Talking About Retail…

I have made the decision that it’s time to move on.

To be clear, I miss Rumpy, Buggie and Bubba dearly, and I will for a long time to come.

But they are no longer here. Graybie, Hissy, Yella and Little Girl are. As am I, and our lives go on. I best get in there and make the most of it for each of us.

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So I want to talk about the workplace.

I work two jobs. I have a full-time white-collar job as a professional. I also work as a cashier in a chain retail business. This is a part-time, hourly position in a right-to-work state.

I work part-time because I need to pay off some debt. Medical bills for three terminally ill furry family members quickly maxed out my credit. I also need to save for a future car purchase that will likely need to take place within the next year. So I choose to work a second job.

If you haven’t worked in an hourly position, or it has been awhile, you may not realize some of the humiliations faced on a daily basis by these workers.

At my current job, my uniform includes the wearing of an apron. At the end of my scheduled shift each day I have to ask permission to leave, then remove the apron and have a manager check it to make sure I’m not stealing anything before I leave. If my register is short, that amount can be taken from my paycheck. During my shift I should not stand and rest for a moment or I could “get in trouble.” I can only bring a see-through bag into the workplace with me. I witnessed a manager chew out an employee for his dress in front of customers. All this for a job that pays little more than minimum wage.

A previous part-time job at a retail store paid a little better, but I drove over 30 minutes to get there and ended up working while the high school kids fucked off. I complained to a manager but nothing happened. So I got another job, turned in a notice, and quit. Except the retail store informed me I didn’t need to work out my notice and let me go right then.

I worked at a grocery store chain where I did heavy lifting and walking for long hours. They clocked me in and out with a fingerprint pad that I found very invasive. When a co-worker turned in her notice and quit, the HR employee terminated me instead, which erased my direct deposit. I had to wait an extra two days for my paycheck to be mailed to my home.

Now while I find these slights disrespectful and annoying, none really cause me personal harm. But I can’t help but feel sad for those who don’t have the good fortune I do and work only retail.

The employee who obtains another job to better herself must decide if she should give a notice and risk being let go immediately (and lose money she needs to get by) or just quit without notice and risk a poor job reference.

A two-day wait for pay for someone living paycheck to paycheck can cause a late payment and fee that throws a budget all out of kilter.

Carrying in a see-through bag by a woman who is menstruating can be embarrassing.

Add on top of that the crap workers take from customers: I’m mad because you won’t sell me a product at the price I want. I’m mad because you made me wait a moment while you waited on another customer who was there before me. I’m mad because you were out of stock of the product I wanted. I’m not mad, but I like humiliating hourly workers because I’m better than you.

When you think about retail you invariably think of the Walton family who owns Walmart and has a history of employee disrespect, Papa John Schnatter who blames African-American football players for his loss in sales, or the Green family who own Hobby Lobby who wants their employees to be beholden to the family’s religious beliefs.  But you don’t often think of what people who work for these companies go through.

How about talking to a retail employee sometime and finding out first-hand what it’s like for her or him. Then maybe next time you see somebody treating one of those employees disrespectfully, you’ll feel prompted to speak up and shut that person down.

43 thoughts on “Talking About Retail…

  1. As a former SEIU employee (I worked for the union at the office in a legal and outreach capacity) I believe all people need to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour and that if every industry were unionized we’d be better off for it.

    I do my best to see the individuals I interact with at the places I go to as human beings with needs and wants and desires the same as my own. I remember once hearing an employer verbally assaulting a restaurant employee, getting up and walking into the “private dining area” behind my table and asking if the man needed an attorney (I was in practice then). The employer was flabbergasted and it stopped the abuse, which was my intent.

    I’ve worked in everything from social worker to bill collections in my life. My mother owned a business and treated her employees with dignity. I don’t believe in treating people badly and I’m sick to death of seeing people abused.

    Anyone who works with the public (including business owners) are at risk of being abused by the public. God knows I’ve put up with enormous amounts of sh*t from the public in all sorts of venues. However, cashiers are particularly vulnerable. 😦 I have a friend who works at McDonald’s and is thankful for the low-paying job because it keeps the wolf from her door.

    1. My mother works as a cashier. For over a year she kept the wolf from the door at a low-paying low-morale workplace but recently got a better paying job at a better run business. It bothers me though that our elders have to live this way.

      1. I had an 87-year-old man come to do an assessment on the place for an insurance company. He had to go back to work when his wife died and he lost 1/3 of his income. He said, “I’ve lived too long.” My heart broke.

  2. We have a grocery chain called Wegmans here. They have constantly gotten the award for best employer. I asked some employees because I was intrigued and the employees do like working there although I did find one that didn’t. I try not to take my anger out on employees unless it’s a high ranking one who can make a decision. I did a very short stint in a design position which is basically retail. I got a bunion from standing too long on a hard floor. Chapped hands and slept through the holidays because the schedule from Thanksgiving to Christmas was 6 or 7 days for 10 hours a day. It was that hardest job I ever had and the poorest paid. I salute those who work those jobs. Caring for aging pets during the last days is not only emotionally draining, it’s financially draining but it’s what we do.

  3. I worked in retail for many years both in CA and in WA States and though the money wasn’t good did not have to go through any of what you speak about so in that respect I feel for you. I am not familiar with the laws in the State in which you live and would not want to work in such a situation. It is unfortunate that employers there do not find their employees worth trusting and respecting as they should be. I do hope you get your bills paid down and another car will come soon. Loved the photos of your kitties. I miss mine but my four legged furry friend, a dog named Dulce, is a wonderful companion. Be well.

      1. Yes. I have never heard it put in terms such as this and it is unfortunate that such divisions between employers there and those that work for them should exist. Very archaic and I hope for you and your family that at some point the tide will turn.

  4. We agree with you, Jen. We are so often appalled by the way that retail workers are treated by management and customers. It’s gotten much worse since the time when we worked in retail years ago. We make it a point to talk with the retail workers when we are shopping, and have spoken up (and will continue to speak up) when we see these people being mistreated.

      1. Amen! I see it all too often, yet as an African-American, it has been assumed by that very type that I don’t want to work, must be watched , and must have lower standards for the work I do. I see my poorer brethren get the worst of it. However, it is never assumed that I was brought up very middle class and am very educated–and not for free, as I recently found that a lot people think. Sometimes when thever amount of education I have is discovered in this extremely red state, it can open another can of fear-out-of-ignorance issues. I’ve never worked retail, although I have applied to supplement my income as all of us in education must do. If I see an employee or customer being mishandled, I have learned not just to be vocal, but from a sister (biological) who is in the EEOC/human resources business, I have learned of the power, if you will, of being a letter writer.
        For example, the prison ministry for which I volunteer, has stayed in the same hotel for a number of years for up to 3 times per year. During one incarnation–it’s been under a few different names and owners– the staff was under a rather cruel manager who dressed and behaved very unprofessional with customers and staff. We saw members of our little family being let go or encouraged to quit under her reign. We witnessed an elderly couple being told, “I don’t care what you were told at the 800 number. Here what your bill is and this is what you will pay.” My sister says always ask for a name and then start referring to that person by name as you take out a pen to write it while they are looking/talking with you. It intimidates a jerk who, if they have any sense, will put it together that “Uh oh! Here’s somebody who will tell somebody upstairs about me!” Meanwhile the employees were too happy to fulfill my request for the owner’s contact information. The next time we visited, the employeespeech thanked us for our letter-writing campaign as that manager was duly shipped.

  5. You are one brave and steadfast person. I tremble when I remember retail days, when I worked part time retail with a full-time day job to help my parents, and then myself, get out of debt and ultimately buy my house, like the job in a department store where I was expected to work harder than the teenagers because I was an adult, but for the same pay, and the job in the art and craft store I loved and learned so much with the owner’s son who harassed me because he wanted to date me but he was still married but separated and his wife worked there and besides I wasn’t interested, and all that was besides the customers. Now when I need some part-time hours I work night stocking at a grocery store so I don’t have to deal with customers and it doesn’t interfere with my self-employment–and there’s no chance of them asking if I can do “one more thing” related to my professional abilities that I won’t necessarily be paid for. As long as I can lift and carry, I’m happy to also get that discount on grocery purchases. I wish your profession paid more, but it likely never will.

  6. I’ve worked in retail for 16 years,and yeah some of the customers are shit but also some of them are fantastic.While retail work is not the best job to have I do it because the shifts I have suite me and my home needs I work Part time because I have to care for my Partner and his mother who has Dementia.But we are lucky that our Minium wage is pretty good as it is called a living wage ,the government brought in legislation to make sure it was high enough to live on without struggling all the time…its not perfect but it really isn’t like where you are I do feel for those in that position in your country and I hope you don’t have to work that second job for to long,xx Rachel

  7. My son worked retail for many years. I try to never take out on them whatever frustration I have for the store I’m in. I know they are just the faces I see. They are not the cause or the reason for whatever the problem is. But that’s the way it’s set up. You never SEE the real culprits. I’m sure that’s the idea. Yell at the people who can’t afford to yell back while the owner shovel money into their bank accounts.

  8. Perhaps things would improve if every one of our legislators was required to spend at least a week working in retail, food service, or personal care?

    Because as much as I believe in the importance of unions, livable wage laws, universal healthcare, and universal childcare to improve our country, it feels like we still have a huge failure of empathy.

    It’s reflected in our politics. And it’s reflected in how people treat those we most rely on.

    1. It’s a nice thought, but I am convinced most of our elected officials are narcissists and would use the time to self-promote like they do when they go to soup kitchens and stay long enough to get some photos taken then head on out.

    2. I think they should step into classrooms, too.
      I never understood the 1980s bumper stickers in Louisiana that read “REPEAL RIGHT TO WORK FOR LESS” until I moved to Florida from 1988 to 1991. I thought it was about forcing folks to join unions but it was about keeping people out of them so employers could control them better. Once I saw what a Right to Work state looked like, and realized the workers were underpaid and mistreated with no recourse, I understood. Some of my disabled students lived in facilities where the employees were so underpaid and forced to do shift work that there was quite a turnover rate for these kids who needed folks to be around and be on their side. Meanwhile, I had come from a state with a strong teachers’ union to one where the union was luke warm. I could see the difference there, too. So now the trend is for politicians to say that teacher unions are a bad thing and that teachers who are union members don’t care about students or making education better when just the opposite is true.

  9. Well said Jenn!! My neighbor is a Cashier @ a local Supermarket. Some of the sh*t she goes thru just blows my mind! When I’ve been in the store & someone mouths off to her, I DO defend her! She’s been sworn at; threatened; badgered; sneezed & coughed on; had drinks throw up on the conveyor belt…..And then those bloody ‘entitled’ people who come in with some ‘price matching’ crap or freak out because the product they want is sold out & they demand a rain check….I’ve NEVER asked for one in my Life…..
    I’m sorry that you have to endure such craziness to pay off the Vet bills. What we do for our 4 leggeds right?
    Sending gentle {{{hugs}}} Sherri-Ellen & ***nose kissesss*** Siddhartha Henry xxxx

  10. I hear you sister! Working retail sucks! Hopefully, your need for a second job is short term and on the other side of the counter you can be a good example of how customers should be and how management should treat their staff. Cheers,H

  11. Gramma worked retail for over 20 years about a century ago and her only complaint was the long hours especially around the holidays. She worked in a family-owned toy store and for the holidays would work from 9 am to 10 pm, with a one-hour break to come home for dinner. While she hated the owner’s mother and brother, the owner took care of her like a sister or daughter. He knew she was broke and offered to lend her money many times, which she refused. If she came to the register after work with something she wanted to buy for one of her kids, he’d tell her to just take it. I’m sure retail has changed a whole lot since those days, people have also changed. Many are not as honest as they once were. TW hates walking into a store, where she has to check her bags and then they follow her around like she’s a crook about to steal the entire store. She realizes though that many people do steal but she’s not one of them. I hope you’re bills will be history soon and you’ll be able to quit the second job.

  12. I’ve had similar problems in many of my jobs over the years. “The customer is always right even when they’re wrong,” is at the heart of much of the stinking bad attitudes, and the fact they know you can’t answer back without being fired. The worst ones were the lazy slobs who lived off social security handouts and sat on their backsides all day in front of their giant tvs at the tax payers expanse. They delighted in openly mocking the workers, and revelling in the fact they had way more material possessions than any of us…they don’t mention it’s all on credit, they drink, do drugs and gamble and still expect to live off the taxpayer to get their rent paid. What they don’t understand is that being independent, holding your head up high because you rely on no-one to keep you going is of far more worth than all their material gains are. 🙂

    1. I can’t speak for the people you are around, but I don’t see that behavior in people who receive social security. Many are also working because the money doesn’t cover their needs much less their wants. My mother is one of those people.

      1. No disrespect to your mother or anyone else in genuine need. I am referring to the ones who have never worked and have no intentions of doing so. The ones who want everything for nothing and thinking is their God given right to have it too. Free of any payment. The ones who give all the decent genuine people a bad name for no reason at all. I’m glad you don’t see this behaviour but here in the UK it is frustratingly common. It is not however any reflection on the decent, genuine people who claim it. I apologise if I causes you any offence. It wasn’t my intention. It is the system here that his at fault.

      2. The truth only hurts those it applies to. I clearly did not communicate my thoughts in a way that would be understood if you seriously think that I would apply such thoughts to the elderly and disabled. I appreciate you are hurting for other reasons and no doubt this will heighten your sensitivities, and I totally understand that. I am sure your pain is still very raw and your heart feeling very broken, and you have my heartfelt sympathies and compassion for that. However, you are taking my comment out of context and applying it to those it had no reference to. I find that a little hurtful but I understand that you are misunderstanding me, even though you think you do. Since we’re being honest with each here, I find your words very harsh, and and if I didn’t know about your circumstances – your losses, I too would be feeling offended. But I won’t hold it against you, and I hope that in time you will come to appreciate what I was actually saying, and afford me the same courtesy. In the meantime, take it easy and stay strong. Life is harsh, but there is always a healing light at the end of even the darkest tunnel 🙂

  13. I worked retail in the 1980s and ended up hating the job. That’s also what led me eventually to loathe people. Fingerprint scans are becoming more common. I worked a temp job at a lockbox center a few years ago and had to swipe a badge and submit a fingerprint each time I entered or exited the secure work area. For some reason, their stupid system wouldn’t register my fingerprint, so I had the hardest time getting in and out of that secure area. That gave them the false impression that I was late to work each morning. I had mentioned it via email to my onsite supervisor and the temp agency, but no one did anything about it. The company then told the temp agency to pull me from the staff. I hated that job anyway, so it was no big loss. I said as much to the temp agency and haven’t worked with them since. I gave them a VERY BAD review on Yelp, Glass Door and other work sites.

    I don’t know how things are in your state, but in Texas, if you give a 2-week notice that you’re quitting, the company has to pay you for that time. They may ask you to leave right then, but they can’t fire you and they can’t withhold payment for that period. It’s a surprise, since Texas is a right-to-work state and therefore, very unfriendly to workers’ rights. I think, for some jobs, a 2-week notice isn’t worth the trouble. If they treat you like crap, they don’t deserve the dignity of any notice. People should just walk out at the end of a particular day without saying anything. It depends on the place and the circumstances, but the way the work force is going now, employers often deserve little respect from their people. It’s sad, but that’s how the system had mutated. People still deserve better overall.

    Did you ever insurance for your pets? I had Veterinary Pet Insurance for my do. (The company is now part of the Nation Wide Insurance Group.) That was a worthwhile investment.

    Good luck in the future, Jen!

  14. Retail workers should all be treated the way everyone wants to be treated, with dignity and kindness. The fact that most are not says much about how we as a society, have devolved. I hope as you ‘move on’ you find work situations that honor you as a human being and allow you the ability to care for yourself and your remaining pets without having to sacrifice your character.

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