6

Black Friday and the Arrival of the Grinch

(For the uninitiated – e.g., those living in more civilized parts of the world – Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when stores offer their best sales for Christmas. It even existed during the Dark Ages when I was young. The Thanksgiving newspaper was always the largest of the year because it carried the advertisements for the Day-after-Thanksgiving sales. As I recall it was more genteel pushing than tripping and hitting.)

On my first day of work, the manager told me that everyone works on Black Friday. It really didn’t surprise me since the company is on the news every year for its Black Friday mobs (and occasional brawls).

My experiences at my previous job weren’t particularly encouraging. But working in cheese meant that I got the customers after they had been through battle and licking their wounds. The Grinch usually arrived sometime before the end of the shift with his tight shoes and snarl to take up residence until after New Year’s Day.

At 10p on Wednesday, I showed up for work ready to prepare for the sale. Silly me. The sale didn’t start until 2p Thanksgiving afternoon. If we put the merchandise out the night before, the day shift would be fighting off customers all morning. That might be fun to watch.

I was pretty excited. I never shop on Black Friday, and I thought it would be fun to see the crowds. There was even a county deputy there. I got to the back room and the manager said that we were going to be assigned from the break room instead of the hall as usual. It was packed, about two times as many people as usual.

The store director got up to talk. This must be important. We never see him at night. He started out by telling us how disappointing sales have been so far. Way below what they expected.

Our job was to make sure that the store looked good for Friday. They advised us to look around the store to know where the sale items were since people would be asking us all night. Good idea. Except we didn’t have fliers to know what we were looking for.

There really wasn’t a good job that night. We straightened, put things away, and threw away mangled displays. It was a bit like kids cleaning their rooms. No Grinch in sight; he would have been bored.

I straightened men’s jeans. I don’t know what kind of gremlins shop for men’s jeans when the store is busy, but they’re slobs. Must be male gremlins.

I talked to two customers. One wanted to know if it was always that slow on Black Friday. The store they usually shop at back home in Missouri always had at least a couple of fights going on. The other guy wanted to know where we kept the garbage cans. Seriously? Who buys garbage cans at midnight on Thanksgiving? Of course, I hadn’t seen the ad.

The food they provided was amazing. Big aluminum trays of ham and turkey. Mashed potatoes with bacon. Pies and cookies. Soda and water. The Grinch didn’t make it to dinner.

I was sent to stock toys; an indication of how slow it was. I talked to one customer. She wanted a toy from the ad. We were sold out of it. She huffed and said that she was going to Kmart. I didn’t have Kmart’s ad either. Maybe the Grinch was there and she’d find a soul-mate.

I had just unloaded the third pallet of toys when someone came by and said that we weren’t stocking anymore. We were supposed to straighten all of the end-caps before the end of the shift. Ummm. Okay. You took several of us from straightening to stocking. Now we’re going from stocking to straightening.

I decided to straighten the gift baskets, stocking stuffers, etc. It was the best because I got to play with the stuffed animals. Did you know that if you go into Starbucks and order hot chocolate, you have to get it with mocha but you can buy the real thing (no mocha) in a gift collection? How about they now sell foot-long Twix bars for stockings? (My family got cheated. None of us has a stocking that big.) And cheap perfume companies come out with really horrific smells for their holiday scents?

Friday night was equally quiet, but they gave us really good food again. A couple of nights later, they gave us 15% off coupons good for an entire shopping trip because we worked on Thanksgiving. A couple of nights later we got two cakes for our hard work. Two days ago we had pizza and salad for a quarter with no lost time injuries.

I never did see the Grinch. I guess he got held up at my old store.

5

Never Thought I’d Live to See the Day

It’s not like I have to look a long way to feel old. My kids have somehow morphed from being small, cute little people to fully grown, attractive people. I really don’t understand it. It’s not like I’ve gotten any older.

Even my husband has a smart phone. I have sat at dinner where he spends more time on his phone than the kids. Actually, he’s worse than the kids. My daughter uses the phone as a timer for some medications she has to take, and my son uses it to look up information we don’t know during discussions.

But my family is pretty traditional. You might have noticed that the paragraph above mentions both family dinners and discussions. We discuss politics, always a challenge (2 conservatives, 1 traditional liberal, and one populist). We also talk about religion, world events, literature, and history. I don’t discuss the dinners in public; it seems a little retro.

And (of course) the kids rarely swear in front of me. When I was young, someone told me that using too many “bad” words wasn’t sophisticated. It just showed a lack of vocabulary. I agreed, and over the years and have found various vegetables and animals effective substitutes for most things. Since it wasn’t a hot button for me, the kids respected my point of view. (I’ve come to find out that’s kind of weird too.)

There was also the issue of my mother swearing a fair amount. Who wanted to do it if their mother did?

But I have started a new job. You may remember that I am now working midnights. To stereotype, there are two groups of people there: Millennials and bitter people waiting to retire. Of course, there are a couple of people who fall outsides those groups, but they aren’t any fun to talk about.

Everyone is friendly and welcomed me into the group. I like them all. But I have never been with a group of Millennials who are relaxing with their peers. Some of them seem to be incapable of saying a complete sentence without using a word that used to be a vulgar term for sexual intercourse.

I went home and asked my Millennial son why some of his peers seemed to use the word as noun, verb, adjective, and (incorrectly) adverb. He joked and told me that if I hadn’t heard it used as a preposition, I had not heard everything. He then told me that people only used it when they were relaxing with their friends. Okay. I guess I’m flattered.

So I asked my Millennial daughter why. She said that people liked to use it because it was a “forbidden” word. She said that there were only two words that were now forbidden in “polite company.” (A term showing my age.) The other word is one that refers to female genitalia in a particularly vulgar way. Apparently that one is still more common on social media than general conversation.

I stock in an area that includes condoms and other personal items for a large chain store. I am totally in favor of condoms. Preventing pregnancy is good. Spreading disease is bad. And I’m sure that moving them out from behind the counter has been nothing but good.

However, I pity the poor teenager looking for something for his first experience. Gone are the days of choosing between three or four types of Trojans. I guess the variety in deodorant and toothpaste has come to personal protection.

There are three racks of choices, plus the selection on the shelf below and hanging on the display nearby. They pretty much all promise a more sensitive experience for him and a more sensual experience for her. You can now buy them in boxes of up to 40 which I hope are purchased by people in committed relationships. I guess the other option would be a guy with really high hopes.

The more surprising thing is that you can now buy items that go over the condom to give the female additional stimulation. I’m not sure, but I don’t think those things existed when I was young. At least they were not available on a rack in plain view of everyone, right next to the vibrators that could remove the male from the picture entirely. I wonder what the parents say when their child wanders down the aisle while they are looking at razors.

I kind of miss the days when s*** was still uncommon and the most embarrassing thing to explain to a child in a grocery store was the sanitary napkins.

 

21

Why am I Working Here?

First a brief overview of my past for those of you who missed it at the beginning (about 95% by my non-scientific analysis).

I grew up blue collar in a Detroit suburb. Went to a highly regarded mid-western university (does not go by the initials ND). Got a couple of very well-paying jobs.

Had two psychotic breaks. Discovered I was bipolar and my job stress had to go. Finally ended up stocking cheese at a big box store. Low stress; low money.

Started blog about work. Got bored with that. Moved on to other subjects. Which is why you are reading a blog called Adventures in Cheeseland that has nothing to do with cheese. Have been told it’s a very bad idea to change the name of the blog.

Life has been pretty good in cheeseland. I like the people (most of them). The work is low-stress. My hours are early, but I like them. We are unionized, but that’s not one of its selling points.

It’s family-owned. When I started it was run by a man who was philanthropic, family-oriented, and good to work for (if you’re looking for that type of work).

[Warning: from this point forward it’s sarcasm, not the kind of humor you usually see in my blog.]

Unfortunately, he died. His sons took over. From all appearances, they learned very little from their father except how nice life could be for them with a lot of money.

They have been steadily climbing the Forbes 500 list of wealthiest people. During the United Way campaign, they asked us to contribute to help support people earning less than $27,000 annually. No one in the room was making close to $27,000 annually.

They started to buy a lot of their inventory from China (not the food). In fact, they have opened a distribution center in China “to be closer to their suppliers.” Some slippage in quality; some increase in price.

Their store brand used to be comparable to the national brands. Now the only thing I will buy are the pasta and canned tomatoes (to start the pasta sauce). They raised the price on cheese so high that sales started to drop.

The company hired a non-unionized workforce to do some of the stocking. Higher pay, same benefits as the rest of us. The union said to let them know if anyone had their hours cut because of these people.

Excuse me?! All of the work they are doing should be done by union workers. Michigan is now a right-to-work state. But standing by while the company pays non-union workers more money is not one of the definitions of right-to-work. At least is wasn’t when I did employee benefits.

When Michigan raised the minimum wage, the union made no attempt to get a higher wage cap for the employees who were already above that level. I’m guessing the idea never crossed the brothers’ minds.

The union contract is up next year. We no longer need to belong and pay dues. They may want to start working a little harder. Even the stewards are advising that we get rid of them. (They did save the job of a guy who went totally ballistic when someone took his food out of the microwave after he left the room.)

But all of that pales next to the company’s most recent initiative.

Work-motion studies have been around for more than a century. (Anyone remember “Cheaper by the Dozen”?) But the company seems to have created theirs without actually studying what the employees do.

Their basic idea is to get the maximum number of employees at work during the busiest times of day. Sounds logical, right? In fresh foods they do it by taking the people who set up the departments and having them start 2 to 3 hours later.

Problem? Nothing is set when the customer levels increase. Solution? Don’t change the standards for when the set-up needs to be done. But don’t allow workers to have carts on the floor because that’s inconvenient for the customers.

Employee can’t meet the standard? Write him/her up.

Best usage of this idea? In the bakery they have moved the slowest person to a schedule that requires her to do the majority of the baking before the store gets busy. Hope she doesn’t currently have any performance points. We only get 12 before we’re terminated.

There is ABSOLUTELY NO OVERTIME. Yes, the memos capitalize it. Currently, we can work 7 extra minutes each day without incurring overtime. It’s helpful when you’re trying to help a customer or finish a display.

We are moving to being paid by the minute. Which means that we can have 7 extra minutes per week before we have overtime. But we get paid for those extra minutes. And we get written up for that 8th minute. Seriously.

If we are helping a customer and it gets close to quitting time, either the team leader needs to take over or we need to call the manager to see if we can stay the extra time. Seriously.

Did I mention that the store is understaffed? The only ones who want to work here can’t pass the background check. Seriously.

I’m guessing that by now you understand why I no longer write about work. Work is no longer humorous.

I wonder if there’s a call for cat-sitters around here?

4

Maybe I Need a Stronger Scent

A while back, I saw a Jack Nicholson film, “Wolf”. It’s about a guy who hits a wolf with his car. He feels badly about it and gets out to check on the wolf. Unfortunately, it bites him. More unfortunately, it’s a werewolf. Of course, the guy starts turning into a werewolf himself.

One of my favorite scenes takes place in the corporate mens’ room. The company has been taken over, and his job was given to a favorite of the new company. He manages to get his job back. Then he sees his rival at the urinal. He goes over and urinates on the man’s very expensive shoes, marking his territory.

I was reminded of that scene last week. I have not been working weekends for a while, which was really nice. But then I discovered that no one from our department was helping unload the truck on Saturday mornings. Our biggest load day. No wonder everyone hates the deli. (Fortunately, no one ever remembers I’m part of the deli.)

I asked the Team Leader (TL) about it. “I don’t have anyone coming in that early.” Ummmm. Maybe you should schedule someone that early?

Short version – I said I’d work 1a – 9:30a. There was another woman who worked cheese during the day on Saturdays and Sundays. We’ll call her “J”. TL had thought it would be a great idea to have our schedules overlap by several hours. Just what the customers want on a busy Saturday morning – empty shelves and two people in their way trying to fill them.

Luckily she settled for a half hour overlap the first day. I had heard J was not the most pleasant person to work with. Oh, goody.

First thing she does after she comes in is moves one of my carts. “This is the way I work every weekend.” Okaaay. And I volunteered for this.

I’m hanging cheese, and she comes over. “I thought you were supposed to leave at 9.” “No, 9:30.” “TL told me 9.” I realized that it would irritate her more to be cheerful, so I said, “Well, the schedule says 9:30,” very sweetly. She stomped off.

This past weekend, J had something to do so we overlapped three hours. I taught her how to unload pallets, then left to do other things in the deli. I think I ceded my territory to her.

Not that this is the first time. I volunteered to do markdowns in the deli a couple of times. It’s now my job. Same with inventory checks.

They lost another stocker yesterday. After only 10 days. So I’m back to unloading meat and salads. And chickens. I hate chickens. “I don’t have anyone else to do it.”

Why can’t TL do it? In the past she’s told me, “Men should do this. It’s not a woman’s job.” Mmmm-hmmmm. Insulting to me and women in general. Not really that easy to do.

And TL wants me to help the guy on Friday with the deli load – “He’s so slow.” After I do the cheese load. And her markdowns. And her inventory checks. And set her stock.

Kicked out of another watering hole.

It’s not like it should surprise anyone. I’ve told you in the past about the animals around our yard not being afraid of me. I even had a woodchuck stare rather than run.

Apparently it’s gotten around the neighborhood. It’s still (very) dark when I go to work. The animals are wandering around, getting things ready for winter. In the past week, I’ve had two possums sit in the middle of the road (one was even on the line) and watch me go by. They must have gotten off the road shortly afterwards, since there were no bodies later.

Same with a little raccoon. He wandered onto the road and sat to watch me drive by. I think I know how the animals in the zoo feel. Three deer meandered past me on the road.

I would really, really hate to hit anything. But sitting and watching me drive by is embarrassing. I never thought of myself as an alpha- animal, but I think they might be pushing me somewhere south of gamma.

I guess it really doesn’t matter. With my luck, if I marked something it would just attract an amorous bear.

4

Be Careful What You Wish For

You may recall the short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. A British Army officer returning from India stops to see his friends the Whites. He has an old monkey’s paw that a friend got from a fakir which is able to grant the bearer three wishes. The officer, having had a bad experience with the paw, attempts to throw it in the fire.

Mr. White see it as a means to get the funds to pay off his house. He does receive the funds, but pays an extremely high price for the money. The moral being that we should not attempt to interfere with fate.

I have always loved that story. I was reminded of it last week at work. You may (or may not) recall that we lost our deli stocker to an unfortunate incident involving a bagel. Instead of being immediately terminated, he was placed on indefinite suspension.

My theory was that they were waiting to see if they could get someone to replace him. When dealing with the company, it’s always best to assume the most cynical, mercenary motives.

Sure enough, a few weeks later someone was hired and he was officially terminated. Hopes were high.

The new guy (NG) is very sweet and works extremely hard. He also seems to have a bit of trouble processing new information, which makes him work very slowly.

The team leader (TL) has trouble with people she perceives are not working as quickly as she thinks they should be. Or cannot learn all facets of a position immediately. She practices motivation by volume.

The intolerance is rather ironic given the number of things she still cannot do after a year in her position. Perhaps no one has yelled enough.

The NL quickly decided that NG would not work out. She wanted to hire someone else and move NG to a different position (preferably in a new department).

Moving to a new department would probably increase his productivity immensely. I had him with me for a day over in cheese and just left him alone. He did great work, and we were both happy with the arrangement. (Do not expect a happy ending here.)

Now they have found a guy to replace NG; the new new guy (NNG). Once again, he was greeted with great fanfare and high expectations.

That lasted for about half a day. The first day he was on the floor, they were teaching him the basics of stocking. He was rather slow, but that was to be expected, right? Although I’m not really sure how he explained all that time he wasn’t on the floor.

The next day, I was supposed to show him how to unload the stuff from the truck and get it into the deli. It was worse than unloading all of those stupid chickens.

After about a half hour, I told the TL that NNG was either dumber than dirt or lazier than a pet hound dog (I love the expressions I got from my grandparents). She thought it might be both. (Told you she has a low threshold for the learning curve.)

The first thing he had to do was move a few cases of chickens from one cart to another in the cooler so we could finish filling the first cart with salsas and hummus. I explained it to him. He asked me to explain it again. I did. I went to leave the cooler and he followed me. I then explained that he had to do it right then. He asked me to repeat the instructions.

In the meanwhile, NG had started to move things from the pallets to the carts.

NNG looked at the pallets and asked how often he was expected to do this. I told him it would be part of his job. Did that mean every day? No, just Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. He kept staring at the pallets.

I told him that he needed to learn how to sort the boxes to the various carts. He wanted to know how he could tell what went where. I told him that was what he needed to learn.

NG continued to move things onto the carts. Slowly buy continually.

NNG started to unload only those things that he had to stock. No meat, no dairy, no bakery, no deli salads, no specialty cheese.

I told him again that he needed to learn to sort things. He continued to unload his stock. Finally, I told him that he had to learn it because I wasn’t going to be there to help him after a few days. He looked at me then looked at the pallet. He slowly began to work through the load.

The next day he called off. NG unloaded the chickens and put them away. I don’t think NNG knows about the chickens yet.

I can hardly wait.

2

That Was a Bad Idea

A couple of nights ago, it was really hot and humid here. We don’t have air conditioning so it was almost as uncomfortable inside as out. Horatio Hedgehog has his cage covered with a blanket so the sunlight doesn’t bother him while he’s sleeping.

I had forgotten to give him water that day, so I was worried about him. When I opened his cage, he was panting. I figured it was from the heat (not his grumpy personality.) Hedgehogs are supposed to love water and are good swimmers. Which had been the case with Jean Luc, his predecessor hedgehog.

So I put some water in our sink and brought out Horatio. When I put him in the water, he was not a happy hog. He immediately panicked and tried to get out. He managed to climb up the side of the stainless steel sink. I had to give him his favorite treat (wax worms) before he would calm down.

Speaking of bad ideas, I asked my (temporary) doctor for a note saying that I couldn’t unload pallets for more than 2 hours per day. I got the note. Unfortunately it says that I can’t do any repetitive motion for more than 2 hours/day. Which pretty much eliminates my entire job. I really need to enroll her for a course in empathetic listening.

It’s not just me. You may remember a few weeks ago I talked about Other Stocker and New Guy. New Guy didn’t last. First there was the work slow-down, then the quitting without calling in. Not the way to get a good reference.

But Other Stocker (OS) was the one with the really bad idea. The company is really strict about actually working while we’re on the clock (go figure). They even feel that we should be using the restrooms on our breaks/lunches (not gonna happen).

The deli and bakery are about as far from the break room as you can get. OS would pick out a bagel, pay for it, then go on break. Totally against the rules. It’s called abuse of time clock.

OS got caught one time and warned. He continued to do it without being caught. Until one day they got him again. He was called to Security and terminated.

The really stupid part about the whole thing is that his girlfriend was terminated a while back for abuse of time clock. She lived about 25 minutes from the store (why she would drive that far is beyond me). She always seemed to be running behind, so she’d pull up to the door, punch in, then go park her car. OS seemed to think it was reasonable because she lived so far away. It didn’t seem to occur to either of them that maybe she should leave the house earlier.

Probably the dumbest idea I’ve run across lately is from the guy in the next section over. He stocks overnight with another guy in dairy. The night people are supposed to take breaks consistently every two hours.

Dairy Guy (DG) has his own “system” and feels the need to not take his “lunch” until he should actually be taking his last break. And he usually schedules it so he misses unloading as much of the truck as possible. DG also has things he “has to do” before he goes to lunch.

The other day, one of the managers asked why DG was not working on the load. He went to find DG and told him to go help. DG was sure that his partner had ratted him out. DG was furious that his priorities should be questioned. He said that he was going to take his second break and leave on time. It was actually kind of amusing that he had thought he was impressing management by not taking his last break and working over every day.

The next day, DG went to the manager above the one who had “forced” him to help unload the truck. He told the manager that his “system” was being interrupted. The second manager agreed with the first one. I thought I was going to be stomped on if I got too close to one of his carts. It was the fastest any of us had ever seen him work.

At least Horatio will never tell anyone how I tried to drown him.

4

Another One Bites the Dust

Apologies to Queen. I would have preferred to use Bohemian Rhapsody, but could not find anyway to tie it in. This concert at Wembley is supposed to have been one of the best ever at that stadium.

I always miss the good stuff. I took Friday off to take my daughter to an appointment. Yesterday morning I got to work and discovered that someone had been removed from the schedule. Actually, no one ever disappears the first week they are gone. The name stays but the hours are gone so everyone knows someone left. It’s for people like me who don’t actually pay attention to who works when but will notice when there is a week of empty space next to someone’s name.

The interesting thing about this person is that not soon after she arrived, she became the “heir apparent” to be the next team leader-in-training. I think the team leader is/was anxious to get someone to help with the team, and the employee felt she should be promoted. Pretty much from the day she started, she saw the need to tell the other team members what they should be doing and report those who were not behaving as desired (by her). You may have met people like this.

It appears that her need to correct was finally her undoing when she came up against the team leader. Since the team leader is another person who is never wrong, it was probably a crisis waiting to happen at some point. They got into a huge fight in the deli. In front of the rest of the staff. In front of the customers.

It’s not really that unusual for the team leader to disagree with someone. Loudly. That’s what happens when you have all the answers, but don’t understand all of the questions. In fact, I know of a couple of instances where there have been rather unpleasant exchanges between different people and her. The difference is that this time someone complained to management.

If there’s one thing that management hates, it’s customer complaints. And people fighting rather than working. And people disrupting other people working because it’s hard to interact with customers when you can’t hear them over your co-workers yelling at each other.

So the team leader and the employee were called to the office. (Life there always seems like high school replaying on a continuous loop.) The employee walked out with no job. The team leader walked out with a job but a warning. It’s generally the rule that they don’t get rid of bad leaders, they just send them to the equivalent of Siberia at an undesirable store.

In this case, I think we are just going to have to live with her. Management already knows about her talking about her employees behind their backs. To other team members, not fellow team leaders. They know about her inability to order food correctly. And her inability to get new staff.

There’s a breakdown in logic somewhere along the line. She insists she doesn’t have time to call prospective employees for the first interview. She doesn’t want any of the other team leaders to do it for her. Then she complains about having no staff.

The last time she did interviewing, she saw four people and said she was going to hire three. One started and will probably not stay because she gives him panic attacks by yelling all the time. The second one didn’t pass the background check. I can’t imagine what that person did, but it must have been pretty awful to not make it into the deli. She was sure the third one was destined for management. Lots of deli experience and very enthusiastic about serving customers. There was a delay in his background check. Then he fell into some black hole. I believe he has found another job.

One of the day people who was also “destined to move up” did just that. But not at our store. She’s running a deli at another store. I’m sure she’ll do very well. And be a lot more relaxed.

The woman who moved from afternoons to days did it based on seniority (we do have a union after all). She’s a wonderful woman and works very hard. Unfortunately she also has a significant hearing loss and can’t work on the counter. The team leader neglected to tell her that since she couldn’t work the counter, she would be deep frying chicken parts all day. She might have been able to do dishes part of the time, but the team leader likes that job. It’s one of the few she doesn’t complain about doing.

There are two people who roast chickens. The first has Aspergers and is getting worse daily because the team leader is constantly yelling. The team leader wants to replace him because he’s too slow. The second one has significant health problems and should be out on a long-term disability. The team leader wants to replace her because she calls in sick too much.

The team leader wants to replace them with an employee from another department who has shown interest in transferring to the deli. But he’s only interested on the condition that he will stock, not wait on customers. We need stockers, but she won’t hire anybody she can’t use on the counter and with the chickens. We won’t be getting that guy.

So life goes on over there. The team leader complains about the employees. The employees complain about the team leader. The employees complain about each other. The other departments laugh about the dysfunctional deli.

It probably won’t be long before another one’s gone.