Not In Kansas Anymore...

Click your heels, and see if home is where you hang your hat, or somewhere else inside yourself as this simple, postmodern girl takes on L.A.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Okay, I love my job, and I love all my assistant managers. By and large, they love me. I get along with all my fellow employees, and we laugh and joke and work very hard. All of us, by and large, with a few slacker exceptions that are present at any job. And none of is get paid well, but we like the job and we stay. In almost every case, that means we have to take a second job, but that's widely known and accepted as a reality, and accomodated.

We have a new store manager who's only been with Big Bookseller for 9 months ( 6 months when I got hired). He used to work for Circuit City and was retired, and then called out of retirement by Otto ( yeah, seriously; that's not his real name, but lemee tell you it ain't much less odd) our District Mgr, --his pal,-- to come and sorta shape things up in the absence of our old SM. In short, Dil-- or as my pal Seamus likes to call him, "The Bulldog"; he's short, round, with jowls, droopy brown eyes and growls alot-- is a dick. He seems nice at first, but then it becomes appallingly clear that he knows NOTHING about books, rarely reads, and doesn't think that's particularly important to sell books, ( the former being witnessed on the rare occasion he comes out of the office to help on the floor, and the latter something he's actually said on repeated occasion. Unfortunately, he's really wrong on the latter. If I had a dime for all the times I've been asked to recommend something, I....well, I wouldn't be working there.)

Furthermore, his management style is take-no-prisoners. He's alienated people who have been at the company for up to 13 years ( ex-collegue Nate, who left last month after an unsolicited chew-out, had been with the company for that long). . About 8 people have quit since he's been in charge, 4 of whom--including Nate--left in JUST in the 3 months I've been there ( Liz, in receiving; Audrina, in Kids; and Jimmy, a cashier-- all fine people, fine employees, all who've been there for 5+ years each.). Why?

Because he's up everyone's ass to perform harder, better, more, with constant critiscism, little of it grounded in actual reality ( he told our receiving/shipping guys who work their butts off -- one staff member short now that Liz is gone---that they were "incompetent" recently.). He's often given to calling people who aren't there every week ( because it's their second or third job) and saying things like " I don't even think you should get an employee discount. Why do you work here? You're never here!" ( He did that one yesterday to a girl who's a teacher full time, who happens to bring us all manner of Book Fairs and Education Fairs in which we make alot of money.) It's like he just doesn't UNDERSTAND certain human relations skills and is woefully ignorant of how things actually work in the store on a day to day basis. He just sees something he doesn't like ( like a pile of books at customer service desk, or alot of shipping that's stacking up to be put out, or lack of Membership card sales) and reacts. Nevermind the circumstances.

Add that to the low pay, and people who formerly were willing to stay on because they loved what they did are leaving like rats on a sinking ship.

He's even got his management team hating him, and while they have to back him up on all his retarded strategies and decisions, they all express disdain about it under their breath, which isn't hard to catch; sometimes they even openly make a snarky comment in an unguarded moment-- and these are NOT unprofessional people. I think they're just at the edge of reason. The other day I was coming in and I heard our fabu Merchandising Manager Andrea talking to him in the office saying "...Really, Dil, I don't want to leave the company either, but you have GOT to stop this. And stay out of my personal life." ( He was freaking out because she and another employee --who happen to be at the same level of management-- are new roomates. He said "You've got to kick her out!"). Andrea rocks and has worked for Big Bookseller for 8 fucking years, and her roomie Cherry has worked there for 5. (And he wont even speak to Cherry anymore. He thinks she should be fired because she broke her foot last fall and resultingly, she's developed a secondary tendonitis due to the injury and has to sit on a stool at the register. He also doesn't like her tattoos-- nevermind that almost every employee has them, visibly. Mix both, and Hoo Boy!! That's just unacceptable! )

On Friday, he decided I was his new target. Why not? It had to happen eventually, I suppose, and the "New Kid" smell has worn off, so.....

So here's how it went down:

Two weeks ago I had a register that was short, by $27.01 . And I had had one that was short two weeks prior to that. by $11.54. An ASM,, Martin, pulled me aside and said, "I have to write you up for this, but tell me, what do you think happened? Because the amout you were short most recently was the exact amount that there was in that crazy exchange/ return you had. " I said that was probably it, but I took the opportunity to remind him of what I told them when I was hired: that I had this learning disability. And that maybe it was because when weird transactions take place, I get very, very confused. He said, "Oh, be sure to note that then, on the paperwork. And if you need help or are confused, page for help, okay? " I filled out the paperwork accordingly, and then asked what the repurcussions of this write up would be. He explained that they would be putting me on a register that no one else could use during my shift to monitor my progress for awhile. If shortages or overages happened regularly after that, I would just be not ringing anymore. He said, "Normally, we might let you go, but with this extentuating circumstance, we'd probably just find other things for you to do. And anyway, we'd have to write you up like, 2 more times to actually fire you. Be careful, and go slower, and don't be afraid to ask questions. It will be okay. "

So I've been really, really careful lately and all week my registers have been coming out perfectly. I even asked another ASM, Mal, how I was doing on Friday, and he said, "Just fine. No worries." I was pleased that that was the case. I went on with my day.

About 6pm, I get a call and am asked to come to the office. There's Mal the ASM and Dil The Asshole. Dil starts off on how I'm always giving him attitude : a customer had complained to him because he felt a book was too battered to be purchased at regular price. I had helped that customer and informed him-- as I was advised in the past to do-- that the best we could do was offer 10% off at the register or order him a new one. ( The book wasn't battered at all, and given the guy's subsequent questions, it was clear he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, so I let it go.) Dil didn't want to give him the discount, and the customer threw a fit, and threatened to call the DM.

**( Note: this happens at LEAST once a week with any given customer when they don't get what they want. If we worried about that all the time, we'd never get any work done. Special Note: I get complaints frequently from customers when Dil has dealt with them, asking how they can contact the corporate office. So do other booksellers. Interesting, non? Tonight Andrea had to take Mr. Bulldog HIMSELF into the office and tell him, "You cannot shame a customer into buying a Membership Discount Card by saying "You're the only person I know without one. Tsk." ) **

Anyway, when Dil had come to me -- as I was mid-transaction, with a line of customers that was wound around to somewhere in Arizona-- and asked what I had told this guy, I was understandably a bit short with him.

SO we haggled over that for awhile. He accuses me, in a subtle way, of LYING : according to him, when he asked, I said I hadn't really seen the book, and then later, when discussing it again later I said I HAD seen it. ( I had glanced at it, but not examined it, and I was distracted when he came to me at the register, so I said no, I hadn't really looked at it. I later clarified that yes, I had seen it briefly. I suppose this could be interpreted in a negative way, but I was talking without thinking in a distracted moment, not giving him a full rundown!! What, are we splitting hairs here? Jesus.) In the midst of this conversation it becomes apparent to me that his REAL concern is that the guy might call Otto and complain about HIM. But finally, after I apologize for not being clear, he lets it drop.

THEN he says I give him attitude when I'm at the register and I need him to come over and cancel a transaction ( true-- because he always wants to know WHY, and then proceeds to blame it on the person at the register. His questions are stupid and his responses are overly critical. But still, that isn't right for me to do. I admit that much. ). I apologize for that. Then he launches in to this full on aggressive attack on how I've had the most cancellations of anyone he's EVER seen in the NINE MONTHS he's worked there, and that's ridiculous, and I had two drawers short and what do I have to say about THAT???

** ( Just an FYI: a cancelled transaction is merely when a mistake is made by the cashier, and with our system, you can't go back and correct; say, someone suddenly wanting a gift reciept after a certain screen, or whatever. It's not a loss of money of any kind. It's just an error, but a manager is needed to do it, because they want to make sure you're not then giving someone a freebie this way. Same with voids or deletions. )**

I was agog. I thought this issue had been resolved, and was currently being observed further, (with my absolute support and consent, no complaints!), for any future problems. As far as the cancelled/deleted transactions being large in number, I had no clue that I had more than the average person, nor had my attention been drawn to it before. Additionally, I was taken aback at the sheer force of his questioning; it's as if I've committed a crime and I was in the hotseat to defend myself.

I said, "I didn't know anything about my especially high rate of cancellations. I didn't know it was an issue." He barks, "Well all the managers have commented on it and on your crappy attitude ". I glance at Matt, who's making a face --out Dil's eyeline-- like "??What?? No way!!", but he can't say anything, being in the forced position of having to back him up, silently. Then I say that I explained to both Martin and Cristal ( another ASM) about my dyscalculia and they were very supportive and that I figured he knew as well, as it was on the paperwork. I explain that I had been doing better, and trying much harder to stay alert to possible problems, and thought it would all be proven out soon enough, and end well.

" Well", he snorts, "so far, so good. But I can't have you screwing up my registers. You understand that. I have to treat you like anyone else: we lose money and all that money has to be accounted for. Anyway, if you make another mistake, you're fired."

That's when I started to involuntarily leak tears. I wasn't sobbing,or making any noise, or anything, but tears just kept rolling down my face like I had an uncontrollable tic. I couldn't stop them. I was so shocked and angry and frustrated, I guess : he kept going on and on about how I'M responsible for that lost money and HE has to justify it to corporate and along with my glut of cancellations and what is he supposed to say? Disability or no, I'm responsible and that's IT. It just doesn't matter and one doesn't have anything to do with the other. He said again, "One more mistake and I'm going to have to terminate your employment." I'm not sure what his motive was there- was he trying to scare me? Was he trying to intimadate me into doing better? Was he just being unreasonable?At any rate, I stopped him and tried to say, "Yes, one DOES have to do with the other! It's very clear!" which only ended up in more circular discussion.

Finally I said, "Dil, that's not legal. You can't fire me when I have disclosed to you at the first write up that this might be a problem area for me. As I understood, it the company was willing to try and work with me and see if I could manage it. I was also told that should I prove unable to do work the register, I wouldn't be fired, but that other tasks would be assigned to me. To fire me if I make another mistake-- with a known disability-- is not legal."

(A brief aside: what is WRONG with people and not getting that that's not legal?? This is the second time that this has happened in my employment history, right in a row. T was just stubborn and ignorant, but Dil? I don't get it. He's of some foreign heritage, -- Armenian, I believe--so maybe he doesn't somehow sync up with this American notion of legal regulations, or has a different personal/cultural attitude towards those things. Still, he's worked in American management for 20 years prior to this. Can he honestly be unaware of such employment laws?)

THEN he says, "Well, I need a witness here because you think I'm threatening you. " ( Mal had temporarily left to help someone out on the floor). Um, dude, isn't that what you just did? You weren't merely informing me of your plans, or offering me a contingency, like the other managers did. You WERE telling me PRECISELY what was going to happen, in a belligerent way: that I was going to be out of a job, and fuck my disability. Mal shows back up and he spins it like he was being so reasonable and I'm overreacting. This makes me cry more. Finally he says, "Look Jessica, you're being very emotional about this, and I can see it's upsetting to you. Here's my offer. You can stay on the registers but if you screw up again, you're out of here. I can take you off the registers NOW and have you do other things. There are many things for you to do in the store. " Oh, NOW he's Mr. Reasonable? This pisses me off MORE and again, the tears are flowing.

I say, "I feel as though by taking me off the registers and making the decision to not allow me to have another chance is a censure. I'm wondering if I will be paying a penalty in this way. Will I lose hours, will I be in trouble? " This goes on for ANOTHER 20 minutes where again, I'm unreasonable for not wanting to accept, carte blanche, his offer. He states that of course not, "I'm a reasonable man" --I will be fine. I look at Mal who adds, "I'll make sure you get the right amount of hours. Although, Dil --::exasperated tone::-- Rachel and Danny are on vacation next week, Jessica is filling in, and she's on registers. You realize I will have to recreate the ENTIRE schedule and call EVERYONE ON IT." They haggle over this while I'm trying to stop crying.

Dil turns to me and says, "What do you want to do?" Finally I cave. I realize there's no talking to this man, and in the end, his needing to take me off registers might have happened anyway. I tell him I meant no disprespect ( lie) and shake his hand and thank him for his time ( lie) and leave the office.

He leaves the office too and heads out to a smoke break. I tiptoe back in, look at Mal and say, "I'm so sorry. I had no idea there were these problems. I'm so sorry about the schedule. I had no idea about the cancellations being an issue, I had no idea it was this bad."He pauses and looks at me like, 'Seriously, now. You didn't fail. ' ( He can't say it, but it was there). And he says, " Well, I've had worse to deal with on the schedule. And as for the cancellations and all that, I didnt know either! I didn't even know he was going to do this untill you were in here. I was like "Uh, what are you doing???" I feel like we totally ambushed you. " I do, too. I feel like something very wrong had happened, even though I couldn't put my finger on it. It felt somehow, out of line, beyond his mere tone and approach, although those were bad enough.

Anyway, I went to Andrea today and said, "Um....I'm concerned about how something was handled the other day. " She said, "I know you were talked to. And I'm going to tell you this: the more people you tell about it at this level, the worse it will be. Don't gossip or complain. And no matter what, I have to back him up, as a manager, like it or not-- even if he IS a dick. But let me just remind you of something: 1-800-WE-LISTEN. It's an anonymous hotline we have for complaints. Dont forget about that. " I felt that was a very pointed statement meant to tell me "This is the course of action I would advise to you."

Of course, I don't even know where to begin with this incident and explaining it to whomever is on the other line at HR. The only things I can think of him doing wrong is that he 1.) didn't give me sufficient warning of being in the line of fire ( it's supposed to be 1 verbal, and three write ups before they can kick you out, I found out from Cherry today. She was totally riled about it. She's totally riled in general about Dil, and plans to call Otto directly soon anyway for her own situation. ). 2.) He lied about the other managers being unhappy with my attitude, and 3.) according to Cherry, he DID know about my disability before he chastised me ( because SHE had a conversation with him about it once when she was closing out registers for the night, and she noted my high rate of cancellation and he said, "Oh, it's probably due to her (sic) dyslexia." Plus it was all over the paperwork!) And 4.) his threatening to fire me because of it, and 5.) the tone in which I was talked to.

Is that sufficient? I dunno. Should I do it? Am I seeing this wrong-- do I actually have a complaint? Will I sound like a whiny employee instead of someone with cold hard facts when I'm talking about his belligerence? Should I find out for certain the policy prior to firing someone that is in place in case he busted it? Andrea did mention that if I'm talking about a specific incident and he's chastised about it, he'll know who made the call, which isn't good. Technically, that shouldn't matter, since if he treats me poorly after that, he'll be in twice the trouble. But what if he makes up a reason to fire me anyway?


I just don't know what to do. I need advice. I'm just not sure whom to ask. Maybe I should talk to Andrea or Mal more in private and see what certain policies are, and see if he's allowed to do x, y, or z. I know they won't tell him about that conversation.

Does anyone have any ideas/opinions/insights?