Confessions of a Retail Worker: Schedules

by: Lightbulb

Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 12:13:13 PM EST



A couple of people had asked me to post about schedules in retail.

This piece is something I wrote about on another website in the past. Unfortunately, retail hasn't changed much.

So here it is...

Vice President - you met him in Diary One - doesn't like to be at the door to let people in very early on a Sunday morning (Yes, I'm sure you're shocked by that.)

Therefore, "Bob" who is a non-manager, is given the responsibility of letting in overnight and early staffers. It's very common for us to work without any managers or "assistant managers" in the facility. Bob is the go-to guy.

Bob also has the responsibility of printing everyone's work orders based on a just-in-time schedule. He's not in charge of creating the work orders, that's done out of state. He just prints them.

We never know what the work plan is for the day until we physically see our work order. The work order might "authorize" overtime, so you need to be available. If you're not available when overtime is asked, your hours are reduced as punishment.

The work orders can run hundreds of pages. This is harder than it ought to be for Bob to print because none of us, including Bob, are allowed a desk or computers of any kind. He usually asks a sympathetic back office person to leave a computer on for him, and then carries his paperwork around in cardboard boxes.

The work orders change every 24 hours. For example, members of the inventory control team might find out on Tuesday that they are working overnight that night. Or they might find out they need to show up on Wednesday at 2:30am to unload trucks.

Or a combination of both.

(One of the few changes for the better is that Corporate's insurance company no longer allows the facility to schedule work shifts less than X hours apart. It used to be pretty common).

Otherwise, the expectation is that all workers will be available at all times.

We have no full-timers amongst our number except Bob.

As scheduling is so fluid, the paychecks are variable. It's not unusual for me to have a difference of more than $150 in my weekly earnings from one week to another, or to have a few weeks at less than $100. On the best weeks, I'm scheduled to work a full 8 hours on a federal holiday, plus 32 hours of straight time: that can be nice money. On the other hand, for the weeks where I'm only scheduled for 8 hours split over two or three days, it's hardly worth the transportation cost to come in.

Even that wouldn't be so bad if we only knew ahead of time. Bob can sometimes guess: "Oh, for the last few years we have a sale on the Monday after Have a Solar System Day, so they'll probably schedule you for 6am to 10am to stock Suns, then you'll have off Tuesday. But the Other Team will probably have to work Tuesday night and you should be prepared to restock the entire Solar System on Wednesday. We'll probably be scheduled for eight hours of that beginning at 8am."

But those are only guesses at best. Bob is often right, but management likes to keep things "flexible" for "just-in-time inventory control", and therefore won't allow work orders to be issued more than 24 hours in advance.  

It's all subject to change at any time; therefore, we don't know what our paycheck size will be either.

It's very hard to manage a budget when your hours are varied and your pay fluctuates. It's also hard to look for a second job, take a class, or socialize.

Lightbulb :: Confessions of a Retail Worker: Schedules
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The important thing to remember... (2.00 / 20)
Is that my workplace is not much different from any other big box retailer in the USA. It's bad throughout the industry.

How nice to see you here, Lightbulb (2.00 / 16)
This is a wonderful place, and your Retail Worker diaries will be a welcome addition. The treatment of retail workers seems to be getting worse by the day, a situation that I dearly hope will change in a more robust economy when employers will once again have to compete to attract and retain workers, rather than keeping them as indentured servants.  

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.


-- Oscar Wilde


Thank you very much cassandra! (2.00 / 12)
I'm glad to have landed here at the moose! fcvaguy and a couple of others encouraged me to come over.

You're right that it is getting worse, not better. With the sole exception of Costco, I think the industry has really become difficult for rank & file staff.


[ Parent ]
Thanks for this, lightbulb. (2.00 / 13)
That kind of scheduling is both common and outrageous. Workers in retail and restaurants deserve better treatment!

"Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." ~ Desmond Tutu

Hi Nurse Kelley! (2.00 / 12)
I think of you sometimes when we talked about schedules in past.

It's occurred to me that an ethical retailer (hahahaha) could probably take lessons from a well-run, excellent emergency room. You know, having a core team with a regular schedule and then a rotating system for on-call work in the event of a particularly busy shift or significant local emergency. It's better for the doctors, the nurses, and everyone else in ER.  


[ Parent ]
Thanks for posting this. (2.00 / 12)
When I first read this (at GOS), I was horrified by how badly you and your co-workers are treated, and now that I've reread it I'm horrified all over again. To hear that conditions are getting worse instead of better makes my heart go out to you. Living with such uncertainty is incredibly stressful.  

The schedules used to be better. (2.00 / 9)
If you had something out of the ordinary, like a shift in the middle of the night (and you weren't a regular third shifter) you'd get some notice from the management people. That changed.

[ Parent ]
As ugly as this may sound, (2.00 / 11)
it almost feels as if some sadist out-of-state is doing a full power-trip thing with the scheduling, playing with the employees as if they were checkers on a board to be moved around randomly at will. Really horrific.

Wer kämpft, kann verlieren. Wer nicht kämpft, hat schon verloren.
                       - Bertolt Brecht


Wouldn't be surprised. (2.00 / 9)
Employee recognition?

Team postcards: "Good job ..insert team here..!

Not even our names listed. That's a whole other diary.


[ Parent ]
At least scheduling at the defunct Borders was fairly consistent. (2.00 / 13)
If you were full-time (mostly back-office folks like me) were guaranteed 40 hours.  Part-timers were generally granted the schedule they requested, i.e. days of the week, number of hours they were available and shift preferences.  The trouble began when Borders went on to their long down-hill slide.  Each week the store was given x numbers of payroll hours and one of the poor managers (all of whom got to work all the hours God sent) and the one who made the weekly schedule had to make everything fit.  Full-timers still got 40 hours which meant the part-timers got shafted.  There were times when there were only 4 people to run the whole store, including the barista.  Fun times.

"I base most of my fashion sense on whether or not it itches"  -- Gilda Radner

Yeah, us too. Our facility has x number of payroll hours (2.00 / 10)
It's all based on projected volume. It can change in a snap.

[ Parent ]
I confess - two years ago i started buying groceries at Walmart (2.00 / 10)
becuase they are the only place with groceries i can afford to buy them ; the competitor went up over 20% from one week to the next at that time. I live just outside a small town of about 7,000 people and don't have any real choice.  THe nearest other store is 27miles  away and averages more than 10% higher per item. Usually I vote , otherwise am politically and socially active with my wallet. My entire income is disability payments - so this is something I can't follow the virtuous route on. My apologies to you and your co - workers ; 'We're all doin' what we can' - John Lennon.

"COUNTY OFFICIALS TO TALK RUBBISH"- from 'Anguished English'

Please don't apologize, Abra. (2.00 / 11)
When I was very new to blogging I read a diary about something that happened to the writer outside of WalMart. Her topic wasn't even about WalMart, it was about a crime she witnessed.

I was shocked to see commenters attacking her for her choice of retailers. It came out that she was buying a book for her child, and the only books she could afford were sold there. When some asshole told her the child should do without, if that was the choice, I got into my first online fight.

Some people have no idea what poverty is, what it REALLY is. I learned in that same thread that some people who call themselves progressives think people are wrong for taking jobs at WalMart.

That one diary taught me many lessons, once I got over my ire and general gobsmackedness. (Yes! You can make up words at the Moose!)

"Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." ~ Desmond Tutu


[ Parent ]
This! Reality trumps "progressivality" (new Moose word) every time. (2.00 / 9)
You do what you gotta do.  I don't like Walmart for it's practices but if it serves the purpose of feeding or otherwise meeting folks' needs then that's that.

"Pin your money to your girdle and don't talk to strangers."  My Grandmom's advice when I went away to school.  I don't wear a girdle and have never met a stranger.  Sorry Grandmom!

[ Parent ]
I'm so glad (2.00 / 12)
I live in a state where much of that crap is illegal.

Nice to see you here, lightbulb.


Wish it was illegal in all states! nt (2.00 / 11)


[ Parent ]
Me too (2.00 / 9)
As bad as retail sucks anywhere, you must post weekly schedules here in MA. No day-to-day allowed, not in retail. And, any time you are made to come in, you must be paid for 3 hours, even if they send you home right away.



[ Parent ]
In theory we have weekly schedules too... (2.00 / 8)
But it's not enforced.

For example....on Mondays you might get a schedule telling you to come in on Wednesday at noon for eight hours, Friday at 8am for three hours, and Sunday at 4am til the truck is completed unloaded. Cool. In theory, you can plan.

But then when you get in on Wednesday they ask you to work 12 hours, and oh, can you work Thursday morning too?  Then they call you late on Thursday night and ask you to come in at 5am on Friday instead of 8am. When you leave on Friday, they tell your Sunday shift is cancelled.

So we have a "weekly schedule" given once a week, but in practice we don't have any at all.


[ Parent ]
Hi Lightbulb! (2.00 / 1)
Gosh Lightbulb,
It's so great to find you here!! I always read your writings over at that old place, and missed you.

I've no idea how to tweet, so couldn't tweet at you. But in the meantime I'd read about Nurse Kelley and a new place... and figured out how to join up and low -- here you are! I am glad you are ok, and look forward to reading more about your place of work.

Thanks for all you do to educate people.


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