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Monday, April 14, 2014

Trying to Escape the Worker-Slave Class

I've been trying to get caught-up with a lot of stuff, lately.

I keep running into problems because my employer is a corporation that takes advantage of America's enabling of slave labor.  Although this isn't intended to be a whistle-blower post, if OSHA needs to, they can easily find me.  Don't believe that we enable work-slave labor in this country?  Here's why it is slave labor, just listen to my story:

The U.S. government has mandated that everyone buys health insurance.  Because I was hurt at work my employer is supposed to be giving me enough hours to subsist, but it doesn't.  This is further complicated by the fact that that aren't paying me a wage where I can afford health insurance, even at the government's cheapest reduced rate healthcare system.

Originally, the website didn't even work.  Now, after applying over the phone, I have to apply through medicaid to see if they will carry me, since I was disabled at work and can no longer perform in the position I had been working (as another member of the necessary working class labor force just trying to make ends meet as I work on trying to get my real business off the ground).

The employer has stripped me of the health insurance I had purchased through them.  But they only pay me enough to get the cheapest government health insurance if I don't eat, drive or have any expenses at all.

When I was hurt, it wasn't my fault.  It was my employer's because they were using unsafe practices.  I actually was hurt because of improper 'safety equipment' that did more harm than good (and everyone I have ever talked to on the labor force despises these devices, yet management says that these devices must be used to prevent injury - when they are not deployed store-wide anyway - and when they actually introduced and caused great harm because they were ineffective and absolutely proven as dangerous).  My bosses just hate me because I got hurt at work, as it reflects on them, and my employee work history and review records reflects this.

My plan, when I was hired, was to move-up in position within the company on the corporate level (move to a new state at one of the corporate design studios or headquarters, the whole deal) in a collegiate level designer's position where I could pay off my student loans and provide for my family.  I would spend a year building-up an excellent work history and after my annual review I would apply at corporate.  But after 11 months, I got hurt because of this faulty equipment due to the neglect of the safety equipment manufacturer as well as the neglect of addressing safety issues at the workplace.

The whole time working at my employer (to be 3 years now, in just over a couple weeks) we have had only one safety meeting.  ONE.  I think it was right after (or perhaps just before) I got hurt and just before they had a safety officer visiting.  Not any other time, not once.

In my place of employment, there is supposed to be a huddle before work, or sometimes afterwards, on a daily basis.  I have probably attended 6 of these events in 3 years.  They are supposed to allow management the ability to communicate with the labor force.  But they only have these when there is some specific exercise they need to accomplish.  So they cut corners, big time.

What I am talking about is a society of statistics.  This is just setting the stage for how it is addressed at the local level.  Management is cutting corners, on purpose, in order to maintain stats.  NUMBERS.  They think this is a numbers game, but it is not.  A labor pool is made of humans.  It's a shame that management forgets its own humanity in the face of the numbers game.  Pathetic and sinful, actually.  No one is representing the working slave.

we are humans and as company representatives, we interface and interact with other humans, and yet this is completely overlooked.  We get mistreated and they probably don't understand how that affects us and our interavtion with others, the customers.

So, to move on in the story... after 10 months on the job I was hurt due to neglect for safety and went to the doctor.  The doctor diagnosed me as having a rupture or more likely, a hernia.  I was told to take it easy for a week, return to work, when when I had so much pain that I just couldn't stand it, or when something popped out and was sticking out of me from under my skin, to return to the doctor.

For 6 months I endured.  My hip kept clicking, popping and grinding and making all sorts of sounds at first, it was annoying to anyone who worked with me and had to hear it.  It didn't even hurt, but the noise my hip was making was sickening, especially to me.  But the clicking and popping noises went away and I found myself in pain... more and more pain.  As the popping/clicking noises subsided, the pain increased.  Finally, I had no choice but to return to the doctor I saw for this injury.

Mind you, I am still trying to recover from financial disaster by sacrificing a year to start a history with what I perceived as a good company because I have all this graphic web design experience and graphic, art and design knowledge and talent, but no one is hiring for positions such as I would excel in, anywhere in my area.  The problem again, is the numbers.  The numbers don't add-up in my favor because they aren't in, but the whole problem is that I am a brand expert and interface artist.  Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of that kind of work in this area.  As the largest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls can only muster some 68,000 inhabitants.  The smallest cities I lived in growing up had at least a population of a million.  Art had always been a major part of my life, after my athletics at motor racing.

Another problem I am facing is not just the numbers, but the attitude and climate of the region.  This is a traditionally staunch conservative area which is not only harboring many poor, but is high on the list in the lack of prejudice against the poor, as well as education, government and social activity.  Art just isn't a priority here, and mistakenly, logic seems always takes precedence over common sense.  The law is awkward and old, or non-existent in terms of technology, here.  And with very little opportunity for artists, it is real hard for me to bust out on my own when there is no real appreciation for the arts here.

So after another 6 months at my job unloading the trucks, I wind-up going back to the doc in extreme pain and he sets me up with an appointment to see a specialist.

  1. That takes a while, because its Workman's Compensation, and they are scheduling the appointment (even though I could have walked-in at the clinic they picked, if I was using any other insurance).
  2. Through a series of visits and tests he decides I need an operation on my hip.  
  3. Workman's Comp wants a second opinion and takes forever to set that one up.
  4. Everything is verified, but now it has been forever and I need to get back into my doctor's appointment book just to setup the operation (according to the idiots handling the Workman's Comp claim).
  5. I finally get in to see the doctor and we talk, but he doesn't understand why I am back in his office, we should be going ahead scheduling the surgery.  He doesn't care because they will pay him for the appointment, but it delays my getting help and costs the company more.
  6. Before I can have the surgery, I need to see the doctor I originally saw, to make sure I am healthy enough for surgery, so it takes a while to get in to see him, because Workman's Comp is scheduling it (when I could just walk-in on any other insurance).
  7. In the meantime, I take a regular appointment with my usual doctor at the Sioux Falls Veterans' Affairs health center and he documents my injury.  I was scared because through-out the office visit I wasn't in any pain no matter what we did to reproduce it, until he told me to turn my foot and the pain came shooting back.
About 16 months after getting hurt on the job, I finally get the operation I need.  Then, a few months of recuperation and rehab.  After nearly 18 months I am working part-time short shifts, but it takes until November before my employer gives me any decent hours again, after Black Friday (but not the week of?), even though my doctor was telling them to go ahead and give me as many hours as I can handle in mid October.  So, I am pretty much screwed financially, and my bosses all know it.  But I try to make ends meet when they finally give me some hours.

Then, I start enjoying some successes.  Max wins the 7th grade Human Rights Essay Contest on Human Rights Day, December 10th (2013).  We enjoy Christmas together.  Max wins his school's Geography Bee and the Math Counts Charter Competition.  At the State Competition in Pierre, South Dakota, on March 8th (2014), Max takes fourth place and advances to the national Math Counts tournament in Florida. On April 4th (2014), Max takes second place in the SD Geography Bee at NSU in Aberdeen.  All that stuff takes a bit of time.

OMG...  It's tax time.  Argh.  April is always hard for me.  I've already had the wife's birthday and our wedding anniversary to deal with.  I am just not ready for this, yet.  There is always something going on.  OK, so tomorrow is April 15th, Tax Day, and I have to worry about that, too.

Now it's been 2 years since I got hurt at work.  I will never be the same.  I can't run or jump anymore, doctor's orders.  I still take pain meds when I have to.  I can't bend down to get things from a lower shelf (under a desk/countertop, for instance) or the floor without pain and discomfort.  I'm not allowed on ladders anymore, either.  And I'm not supposed to lift more than 50 pounds.  If I need a cane, I'm allowed to use it (and sometimes I do need it).  But I have felt worse and worse ever since they stopped paying for my membership at the Sanford Wellness Center to work out.  

Now, instead of unloading trucks I am at the front of the store ringing people up on the register.  And despite the fact that I am getting $2.00 less an hour now, because I'm not working overnights, I am still trying to excel in every part of my job.

But now I am having problems with how I am being treated.  It's all taking a very big toll on me...  

My manager and the HR head (one in the same person) openly treats me with disgust, as if I got hurt on purpose, or am faking this trauma, even though it disgusted her to hear it popping and clicking away when she came in for work in the morning.

One day in December, just after Christmas (2013), I had to go home early because they put me in a position where I had to bend down a bunch.  It was light restocking, and not real repetitive, so I tried to do the job, but I could barely manage to make it to lunchtime I was in so much pain.  This was a direct result of my injury at work due to their own negligence and their dangerous safety equipment.  And yet, I was reprimanded for going home early because I was in so much pain.  She had sat there and told me that my absences due to my injury were not an issue.  But the reason I went home is a direct result of that injury some 20 months prior.  Who is she kidding?

Now it is nearly 3 years since I started working there.  And yet I have only had one single solitary annual employee review.  I had one after working there 60 or 90 days, then another a year later where I was told that although I didn't feel that my review was very good, I was the second highest ranked from the guys that worked in back.  But then they deliberately did not give me a review last year, even though I kept expecting them to call me back for my review before my operation.  Nor did I get any sort of a review after my operation.  

So, the first 'annual' review netted me a 28 cent raise.  And I am supposed to get a raise based on my review.  But it turns out that I did get an 8 cent raise.  WTF?   So, I wonder who crapped-out on giving me a review, or even, did they forge my signature on the review acknowledgement and say I had a lousy review, or... WTF?

How do people get away with all this underhanded crap?

And that's only the start of it, mind you.  Now that I am working up front in nearly the only job left that I can do because of my disability, I can't believe how lousy the day staff is treated.  Not all of them, there are definitely lots of favorites.  Some people get pats on the back while others are snubbed.  But when I started in the back (working on the dock and unloading the truck each night, or doing markdowns), I was often working with a gal that would often give us the pat-on-the-back to show our contribution and hard work that the corporation bases performance on (and rewards it).  Within 6 months I had a 'service' pin for giving great service and essentially holding their brand up in the light.  But then, she was transfered to the Sioux City store and since then, I have only gotten a single of those 'pat-on-the-back' recognition awards for my good work, when only excelling in what I do is what has always driven me. 

Not only have I been better at my job after she left, I have been better at it consistently.  And although I am new to working the registers, I have always been available to the public before close or when we didn't close, as I worked the graveyard shift.   

Managers keep asking me to sell credit, and I do, I am one of the best there at it.  There is even a special 'pat-on-the-back' award for credit.  I see it awarded all the time to people who make their quota for the day, to clerks who do well pushing credit in a month, or for driving credit with 3 or 4 apps in a day.  Yet, I have accomplished all those.

I have gotten excellent reviews from customers for providing beyond-the-call-of-duty customer support, signed and handed directly over to managers by the customer themselves, and yet never received a 'pat-on-the-back' for providing great customer support.

Nowadays, even customer support is being defined by numbers.  If you didn't get 2 credit apps in one day, and 10 new email addresses, you have failed?  That's ridiculous!  There are many such days that I get only people who have our department store credit cards and don't have the opportunity to ask if they want credit, or when I do get a customer that doesn't have our store credit card; she is a minor, he wants to be off the grid and is proud of it, they only make it to the area but once a year and don't shop online, or they know they won't be approved.

I do admit that I cannot, for the life of me, sell the email sales alerts and coupons.  Sure, I ask each customer if they are receiving our email sales alerts and coupons (unless they are presenting an email based coupon) and encourage as many as possible to send the email alerts to a folder they can access before they go to the store (or in the store with their smartphone), but since our emails are going out at least on a daily basis, it really is spam.  Sure, it promotes the local store as well as the online brand, but it is pure junk mail.  If you don't want it, there's no reason to push for it, its all crap that we can get access to online at the website.  Those damn idiot number crunchers and their numbers don't add-up to customer service!

 Now, I admit, I don't ask every customer everytime for everything.  If she presents an email coupon, she has email.  If she presents a store credit card, she doesn't need to be asked if she would like to apply.  If she is a minor, she can't even get one and it would be illegal to give her one anyway.  But I do always, without question, attempt to give each customer the very best customer service they can have, every single time.  
  1. I always greet the customer and smile, every single time.
  2. I often ask how they are and show interest in them as a person.
  3. I try to treat them as a friend, no matter how busy we are, or rushed I feel.
  4. I try to generate a positive attitude, because my problem is not theirs and this is truly a business brand that I am promoting.  I want a good feeling to rub-off on them, no matter their mood.
  5. I try to always ask if there is anything they were looking for that they didn't find.  If they have a large order, I might be able to get it to them before all the items in the sale are all rung-up.
  6. No matter their mood, I can't let it affect me, I understand that some are simply having a bad day and I can't always help.
  7. No matter what is going on in my life (whether at work or home), I have to present the brand in a good light happily and be friendly.
  8. No matter how busy we are, I can't exude a feeling of being rushed because others will feel rushed as well and it's harder to communicate and be friendly to someone who is rushed, and in fact it is even easier to set a rushed person off.
  9. I always thank them and wish them well in some small way.
These, to me, are the most important things for a register clerk to remember when working at POS (the Point Of Sale).  Unfortunately, the corporate concentrates on numbers over friendliness.  They expect us to greet and thank every customer, but in between they expect us to sell the email, credit, survey and soon we will have to sign them up for rewards, as well.  That is fine, unless it will affect a patron's mood.  And quite frankly, I know of a number of regular customers that are sick and tired of hearing the spiel.

They think this is just a numbers game, but they really aren't paying attention to the numbers at all, because if they did they would see that we have pretty much saturated this market, and yet they don't change their approach.  That's a real bad sign.  We have to change with the times, after all.  Corporations lose when they stop developing their platform, and this particular department store, though doing well, has not really thought a great deal about customer service, because they want us to run their game on the customer, instead.

There was a time when customer service was a delightful part of the shopping experience.  But even if we aren't even busy and there are 4 of us just standing around awaiting the next customer, I'm not supposed to leave my post at the register to help a customer find anything.  I was even scolded at for doing this because I helped an elderly disabled lady find her item to purchase which was displayed only a mere 15 feet away and still in eyeshot of my station.  And the part that kills me is that she didn't just buy 1, she bought 2, both types of the product, each retailing for well over $120.00.  WTF?  And to top that off, it was the end of my shift and I wouldn't be able to take any more customers in this time, nor would I have to, because we just weren't busy enough for me to have to stay late.

We aren't even supposed to stay beyond our scheduled time anyway, even if it is busy.  But no one comes to relieve us or make sure we get off as scheduled, especially when we are busy.  They are looking at the numbers and expecting us to magically conform without any assistance, and yet we sacrifice customer service if we do so.  It is true,customer service protects the brand, but when they don't allow us to provide great customer service, the brand is tarnished.

And they look at the numbers in the wrong way in other instances, as well.  Let's say I am scheduled 7:45 am to 3:45 pm like last Saturday.  The brass at corporate thinks that since I am only working 7.5 hours, they can get away with only giving me 2 breaks, one for lunch that is unpaid and I have to punch out for, and one paid 15 minute 'coffee break' to recharge.  But, I'm supposed to be on the floor at 7:45, so I punch-in 5 minutes ahead of schedule (just like everyone else, because if you aren't 5 minutes early, you are late).  I am supposed to have my first break at 11:00 am.  But it isn't until 11:35 that I get the break.  So, I have just worked 2 hours and 50 minutes without a break.  That's tough on an old disabled guy, retail is stressful on a Saturday morning when its busy non-stop!  And of course, after lunch I punch back in on time, at 12:06 pm.  My next break is supposed to be at 1:00 pm.  But since my first break was late, I am working until 1:20 pm and in that time I grab a snack, down a coffee, go to the bathroom, heck, even the break gets stressful trying to get everything in and back out on the floor in time.  I get back to my post on time, but then I am still stressed, still frazzled (no matter what I tell my customers), and then when my time to leave comes around at 3:45 pm we are so swamped that I can't get out of there.  It's actually 4:06 pm before I can punch-out because no one came to relieve me.  So, I have actually worked 7 hours and 41 minutes, total.

The reason they do this, schedule a person for only 7.5 or 7.75 hours, is because they don't want to pay an employee for sitting down for another 15 minutes on a second coffee break.  I mean, this is quite ridiculous, the reason we have coffee breaks is to recuperate and recover, returning to work with less stress, able to take on the next challenges of the day.  But the way it is scheduled, I am at constant odds with my stress, trying to make things work.  And this same scenario plays out when I am scheduled for 7.75 hours as well.  I wind-up working well over 8 hours because they ask me to stick around.  But I only get the one lunch and one coffee break, while everyone else who works 8 hours or more gets a lunch and 2 coffee breaks.

Then, where when I was working on the dock I was following a pretty regular schedule with start times that differed only by a couple of hours at most, now that I am working until close 3 nights in a row and then having to open the next day.  At the least, it takes me 5 or 6 hours to wind-down from any kind of a work day, no matter how good it was.  So when I was stuck in the store until 11:45 pm on Friday night I got home about midnight and was all wound-up until 5 am and couldn't sleep a wink because I had to get ready for work again on Saturday starting at 6:30 am for a 7:45 am start time.

If you are going to run the numbers, run these and realize how poorly rested employees, no matter how rested, can wind-up making mistakes and inadvertently harm the brand.  That is a bigger deal than nickel and dime-ing your employees to death.  It's poor forethought, poor care of your employees and generates extremely poor customer service through an enslavement mentality.

This enslavement mentality that is designed to fail.  We barely get paid above minimum wage, there is no advancement and no opportunity with no rewards for doing a great job and no real incentive for a person to do their best other than owning a great work ethic.  People down the street pay a dollar more an hour.  But by any means, that isn't enough.  When I was making 2 dollars an hour more and working more often in somewhat regularly scheduled hours, I still wasn't making a living wage.  I have been soaking-up debt since I started working here in the hopes that I can take a new career position at corporate which would allow me to escape this slave-worker pay scale, but getting hurt and having to take a lower paid position for less hours with a schedule that is all over the place has to be at the least, excessively taxing and stressful.

As workers, we can't just quit and get another job, we live paycheck to paycheck, never making ends meet.  Because every cent of every paycheck only buys us more debt, we don't dare quit.  And when we aren't scheduled for a a few days in a row so that we can make plans for searching the job market, the store calls us in for a few piddly hours in the middle of it and that breaks-up all our plans so that our whole "in-week weekend" is shot (because retail makes most of its money on the weekend, retail workers rarely get weekends off, especially on busy weekends and especially when they are the POS clerk.

I have worked some very hard jobs.  Retail requires less brawn, but a great mentality.  If you don't have that going for you, it will be even more stressful.  But the fact that the company has dumped our health insurance, limited as they are, and that we cannot afford government health insurance, it just adds buckets and buckets of stress on top of stress.  Especially when you know how important it is because you've been hurt.

But the real problem is all of that power the corporation has, it uses and abuses behind a faceless mask of stockholders who do not know or care about the employees or their families.  the corporation only looks after its own interests and it uses lobbyists to sway law into allowing it to act without integrity, without morality, without ethics or even scrutiny.  There just aren't any repercussions for its neglectful acts, its abuse of its labor pool, its bending the rules, or its dismissive attitude towards any opposition.

I have always defined success by my family, and I have been failing them for a very long time in the hope that someday I would make their sacrifice pay-off.  I have never stopped believing that I will pull this out of the hell hole I am falling down.  But the other day I read something that had me thinking, that I should write a novel about a hero who was a slave worker like I, because I could write from my own life and manufactur a happy ending.  What I read made more sense than I could appreciate and I have been mulling it over, ever since.  In the end, I felt it was dead wrong.  There are sociopaths and psychopaths who have no conscience.  So I made-up my own version...

"Success can be determined by how at peace a person with a good conscience can be, knowing all the circumstances of their actions.  It is attained by a relentless refusal to fail or to settle without any compromise in their humanity."  -Me... 

Douglas Peters   (Artist, Illustrator & Graphic/Web Designer from Sioux Falls, SD, at 12:53 am Central Time on 4/15/2014)

The corporate entity does not fit this mold, and it is an absolute catastrophe that it doesn't.  It should, and the investors should be determined to make it fit that mold and be proud that it does.  Without that, it is designed to keep an enslavement mentality with Mastery over every aspect of its soul-less self and continue its abuse of power because that is what absolute power generates... corruption.

...ok, just so we are clear, I am not going to be able to finish this tonight.  I have taxes to do and I am nowhere near done pointing out all the things I want to.  In fact, I have barely gotten started.  Look for Part Two, yet to come, when I have the time.

Important tags:
escape, worker, worker class, worker-slave, worker-slave class, stress, minimum wage, labor, labor force, corporate, corporation, evil, corrupt, corruption, employee, employer, poor, business, retail, corporate responsibility, poor business partner, unfair business, unfair business practices, unfair practices, unjust, soul-less, souless, soulless, hr, management, bosses, paycheck to paycheck, pos, clerk, register, store, department store, injury, health, health insurance

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