In October 2012, I had $67.00 dollars in my bank account. It was the first time I had had less than $100 since I was 14 years old and had started working. It was not a good feeling. I had a choice to make; do I fill up my car or do I eat for a week? And what do I do after that? For the first time ever in my college career, I was a starving college student. I have never been the type to beg for money from my parents (for things like lunch) and so I decided that I really needed a job, and I applied to Target. I passed my interviews without a problem.
My first day was 2 weeks after I had told everyone I was going to get a job. The prospect of working at Target, for me, was pretty exciting. I liked Target. I thought Target was a good company. I did some research on their website, and thought they must treat their employees pretty well. Little did I know, this would be one of the hardest jobs I had ever had. Sometimes, when I say that, people think I’m kidding. I’m not. I have never worked so hard for $8.07 an hour in my life. In fact, I have never worked so hard, ever. When I made $15 dollars an hour managing swim lessons and a community pool I worked hard, but I had a voice and I was treated with dignity and respect, and if I spoke up, I was listened to and adjustments were made. Unreasonableness was not part of my prior work experience. The only thing that kept me going to work every day was the fact that I knew one day I would be getting out of there soon.
At Target, it starts with the fact that Target intentionally understaff their stores to keep payroll costs low. That means that even though I was hired for one department, I also had to back up be a back up cashier, clean spills, push re-stocks, push go-backs that people decided they didn’t want, assist guests, help with guest pulls, pick up calls, assist other departments as needed, collect carts from the parking lot, and make sure that at the end the night my zone looked perfect for the next day. However, it is kind of a trap, because with the high expectations they have for you, and the small amount of time they allot you; perfection is never going to happen. We are always stressed that we will not finish everything we are supposed to do on time, and as a result get into trouble. But honestly, that was the easy part of this job. Yes, it was demanding, and my back hurt after work for a good six months before my muscles got strong enough to handle it, but that stuff ended there, in the store, at Target.
The hard part was learning about the people that work with you. This past year and a half, I have spent every single holiday with these people; 2 Halloweens, 2 Thanksgivings, 1 Christmas eve, 2 New year’s eves, 2 news year’s days, mother’s days, father’s days, birthdays, valentines days, memorial days, 4th of Julys, Easters, and everything in between. Together we all run around the store on these busy days hoping that we will be allowed to go home for the next holiday. The truth is, these retail workers that people tend to look down upon, probably only get one holiday off a year- and it’s not going to be Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, the day after Christmas, or Easter. In these days we spend together, we start to learn about families and their struggles, and the ways that big corporations like Target take advantage of these incredibly hard workers. They especially do this with pay, benefits, and hours. Back when Target did offer benefits, unless you were at a higher position, they were kind of a joke. In addition, overtime at Target started at 32 hours a week (they would not pay you more for working over 32 hours, but it would go in the log as overtime and you could be written up for it), which means that no one in my position could ever hold a full time position and could never attain full time benefits.
One lady I worked with was however, was on Target’s health insurance plan for the part-time workers. In order to keep her insurance, she needed to work a minimum average of 25 hours a week. For target, that’s a lot of hours. Most people get about 20, tops. This woman though, has been with Target for 8 years and so she usually would get more hours than the average worker. However, at some point in the year, business slows down and therefore hours are cut. Well, the first week you are below 25 hours, that’s ok. And the second week, that’s ok. But after that, the average amount of hours you work starts to drop and you can lose health insurance. Since this woman was dependent on health insurance, she talked to my boss about her problem. My boss said she understood the problem, and would work on getting her more hours. Well, here’s what happened. My boss did give her more hours, from 20 hours up to 24 hours. However, she was scheduled 6 days a week at 4 hours a day, all “day” shifts. This meant a couple things; first and foremost, it made it impossible for her to pick up a longer shift from someone else because she can’t work 7 days in a row. Second, since the shifts are all during the day, the chances of her being able to extend her shift, to gain the one hour she needed, was very slim. She was going to lose her health insurance that she had through Target. I told this woman to look at my schedule and if there was a longer shift on my schedule, that she can have it, and I would switch her for the 4 hour shift. Also, if there were any other times that she needed extra hours to keep her insurance, she could have any of my shifts that she wanted. She almost cried, and told me that she would never do that because she knew I needed hours. I told her that I did not need the hours nearly as much as she did.
This is where the really hard part comes in, but also the really important part. As a part time worker for a company like Target, you are utterly powerless. I have never experienced that feeling in my life, but I am sure glad I did. This woman would lose her health insurance, and there was nothing that she or I could do about it. Nothing. In addition, if she were to do something that made our boss mad, she could lose more hours, and no one would be there to back her or anyone else up. We as bottom level retail workers are powerless. Once my boss told someone in the break room that she hates when employees request days off, and she docks them hours. Well, I had had a pretty regular schedule by this point. For an entire year, I closed (7pm-12midnight) Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This meant no karaoke nights, clubs, 21st birthday parties, movie nights, or any other kinds of hang outs. My social life virtually ended, but I was willing to deal with that because I needed money for food, gas, and bills. In other words, I was willing to accept that I had to grow up again, and do what I need to do to be a responsible adult. Well, long term, that schedule is completely unrealistic if you don’t get an occasional day off. Sometimes life happens and I want to go home for a Saturday night. Maybe it’s a birthday, or a baby shower, or a wedding, or the fact that I haven’t seen my family in 2-3 months. So, this particular time, I went ahead and requested the day off, knowing that my boss made that comment. For the next two weeks, I only got 9 hours. 9. At $8.07 an hour, that’s $72 dollars a week, before taxes. Everyone else had 21 or more. She knew it would hurt, and it did. Because when weeks like that happen with very few hours, you end up paying for them for weeks on end, trying to catch up with bills etc.
I was not the only one getting this treatment. That happened about 9 months ago. It did not stop me from requesting days off, but that powerless feeling really came into effect. I got through it because I knew that I would not have to deal with stuff like that forever. That one day, I might be able to get weekends off, and hey, maybe even Christmas eve off. But in my heart, I felt defeated because I knew that I was one of the few employees getting a college degree. The people that I spend all this time with, that I know intimate details about, that I love and care for, would have to put up with situations like that for their entire lives. This problem with requesting days off is still happening, and finally someone stood up to my boss and talked to her about the blatant punishment we were receiving when the inevitable “life” happened. My boss slammed the door to the office that the girl was in, cussed her out with the door closed, and burst into tears saying that we had no idea what she (our boss) does for us. Well, she’s right. We have no idea what she has done FOR us, but we do know what she has done TO us. Later that day, a security guard told us that my boss had told him to keep an eye on this employee. She instructed the security guard to tell my boss when and if the employee is misbehaving so that she can sneak up on her and write her up.
No one should ever have to deal with retaliation like this. It’s not fair. The worst part is, at this level, you are totally replaceable. If one boss does not like you, then all the bosses (of all the departments) will look at you in a harsh light. If you put up too much of a fight, they will try and make working conditions tough for you so that you quit and they can just hire someone new. Once, I complained about my boss, in confidence to another leader, and said all I wanted was to move departments. I was not looking to start any kind of trouble or make a scene, the only thing I wanted was to move. Word got back to her, and it was made pretty clear that I was not do that again, and I was given impossible workloads for a week (which if I did not finish, I could be written up for). Luckily, I am a good worker. I have always been a good worker, and I can get the stuff done that needs to be done, even if it means I stayed at work 2 hours longer than I was scheduled (meaning I would leave at 1-2am). But some people do not have the luxury of open nights. They have kids at home, or a sick mother they take care of, or a second job that starts at 6am. They need to go home because they have other obligations; and those are the people that get let go. Those are the people that are not given another chance.
I want to end with the fact that I think everyone, as some point should work a minimum wage job. It will be incredibly hard, and incredibly stressful, but you gain so much insight from it. Everyone needs experiences like this, so that they can stand up for those who are still living it.
I never experienced poverty before, but when I look around me, I know that these women that surround me have. I learned that these women struggle everyday for every penny and have to put up with vindictive bosses and cruel scheduling because they have no other option. So next time you shop on Christmas Eve, think about the people that work in the store. Next time you encounter an employee that is less than helpful, consider what they might be going through. Consider the fact that the people who work for companies like Walmart and Target are manipulated and taken advantage of, and purposely made powerless so that they do not unionize. A lot of these employees may not be well educated, but they deserve respect, and they deserve a fighting chance. At Target, they are not given a fighting chance. They are given inhumane employment scenarios and told to take it or leave it. The employees I worked with were the hardest working group of individuals I have ever met, with a resilient attitude in them that I have yet to find in any other type of group of people.
Today, was my last day working at Target. The only thing I am sad about is that I will not see these amazing people every day. Their stories and struggles have touched my spirit, and I will do anything I can to fight for them. As I was leaving, one of the leaders told me that she liked having me work there because she always knew I would get my stuff done. My response was, you are going to find someone who is better at this job because he or she will not realize how much more they are worth and work really hard for you.
And then I got sad. Because everyone who works at Target is worth more than Target. They are worth so much more, and I wish they knew it.
I am not done telling my stories about Target, there will be more to come.