Tuesday, April 01, 2014

This 'N That Time Again!

Been a while since I updated you guys on stuff that was going on in my life over the past few weeks, let's see what I have for you this time around!

Announcing The Newest Additions To The Knutson Household!

The past few weeks here have seen our family growing, although in one case, it's only temporary. First of all, we got a new foster child placed with us, a little three-year-old boy whom I'll just call D, because I'm not allowed to put his name or photo on any social media sites. D is, for the most part, a happy little boy, who has been in foster care most of his life, sad to say. He was in his mother's custody when he went into the system, and she's no longer in his life. His dad, on the other hand, has been working towards getting D put into his custody full-time. At present, D's dad gets together with him three times a week for non-supervised visits, and if the last few hurdles can be overcome, D will be able to stay with his dad permanently. Honestly, I'm not sure quite how I feel about that. D's dad seems to be a nice guy, but I'm not sure he's smart enough to handle taking care of a toddler (or any child, for that matter) on a full-time basis. I don't know if he's got a job or any source of income other than what the state might provide him, and he's currently got no permanent home (that's one of the hurdles). There are times I'd love to be able to adopt D (whose first name coincides with a certain supernatural Marvel character whose father is not known to be a loving, kind father... that should be enough info for my readers to figure it out), because he is a pretty good fit with our family... but then there are other times, like when I see how happy D is when he gets to see his dad, that I think he'd never be able to fully bond with us. So we're in kind of a wait and see situation there.

The other addition to our household is Rocky, a kitten who's about nine or ten weeks old. Rocky is a brown and black striped tabby, and he's also a polydactyl cat, which (for the uninitiated) means he's got extra toes on each paw. Because of these extra toes, he kind of looks like he's wearing boxing gloves, hence the name Rocky (although I kind of now find myself wishing we'd named him Kirby, because his toes are kind of squared, not unlike a Kirby drawing, plus Rocky is a tough little guy who doesn't take crap from the other animals in the house... another name that would've worked for him is Bear, because his paws bend in such a way that they look more like bear paws than cat paws). Rocky was supposed to be wife Jessi's cat, but apparently because I'm (to use my sister's words) "The Cat Whisperer" (you may recall my mentioning I've had cats in the past), Rocky seems to have chosen me as his primary person.

Oh, Job Hunting Is Always So Much Fun...

Even though I've got a decent job working pretty much full-time at a certain large retailer, I've continued to look for better opportunities that will be more of a challenge and pay much better. Well, out of the blue about two weeks ago, I got a Facebook message from my former supervisor at the newspaper. She's currently the clinic manager for a clinic in Chehalis (about 40 minutes drive south of here), which is part of one of the big medical care providers in the area. She told me they had an opening for an MA position that she thought I'd be an excellent fit for, so I applied for the job, and had an interview on Monday of last week. While I was waiting for that interview to happen, another recruiter for the same provider company also contacted me and invited me to their job fair for MAs, which was last Tuesday. I did a much shorter interview there, although I used the tips that I got from that former supervisor to try to make that a more effective interview (I had tried to stay away from always using examples from the newspaper, since that was a fairly long time ago, and use some more recent experiences in answering questions, which apparently wasn't a good thing). I've already heard back from the job fair, saying that they were going with other candidates, but they're still working on making a decision at the Chehalis clinic... so that's still a possibility. In the meantime, I'm still looking at new job listings and applying to anything that appeals to me that I'm qualified for in the least bit, and kind of expecting the worst when a decision is made at that clinic.

Speaking Of a Certain Large Retailer...

I hear a lot on the media about the large retailer that I work for, and about how they pay poverty wages and supposedly don't offer health care (the latter is complete crap, they do offer health care once someone is made a permanent employee). So far as paying poverty wages, I can tell you that for the first year, employes at this retailer make minimum wage, and overnight employees get about $1.15 an hour more on top of that. Yes, there is no possibility of getting any kind of merit raise before one's annual review, but that's not unusual for any business.

Honestly, I don't have a problem with the wages that this retailer pays, even though I believe firmly that I deserve to be paid more. First of all, I didn't have to accept the job once I heard what they paid (and I didn't know about the overnight bonus). Nobody has to accept and keep any job that doesn't pay what they think they should be paid. I didn't go into this with blinders on! And to be honest, any job is better than no job at all.

Secondly, I see what kind of employees that this retailer manages to hire. Certainly, there are people who work at the store I work at who do a good job, and are conscientious and reliable, and not complete morons who don't believe that they need to earn their pay... but on the other hand, there are a lot of people (and this applies to all shifts) working at this store who, if I were in charge, would've probably been fired long ago, because they just plain don't perform. I suspect that the only thing holding the company back from letting some of these people go is that they aren't getting as many applicants as they'd prefer... which boggles my mind! We still have a pretty high unemployment rate in this area, and there are people who'd rather not make any money at all than work for minimum wage? That's just plain stupid, if you ask me. The worst thing that can happen is that it makes it a challenge to find days to go on job interviews (and very few people working at this store don't have at least one day off during the week) for better-paying jobs.

This store has people who work at stocking shelves every night who consistently don't do a good job of it. They are slower than they should be, they can't organize things to get the minimum requirements done. Don't get the idea that I'm criticizing these people that do a job I haven't done, because I've stocked more than a few times, and I was faster at it than probably 70%+ of the current stockers. Part of the reason for this is that when I would work on an aisle, I'd grab all of the same kind of merchandise and stock all of that. For example, I've stocked in the soup and pasta aisle a few times. I might start by collecting all the cases of dry pasta and bringing it over to that one area, and get it stocked as a group. The benefits to this are several: 1) I'm working just in one area, so I'm not going back and forth down the aisle all the time; 2) As I'm stocking one type of pasta, I see where the other kinds are, so I don't have to search for them; 3) I can spot when the wrong product is in a spot, and move it. I also don't get into the habit of tearing open boxes or ripping the plastic wrap off of cases of cans before checking to see if it'll fit on the shelves. The policy at this retailer is that you don't stock a partial case of anything on the shelf, unless (and only unless) the shelf cannot hold a full case total -- and even then, you don't stock a partial case there unless that "home" is empty. For example, canned beets come in case quantities for one brand of 24 cans, but the "home" for that product only holds 12 cans. When the overstock for those beets come to the back room where I work, we have to bin those (i.e., put them on the shelves in the back room so that the system can tell us where they are when they're needed to be stocked) in an area dedicated to binning partial quantities. When the system is working correctly, if three cans of these beets are sold, the system will have us "pick" three cans from the partial case that night to put on the shelves.

The stockers at this store who don't perform will often send back cases that are supposedly "overstock" that they just don't feel like stocking on the shelves. Sometimes, we can catch this, and let the overnight manager know so that that stocker can be warned not to do it again, and the items can get on the shelves. Other times, a stocker will have their overstock audited, which means a support manager will pick a few items from the overstock and check to see if it should've gone on the shelf. A lot of these same lazy stockers will be so stupid as to fill up multiple shopping carts with the empty cardboard boxes and plastic wrap and bring multiple carts to the back room of that stuff at the same time, causing a traffic jam at the compactor. That's just plain ridiculous, if you ask me... it makes the aisles look bad overnight to have multiple carts filled with what appears to be garbage! They are supposed to be bringing it back as their cart is full (plastic is supposed to go into a plastic bag, cardboard in the cart). As if that's not bad enough, some nights when I come in to work, the back room is a mess because some lazy dayshift stockers aren't taking care of their plastic, just leaving it all over the place (sometimes just loose on the floor!). There are large plastic bags provided in the back room for the stockers to put their smaller bags of plastic in, and when those bags get full, whoever filled them is supposed to take them to the holding area where they get compacted into large bales for recycling. A similar thing happens for cardboard, although what happens most often is that someone will fill the compactor with cardboard and then walk away from it, when they are always supposed to make a bale when it's full. Everybody gets trained how to do this (even I have been trained in making a bale, and I don't typically have to put any cardboard in the compactor).

It's not just stockers who I have a problem with, either. There are issues in the back room as well, although it's mostly on shifts other than the overnight shift (I work with a pretty good group of people back there). Like items are always supposed to be binned into the same bin... that's been policy for as long as I've been there, and our electronic handheld scanners will tell us when something is already binned somewhere else. Despite this, we will often find (for example) chicken flavored ramen noodles binned in multiple locations throughout the back room. Now, there are times this can't be helped... it could be that one bin is completely full, and can't accept another thing. But we've been working on this at nights... on Sunday night, we had a few bins that were entirely empty (a rarity there) and I took advantage of this to collect all of the Instant Lunch (I think in the UK, they call them "Pot Noodles," it's a styrofoam container with dry ramen noodles, dehydrated vegetables, and some kind of powdered flavoring) and bin them all together, so that it will be easier to bin more of those in to the same spot. We'd like to do the same for some other items, as well -- especially things like sugar and flour, which are ridiculously heavy. We have three levels of bins, and sometimes we'll come in and find that some idiot on another shift thought they had something to prove and binned a case of eight huge cans of hominy onto a top bin, which most of us need a ladder to get to (I can reach some items without a ladder, but I won't try to reach up and pull down a really heavy case like that). In the pets area, I'm guessing this same idiot bins cat litter on the top bins as well. Everyone has been told when they were trained that heavier items should be on the lower bins -- this is as much a safety issue as it is just plain courtesy. I would much rather stock cases of potato chips and cereal to the top bins, myself!

While I'm ranting on and on here, I'd also like to gripe about whoever is doing the ordering at the store I work at... for one day, a month or so back, we actually managed to have no pallets of products sitting in the back room unaccounted for. The only pallets we had were "binned pallets" (meaning that the pallet was assigned a number in the system, and all items on that pallet were binned to that number). For a few days after that, we'd sometimes end up with one or two extra pallets left that we couldn't get binned, but then it started to get more and more every day... and now we are at the point where there's so many pallets in the back room of stuff (not just grocery, but also general merchandise as well, although I don't usually have to deal with that) that there's just no space in the bins to put any of it! A good part of this might be blamed on the lazy stockers sending back overstock that shouldn't have come back, but the people doing the ordering need to take some responsibility as well, if you ask me. There's just no reason this should be happening... we have about eight cases of Fruity Pebbles in the back room, and I haven't seen a single case being called for in at least two weeks -- who thinks there's going to be a sudden run on Fruity Pebbles? Department managers need to walk their aisles every day and look at what shelves are empty or nearly so, and instead of ordering more of that item, they need to be looking to see what we have on hand -- and yes, that might mean looking through the stacked pallets to see whether or not there's any of that product there. The system will tell us what is supposed to be on hand, based on what's been sold and what's been received, regardless of whether or not the system can find the rest of the stock (it will tell what's in the back room, but some items are so messed up that the system thinks there's a negative quantity on-hand... I've seen this as I've been binning).

But it's not just the stockers and department managers (who are making more than minimum wage, by the way!) who are not performing towards expectations, no sir! We recently had a new hire for the back room whose first name is the same as our newest cat's namesake's special someone in those movies, and I knew from his first day on the job that he was not going to be able to handle the work. We would often have to explain things to him over and over again, and he barely showed any improvement in speed from one day to the next. Sometimes he'd just disappear when told to do something easy, and nobody had any idea where he was (one day he was told to go to the front of the store and get about a half-dozen empty grocery carts for us to put picked merchandise in, and he was gone for 20 minutes... it should've taken five to ten at the most). There were some things we just didn't ask him to do because he would get that deer in the headlights look when we tried to explain it to him. Well, he was scheduled to work Friday night, but since he wasn't tracking his hours at all (unless you've had it approved in advance, no hourly employee is supposed to work more than 40 hours in one week), he was going to clock in about 20 minutes late to make up for time he stayed late. Well, he just didn't show up, and when the overnight manager tried to reach him, there was no answer. The same thing happened on Saturday and Sunday nights. Now, at this retailer, nobody is hired as a permanent employee right away (this didn't used to be the case)... instead, they're hired as a temp, and are on a three to six month period as a temp before it's decided whether or not to hire them as a permanent employee (this saves the company money on things like benefits -- including the employee discount -- because of the kind of turnover that happens here), and I can guarantee you, unless it turns out this guy was on his deathbed in a hospital somewhere, there's no excuse he could offer to just not show up as a temp that will let him keep his job. That's not only plain stupid, but it shows a lack of balls on his part to not even tell someone he was quitting.

This is not the first job I've ever had that paid minimum wage... I've worked at Pizza Hut before, and there were days when we'd have a new hire that couldn't even last through his lunch break before they'd just go to lunch and not return. We have a minimum wage for a reason... sure, you're not going to be buying a house or a new car making minimum wage, but you do have to earn the money you're being paid. You may recall I was up for a writing job in the fall, that job was going to pay $12 an hour, and that required having skills to begin with -- that's not a lot more than I'm getting now. I was lined up to be trained as a bus driver, and that wasn't going to pay much more per hour than I'm getting now, and it would've had fewer hours each week (not to mention the lack of work when school was out). I've worked at jobs that paid fairly well for a starting wage, and we'd still have people hired who couldn't handle the work.

There's been a movement in Washington State (and probably elsewhere) to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour -- and I don't think that some of the employees where I work are worth paying that much. I don't think some of the employees working at fast food places are worth getting paid that much, either. It's not a matter of whether or not the company can afford to pay a higher wage, in my opinion... certainly, McDonald's makes so much money every single day that they could double the wages of every employee and still show a sizable profit, but why should they? Paying higher wages isn't going to suddenly make the existing employees work harder, or get better applicants for the openings they have! I have talked to so many people that think working at a retailer or a fast food restaurant is so far beneath them that they'd rather not work there and not be earning any money, and I've already bitched about some of the people who are working at these places anyway.

Let's be honest... it doesn't matter what the big companies can afford to pay, they have a profit margin that has to be kept, and the people making the big bucks at the top of the employment pyramid didn't just walk off the street with no education or experience and were given a job paying millions of dollars a year. These people earned their way there, and many of them started out at these same companies (or similar companies) working a minimum wage job. If the minimum wage increase happens, there will likely be a hiring freeze where I'm at, and they'll start looking harder at some of the employees they have... they may not fire some of them, but they'll cut back on their hours and give more hours to those who do perform (it's sort of an "invitation to quit your job" deal, I've seen it at all kinds of places). If they can't afford to lose employees or not fill positions, they'll look at how they can either cut costs in other areas (which is what the newspaper industry tried to do) or figure out ways to make more money (which the papers failed to even attempt)... and often, the only way for a business to make more money is to increase prices.

I don't know about you, but I already find some of the prices for fast food to be a bit more than I like to pay to begin with... especially for tastier items... and it always is a bit of a shock during those times when we do take my family to what used to be considered a cheap meal and finding ourselves spending upwards of $30-35 to feed us (fortunately, there are a few restaurants in the area we can go to who offer free kids meals or discounted kids meals, but I digress).

According to a recent article at Businessweek, raising the minimum wage to $15 would require most businesses to increase prices by 25% to offset the added costs... and this may be a conservative number for some businesses. Remember, it's not just the major retailers and fast food places that would be required to pay this higher wage if it went into effect! Companies like Target, Walmart, McDonald's, Burger King, etc. might well be able to weather the loss of business if they had to raise prices accordingly, but could the local business owner who has just the one store afford this? When you stop at a gas station to fill up your car, and walk inside to get two one liter bottles of soda, expecting to pay $3.00 for the two (because that's the usual discounted price I see around here), what happens when the price suddenly jumps up to $3.75? Do you still buy two bottles of soda there, or just one for $2.25... or do you hold off entirely and wait until you can get to Safeway or another grocery store to buy a two liter bottle, because that's always cheaper... and instead of the $1.50 you expected to pay, now that's $1.85 or so. That's just one example, and maybe it's not a great one.

But remember, there are also businesses that can't raise prices. What about your local comic book shop? They can't raise prices on new comics, so how do they make up the difference? I would bet that locally owned businesses probably have a lower turnover rate for employees than the larger businesses who are corporately owned, and probably have a higher overall quality of employee.

But, as they say, I digress. There's really no good answer, no single solution, that's going to suddenly make everything better for everyone who's working a minimum wage job. Let's face it, minimum wage jobs are out there, for the most part, for people who have no experience or training in anything, and are expected to be taught everything they need to know while they're on the job. In the "old days," these people were typically teenagers looking for part time work, or perhaps high school graduates who weren't going to college. These days, due to the economy, the average minimum wage worker probably trends older than that (although not usually as old as I am, I'd imagine!), and some of us have more work experience and training, although it may not be applicable to that job.

Yes, I think my employer should be paying me $15 an hour for what I do for them... but I wouldn't feel that great about a sudden bump in pay if everyone got that same increase in pay, regardless of how good an employee they are... and I'm not even taking into account that there are some employees who are making more than I am, but less than $15 an hour, would not get their pay rate bumped higher than that if the minimum wage did get increased!

Anyway, I suppose I've rambled on long enough for something that I'd always intended to be used for short updates, so I'll shut up now.

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