Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poverty

My overlords at work have determined that an inexpensive way to improve the customer service experience is to implement a dress code policy. "Inexpensive" is naturally defined as "it costs the state nothing" to implement even though it takes money from the pockets of employees.

Now, I'm not terribly against their minor dress code policy. It's pretty loose. I do disagree with the idea that we shouldn't be allowed to wear jeans (hey, we're a liquor store/warehouse - we do a LOT of stock work daily and it requires heavy lifting as well as getting on our hands and knees), especially on load days. But, be that as it may I'm not even passionate about that requirement.

What I am passionate about is poverty and the lack of understanding of the situation. Most people don't see poverty. They drive right past it and don't notice it. They think it's just for criminals, drug thugs, and prostitutes. They may have a mental picture of a "slum", but I can tell you that A) that picture is better than many, if not most, such buildings and B)they don't even recognize the poverty that may be around them that doesn't fit that stereotype.

I've seen poverty. From the hills of Kentucky to the farmlands of Indiana to the inner city of Detroit, Pontiac, Louisville, LA and beyond. To East St. Louis to San Francisco, NYC, and even Seattle (though they like to deny it like most). Hell, just outside of where I live now there is an American shanty town filled with farm workers, many, though not all, Hispanics living on a river's bank that floods at least once a year.

So, yesterday, I find myself on a phone conference with my manager and other managers at my level. The dress code topic comes up. There's some juvenile griping about it for a bit - the banter being very old and boring to me..."I've had this conversation since high school", I thought. Then someone speaks up and says that she has one employee who says that she "cannot afford a whole new wardrobe." Her comment was met with a combination of giggles, exasperation, disbelief, and condemnation. "She doesn't need a 'whole new wardrobe'" was one typical comment. "Tell her to go buy a pair of pants for $10. I drove to an outlet mall [way outside of town] and found a pair for just that price. She could go back each paycheck until she had 3 pairs to switch through." This from an organization that spent thousands of dollars on vests last year that make us look like formal ice cream parlor attendants and now has no money to buy any new ones for new employees or to replace the ones that have been torn on the job. The irony, but I digress.

Employees for our organization get paid better than minimum wage. They don't do badly on the face of it. But most clerks at our stores are not full time either. Hell, I struggle to get my clerks between 10 and 18 hours per week. My assistant manager isn't even full time. So, yea, they may be paid, say $12.50 per hour, but when you're only working 10 hours per week, have 2 young children at home, no health benefits, and the state takes a percentage away each week for mandatory "retirement", you're not exactly swimming in dough. Add to this that you may not own a car and therefore use bus fare or, if you do, you're driving a junker with high fuel costs and maintenance.

So, how is this person supposed to afford 3 pairs of pants and 3 to 4 new shirts? Is he supposed to choose between food for the children and the clothes? Is he supposed to take a taxi to this outlet mall? Is he supposed to quit and then cost the state more money to support his family? Is he supposed to beg at the food bank and borrow from his co-workers? WTF?!!?

This shit makes me angry. It's idiotic. We're a fucking liquor store for goodness sakes; not some software vendor and not some group pushing digital TVs onto the world. Professionalism comes from customer service. Sure, clothes can help. But no clothes in the world will help poor service skills. There needs to be a balance. In the meantime, I'm taking care of my staff and trying to help them as best as possible.

Just, please, people open your eyes to poverty. It might even live next door to you.

3 comments:

Scott said...

Hope the first day of dressgession code goes well. I'd bet management didn't create an inane dress code to punish people living at the poverty level, though I'm sure they consider it a wonderful side effect which drives them to touching themselves in the dark.

I'd guess the driving force is power. People with sub-par abilities often strive to exert as much power over subordinates as possible to somehow make themselves feel important. I see it a lot in high tech too, especially with the current unemployment rate making people except abuse they wouldn't during average or good times.

B.D. said...

You're probably right about power and control. However, it has side effects for the poor. I also think some decisions are made because these folks think this is right to do because that's how business is done in the private sector which, to my mind, is a poor reason (pun intended) for making decisions.

FWIW, the dress code got put on suspension the day it was to go into effect. Apparently some folks were creating a stir about definitions within the code (what constitutes "blue jeans" for instance). So, the code is being modified to address those concerns. Now comes the rub: if it is modified in such a way that people who have already bought clothes to conform to the old code now find their clothes do not fit the definition in the new code, I will go to bat and pitch a fit.

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