Joey gets to work

Labor Relations
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  December 7, 2011

TAKE THIS JOB AND . . . DeFranceso, trailed by the What Cheer? Brigade.

Yes, Joey quit. But he's plenty busy now.

I write, of course, of Joey DeFrancesco, 23, who quit his shitty room service job at Marriott's Renaissance Providence hotel a couple of months ago with his marching band, the What Cheer? Brigade, in tow.

The "Joey Quits" video — wherein Joey drops a resignation letter at the foot of an exquisitely evil boss and walks out to the sounds of at least two trumpets, two cymbals, a bass drum, a snare, and a sousaphone — had been viewed almost 3 million times on YouTube as the Phoenix went to press this week.

And the media has gone berserker.

The video has been featured in USA Today, on CNN, and on Good Morning America, which invited What Cheer? to play live on the street outside the studio. "The announcers are dancing," says DeFrancesco, of the GMA clip. "It's pretty stupid, but it's pretty cool."

Joey, a wry and thoroughly likable fellow, still seems a bit stunned by the reaction. What Cheer? was on the way to a show in Baltimore when the band stopped at the hotel, almost on a whim.

When Joey put the video up on Facebook, he expected a few co-workers at the hotel to have a chuckle. But it spread quickly. First among friends. Then among friends of friends. An appearance on Reddit proved a crucial launching pad and the mainstream media turned "Joey Quits" into a phenomenon.

German television has already followed Joey around town. And this week, a Serbian TV crew is in town; What Cheer? plays a Serbian tune as Joey walks out of the hotel, arms raised — and apparently they're ga-ga in Belgrade.

Indeed, on December 16, DeFrancesco is headed to the Slavic capital to appear on a reality show that translates, roughly, as "All You Need Is Love." He's not entirely clear how the program works, but it has something to do with surprising people. "I don't know if they want me to surprise Serbia with myself or if they're surprising me," he says.

But if Joey is having fun with his burst of fame, he also aims to put it to good use. In mid-November he launched, with the help of a web-savvy friend, encouraging hotel workers around the country to post their stories of miserable working conditions.

DeFrancesco, a Hartford native who recently graduated from Rhode Island College, has posted a face-to-camera video of his own on the site, charging that the Renaissance requires staff to work double shifts regularly, distributes tips unfairly, and has done all it can to block a unionization drive.

The short-term goal of the site, he says, is a bit of worker solidarity and some exposure, for the broader public, to the stories of a too-invisible slice of the population. In the long run, Joey hopes consumers will visit the site before choosing which hotels to patronize.

The whole "Joey Quits" experience, he suggests, has been an education. There have been lessons on interacting with the media, for instance. Among them: appear live. His first interview, on Inside Edition, included plenty of talk about the workplace issues at the root of his quittery. None of it made it on air. A live chat on Access Hollywood, though, was a little better.

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