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jobs

The first thing I noticed on my first day on the job is that in retail no one sits. Ever. It didn’t matter if it was at the beginning of my shift, if the store was empty, or if my knees, back, and feet ached from hours of standing. Park your behind while on the clock, went the unspoken rule, and you might find it on a park bench scanning the want-ads for a new job. Another quick observation: Working in retail takes more skill than just selling stuff. Besides the mindless tasks one expects—folding, stacking, sorting, fetching things for customers—I frequently had to tackle a series of housekeeping chores that Stretch never mentioned in our welcome-aboard chat. Performed during the late shift, those chores usually meant I’d have to stay well past the scheduled 9 p.m. quitting time. Mop the floors in the bathroom, replace the toilet paper and scrub the toilets if necessary. Vacuum. Empty the garbage. Wipe down the glass front doors, every night, even if they don’t really need it. It was all part of the job, done after your shift has ended but without overtime pay. My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Poor

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When companies offer bad jobs, they can find themselves in a vicious downward cycle. Take supermarkets, for example. That’s an industry full of bad jobs—low pay, unpredictable hours, and work that is not meaningful. But it’s also a very complex working environment. In a typical supermarket, employees manage thousands of products, serve more than 2,000 customers a day, and carry out hundreds of sales promotions a week. When you operate such a complex environment with employees who are unmotivated, poorly trained, or overworked because the store is understaffed, the result is operational problems. Products are misplaced or mispriced. Promotions are advertised but not carried out. Employees can’t answer customers’ questions—they may not know or have time. Those problems reduce sales and profits, so sales decline, so labor budgets shrink, so companies invest even less in their people. That’s the vicious cycle. Companies can still make money operating in this cycle, but they are leaving a lot on the table. Customers come as long as there are good deals, but they have no loyalty. Zeynep Ton

…while work may be necessary to “dignity, mobility and social equality” in a market society, it certainly isn’t sufficient. For unionised US workers in the mid-20th century, earning middle-class incomes in relatively secure jobs and expecting better for their children, work was, arguably both necessary and sufficient to achieve a fair measure of these things. But an at-will employee, juggling two or three tenuous jobs that pay $7.25 an hour, and looking at a steady decline in real income, is scarcely getting much in the way of dignity, let alone mobility or social equality. Work and beyond

People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious — sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water. Robert Reich

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