Why Retail Work Is Getting Worse

Another must-read longread.

Photo credit: Pexels, CC0 Public Domain.

Yesterday, we looked at a longread about workplace issues in the long-haul trucking industry; today, let’s look at a longread about workplace issues in retail:

As I read Sarah Jaffe’s piece, I kept thinking “this is the quote I need to pull out for The Billfold; no, wait, this one.” Jaffe covers a lot of issues, from cameras that track whether workers are smiling to Walmart employees who build apps to share information about opaque company policies.

I’ll give you just three excerpts to get you started. First, a quote from Carrie Gleason, co-founder of the Retail Action Project, on the way retail jobs have changed:

In retail, employers began shifting to a part-time workforce — more employees, fewer hours per employee. “I saw the instability permeate the workforce,” Gleason says. “Working moms at Ann Taylor quit their jobs at Ann Taylor because there was no way they could arrange stable child care with a workweek that changed every week. At the same time, my working single mom shopped for her clothes at Ann Taylor. There was this ironic tension, especially in women’s clothing. There is this real class divide between who is working and who is shopping in these clothing stores.”

Next, a quote from Betty Lloyd, a retail worker with 37 years of experience at Bloomingdale’s:

“When a customer comes into the store, you are very happy to see them,” she says. “You give them your product knowledge. You show them what you have that is in their needs. You fit them, size them, give them the color. You tell them how great they look. Now, the sale close. You hear the customer say, ‘Thank you very much, Betty, for your service, but I am going to go home and order this online.’” In addition to helping customers who don’t buy, she says, she has lost valuable commission-making time having to pack online orders, process online returns, and open up store credit cards. For workers like her, who survive entirely on their commission, the little tasks that don’t make her money add up.

Lastly, a quote from Cynthia Murray, who helped found OUR Walmart, an independent organization that “works to ensure that every Associate, regardless of title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart.” She’s also worked at Walmart for the past 16 years:

I have interviewed Murray several times over the past three years, and when we spoke for this story, the latest changes were a shift from separately accrued sick, personal, and vacation time into lumped-together paid time off, or PTO. Each week, Murray explains, she now accrues four hours of PTO, from which time off for sickness as well as vacation is deducted. “We no longer get holiday pay unless we want to take it out of PTO time,” she says. Sick time also has to be approved by a third-party company, Sedgwick, she says, and workers accumulate “points” for taking time off. “We can only have eight points in a six-month rolling period,” she says. “Before I could take three [sick] days off and it would be one point; now it is three.” If you get more than eight points, you’re fired.