What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Much Respect Due

So within my new job I have had to work the cash register.  Wow.  I never knew how much respect the people doing that deserve.  Eight hours a day, five days a week.  I just did a two day stint and I tell you my body feels it.  My neck, my legs, feet, etc.

They have a very defined and regimented protocol for the register there.  When you get in, you go to the supervisors counter and get a little red bag full of the money for your register.  $288 in cash and change.  You count it, and put it in your drawer.  You get to your register, sign in, deposit your cash drawer in one of the two slots, and start ringing up people.  You do this then for hours.  You stand on the hard ground and just move your upper body back and forth, with only your hands using the touch screen device to enter produce PLU numbers, scan items, bag groceries, smile and send people on their way.

These shifts are eight and a half hours long, with a half hour unpaid break and a fifteen minute paid break.  I can tell you this too, you need those breaks.  You are not allowed to eat anything at the registers, but you can have water.  To go to the bathroom you have to call the supervisor and ask permission.  Usually you get to go right on the spot, sometimes you have to wait your turn while others are going.  I haven't been told no yet, but with a long line I could imagine someone may ask you to wait.  Talking among cashiers is discouraged and reprimanded.  It is agonizing physically, and trying mentally.

The first two hours seem to go fairly quickly.  You are ringing up people constantly and not physically hurting yet.  But all the concentration and standing takes a progressive toll.  My concentration and blood sugar levels seem to drop after a while and my ability to concentrate wains exponentially.  This is an obvious problem given the draconian policies for miss counting or not have you bills the right way in your drawer.  I have dyslexic moments, but so far I think they have been typing in the right produce code, and you can go back and change it.  But what happens when you have one with the cash?  I was short yesterday 80 cents on one transaction.  It was 62.84 and the woman gave me 65.04, I typed in 62.04 by accident, my mind was in a fog by that point, and the woman was really pushy.  She was treating me like I was just another subservient worker - beneath her - as is a common occurrence it seems.  She was saying its simple, the change is three dollars, she was wrong, but I didn't realize it until later.  I typed in another $3 to make the $65.04, her change should have been $2.20, and it said this, but the woman was bitching and badgering about $3 while I was trying to figure out my mistyped amount.  I gave her three only to realize a moment to late after she'd gone that it should have been $2.20 as it all added up.

I now see how common these interactions are.  Because this is a hard job.  It is so sad that all too often customers treat people at the register like morons because the type in the wrong PLU code, or miscount the change.  I would love to see all these executives and office types come down here and spend eight hours a day on their feet doing the same repetitive motion, counting on the fly, bagging, and scanning over and over for eight and a half hours.

To each customer this is their money, their food, their pain in the ass exercise in sustenance that they have to do, and want to do as quickly as possible between their jobs and getting home or to play in their free time.  They eagle eye you and have little remorse for the slightest mistake.  The cashier on the other hand is staring at a screen all day, doing the same thing over and over.  I have never had such acute blood sugar issues as with this job.  I have to eat something every two hours or I'm lost.  And I can feel it, I end up in this fog that is almost surreal.  Like you barely see the money and PLU codes as they fly by your eyes and hands.  I usually recognize the issue and grab my water or sneak a little something to get the sugar back.

Customers though don't see these ins and outs of the job.  They see the singular action, and see it as simple.  They don't see the eight hours and the pressure put on you for your job by the company.  They treat you like you are stupid because you are counting the change, reentering the PLU code or fiddling with the bag.  No, I think it's safe to say that the general public has little respect for this work, hence its low pay and prestige.  Apparently one customer who had to call over the manager at one point said to her daughter that she needed to go to school so she didn't end up as a cashier.  Right in front of the cashiers.  It is really sad to hear that, sad for society.  Yet still this is the society we live in.  A place where "menial labor" garners no respect even from those that so deeply and heavily rely on it for the very existence.  Whether you work for a company that employs cheap labor, or buy products that cheap labor makes cheap for you the world goes no where without people like supermarket cashiers, and its hard work, just like digging a ditch, mopping floors, building a roof, whatever.  Much respect due.