I’m a Dirty Thievin’ Bastard

And so are You

Most corporate retailers rely and count on maintaining constant environments of mistrust, fear and turnover of the people they employ to boost their profitability. By avoiding anything resembling allegiance among their staff, these barons of modern day capitalism turn and burn personnel while avoiding costly expenditures such as benefits and pay increases, instead transferring that money into their already-bloated coffers. If you’re unfortunate enough to have chugged a six pack of big box corporate Kool-Aid propaganda you may temporarily fall under the spell of their we’re one big happy family façade, but it’s only a matter of time until the we care about you only as much as we’re required to by law antidote will be shoved down your unwilling throat instead.

Most corporate retail employers view their employees as an unfortunate expenditure they haven’t quite yet figured out how to function entirely without. If they could invent a way to convince their customers to give up their money without having to provide service in exchange, they would discard you and your subsistence-level wage faster than a drunk high school cheerleader dropping her panties on prom night. There’s a good chance your employer keeps just enough low-rent help around to maintain the illusion of a well-stocked store filled with vibrant and eager sales associates who are chomping at the bit to make sure the CEO’s kids are able to keep driving their late-model BMW’s. But a sneak peek behind the Wizard of Oz-like curtain reveals an industry thriving instead on requiring more for less from the very people they claim to care about the most.

Corporate retail employers essentially fall into one of two categories: The Non-Employee Employer and the Anti-Employee Employer. Here’s a brief and thoroughly incomplete summation of the two.

The Non-Employee Employer

The Non-Employee Employer actually does employ people, but views and treats them as non-entities. In the Non-Employee Employer world you exist but rarely matter. Your schedule requests are little more than puffs of wishful smoke and should you require a day off other than what is bestowed upon you from the schedule maker on high you are required to beg and/or bribe a fellow wage slave to cover your shift or instead shut up and show up. Any on-the-job training beyond the bare minimum or long-term professional development is solely your responsibility to source out, because chances are you aren’t going to be around long enough to advance in the company anyway. Your expendability is ongoing, because there’s a slush pile of resumes and applications backlogged in the manager’s office as a reminder of the desperate souls just waiting to fill your temporary shoes. Holidays are little more than another opportunity for you to serve the customer, and weekends are those mythical moments in time reserved for people with real jobs. You are required to park as far away from the job site as possible, regardless of how well lit the area is or isn’t and how that may potentially factor in to your safety. Benefits are for wimps, and the best and most affordable health insurance is you not getting sick. Closing late one shift and opening early the next – the dreaded “clopen” – is a job requirement, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect everyone to be treated the same. Consider yourself lucky if the managers know your name, and don’t expect them to ever – ever – come to your defense should you find yourself on the receiving end of a customer complaint. The Non-Employee Employer likes you as much as your ability to make money for him, and the entirety of your relationship is based on that unspoken premise.

The Anti-Employee Employer

The Anti-Employee Employer ups the ante in the I don’t give a fuck about you sweepstakes immeasurably. This inflamed hemorrhoid not only distrusts you, but goes out of his way to remind you that you are one evolutionary step above common pond scum in your current retail predicament. Before you even begin your employment tenure, your new boss will imply that he suspects you of being a borderline crack addict and will require you to prove otherwise by demanding you subject yourself to the humiliations of a urinalysis – all so you can prove that you possess the moral fortitude to make minimum wage selling overpriced claptrap. This paranoid nutdrainer has convinced himself that everyone under his employ exists for the sole purpose of robbing him blind, and he’ll be more than happy to tell you just how much he doesn’t trust you while simultaneously cutting you a paycheck. Walk into any employee break room in the Anti-Employee Employer’s environment, and you’ll be regaled by corporatespeak signage encouraging you to spy on and anonymously rat out your coworkers for the inevitable theft they’re apparently powerless from stopping themselves from plotting. This dumbed-down verbiage usually consists of something along the lines of “Theft Affects Us All” or “Join The Obsessed With Shrink Club.” And those eyes in the sky called security cameras? They exist primarily for your employer to keep tabs on you; not potential shoplifting customers. Mention the words union or organized labor in his presence, and you will be targeted, ostracized and legally terminated before the words have barely left your mouth. This is the same employer who keeps a rotating tab of potential “high shrink candidates” on hand and periodically kicks an hourly employee to the curb for the smallest infraction to keep the remaining staff afraid enough to stay in line and do as they’re told. Within this fetid world, anticipate being occasionally berated in front of your coworkers, humiliated in the presence of customers and reminded of your insignificance on an ongoing basis. Here managers are reduced to spending their hours babysitting systems rather than developing personnel and are incessantly threatened with unemployment behind the scenes if the store’s profitability drops below a certain ratio, regardless of whether they are responsible for the reduction in sales. Shit rolls downhill at an ever-increasing pace within this format, because managers are placed in the precarious position by their bosses of finding someone to blame when sales expectations fall short – and that someone is the most convenient low wage hourly scapegoat who happens to have won the next in the corporate crosshairs lottery. In the Anti-Employee Employer universe, weekly corporate-generated newsletters are rife with examples of customer complaint letters littered with details of customer service failure and all around employee ineptitude. All the while, you and your coworkers are getting paid the bare minimum you’re willing to settle for, and the real prerequisites for anyone’s advancement are kissing ass or being a two-faced unconscionable prick. Allowing you to work overtime is this taskmaster’s version of giving you a raise, and even though your monthly bills likely won’t fluctuate that dramatically from week to week, your scheduled work hours certainly will in accordance with projected business levels and what is most advantageous for the company’s bottom line. You will be referred to primarily as labor, and this impersonalization will make it much easier for you to be defined by what you cost the company to employ you rather than a breathing entity with a life and bills to pay. The Anti-Employee Employer has all sorts of inherent punishments and humiliations built into the system with which to randomly bestow upon you, and these usually come in the form of various third grade level write-up documents and other generic papers designed to fill your employee file to be used as a case against you when the time comes for your inevitable termination.

Overall, today’s average corporate retail job carries with it about as much satisfaction as the average root canal or un-lubricated prostate exam. Far too many of those charged with safeguarding corporate profit margins do so at the expense of the individuals they employ through intimidation and disregard of anything resembling basic human decency. For the average hourly worker, a career in retail is about as likely as a Mormon concubine signing up for a Kama Sutra retreat, so an underlying mentality of I’m only here until I find something better or they shit-can me first permeates most stores and is often passed on to the very customers whom these pusspurse employers profess to worship. And as long as we continue empowering these dinglehorns with our subservience, there will be little impetus for them to regard us with little more than the disdain they’re currently allowed to get away with. In the end, how we allow ourselves to be treated is ultimately up to us. If we can somehow summon the wherewithal to abandon our collective hubris and band together for each other’s common good, the sort of workplace environments we envision and deserve aren’t as farfetched as they sometimes currently seem. If only.

Terry Everton is a cartoonist and “wage slave.” Read other articles by Terry, or visit Terry's website.