Once upon a time, I had decent hours at Phipp’s. Sure, I wasn’t making a whole lot of money, but with 35-40 hours a week, I could pay my bills. Couldn’t get rich off of what I brought home, but there remained a bit left over for such ridiculous extravagances as getting a pizza or going to the diner with my son.
I received tiny raises too, but they were the highest among other employees. You see, I take my job very seriously. Sure, most of it’s opening boxes and putting stuff on shelves, helping people find things, along with the occasional ringing up customers at the cash registers. But I applied for it. Said I can do it. And I give it my utmost professional treatment. I take pride in my work, even if it seems menial.
Retail is tough. Really tough. It’s physically demanding. I have to wear compression socks. I already have varicose veins and a few of them are sticking out a little more than I want them to. Hiking shoes help support my feet on concrete floors. There’s always bruises somewhere on my body. And some unidentifiable muscle I didn’t know I had hurts.
But now that my state wants to raise the minimum wage, all of our hours have been cut. Chopped to the core. At my last review, again, one of the highest in the store, I was told that even though I do well beyond what is expected of me, I can expect less of me to be there. I depended on at least 35 hours a week. Now, I’m lucky if I get 22. I’ll be able to pick up a few hours if someone calls in sick and I happen to be available to take their place. And while I’m one of the first ones they call, I can’t depend upon it.
This isn’t the store management making these decisions. It’s corporate. To remain competitive with online shopping sites and other department stores, plus deliver profits to the shareholders, they cut back on hours. While they still hire employees, they earn a lot less than someone like me. And they get preferential treatment. They’re cheap. I’m not. They’re given more hours. Mine are cut.
My immediate supervisor hates to do this, as does the store manager. Both of them glance at the sales floor and notice the empty shelves. Or the messes. Rugs strewn about the aisles. Towels gather in forlorn piles, often mixed in with a few items in the beauty section and maybe some ant traps. And a banana. An empty banana. Of course, there’s the obligatory discarded half-consumed drink cup. It often keeps company with a handful of rejected T-shirts thoughtfully placed in the stationery section.
The confused mass of mixed products remains in situ, mainly because there isn’t anyone to help clear up the mess. There aren’t enough hours to bring in enough workers to shape up the shelves. Just folding all the clothes that wind up on the floor takes hours. And forget about shoes. They have about a 50-50 chance of remaining true to their box. The picture on the outside might not correspond with the product on the inside. If they’re in a box at all.
I glance at next week’s schedule and sigh. Once again, I barely make enough hours to cover my bills. I’m working four hours a day, hardly enough to get up in the morning. My paycheck’s shrunk more than a wool sweater that’s been washed in hot water and thrown in the dryer. And I stress. So does everyone else.
The other day, one of my coworkers announces she’s found another job, one with a 40-hour workweek and benefits. She’s new to the area and is a skilled health care worker. But she didn’t know where she could find a job in her field. I told her about a job fair I knew was happening. Lucky for her, she got hired on the spot. Since she’s behind on everything, I couldn’t be jealous. She needed this. And yet another person told me how he found a customer service position and it’s a desk job too. It pays well and has benefits. He’s got kids and a wife, so he needs this really, really bad. I’m happy for him.
But what about me?
Granted, I use the extra time I have wisely. I volunteer for several organizations and they’re grateful for my help. I write more, working as much as I can on my second novel. And there’s time to tackle the weeds in my overgrown garden. I’m even sporting poison ivy blisters on my arms from ripping it out.
But most of all, I spend whatever time I can searching for permanent, paying work. That in itself is a job. Maybe three hours a day, I guess, looking over Indeed and Idealist and Zippia, plus postings on LinkedIn and about a thousand other places.
That, too, is exhausting. And demoralizing.
I want it to be my turn.
To that end, I applied for a job this week. It’s at a nonprofit, my preferred line of work. I’ll never get rich. But I’ll be ahead in the bills. Because really, the shrinkage occurring in my bank account has to end.
And someone has to hire me.