Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Short Story About Retail & Overtime

George Carlin is starting to become a regular staple of this blog:

"[The real owners of this country] don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking... They don't want people to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard thirty fucking years ago... They want obedient workers.  People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they're coming for your social security."

One of these days, that man will be regarded not just as a brilliant comic, but a goddamned prophet.

Not too long ago, I worked as a manager for a prominent retail clothing establishment, who will remain nameless.  Overall, I must say, I did not hate working for this company.  I was good at it, I liked who I worked with, and it just felt good to have a job.  There was, however, one glaring flaw in their system.  They didn't pay you overtime.

In fact, they even took it one step further.  If you went above your allotted 40 hour work week, they cut your pay in half for every additional hour.  This means that if your salary was $15/hr, and you worked 45 hours last week, you'd be getting paid minimum wage for 5 of those hours.

But Vinny, you ask.  That doesn't seem fair at all.  I mean, with a system like that, it must be not only cost effective, but imperative that they take advantage of their staff.

You'd be right.

We're in recession, so management just couldn't bring it upon themselves to fill the remaining management positions to get us fully staffed, and it was cheaper to just have us pick up the slack.

They even required you to work at least 40 hours a week or they would reduce your benefits. Doesn't this all just sound so appetizing?  So, naturally, this company consistently crammed 55 hours worth of work in a week, and gave you 40 hours to do it.  It was frowned upon if you left on time. You were called in and forced to cover on your days off.  At times when seasonal inventory had to change, you were flat out asked to stay all night and work until close the next day.  I once clocked a 26 hour shift around the holidays.  I am dead fucking serious.  And I was not the exception, I was the rule.  

All the while, we'd have to be freaking out wondering if our holier-than-thou CEO would be popping in and ripping out our tonsils because a stack of perfectly folded tees were sitting three inches from the edge of the table instead of the allotted two.  Yet, despite all of it, they managed to convince us that this is a perfectly reasonable work load to maintain, and if we couldn't, we either didn't have the work ethic or the talent.  Many of us lacked any frame of reference, and they knew it.  They played to our vanity.  To our pride.  They exploited our impressionability, and our inexperience.  And it worked.  We drank the kool-aid.

We worked delirious.  We worked scared.  We were worked to death, and everybody just took it.

Well, after awhile, I couldn't anymore.

You see, even though I was good at this profession, I knew it wasn't what I ultimately wanted to do. So, I did what I was supposed to do, and used my degree used my personality to get a job that paid the bills while I pursued my dreams during my free time.  That is, after all, how you climb the ladder of social mobility in America, right?

Not so much anymore, it would seem.  The wages that were being offered to me were no longer paying the bills.  The long and unofficial "on-call" hours had well consumed the remainder of my time in the day (and night), which wouldn't necessarily be so bad if the salary was making up for it, but as I stated before, the longer I worked, the less I got paid, so the extra time and effort amounted to next to nothing.  In fact, the consistent switching of overnight shifts and opening/closing shifts, many of which were bleeding into each other, became so taxing it actually perpetuated a condition called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.  I didn't even have the time so stay in shape and be healthy, much less work on other projects, or I don't know, relax.  Relaxing is good sometimes, especially for an overworked brain.

It wasn't just me.  I watched in horror as my coworkers attempted to just get their minds through the day by overdosing on prescription amphetamines and gallons of red-bull and coffee, the acts of which were treated as a badge of honor rather than a serious problem.

So, I left.  I got an offer from a company that seemingly paid more and provided overtime.  That didn't end up working out so well, but that's a story for another day.

I bring this up because recently I was in an interview for another prominent retail clothing establishment, during which, I attempted to joke with the District Manager about my previous company's policies regarding wages and overtime.  Up until that day, I assumed it was the only company who implemented such policies.  He responded by saying:

"We do that, too.  It's just the nature of the industry."

I was shocked.

It's just the nature of the industry...

I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to be the nature of any industry in the United States of America, yet this guy has convinced himself that demanding longer hours for next to no pay is a correct way to operate in the labor market.

Un.  Believable.

This is why collective bargaining rights are so important.  I don't care what any middle management asshole has to say about "taking advantage of the system", nothing can remotely compare to how badly a company can fuck with you if they so choose when you no longer have the right to stand up and fight for what you, as a hard working American, deserve.  Don't let these empty suits take it away.


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