July 16, 2002
2:49 PM   Subscribe

The Nametag Nation gets a voice online. Retail Workers along with our brethren in food service are the bulk of the nations clock-punchers now, and we've got a lot on our minds. Some sites, like the above linked, offer info on serious concerns. Other sites just let us vent. You may not agree with what we think, but we deserve to be heard from.
posted by jonmc (28 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just to keep it real, this post was made on company time and company bandwidth. Mwahahahaha...
posted by jonmc at 2:50 PM on July 16, 2002

I put in 80 hours last week and since I'm on salary got the exact same amount of money as a normal 40 hour week. Maybe I should join the ranks of the clock-punchers. After all, time and a half is a very wonderful thing.
posted by jaden at 2:55 PM on July 16, 2002

jaden-be careful what you wish for. You assume that all of us get those benefits, plus one week of retail customer service has turned many "office warriors" I know to jelly.
posted by jonmc at 2:59 PM on July 16, 2002

jonmc, i have just made a purchase at your register, the total including sales tax is $7.07 and i hand you a $20. count back the change for me please...
posted by quonsar at 3:01 PM on July 16, 2002

you're change is $12.93, and I'm in floor sales so I haven't done any cash handling in a few years, but what's your point?
posted by jonmc at 3:12 PM on July 16, 2002

bzzt! you lose. you didn't count it back, you just handed me what the register told you to in one big chunk. my point? i had to have a point? aw shit...
posted by quonsar at 3:37 PM on July 16, 2002

quonsar: in fairness, some of do miss counting back change.
posted by shagoth at 3:40 PM on July 16, 2002

You're paying in cash? How gauche.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:00 PM on July 16, 2002

labor: work people do to earn wages when working for the boss
labor power: the capacity to work (commodity) -- this is what the boss purchases

i.e., bosses are not buying your labor; they are buying your labor power. But what you actually give them is labor.

If labor power is a commodity, what does it represent? Labor power is the labor-time that it takes to make you into a worker. What does it take, at the bare minimum, to make a worker show up for work? Food, clothing, shelter, ability to procreate (bosses need the next generation)

So, the amount of labor-time that it takes to provide a worker with those minimal necessities is the labor power of that worker, and it is a commodity, and it is the only thing he has to sell, and the only one he can sell his labor power to is the boss.

Does the boss get more out of the worker than his labor power? Yes. The boss gets his labor, which is actual work, which is more than his labor power, which the boss buys with wages. Bottom line: you're being paid less than the boss is getting out of you.
posted by azimuth at 5:12 PM on July 16, 2002

Yeah, next time the boss tells you to get to work, remind him he's really only buying your ability to work, and not your actual work, and since you are in fact able to work, he is getting what he paid for, even if you're not actually working at the moment. I'm sure he'll understand. Hell, he might even give you a raise because your "labor power" is clearly a force to be reckoned with!
posted by kindall at 5:35 PM on July 16, 2002

I have a suspicion that the only winners in unionizing retail workers (which these sites seem to aim to do) is to improve the condition of the union itself, and not the workers.
posted by kristin at 6:39 PM on July 16, 2002

This was on one of the vent sites:

Customer: "Do you have this item in your store?" Clerk: "Yes, we do." Customer: "Do you have it in stock?"

To be honest, I'm with the customer here. I will often call up a bookstore and have the following conversation:

Me: Do you have the book XYZ?
Clerk: Yes sir, we do carry that book!
Me: Great! Can you hold a copy for me?
Clerk: Well, lets see. Ah ... it appears that we dont actually have any in stock right now. Would you like me to special-order you a copy?

posted by vacapinta at 6:52 PM on July 16, 2002

Kristin, which sweeping generalization of the facts brought you to this moment of clarity?
posted by yonderboy at 6:55 PM on July 16, 2002

Thank you, kristin.

I was involved a divisive labor organizing drive at Borders back in winter 96-97, that did more to kill my taste for activism than anything I ever experienced in my life. The two unions most involved with Borders workers were the IWW(aka the Wobblies) who were more concerned with their political agenda than our more pragmatic concerns, and the UFCW, which seemed more interested in just increasing it's membership rolls.

The fact remains that the growth of the retail sector has opened up a whole new pandora's box of disaffected workers with unique problems who need someone to speak for them and organize them. whether it'll be traditional trade unions or not I din't know. Part of the main issue there would be perception, people associate unions with occupations like coal mining and steelworking, which might seem to bear little relationship to that guy stocking shelf at Bed Bath and Beyond, but belive me the shopclerk goes home just as tired and is struggling just as hard.
posted by jonmc at 7:04 PM on July 16, 2002

under 20 dollars in change?

counting back is a waste of time...

get out of my line I have other customers.
posted by andryeevna at 7:23 PM on July 16, 2002

Unions aren't a magical tool for workers.

In today's economy, they produce real results for their members only in businesses where non-management workers are delivering a high-skill service which improves in quality with the increasing experience. Good pay, good benefits, grievance rights, and so forth, create loyalty and encourage stability in the workforce. In essence, the union and the employer are partners (if sometimes uneasy partners). This partnership is apparent at varying degrees throughout the most pervasively unionized businesses in the country: transportation, construction, heavy industry, utility and infrastructure, law enforcement, education, health care, etc.

Retail just doesn't have these facts. The vast majority of non-management work is low- or unskilled, experience returns little or nothing in terms of improved performance, and the most lucrative compensation system is entirely merit based (i.e., commissions). Their simply is no margin that the union can add, and, hence, from which it can draw increased pay and benefits.

(Most of the low-skill unions which are being organized now are producing very modest wage gains, but can succeed because their members are recent immigrants without the language skills to move up the economic ladder; a situation which does not characterize Wal-Mart or Home Depot).
posted by MattD at 8:14 PM on July 16, 2002

"Kristin, which sweeping generalization of the facts brought you to this moment of clarity?"

The 6 months I spent working in retail.
posted by kristin at 8:45 PM on July 16, 2002

Retail go union? OK, this will hasten the outflux of blue-collar jobs to devoloping nations.

Sorry to say this, really, being firmly on the left (oops, Aschroft Army is now monitoring) I can see the reality that organized labor needs to be organized in a way that will present a united front to management. Labor needs to recognize that there are powerful forces that have influenced the greater American public, and choose their battles carefully.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:09 PM on July 16, 2002

I apologize that some of you have to work in a fast-food or retail environment, but the fact is that you are not victims.
I apologize that I spent so many wasteful years in school. I apologize that I spent so many hours learning a skill. I apologize that you did'nt. My bad.
If you constantly bitch about the job than why take it? I worked for my own education. I went to school on my own money. I spend weekends reading books that pertain to what I want to do in my future. I sacrifice a few hours at a local bar for a few hours of learning.
The bottom line is that if you work in fast-food or retail, you deserve it. No reason to bitch.

Go ahead and bitch about how you have to make change. Agony of all agonies!!!! I apologize that I had enough foresight to get a decent job. Rest assured that for everyone of you, there are five more who actually make important decisions every twenty seconds.
posted by ttrendel at 10:22 PM on July 16, 2002

ttrendel, I can see where you're coming from. You have put a lot of time and energy into getting where you are, and good for you. But to generalize, and say that people who essentially have to take shit for a living "deserve it", is out of line. I know plenty of people with university degrees working in retail simply because the job market in their chosen profession (which they too spent many hours and hard-earned dollars learning) has gone completely to shit. And not surprisingly, in my experience, it is those people who are more likely to be "bitter" about their retail jobs.

If you are lucky enough to never have held a retail/service industry job, then count your blessings, my friend. I can tell you from experience that it isn't something most would do if they had a plethora of other avenues available to them.
posted by scribblative at 10:57 PM on July 16, 2002

I understand that outsourcing programming to India has been tremendously successful. They tend to pad their hours, but at $4/hour, you can hire eight programmers in Bangalor, no benefits, instead of one $60K/year+benefits programmer here.

Welcome to the Maquiladora Century.

P.S. The Maquiladoras aren't making money, either. Seems they are being undercut on prices by other countries, even without unions.

P.P.S. ttrendel, you still need someone to pick up your trash, and that person should be able to help support a family. There is dignity in labor, unless it is taken away by those that need that extra percent so bad they are willing to sacrifice the society they live in for the last 1% of gain.
posted by dglynn at 10:59 PM on July 16, 2002

Man, I hope that some day I get to be one of two finalists, along with ttrendel, for a fantastically kick-ass job, and then beat his/her sorry ass out for that position. That would be sweet! Sorry I'm sooooo smart and competent, and you suck! :)
posted by hincandenza at 11:05 PM on July 16, 2002

I hate retail, but I hate school even more. Unfortunately I have to live with the fact that if I didn't hate school so much, I could write my own ticket in life.
posted by dopamine at 11:10 PM on July 16, 2002

I would argue that retail workers could unionize if they really wanted to as retail jobs can't be shipped over seas, and honestly, the successful retail stores can hire only so many immigrants before customers complain about bad service (think of how often joe six pack complains about people who can't speak english).

Unions do work- in the right industries, and only if government doesn't nueter them. A perfect example from the past would be UPS, where all work had to be local, and the company has a big enough market share that strikes really cripple the bottom line.

Often though, especially in the last 20 years, government has started to force striking workers back through the Taft-Hartley act. This removes the effectiveness of the strike.

We'll see exactly how much power the Teamsters have in August, when the UPS contract is up again (there is definite talk of striking)...

As for retail, as a former 3 1/2 year retail worker, I'd have to say Robot Stories pretty much sums up what retail was like for me.
posted by drezdn at 12:11 AM on July 17, 2002

i only read it for the articles - a bookstore clerk's blog
posted by sheauga at 5:25 AM on July 17, 2002

The Living Wage Movement - The Black Commentator
posted by sheauga at 5:36 AM on July 17, 2002

The 6 months I spent working in retail.

Six whole months of something not even remotely associated with unions. Well, I guess that proves my point then.
posted by yonderboy at 9:39 PM on July 21, 2002

A site like "Stupid Customer Questions" only reinforces the attitude that has become all too common in the retail world -- that customers are nothing more than a nuisance. Some of the "stupid questions" represent a momentary lack of clarity ("How many are in a 50-pack?") but the majority of them show that the customers don't know as much about the store, its products and/or policies as the employees do. Gee, what a surprise! If the customers knew as much as the employees did, then there'd be no need for employees at all.

P.P.S. ttrendel, you still need someone to pick up your trash, and that person should be able to help support a family.

Trash collectors aren't retail workers. They are almost 100% unionized (either through the Teamsters of AFSCME) and the pay is demonstrably better than non-management retail, especially considering that it is an essential job, but not one that requires any special level of education or training. I don't want to live in a world without trash collectors, but I don't think it's necessary to pretend that because their job must be done, it is at the same level as a teacher, or a doctor, or someone whose position requires more than physical strength and stamina, or should be treated thusly.
posted by Dreama at 6:49 AM on July 22, 2002

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