Mike Rowe and the MikeRoweWORKS Foundation
Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs, is a populist conservative who has made a career out of promoting a certain idea of working-class America. He has done this by celebrating dirt, danger, and masculinity.
He now hosts How America Works, a Fox Business show halfway through its first season. It focuses on the kind of labor that “makes civilized life possible for the rest of us.”
For eight years, Dirty Jobs helped launch the blue-collar reality TV phenomenon, transforming cable into a landscape of oil derricks, coal mines, ice roads, sewers, and swamps. But while the show’s ethos reflected the mythical Joe Sixpack, it also ignored other forms of dangerous and dirty work.
There was little coverage of care work, which has become a dominant way for American workers to earn a living. And while Dirty Jobs did feature service work, the majority of people performing such tasks were white and male, and Rowe rarely profiled immigrants or people from other countries.
As a result, the jobs that Rowe celebrated were often highly masculine and unflinchingly dangerous. Logging, trucking, and commercial fishing–the most common jobs Rowe profiles on his shows–are grimy, hard, and male. But the type of dangerous and dirty work performed by immigrant workers, and the type of care work that increasingly dominates American working-class life, didn’t fit in with his narrative.
And if that weren’t enough, Rowe partnered with Koch Brothers to start the MikeRoweWORKS foundation, which aims to encourage young people to pursue trades. It appears to have worked for some of its beneficiaries–mostly teens–but it’s unclear if the foundation has any real effect on American labor.
It’s also worth noting that the foundation does have some ties to the Koch Brothers, who have a long history of attacking unions and suppressing wages in manufacturing and retail. The foundation has donated to the Koch-run Institute for Humane Studies, a think tank that promotes a variety of anti-union causes.
One of the more bizarre examples is a so-called “SWEAT Pledge,” which teaches workplace submissiveness in cub scout-style certificate classes. It claims that workers should be grateful for their job, “There is no such thing as a ‘bad job'” and that safety at work is no one else’s responsibility.
That is a lot of language to use, and it’s all too easy to read the program as pro-business propaganda. And when Rowe says that California AB5 is terrible legislation because it makes it harder for independent contractors like Uber and Lyft to be classified as employees, it’s a pretty clear indicator that he’s more interested in the interests of the corporation than he is the worker.
He’s a self-proclaimed “pro-worker” and “pro-laborer,” but he hasn’t done anything to improve the lives of the real laborers that he claims to be for. And he has a reputation for making ill-advised and misinformed comments about working conditions, ignoring the reality that these gig economy workers have no rights under federal law.