Avishai Halev: The predicament of the part-time grocery employee

November 26, 2013 

Avishai Halev

Every week, Saturday rolls around and millions of Americans have no idea when they will be working the following week.

Juggling the need to work as many hours as possible with the everyday responsibilities of running a life and the lives of their children proves an impossible task for this percentage of the workforce. For these people, plans cannot be made months or even weeks ahead. I know. Until recently, I was one of them.

I had never been scheduled to work at 7 a.m.; the earliest I’d had to work was 9 a.m. That is, until prom week. And the day after prom was my first ever 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.

I worked at Food Lion, where the vast majority of employees are part time. The weekly schedule is supposed to come out on Thursdays for the following week of Sunday to Saturday. Note the supposed to: almost always, Saturday rolled around and it was still unclear whether I’d be working the next day or not. Some weeks I worked 30 hours. Others, none. Most of the time it was somewhere in between, but no two weeks were the same.

Scheduling appointments on a non-schedule like this – to see a doctor, for example – is difficult, to say the least. The only way to make sure they don’t overlap with work for that week is to take the day off completely, even for a 30-minute appointment. Sports or a second job, if you’re a student trying to make ends meet, are also problematic.

I’m a minor, so Food Lion required that I took a 30-minute lunch every four hours. Great, right? Not so fast. Lunches are unpaid; clocking out is required each and every time. Not just lunches, but 10-minute breaks too. So those eight-hour shifts aren’t eight hours at all. In more than a year of working there, I never got a raise. Instead, I was twice made to attend a “morale meeting” in which a manager trumpeted the importance of customer satisfaction and and the employees’ role in it. Sitting in the meetings, I was stunned that a few of my coworkers were actively participating and even seemed to be enjoying the meeting. Kudos to corporate for reaching these people, at least.

For those who work at Food Lion to support themselves, life is even harder. All of the same constraints that we high school students struggle with apply to those working for a living, with ramped-up pressure. Imagine scheduling in a single-car family where at least one adult is working hours that change every week. If two adults are working that way? If one of them is working two part-time jobs? The reality is that this is the situation most of my coworkers found themselves in. I was the exception, not the rule.

The most ironic part of it all is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The technology is available to create a monthly schedule instead of a weekly one. If that’s too hard, the schedule could come out a week before instead of a day. Doing either would make the lives of every employee easier, and it’s hard to see a downside for the company.

In fact, the company is hurt by its own policies. Happier workers means happier customers, and nothing the company is doing truly brings up employee morale. Furthermore, the company would benefit tangibly: Employees calling in sick, which is a frequent occurrence, would decrease if they felt the company was taking care of them. Right now, many feel there is no reason to feel obligated to a company that doesn’t reciprocate.

Frankly, I can’t blame them; the senselessness of it all is frustrating.

Avishai Halev is a senior at East Chapel Hill High School.

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