Managed by Q’s ‘Good Jobs’ Gamble
Forgoing the gig-economy model, a start-up bets on a strategy that puts cleaning-service workers on a professional path.
By ADAM DAVIDSON
Photographs by JOAQUIN TRUJILLO
FEB. 25, 2016
"Baumol’s cost disease’’ is a phenomenon that economists sometimes cite when they want to underscore the unequal effects of technological change. William Baumol, the New York University economist for whom the concept is named, uses a classical string quartet as his paradigmatic example. As he points out, no matter how fast our computers become or how many people worldwide plug into broadband-Internet access, it will still take roughly 30 minutes for four human beings to play Mozart’s String Quartet No. 14. If your business is playing string quartets for live audiences, there’s a fundamental limit to how much more productive, in raw economic terms, your work can become.
Or — to take an example in which many more livelihoods are at stake — consider office cleaning. In the future, there might be new solvents, new cleaners, better scheduling software. But at the end of the day (usually literally), someone will still have to run a vacuum over a rug, run a rag over a table, empty smaller trash cans into bigger ones. Because of this, it’s almost simple logic that the only ways for an office-cleaning company to make more money will always stay the same: charge clients more or pay workers less. In a big city, filled with competitive office-cleaning companies and a seemingly endless supply of desperate workers, this means that office cleaners as a rule will never make much more than the minimum wage.
Which is why, just over a year ago, Guillermo Garcia was perplexed by a job opening he heard about. He had been unemployed for six months — unable to find even minimum-wage work — when his counselor at Madison Strategies Group, a job-training-and-placement firm for low-income people in New York City, told him about the office-cleaning jobs that a brand-new company had listed. The company was called Managed by Q, and it was paying $12.50 an hour, or more than 40 percent above the city’s minimum wage. Even more unbelievable, the job offered full health care benefits and a 401(k) plan...