Wednesday, April 15, 2015

1472 The One-Eighty

It’s 7 in the morning. You’re on the cross town bus, crawling along through morning traffic.  You’ve arranged for a babysitter.  You’re heading to work as a register clerk at MegaMart. Your phone chirps.  It’s a text from your manager.  

She says “Hi, Lucy! We don’t need you today. Please take the day off.”

You call and explain that you’re already on the bus, that you’ve booked a babysitter and you’re due in at 8.

Boss says:  “Sorry, L, our software says it’s going to be a slow day and we can’t use you.  Do a 180 and go home.”

If you’re in New York or several other states, they owe you a half day’s pay for that.  If you try to collect it, you’ll get it. And then two weeks down the road they’ll find or create some minor infraction and fire you.

Our Lucy and her MegaMart are fictions.  But the situation is real, at least in the view of the New York State Attorney General who is looking into the practice according to the Wall Street Journal.

And he’s naming names:

Target, Gap, Abercrombie, Ann Taylor, Burlington, Crocs, Penney’s, J. Crew, L Brands, TJ Maxx/Marshall’s/Home Goods, Sears, Urban Outfitters and Williams-Sonoma, to use the Journal’s list.

The half-baked excuse for those who commented for the article?  “We’re doing our best to be fair.”  “We know it’s a problem and we’re working on it.”  “We need to stay lean and mean.”

Mean enough to disrupt lives of mostly minimum wage workers who are trying to stretch a buck to make ends meet and often failing?

Software rules. Igor the computer (all computers are named Igor) has decided the traffic count at Mega’s will be 20% below normal today.  Bad weather.  A weekday after a holiday weekend.  Some reason.

Heaven forbid they’d keep the help on duty and open enough registers to handle a smaller crowd faster than at the usual snail’s pace.  But no, they have to squeeze every crummy dollar into the top line.

The retailers have taken a page from the restaurant trade and made it worse.  Waiters, cooks, dishwashers, bartenders and hosts are often “cut” as they call it when business is slow.  They report for work and they work.  Then they’re sent home before the shift ends.  At least they get paid something.

Maybe enough to pay the babysitter.  Maybe even that and the bus fare home.

These practices view workers as machinery.  Turn ‘em on when you need them, unplug them when you don’t. We had a labor movement, once, for things like that.  And unions.  No more.  Not in retail or food service.

Can you see this practice spreading?  Be great fun in businesses like medicine or car repair or news gathering.

“Good morning, Dr. Barnard.  Your patient just died so we won’t be needing that heart transplant today. Take the day off.”

“Hi, Clarence. It’s John. Yeah… John Roberts. Listen bud, we have a low caseload today so don’t come to work, ok?”

“Good morning Mr. Holt. Please hold for Andy Lack, please…”  “Lester?  Andy here. It’s going to be a slow news day.  We won’t need you until tomorrow.”

“Good morning Mr. President.  This is Mary from HR…”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to

© WJR 2015

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