As those of you who know me well can attest, coffee is generally my drug of choice (bribes of Sumatra have won many a contest on this site). Stefani first made an appearance for a story she brewed that found its way into our first anthology, The Coffeeshop Chronicles. Apparently she too, has not kicked the habit. (If you really need to kick a habit, get thee to a nunnery!) If you are in need of NEW habits, start entering our contests! You can win stuff and impress people of your favorite gender! Find details here.
Cup of Coffee
by Stefani Allison
“Let’s go on strike! I can lead it; I used to be a union worker!”
Of course, I snuck a glance into the manager’s office, hoping he wasn’t writing me up or rehearsing his, “It was great working with you, but you’re fired” speech.
I work in an outpatient surgery center and because my patients are going under anesthesia, they aren’t allowed to eat or drink eight hours prior to surgery. That means part of my job is making sure whoever goes to the water dispenser in the lobby is a friend or family member and not the patient themselves. I do get a tad nervous every time someone starts walking towards the water dispenser, but I breathed a sigh of relief; the woman wasn’t a patient. I could smell the little Taster’s Choice coffee crystals as I turned back to my computer and continued to work.
All jokes aside, no matter how much my job stresses me out sometimes, I still constantly think about how grateful I am to be in this job not to be in that union job. Those who have known me for years saw the difference when I left my first job for my second; they hadn’t seen me in weeks, but when they saw me, they said I looked like a different person.
“You don’t look so weighed down,” one of them said. “You don’t look like you have the whole world on your shoulders anymore.”
It’s not the union part that bothered me about that job. It was feeling like no matter what I did or what sacrifices I made, I had no worth. It was the feeling like that job saw me and all the other everyday workers as liabilities instead of assets to the company. It was watching years of self-esteem being destroyed by someone who was supposed to be my leader—and having little to no support from my higher-ups. It was feeling stuck—as close to hell as I ever want to get on earth.
I’m grateful to be in a job where my worst day is still better than my best at that first job.
It was in these thoughts I was wrapped up in when the woman at the water dispenser held a cup of coffee out in front of me.
“Ma’am? Did you need help with anything?” I asked. I began to open the drawer to get my scissors; I was used to people asking me to help them open the instant coffee packets all the time.
“This is for you,” she said.
“I brought this cup of coffee for you.”
Caught off guard is an understatement; I spent eight years serving coffee and now someone was serving coffee to me.
“That’s awfully kind of you,” I said, “but, why?”
Yes, I’m just as shocked as you are that I questioned an offer of coffee.
“I used to be union too,” she said, “and when we went on strike, as a show of solidarity, people who supported the strike offered the workers a cup of coffee while they defended their rights. I just want you to know I know how you feel and that I’ve been there.”
I remember vaguely that we commiserated a little bit on our experiences and that I never actually had to go on strike (two steps down from it, though). But long after she walked back to her seat and long after I began typing, I realized a deeper sense of a union’s purpose. From what I learned in history class, unions exist to protect workers against their employers and to set ground rules to make sure everyone could feel safe at work. But the deeper—possibly, accidental—reason why organizations like unions exist is to recognize the human dignity of the worker and to drive the point home that each person has worth beyond the money they make for their employers.
It’s what reminds us how interconnected we are. It’s what reminds us that we have to care about and take care of each other—union or not. Anyone who wants to convince you otherwise stands to lose something.
I felt livelier afterwards.
If anyone asks, we can just say it was the caffeine jolt. They’ll never know.
(PS—this post created with help from our newest intern, Alexis Van Horn! More about her and from her later!)