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Working at Jo-Ann's: Real-World Graduate School

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Message Sandra Lindberg

This profitable corporation employs 23,000 people, most of whom earn a minimum wage. The company is famous for keeping employees, who sometimes work for the company for years, at basically the same salary they commanded when they first started.

The stores expect the sales staff to mop floors, unload stock trucks, and get new merchandise onto the floor within 24 hours--even during the holiday rush period when over 300 boxes may arrive at the back door in a single morning. Staffing levels for a 15,000-sq.-ft. store often involve no more than two sales associates at any given time.

When I worked for the company, the store had its floors professionally cleaned maybe once every two weeks, even in the sloppiest weeks of winter. The store used a contract company whose workers were beautiful, but clearly exhausted, Russian women who spoke not a word of English. They were managed by a Russian man who also spoke no English. About an hour after the Russian crew arrived, a man--who spoke English just fine--would call the store to tersely inquire if the cleaning crew was doing a satisfactory job. Apparently, he was the ultimate manager of the Russians, though we never saw him. One word from a Jo-Ann's manager could get a member of the cleaning crew fired--and they had no opportunity to answer complaints about their work before they were shown the door. How could they, given the language barrier? They arrived thirty minutes after the store closed, so customers never saw the crew hired to clean the store's floors. After I met them, I realized that there were still worse examples of American business to fear and avoid.

Though sales associates were not expected to clean the public and/or employee bathrooms, managers had to do so. The break-room was rarely cleaned. The stockroom's floor had not been cleaned for what looked like years.

The tasks required in the store expose workers to physical strain, workplace chemicals such as formaldehyde on the fabrics, and particulates and dust from the cut fabric and craft handling. Employees, myself included, were expected to climb aluminum ladders to stock heavy bolts of fabric on shelves set high on store walls. I actually took to asking customers to page my ladder when I had to climb up to reach a bolt of fleece fabric. At least with their weight on a bottom rung, I had a better chance of keeping the ladder steady as I reached sideways to pull the bolt off the tightly packed shelf. 

At Jo-Ann's you better watch out for your health and safety. Jo-Ann's pays for health insurance for only its full-time workers. Part-timers are offered the opportunity to purchase health insurance at a company group rate. Most earn so little money that they cannot do so.

The culture of the company is such that those women who jump corporate hoops and attain the level of assistant manager or manager, if they are full-time and salaried, are expected to work well beyond forty hours each week without complaint. Their punishing work schedules make it impossible for them to hear concerns or complaints of their part-time workers with anything but indifference or a sense of helplessness. Managers can reason that part-timers-- the vast majority of Jo-Ann's employees--endure this difficult work situation for a limited number of hours each week. 

If part-timers complain in any way, the manager suddenly discovers that she just can't give that employee as many hours during the next pay period. Many employees told me that any hint of a complaint would be followed by a decrease in scheduled hours. I experienced for myself how managers emphasize when you are hired that they cannot guarantee a set number of hours for employees in any given week. With this disclaimer front and center, it is easy to justify hour decreases as due to a slow-down in sales.

The culture of the company is also such that sales associates, called Team Members, see the misery the manager must endure and support her decisions even when they bring physical or economic hardship to them. The team members also come to see each other's difficulties, and when the corporation institutes yet another policy that makes their life unpleasant, they commiserate with each other, and watch out for each other--but they do not complain to management.

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Sandra Lindberg Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Sandra holds a B.S. in theatre, and an M.A. in theatre criticism from Illinois State University. Her M.F.A. is from the Professional Actor Training Program at the Old Globe Theatre--University of San Diego. She also recently completed a Paralegal (more...)

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