After college and prior to my graduate training, I landed my first job: a clinical electromyographic technician at one of New York's most prestigious neurological institutes, giving electric shocks to patients, to test for neuromuscular disease. After the initial thrill (and fear) of my duties had worn off, this job--highly routinized and dead-ended--subject me to a rude awakening. Despite the fact that I had just graduated from Barnard College--where we were socialized to believe that the sea would part for us the moment the school's name was mentioned--and that my father was a research scientist at this medical center, I was treated as simply a technician, stripped of my other class accoutrements: a certain status concordant with my education. Physicians would speak in our presence as though we were invisible. My boss, a physician of British descent, would not even acknowledge us in public.
The head technician of the lab in which I worked was Betty Jean Hughley, an impressive African-American woman from Alabama. She had been rejected by all the northern medical schools to which she had applied and, try as she might, was unable to obtain assistance for entrance from the physicians in our lab. She introduced me to the hospital's union, Local 1199, of which I was an automatic member but had no real interest initially. Despite the fact that I knew I would eventually leave the hospital, I felt a sense of security with that union. Hughley went on to become an organizer for the union and is currently one of its executive vice presidents. It is primarily because of my experience in the lab and my friendship with Betty Jean that I went on to study the health care labor process and its relationship to class identity and collective organization.
During the process of writing this book, I incurred many other debts, not least of which is to Katherine Newman. She tried to soften my tendency toward stilted academic prose, to focus my thoughts and sharpen my ideas. She read several drafts, editing and reediting, barely leaving a line untouched. I can only hope that