Life in the Bull's Eye: Target Employees SpeakS

Well-branded big box retailer Target—a staunchly anti-union company—is now the target of a union campaign. Yesterday, we asked for Target workers to send us their stories of life on the inside. The response was fairly overwhelming.

Today, we bring you a selection of the feedback we received from current and former Target employees—about working conditions, various gripes, and their opinion on unions. We'll have more in a future installment.

Managers, Employees, and Unions

I worked for Target for about 5 1/2 years give or take a month or two. I worked for 3 different stores in 2 different states, and I met a lot of great people who have worked for the company, whether they were hourly employee's like myself or ETL's. An ETL is basically a fancy name for assistant manager, and an STL is equal to a Store Manager. ETL stands for Executive Team Lead, while STL means Store Team Lead. There were also Team Leads, and they were responsible for certain areas of the store like Electronics, Sporting Goods, etc.. I worked in the back of the store doing Logistics, basically putting product away that wouldn't fit on the shelf. It was far from being the best job in the world but I made fairly decent money for working in retail.

Now in regards to the union topic, there were two separate instances where we watched videos and had "discussions" about the negatives of unions. Having worked for Krogers back in high school I had no strong opinion either way on unions, but I know that from the people who had been working there for along time the union was a major trump card in how they negotiated pay raises and promotions. Try telling someone who worked in the Meat Department that the union was a bad thing and he'd have a thing or two to say about it. The first time I saw the video was when I was first hired in, but when I saw it the second time I was much more aware of how things worked. They put us in a room with about 15-20 other team members(employee's) and we watched what I believe was the same video as before(however I could be wrong). After the video I made a joke that the video made me want to join a union, and it was at this point that the HR who later would become a really good friend of mine after she left the company pulled me aside and told me not to joke around about these things. When I assured her that I was joking she told me that it didn't matter, and that I shouldn't joke about unions in front of anyone else. Since she was one of the few "managers" that I liked I took her advice, it was more or less that I didn't want to get her into trouble.

An ETL's perspective:

I was an Executive Team Leader for a miserable year right out of college. It was the worst year of my life mostly because I wasn't cut out for retail and the horrible hours, but also because it just sucked. I worked a mandatory 50 hour week, but most of the time ended up closer to 60-65 especially around the holidays. I made less an hour than most of the Team Leads who were paid hourly when you accounted for how many hours I worked for my paycheck.

In regard to unions I remember being taken out of my daily duties to spend a day watching union training videos showing us how we should handle things should a union approach our store. We were told the union would have to get voted in at each store individually. I'm not sure if it was true, but other ETL's basically said Target would close a store that voted in a union and reopen another one.

One longtime employee tells of how life at Target changed over the years:

A lot of the workplace culture at Target depends on the managers at a specific store and the tone they set. I have experienced both very good and very bad, but overall, between when I started and when I left this last time, there's been a shift in company culture. When I started [in 1996], the corporate slogan was "Fast, Fun & Friendly". And they did a pretty good job of living into that. It was a fun place to work, and it seemed like there was career potential.

Now the slogan is "Expect More. Pay Less." It's supposed to be a slogan for customers, but I encountered many employees who felt it applied better to how the company treated them...

I also remember one of my managers mentioning to me that Target Corporate has an "anti-union team" with its own jet, whose sole purpose it is to go into markets where union activity is rumoured, and work against it. Apparently working at a store where this is going on is a particular hell.

Why Unionize?

Target employees had several consistent complaints about management. For example, pernicious write-ups from management as an excuse to keep wages low:

If for some reason I wasn't able to finish all my duties, we were threatened with a write up that would go in our permanent record (if one got enough rite up they could be fired) They also started showing anti-union videos at this point. We were told if we had any concerns that we could just go to our LODs (basically, managers) or HR and tell them but everyone in my group that watched the videos just laughed because we all knew that our LODs and HR had favorites and these favorites were often times that were mistreating the employees (cutting our hours, refusing to give us breaks, being flat out bitches) and nothing would ever be done.

The best part thought had to be around review time which fell in April. At this point your immediate supervisor (team leader) would write a report which was a critique of your work year. This is when all the things you've been doing wrong the past year comes up as a way to justify giving you such a low pay raise even if they had never critiqued your work during the actual year so that you could, oh I don't know, improve. My first pay raise that didn't coincide with California minimimum wage laws was $.25, the year after it was $.11 and during my last year it was $.8. Yes, after working at Target for almost five years I was making just making 44 cents more than someone who had just been hired. I knew at this point that I had to quit. Luckily a month later I found another job that paid significantly better and I quit this bitch.

Scheduling issues and non-livable wages:

I worked at Target for just about 5 years from the age of 16-21. During that time there were a number of incidents that, were the employees to have more power, would not have happened. Under a number of different bosses we were required to stay well past Midnight, with some of us scheduled for an opening shift at 8am the next day.

This would get particularly problematic around the holiday season. The unsustainable madness of the season completely overwhelmed the work force. This was in part due to the massive numbers of shoppers, but it was also associated with the poor management practices and unrealistic scheduling limits that were imposed by corporate and their representatives at the individual store level.

As to whether or not a union is necessary at Target, I'm not sure. There were times where it would have been beneficial to have a power structure independent of the company to provide oversight in order to ensure some accountability for abusive practices. It would also have helped ensure a livable wage. Many, many of the workers I knew there were working it as their second or third job in order to make ends meet. Very few of them were able to maintain an independent lifestyle based solely on their Target salary. On the other hand, I never felt the pressing need for yet more regulations while working there.

Sheer disgust:

So I worked at Target for just a few months. I was victim of the shitty economy and had to do what I needed to barely stay afloat. Apparently having two degrees and a graduate degree relegated me to "lead cashier", but I digress. During my training I had to watch an anti-union video. It was awful. It was also humiliating. We like to think Target is better because aesthetically it is more pleasing but they treat their workers like crap. It's disgusting to see how they refused to pay someone an extra .25 cents even though they are in the horrid idea that is 'Food Ave'. The worst practice is 'encouraging' Target workers to open a Target credit card and use their shit wages to become further indentured slaves to their shitty concept of a store. I've seen the policies that result in the degradation of the human spirit. The idea that we should pay people a living wage and a safe workplace is beyond the likes of them. Targets motto: keep them stupid and poor and powerless.

Target vs. Wal-Mart

Some inside perspective:

i am sicksicksick of uppity liberals who feel they are doing the world a favor by shopping at target instead of walmart.
it's the same damn shit, folks!

hey, target! your employees are shopping at walmart!

most of my co workers are former walmart employees- according to them, target blows twice as hard.

We'll have more from Target employees in a future post. If you've ever worked at Target and have experiences to share, we still want to hear from you: email me. Anonymity guaranteed.

[Photo via Getty]