Archive for May, 2014


Powerless

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.

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miserable people

Last October, I got another life changing opportunity presented to me in an email that was forwarded to the entire biology department. A group of students on my campus formed a new club called “Medlife,” and they were looking for new members to join them on a trip to Peru. By this point, no one has to ask me twice; you invite me on a trip to another country and I am there. This trip though, was very different than any other trip I have ever been on, because the focus was on helping people. Medlife is an organization that is committed to helping communities in need in third world counties. They focus on addressing three main problems that these communities face; access to health care, access to education, and lack of a strong infrastructure. They have developed mobile clinics to help with access to health care, they build schools and donate supplies to help with access to education, and they build things like staircases to help with infrastructure short-comings. This organization focuses on working with the communities in order to provide long term help in all of these areas. They are pretty amazing. After traveling in Ghana, I decided that when traveling in a group, having one completely miserable person in your group is a good thing. This is because they have no problem complaining about all the things that everyone else in your group does not want to complain about. It gets it all out into the open, and you no longer feel like you are they only one suffering. In fact, that one person is often so miserable, that it makes you yourself feel much better. In fact, you may even find the ability to laugh about everything going on, and the group lightens up. That one miserable person may actually be the most important member of your group. However, when every single person in your group is miserable except yourself, there may be a bit of a problem. Upon arriving in Peru, I think the group I went with had some misconceptions about the experience we would be having. When we were in the middle of our plane travel, a girl in my group said that she was really looking forward to checking into our hotel and hanging out in the pool. Awkward. I turned to her and explained that we were not staying in a hotel, we were staying in a hostel. She asked me what the difference was. Well, I told her, in a hostel, you are lucky to have clean sheets on the bed and curtains on the window. She looked at me like I was crazy, then turned and went back to imagined the pool she thought she would be sitting by in a couple hours. Poor thing, she had no idea what was coming. After a drive through Lima, we arrived at a hostel in the middle of a very rich part of Lima, Peru called Mira Flores. If I did not know that I was in Peru, and if we had not just driven through a poorer part of Lima, I would have never known I was in a third world country. This place was gorgeous, pink flowers on every corner, mosaics that covered the sides of sky scrapers, and parks that were pristine. The contrast of this rich neighborhood with the neighborhoods we had passed through and the slums we were going to visit was deeply unsettling for me. The separation of the rich and the poor was so blatant but no one seemed to notice, or worse, care. Upon entering the hostel, memories of Ghana started to come back to me. This place was a very nice hostel, but a hostel none-the-less. The lady at the front took us up four very narrow flights of stairs to a couple rooms on the roof. It was extremely small, and there was one bathroom for 6 girls. There were clean sheets on the bed, and they provided us with lots of towels. Nice place. Better than most places in Ghana, and aside from the rooms being a little bit warm and humid, there was nothing that I could see, worth complaining about. Well, I apparently I was wrong…there was in fact, many things that could be complained about. I fell asleep on my bunk bed listening to the moaning and groaning going on around me. They said that the lady at the front desk clearly hated them because she gave us bleach stained towels (I tried to tell them that bleach stains are a good thing, it means they’ve been washed at least once). They said that the roof simply was not safe; people could break into the rooms and hurt us. And, don’t get me started on the fact that there was only a very weak wifi signal available. Ultimately they had decided that “10 days was a long time to be uncomfortable” and something must be done. Although I heard much of the discussion, I slept very happily for 2 hours. When I woke up, everyone had decided that we would be moving to a real hotel, and we would be asking for the money, that came from our program fees, for the hostel back. When they told me of this plan, I was the only one that seemed to think it was ridiculous. Awkward. They said it would only cost $200 each. Awkward, and Wow! To me, that is a lot of money. I almost feel bad for being frustrated, but I couldn’t believe I was with a group of such close-minded people. We are 20 year olds! We aren’t supposed to get stuck up about sleeping arrangements for at least another 10 years! I explained that, if you feel like you are going to be uncomfortable for 10 days, then remember, it is only 10 days. That’s it. I for one would not be moving. So instead, they sent me down stairs to ask the nice lady to change us to an inside room so that criminals do not break into our rooms at night to hurt us. Luckily, the let us move inside…but for some reason the bleach stained towels still seemed to be an issue, and they all went out and bought new ones. During the next 9 days, in that small hostel room, I learned a lot about girly girls. This may sound naïve, but when I watch movies that have women in them who take forever to get ready…I thought that was really only in movies….or for Weddings. Turns out, it’s not. Some people really do spend hours getting ready in the morning. Hours. I have never seen so many straighteners, hair driers, and make up choices. Did you know that they have things called foundation brushes? Yeah, the ones at Mac are supposed to be great and only like…..$34 dollars. And, there are other make-up brushes you can get too, for like….a mere $30-$50 each. I didn’t actually learn how many you need though…or what they are actually used for…. I think for this group, 10 days may have been a bit too long to start off in a third world country. However, I had an absolutely fabulous time, and I wish I had the money to go back. In addition to all the things I learned about being a girl, I also had 10 days full of some pretty extraordinary experiences. We spent time in Slum communities that were in great need of help. We learned a little bit of history about the people that lived there, and a lot about the hardships they faced. We got to see smiles on the faces of the locals when two new stair cases were built for their community, and a traditional dance they had prepared for us to see. I got to hold the hands of people who were in great need of health care. I got to teach little kids how to brush their teeth, and then run around and play games with them. I got to use the knowledge I had acquired about microbiology in school, to explain to my program buddies what was going with patients in the doctor’s tent. I got to really help people. It was truly amazing, and those stories are yet to come. Before I get myself into too much trouble, I want to end this by saying that the people I travelled with were a good bunch. They did end up having a sense of humor about a lot of things, and they were very adventurous. They were also hard-working, and given the hardships, they were in relatively good moods while we traveled from place to place. They really were dedicated to helping others, and they were very kind to everyone. I think that they may have been blind-sided by a couple things, but overall, we all had a great trip. Stay tuned for more!

Saying goodbye

When I was in high school, I was the totally cheesy, completely cliché, high school girl who just “didn’t belong” in San Jose. I felt San Jose was holding me back. San Jose had absolutely nothing to offer me. In fact, I felt like San Jose was the most boring place I could possibly be in that moment, yet I couldn’t leave it. When college application time came around, my mom made me apply to San Jose State as a safety school. She told me that I could still live in the dorms, and I could still have a college life. But, let’s face it, the only way I would have ever gone to San Jose State, was if someone dragged me through the doors while I was kicking and screaming. So, after getting accepted to CSU Stanislaus, I packed up my car and drove 1 hour and 45 minutes to……. the Central Valley.

I have no idea what my 18 year old self was thinking. How could an extremely conservative, dusty little town open up my eyes and make me feel the sense of belonging that I had so desired in high school? The closest mall was 30 minutes away, the obnoxious train would wake me up at all hours of night as it went by, there are more churches per square  mile than anywhere else in California, everything closes by 9 o’clock, and the summers are hotter than hell. However, there is something about this dusty little town that charmed me into accepting it as home. I fell completely in love it, and didn’t even realize it.

In Turlock, I found that there are days when life seemed so hard that all I wanted to do is sleep. However, I found more days that were so wonderful that I hated to think that I would have to sleep because I just wanted to be awake and soak up the happiness that surrounded me. For the first time here, I met people who deeply interested me. For the first time I learned how to be truly independent. I learned what it was like to work a minimum wage job, what it was like to do my own grocery shopping, sign my own papers, travel, stay out as late as I wanted, and do whatever pleased me. I got to be selfish. I got to go after my dreams, and nobody else’s. It was an amazing feeling. I made myself “belong”.

Today I turned in my 30 day notice. The time has come for me to graduate and say goodbye.  I have 29 days left in Turlock. 29 days left in my apartment. That’s it. Most people have told me I am lucky to be getting out of here, and honestly, I know they are right. I don’t think the life I imagine myself living in the future would ever be a possibility in Turlock.

However, between graduation and moving, my feelings get confused. On one side, I can’t wait for this last 29 days to be up, on the other side, I never want these last days to end. Somehow, the prospect of leaving this dusty place, my home, seems incredibly sad. I know that I am leaving Turlock to move on to bigger and better things in life. I know that even better years are coming my way. I know that no matter where I live, I will always have good days and bad days. But these last couple weeks went by very fast and I was not quite ready for it.

The life I found in Turlock was so much better than my high school self ever imagined. I don’t want my college years to end. That would mean a true end to study abroad possibilities, the end of college life, the end of my own apartment, the end of Turlock. No one ever told me this is what graduation really feels like. How incredibly hard it would be to leave school. To leave the life that I created for myself. How incredibly difficult it is to really grow up.

But, I guess you never really are ready for the next step, you just take it, and hope for the best. These past 5 years have been full of some of the greatest experiences I will ever have. I can’t believe that it has come to be the time that I have to say goodbye to them. It makes my heart ache, and my eyes start to water. The only thing keeping my head up, is that now, I get to say hello to a whole new set of opportunities.

Turlock will always hold a special place in my heart.