“Are you a seasonal employee?”
“No.. I’m full time. Hired in September.”
“Oh! Congratulations then! There is going to be a lot of opportunity here this year as the warehouse expands.”
I cringe inside, but try to look excited. I probably failed. My blue badge puts me in a privileged class – those very few who are hired directly by the company, not through a temporary agency. We have higher than average pay, great benefits, and nowhere to go but up. The man following me, auditing for quality control, seems very excited about the prospects and his part in it. While he seems to be in a position of authority, he is in reality my equal in another function. He agrees that picking is not the best thing in the world and had to do more than he liked during peak season. No one from any department that has to come and help ours, ever begs to come over to our side. It truly is the hardest entry-level job in the building.
A few moments later, I see our assistant manager roaming the aisles, with a stack of printouts. He walks by, so none of them are for me. I see him later with a friend of mine, another blue badge employee. They are going over something on the paper and each time I cross the aisle, back and forth, they are still there. She is getting upset and trying to explain something. She says she has explained this before many times. I meet her later on another aisle and she is fuming. She says, “I just got my third write up for not making rate.” I asked her how many it takes before they fire you. She doesn’t know. We haven’t been told. She declares she is going to organize and get the union in this company. Another woman standing in the aisle offers to help. She says she feels like her ancestors who were forced to pick cotton. That she has never had a job that hurt her body this badly. I offered, “Yes, and while they had no choice, we sign up for this of our own free will.” Shaking my head.
But this isn’t exactly true either.
No one knows what they are in for when this company hires you. We are not told what position we will be working, or asked if we have a preference. No one explained that you might be assigned to a job that required walking for 10 hours (or maybe 12) and not just strolling – you must meet a rate demand. You must walk quickly, and you must push a cart, lift heavy things, put heavy totes on conveyors, and start all over again, going wherever and as far as your scanning device tells you to go. Over and over.
For the young, fit and tall, this is not unreasonable to expect. But just like a bad movie where all the wrong actors are cast in parts they play badly, many people assigned to Pick have no hope of ever meeting the demands. They would have been great packers or stowers, but they didn’t have the option. They were assigned this position and now they want to transfer. But they can’t.
After lunch the manager reports that many pickers who are getting negative feedback are expressing a desire to transfer to a department where they could meet the production rates. She explains that in order to be eligible to transfer, you must have been employed for 90 days with no write-ups and good attendance. People who are getting written up for being slow are stuck in a place where they have to go faster than they are able. Older people of short stature are at an extreme disadvantage. Especially if they are on any medication that causes any mental sluggishness as well. The slower you walk, the faster you must think. Would they have applied for this position given full disclosure? I don’t think so. But then, no one would.
This isn’t a job at McDonald’s. This is the type of job people seek to support their families and get medical benefits. People leave other good jobs to work here. My friend now can wait to get fired, or walk away and look for something else. I know of at least three people in this position. If I ever entertained the idea of trying to stay long term and moving up in this company, I’m over that temptation. I know this is just how business works. But people who are really working hard and doing their personal best, shouldn’t have to worry about losing their job. I couldn’t be the one to tell them.
But tonight I knew for certain, that I want at least five more years at home with my younger children before I pursue any type of career or more education. These three months away from them has been the hardest of all. I want to pour my heart and soul into them, and also learning all I can about the new life we want to establish, whether it’s an urban or rural homestead. Our financial situation has improved, and if need be, I may have to work part-time here and there again, but 40 hours a week in a place that sucks out your body, soul, and mind – is not worth the blue badge that gets me in the building. In the next few days, I will assess exactly what needs to be in place for me to resign, and then I will set a date.
We have lived on faith for many years, and we haven’t always had what we wanted when we wanted it. I have enjoyed the added income and being able to get what we needed without scrounging yard sales or going without. But the trade off is costing too much. I know what we need will be there. We have been blessed greatly and this job was a blessing for the time that was intended. But this isn’t what my life is about. It’s just a stepping stone across the creek – on my way to better things on the other side.