Thursday, June 11, 2009


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.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tell me lies

Tell me sweet little lies.

This week at work I've heard 2 people tell me the following: "I hear Obama wants to tax our health care benefits, now." I'm not sure where this tidbit of misinformation came from, but I imagine it was Rush or Fox or some equally deceitful media.

Fact: Obama never proposed any such method to fund his health care initiative. Indeed, he has a totally different mechanism. The proposal was made by Senator Max Baucus this week to Obama and the President said that he's open to discussing that option, but preferred to stick to his original plan. Indeed, Mr. Baucus' proposal is idiotic beyond contemplation as it would surely deep six any health care changes and it's regressive.

Another fact: This proposal would only tax health care premiums; not actual costs. So, for instance, the elderly man in my store yesterday whose wife had a rare condition that cost $100,000+ to treat would not pay taxes on the $100,000, but rather on whatever premium he and his wife paid to their insurer. The difference is significant.

I doubt this proposal will make it into any version of the final bill. Obama would be wise to let the Senator know that this is unacceptable. His folks would also be wise to get out in public ahead of this lie and let the people know that it's unacceptable. I am not a fan of Obama's health care plan in that I don't think it goes far enough. I'd prefer a single payer system as it's the only way that I can see to reduce costs, expand coverage, and provide modest comfort to the aging boomer population. I think the patchwork being considered is ridiculous and is doomed to failure. However, I don't need lies to debate it either.

RIP, Koko Taylor