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.

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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.

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.

3

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Punch In

It was a pretty good week at work. They finally hired a stocker for the deli/cheese. He’s a friend of the other stocker, so he has some idea of what he’s walking in to. But it’s his first job and those are still hard to find around here. It should be good preparation in case he ever wants to work, well, I’m no exactly sure where.

The first thing the team leader was looking for in a new stocker was that it was a male. She feels that unloading the pallets is too hard for women. I wanted to thank her for bringing us back to the 1970’s when it was common knowledge that women would never be able to do certain jobs because they lacked the strength and stamina for them.

It was somewhat ironic that she would tell me these things while she was asking me to unload a pallet of chickens (46 lbs to the box, 20-25 boxes). I’m not very big: 5’2″ with weight proportional to height (as they used to say in the personals). It seems to me that if I can do it, gender should not be an issue.

Nevertheless, New Guy (NG) is great so far. Luckily for him, he is strong. And unlike the last male stocker, he isn’t too lazy to use his strength. He learns quickly and is willing to try anything.

That’s why it was so painful to have to tell him the ground rules. Not for working with me or the other stocker (OS), but being in the deli in general. Over in cheese, there are very few rules. Put the cheese where it belongs and don’t disappear for hours on end. It’s kind of depressing how many people have failed at it in the two and a half years I’ve been there.

Unfortunately, it fell to me to tell NG that the rumor about a lot of women working under stress in a very small space is true in our case. Very few of them play well with others. One woman walked out last week because someone kept telling what lousy work her shift did. (Day shift thinks night shift is lazy and worthless and the feeling is reciprocated.) Another woman kept yelling at her (co-worker, not customer).

Luckily for them, someone talked her into coming back. She’s a good worker and didn’t talk about others behind their backs.That’s probably why people were giving her a hard time; it’s like living in a tough neighborhood. One of the women apologized. The other ignores her. It’s also a lot like high school.

Then there’s the team leader (TL). Apparently it’s common knowledge in the other departments that she cannot order efficiently. We just got in five hundred and some chickens to rotisserie. Consensus was that relatively few people eat rotisseried chickens on Easter.

We can’t put the chickens in the deli cooler because it is too full of deli meat that TL has over-ordered. She insists that I can find room for all the extra chickens, meats, and salsa that she does not have room to store. I wish I had not let my magic license expire. Or could match her up with the people who think that if they complain enough I will be able to find something that is currently out of stock.

I’m never quite sure how much to share before it starts to scare people away. Generally, I like to share enough information so that the new person doesn’t think he/she has been singled out for the weirdness. Like the fact that my section is mainly an annoyance to the TL. It is not in the sight lines of the deli (thank goodness). Out of sight, out of mind.

Yesterday TL came around to ask who could work extra hours. NG and I were working together. She said that if no one volunteered, she would have to enforce mandatory overtime. She didn’t seem to understand that mandatory overtime could not be enforced at a company that tells its employees that NO overtime is allowed. Oddly enough, people schedule things for after work.

Newsflash! TL is not a good role model. She takes cigarette breaks on the clock. She parks in handicapped parking (illegally) so her car is convenient for smoke breaks (guess she doesn’t want people seeing her on her third break in four hours). Apparently all of that smoking has made walking to a different part of the lot uncomfortable.

TL doesn’t like working the counter, stocking, doing the daily inventory work or several other tasks. She does spend a lot of time complaining about being understaffed. I don’t think it has really sunk in that she wouldn’t have as many staffing issues if she picked up some of the slack herself.

No one wants to complain to management about TL. The last time someone did, she promised to track them down and file a complaint about that person creating a hostile working environment. That’s funny to everyone who didn’t have to listen to the tirade.

Once all of that was said, OS and I were able to congratulate NG on being a stocker rather than a slicer. He’ll have to spend part of his time stocking deli which is a little scary, but then he can come fall off the radar in cheese.

(Title courtesy of Dante for those of you who recognized it but couldn’t place it. For the rest of you too, I guess.)

2

Everybody Talks Too Much

 

 

I once worked for the Wicked Witch of the Great Lakes. She had hired me to work at one of those nationally-known human resources consulting firms. After I was hired, I realized that my job really was to sell people very expensive consulting they didn’t really need and leave before the results actually became apparent. And to suck my soul out of me. Luckily I escaped before I became too bitter. 🙂

Back to my point. One day, we both came to the conclusion that I did not belong there. At the exit interview, Ms. Witch kept asking me if there was anything I wanted to say. There really was no way to explain what was wrong without becoming equally vile, so I kept quiet. For some reason, my silence totally enraged her. I didn’t realize that following the adage “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all,” could have that type of positive karmic repercussions.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people seem to follow the practice. Perhaps “Better to be silent and seem a fool than to speak and remove all doubt” is more appropriate for the present times. I have been trying to think of the last time I heard someone say something nice about someone else at work. I know I’ve complimented people to their face and to the managers (because I’m perfect, remember?), but from the shocked looks I get, I’m guessing it’s not just my perception that it’s a rare thing.

I unload the pallets first thing in the morning with people from another department. Our stuff is all mixed together. so it makes sense to work together. Most of the time, I enjoy working with them. One day last week, things got a little ugly. There are three of us who regularly work together. We were working when a manager came by and asked where a fourth person (Employee X) was. Apparently the load comes in at his “lunch time,” so I had never seen him there. The manager paged him and told him he needed to get to Receiving.

Needless to say, when X returned he was not happy. He told the other two guys that they were not to touch the stock for the week’s sale. They were only allowed to touch the non-sale boxes. The guys were not happy and commenced to complain about X and his need to control everything. Later X complained about the guys’ inability to do their work in an organized manner. I’m never quite sure what to do in these situations. I let them vent, but no one seemed any happier for the opportunity. So the day began.

Then the chickens arrived. I think I’ve talked about the chickens before. Large quantities of them appear (seemingly) at random and take up space in my cooler. I had room for them (more or less) so they stayed. Later, the team leader was complaining to one of the deli stockers (Stocker A) that no on ever told her when there was deli stock in the cheese cooler. It started as a complaint that she had found three ham dinners from Thanksgiving still in the deli cooler. That is the cooler physically in the deli where they keep their meat.

From there, the team leader complained about how the other stocker (Stocker B) wasn’t doing his job. She might have to hire a third stocker. (Or get B to do his job?) The general consensus is that B is lazy. However, one of the deli people (Employee Y) doesn’t like A because he got to come back after quitting with no notice, when one of her friends didn’t. It seems that the friend had also broken down and tried to hurt someone. Y’s friend also doesn’t like A because she thought he was lazy when he was employed previously.

B was not scheduled this day. Earlier in the week he had posted on Facebook that he was scheduled for Friday which would make a long week for him, Friday through Wednesday. He was really unhappy about it and would have to look for another job. When he had found out about working Friday, he refused to talk to anyone. He has been complaining about how hard he has to work and how it isn’t fair.  I think it’s his first job.

Near the end of the day, someone told me that the late shift at the deli has finally been busted for not working. As long as I have worked there, the day shift and the night shift have argued about who is doing less. Recently it has become apparent that we had a winner. Leadership was receiving complaints during the evening shift about not finding anyone in the deli or waiting in line while one person worked and the others talked or used cell phones.

It seems somewhat appropriate that the end came for them when someone took pictures on a cell phone to show what was going on. Of course, there was much talking and wringing of hands. There wasn’t a lot that could actually be done. No manager was there to document the situation. The team leader decided she should work more evenings, which traumatized the entire second shift. She told one employee, and within five minutes everyone knew.

So what does any of this have to do with me? Absolutely nothing. I may have wasted more time that day than I have the entire time I’ve been at the store. The funny customer stories are good for dinner conversation. Who wants to listen to me recount the employees crabbing about each other?

I have looked everywhere on Amazon for a negative energy neutralizer or maybe a black box that would suck it out of the air. So far, no luck. I wonder if spraying the air with ginger or peppermint or lavender or something would work in a space that big?

0

We Don’t Care; It’s Your Fault

I may have mentioned that safety is one of our “Core Principles” at Ralph’s. We all have to sign an oath that we are  committed to 200% safety, own own and the other person’s. As far as I can see, the only flaw in the plan is that the store itself isn’t a party to the agreement.

The most recent innovation is the introduction of “safety shoes”. These are not real shoes. My mother’s elderly uncle (and most other people) would have called these things “rubbers” in the days before every word had some relationship to sex. They are black pseudo-rubber and pull up over your own shoes, more or less covering the bottom and sides. The idea is to keep people from sliding on the floors in all areas working with fresh food.

You may recall that I am technically part of the deli, although I spend 10 minutes or less each day in the deli itself. Nonetheless, I must wear safety shoes. I’ve heard that these items were chosen specifically for their ability to walk on wet and oily surfaces.

I can assure you they were not chosen for climbing on ladders. The first day I had them on, I climbed a step-ladder to get an item for a customer from the back of a top shelf. I have done this same thing many times. Make sure the ladder is anchored correctly, step to the proper level, reach forward, grab the item, and give it to the customer (yes, we have procedures for everything).

The first three steps went fine. I turned to face the customer and slid off the ladder. Too bad my kids are too old to appreciate the amazing bruise I got from the shelf that my arm caught on the way off the ladder. I did not make the connection that tight hold would not translate to flexible footwear.

Even more embarrassing was when the shoe caught on the floor of the cooler while I was opening the door. The door moved, I did not, and my face met the door. Management had told me that the one place I worked that absolutely required the shoes was the cooler. I am guessing that no one considered that a room full of cardboard boxes would not be particularly slippery. Luckily no one saw me that time.

After the ladder incident, my team leader asked if I wanted to file an incident report. I assured her it wasn’t necessary. In the first place, I wasn’t really injured. In the second place, it would have triggered the much dreaded “safety violation”. The stores all aim to be accident-free; it looks bad on the company’s public record if employees are continually being injured at work.

A year or so ago, I sprained my bicepal tendon. It was caused by a sudden impact to a repetitive motion injury (RMI). I had tried to pull a cart out of an overcrowded cooler (not my own) and twisted wrong. The amount of paperwork was overwhelming, and I had to watch a 45-minute safety video before I could go to urgent care (hopefully the order would have been different if there had been blood or protruding bones).

I was supposed to be written up for a safety violation. I had pulled the cart rather than pushed it and jerked it to get it free (it was wedged in such a way that I had no choice).The only thing that saved me was that it aggravated an RMI. I had to wear a sling and go to physical therapy for several weeks.

My manager didn’t talk to me for a week. The only reason he forgave me was because I didn’t miss any time. Lost-time accidents accidents are many times worse than regular accidents; apparently they go on the store director’s permanent record (like some high school behavior). I guess he was somehow responsible for the warehouse sending too much stuff and the planners somehow putting in too few coolers. The same as I was responsible for trying to work quickly in that environment.

For some odd reason, they put the beer and wine sections right outside the doors to the back room. And my cooler immediately inside those doors. And a major food-stocking vendor across from me. And the baler and receiving in the same section. And aisles barely wide enough to let two carts go by each other. I guess no one realized that a lot people would need to go in and out the swinging doors at approximately the same time.

I don’t know whether you are familiar with that type of door. They have a small (2′ x 3′??) plexiglass window that somehow becomes almost immediately scarred. I have never seen anyone actually touch the window. They swing in both directions. Our informal rule is that whoever has the heaviest load gets to go through first.

The rule would work well if you could actually see whether someone was on the other side of the door. From my front-row seat seat (which usually puts me in the way while loading and unloading carts), I have seen that we all find a way to avoid a major collision. Fear of paperwork and disciplinary suspension are as much to credit as 200% safety.

We had an update meeting recently. Management was excited to tell us that the company has decided that some accidents may not actually be the employees’ fault. They did not explain what such a circumstance would be.