Arizona IWW Calendar
    June 2022
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    Tuesday, April 23
    A publication of the Industrial Workers of the World union in Arizona and Sonora
    Una publicación del sindicato de les Trabajadores Industriales del Mundo en Arizona y Sonora

    By: FW Nick H

    Enthusiasm for union organizing is an ebb and flow, you’re not always one hundred percent. So, I was excited when one of my friends, Maia, asked for help with organizing at the Bourgie grocery store she worked at in Phoenix. It was a perfect excuse to finally start doing legit IWW work. We didn’t expect a victory to fall into our lap and our victories were lessons learned from the myriad of difficulties we faced in the “real world”. I’d like to convey the absurdity of this corporate hell we worked at and some knowledge we gained from our organizing efforts.

    When I was applying for the deli clerk night shift at this high end grocery store in November of 2020, I wasn’t surprised that I had to follow up on my application status twice before finally getting hired. It was pretty typical of my experience in food and hospitality. It’s a weird contradiction when you look at it strictly from an economic perspective.

    On one hand, if you have a pulse and can show up consistently, then you’ve got the job. The “interview” is just an explanation of the steps in the hiring process. On the other hand, the online application process is long, clunky, and inflexible. You upload a resume and then redundantly input that information again into computer-friendly fields. The managers don’t read your application until you call the store. If they need you to fill anything out online you still need to call the store when your done. They kept forgetting me, yet they’re constantly in need of staff for the night shift where I ultimately ended up. Corporate efficiency at it’s finest.

    On my first day I had to rely on training from a flustered and angry assistant manager, who was and continued to be a very poor communicator. During my first two weeks of working there the most common feedback I got from my coworkers was, “You’re still here!”. Employees told me stories of people quitting after a couple days or even partway through their first shift. One worker’s excuse was, “I, uhhh, need to go check on something, I’ll be right back.” They walked out the door never to be seen again. I don’t blame them.

    Our managers were both neglectful and psychologically abusive. As soon as I got my schedule our department manager, Linda, took a month long vacation. An uncommunicative assistant manager was stuck “training” me; my coworkers did all the work to teach me the ropes. Linda would schedule herself to stay a few hours into the night shift, but usually left the moment the night crew showed up. The assistant manager would only stay halfway through the shift and then leave it up to the “Night Shift Leads” to run the department for the rest of the night. These leads are the senior-most clerks on shift, and get no additional pay or benefits for the managerial work forced onto them.

    Linda spent most of her time hanging out with the store manager or the bakery manager. A nice cushy gig. Some bakery workers didn’t even know she worked there! Understandable, considering she was never working and never following dress code. She even had the nerve to write-up a woman in the bakery for wearing a pink shirt on mothers day. Lead by example, right? The worker ended up walking out that same day, it was the last straw in a mountain of coercive nonsense.

    I only had one interaction with the store manager, “Put on your name tag!”. Other workers’ interactions with him were similar, only involving threats of write-ups over petty issues like dress code or pouring themselves soft drinks and coffee. He specifically targeted women with this needless harassment.

    Soon after I was hired they started to pull aside my fellow Wobbly, Maia, to inform her that customers were complaining about her. Apparently, her “aura” was not up to company standards. “Hey, you really need to work on your aura,” as if this were a reasonable demand from management.  This continued with the department and store manager confronting Maia in the back office to tell her, “You’ve been doing a terrible job at closing down the deli at nights, and if you keep this up then Linda is going to start closing with you.” Maia replied, “Oh, yeah it’d be great to have extra help closing since we’re so understaffed.” They immediately backpedaled on the threat. Servants aren’t expected to ask for help. Women being singled out and scolded for issues outside of their control lined up with waves of walkouts. It’s almost as if disrespect makes you not want to work.

    The bakery was one of the two departments that received tips. Well, until some snooty customer complained that the bakery at another location doesn’t have a tip jar. The store manager’s solution: take away our tips to appease some rich asshole. This was a breaking point for the workers in our department and a doorway to begin one-on-one conversations about fighting back. A pay cut in any form sucks, but it’s an ideal catalyst for Wobblies to organize around. Thus, Maia and I started sussing out who would help us form an organizing committee.

    The hard part was initially asking coworkers to meet us outside of the workplace. There were differences in age, politics, and interests that made us reticent to ask. Once we had our first one-on-one with a fed up coworker it became clear that these meet-ups were in fact a lot of fun. You finally get a chance to hear what people really think without the fear of retribution that comes from being on the job. Even when a coworker wanted nothing to do with organizing, it was still a boost in our confidence to sit and speak with them. Our first one-on-one helped us zero-in on what workers were mad about and thus, which agitation tactics we should use to draw more workers towards organizing.

    COVID precautions, like requiring customers and employees to wear masks and sanitizing the store, were casually observed or outright disregarded. This stemming from a cashier at another store who had asked a customer to put on a mask and was promptly punched in the face! No security or manager backed him up! The cashier was left to pursue legal recourse against the store on their own.

    I had a similar, though less violent, run-in with an enraged customer I had politely asked to wear a mask. After screaming and throwing a tantrum, a department manager calmed them down and let them go about the store mask-less. I was then informed that our corporate bosses had specifically told management to stop enforcing mask protocols in order to satisfy unruly customers (and to avoid lawsuits). While outwardly reassuring employees that our health and safety was paramount, workers were being stopped from their role in sanitizing the store and pushed into understaffed departments.

    COVID-19 amplified the bigger issues that already existed, but not enough to turn it into a hot shop. This was a cold, cold shop throughout the pandemic. This job can’t be transitioned to work-from-home and the company is big enough to be faceless. So, for everybody working there it was business as usual. The workers are as hard to replace as they’ve always been, the managers treated us as replaceable as they always have, and the pandemic only heightened this contradiction. The saving grace for corporations like this is apathy. They rely on deeply indoctrinated “lifers” and “retirees” to maintain a company culture of servility and exploitation.

    We tried explaining to our fellow workers that we’re not going to be at this grocery store forever, so we might as well put in some time to make the job better for people who are here after us. “Do you see anything changing around here?” Of course nobody did. “If we don’t push to change stuff for the workers’ benefit, nothing will change.” Honest perspectives like these seemed to resonate with workers. Dismantling apathy is a daunting task, and perhaps impossible with some workers. But, once we started building our organizing committee we were able to push past the apathetic moaning about the job and focus on the business of our campaign.

    Our efforts were focused in the bakery since that’s where the two Wobblies worked. We found that offering food was a straight forward way to reach workers in other departments. In hindsight, we should have used this tactic more. Giving workers baked goods and sweets is a perfect way to break the ice and see what’s bugging them. Your committee needs to get a broad picture of where everyone’s head is at, otherwise, how do you push for a Democracy of workers?

    Shitty pay combined with under-staffing is always going to be a rallying cry in the service industry. Companies want to gaslight workers with nonsense about “industry pay rates” or whatever two-faced jargon they use. We want what we produce, it truly is that simple. So much of the angst in the service industry stems from holier-than-thou customers. Thus, portraying customers as “mini-bosses” could be an effective agitation tactic. Customers whine to your employer and your employer makes your life more shackled and miserable. It’s the Consumerist ecosystem.

    Our organizing committee began with a lot of enthusiasm, but we struggled to maintain excitement. Once we had drawn in four other workers, we thought we had plenty of momentum to bring in more workers at the store. “You’re always going back to agitating,” is common IWW advice, and it eventually dawned on us that we needed to continue one-on-one conversations with members of our committee to keep them amped up. Without regular communication there’s no way to determine anyone’s level of commitment.

    Sadly, it didn’t take much to thwart our organizing efforts. The resistance came from within. All it took was one person getting “the fear” and conveying it to others involved. “Well… I really need this job. I can’t risk losing my paycheck if it doesn’t work out.” The sentiment was shared by everyone but us two Wobblies and we were abruptly “ghosted” outside of day to day interactions. Maia and I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards them, we get it. We just wish we had the foresight to effectively “inoculate” our fellow workers. We could have gotten further, It’s all 20/20 now.

    After over a year our salting campaign came to an uneventful end. Burnt out and broke we decided to cut our losses and quit the job. The experience was far from a failure, we gained confidence and know-how for our organizer tool boxes. We’re one step closer to uniting with our Fellow Workers, even though we didn’t overthrow the system. Our work in the IWW is a marathon, not a sprint. On to the next battle!

    If you hate your job, and you have a pulse, you should join the IWW. redcard.iww.org

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