Retail Workers Can’t Stand This Growing Management Trend

old navy
A shopper impersonates an Old Navy mannequin

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There’s a new report from Retail Action Project about how much it sucks to be a worker in retail these days.Along with poor benefits, slim opportunities, sexism and racism, one major complaint was the rise of “just-in-time” scheduling, also called “structured instability.”

Managers are scheduling fewer hours, while asking that employees remain on call for last minute changes. This practice maximizes staffing flexibility at the cost of worker stability and also keeps some workers from claiming full-time benefits.

The report from Retail Action Project, based on interviews with hundreds of workers in New York City, included specific complaints about a few major brands:

A UNIQLO sales associate complains: “Irregular schedules are a big issue for me. I’m given my schedule just a day or two ahead of time. Since I am in college, it’s really important that I’m not scheduled during class. There’s so much turnover, I don’t know my coworkers’ phone numbers in case I need to switch shifts. To make matters worse, my schedule is posted in the store, but not e-mailed to me. If the schedule is posted when I’m not working, I have to call in – sometimes I’m on hold for half an hour. Additionally, there is only one manager at my store who can change employee’s schedules. If I’m not working when he’s working, I have to track him down on my day off. Everyone’s hours fluctuate. I have been scheduled for as few as six hours in a week, and as many as 40, so my paycheck is always different. How is anyone — a student or parent — supposed to plan their budget with such erratic schedules?”

A part-time sales associate at the CHILDREN’S PLACE, who had frequently been given “call-in” shifts reported that she has only worked one call-in shift in 18 months of employment.

A worker at URBAN OUTFITTERS reported juggling both call-in shifts and being sent home early. She said, “At Outfitters, for example, they would call you literally one hour before the shift, and then what do you do? I have also had the experience where I got to work and then they would say, ‘I don’t need you.'”

A former sales associate at BANANA REPUBLIC complains: “My schedule was always posted at the last minute, sometimes only two or three days in advance. On top of that, they frequently changed the schedule but wouldn’t notify anyone. Sometimes I would miss a shift because I had been rescheduled but even though I was not informed, I would still get in trouble. I suffer from a chronic illness and once ended up in the hospital because of a sudden diabetic insulin reaction. Even though I brought a doctor’s note, my manager didn’t care. He still gave me a verbal warning for a no-call, no-show. Because my employer didn’t offer any health benefits or paid sick time, I had huge hospital bills, I lost wages when I was sick, and I was constantly stressed that I could get fired because of my illness.”

A JC PENNEY worker stated, “They switch the schedule around a lot and they expect that you look on the computer every half hour to know your schedule. They change my time and if you didn’t print your schedule that week as evidence of the change, they will disregard your complaint.”

An OLD NAVY worker shared that her manager called her one evening around 7 p.m. asking her to come in at 6 a.m. the next day.

A CLUB MONACO worker explained, “The sales are posted and you know that if you don’t sell over a certain amount that you won’t get any hours for the coming week. You’re gonna’ work one full shift and four on-calls for the next week, and they’re not going to call you.” Workers are now competing with each other over sales, not for commission but just to “get on the schedule.” As another worker from Club Monaco reported, “We are working for an hourly wage but we fight like we are working on a commission.”

A former sales associate at TOMMY HILFIGER complained: “When I started at Tommy Hilfiger, they scheduled me to work 40 hours a week from the start, sometimes I worked as much as 60 hours a week – even though I was classified as part-time. I was happy and loved the clothes, I became a lead, and hoped to advance to a manager and someday to corporate. But eventually my hours started to change – every week I would work different hours, and budgeting to make rent and cover all my expenses became difficult because I didn’t know how much I would earn each month. I asked to be classified as full time so that my hours would become stable again and so that I could receive the benefits I was entitled to for the amount of work I was putting in. I didn’t even ask for a raise, I just requested to be classified as full time, since I already worked full time hours. My manager said that I wasn’t entitled to a promotion. When did health insurance become a ‘promotion’? He told me to apply for Medicaid, but when I did, I earned too much to qualify. I ended up having to go to the emergency room five times for basic health care while I worked there, and the bills were all over $1,000. I’m still struggling to pay off my medical debt.”

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