’s labor at night, particularly in Europe. Mid-century social movements against such discriminatory labor practices eventually overturned the bans on night work for women in the US, but as recently as the last decade, debates on allowing women to work the nightshift were still taking place in France, Austria and India. In India, in fact, proposed legislation to overturn the ban remains stalled. Those in favor of doing away with the bans on women working nights cite the stark paternalism of such regulation. On the other hand, advocates for the bans, or at least for some form of regulation, argue that women, especially those with children at home, face greater exploitation from industries dependent on nightshift labor. Where social convention expects women to be primarily responsible for childcare, these advocates argue, forcing them to work nights creates grossly unfair conditions. At the very least, they argue, pregnant women should have the option of switching back to days during and after their pregnancy. In 1999, Japan lifted their ban, in place since 1911, and amended it in 2000 with additional counter-measures to protect women.

What do you think? What regulation, if any, should apply to night work for women?

1 comment:

orly_habari said...

Regretably, the well-praised book is not available in this backwater corner of a third world country. To be sure, call center agents are better paid than most college-educated youth here, and are proud to be elite (only about 4% of applicants pass the pre-employment tests), but their income pales when compared to the hoi polloi jobs of NYC nightshift workers.