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The Mental Work for Minimum Wage

By Rachel Livinal, Art from Ashes Beat Writer

The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and Healthy Community can be reached at https://www.longbeachcoalition.org/ 

Full Text of Audio Story Here

NARRATOR: Jorge De La Cruz has been around the block a few times. When it comes to retail, he’s been in every place imagined. Vons? Got it. Dollar Tree? Yep. What about Best Buy? Oh yeah, those were the days. But for De La Cruz, it’s always come naturally. 

JORGE: I like helping people out. I like the feeling of getting that smile, not because I sold them something, not because I got a sale in any way shape or form, it’s, it’s the satisfaction of hearing the person be happy about getting what they were actually looking for not coming in asking for a product, getting that and then being disappointed.

NARRATOR: De La Cruz has been working in retail for over 20 years. For the last few months we has worked as a Tech supervisor for Staples. But he just quit. His reasoning? The sales. 

JORGE: But when I worked there, I realized that within the first three months, it was if you don’t sell enough, we’re going to get rid of you. It was make them happy without messing up our bottom line.

NARRATOR: This kind of selling brings a whole host of problems. First it’s the pressure to sell, sell, and sell some more. But it’s also, the customers. 

JORGE: They just want their products they want to get out of there doesn’t matter. Those few that do understand because they’ve been in retail, or work at a retail… But then you get those few customers that are in the middle of your spiel, your sentence, your sales line, they cut you off and just know that you know, yeah, that’s.

NARRATOR: There’s the lack of product. Long Beach has been hit hard with supply shipments. This only adds to both customer’s frustration and employees. And then there’s problems most retail workers face: minimum wage. De La Cruz touched on the majority of the population he’s seen work in retail. 

JORGE: One of the major things is, it’s never enough money. So you end up having to supplement yourself with two, sometimes three part time jobs… I want to say that most commonality is, they’re just there to work until they find something better…. It’s those people that just was it called a revolving door. This is the kind of thing that all these jobs, there’s just that’s the commonalities, just you go from one to another to another

NARRATOR: In America, there is a large conception that people who work in retail, grocery stores, or food service, are expected to put on a “face” for the sake of customer service. According to the Workplace Emotional Labor and Diversity at Penn State, this is also known as emotional labor, defined as “regulating or managing emotional expressions with others as part of one’s professional work role.” Jorge has seen this seemingly simple approach becomes a bit more complex than people think. 

JORGE: But I had seen what you’re talking about, there’s been friends and family that you have to act a certain way you have to make sure you’re saying these exact words in this line formation… It’s just you have to smile. You have to put that happy face on how can I help you? Can I get you some fries? Would you like a drink with that?.. You gotta wonder what it’s like for that person. It’s got to be really bad on the other side, just make you want to quit, go somewhere else. But you know, it’s not as easy to find the job.

NARRATOR: These people are usually young, sometimes middle age, and not passionate about their job, which makes it all the harder when thinking about the mental toll it could take on them. 

MERCY:​​ A lot of us, we have bills to pay, like we can’t just walk out or quit our jobs. Like it’s not an option for us. We have, you know, families to support even though we’re trying to support ourselves, like getting getting through school, like, at least for me, I had to go to school, I was working. And then I also have to help my family like pay rent, you know, bills and stuff like that. So it was a lot. I’m like, especially like people of color. And like first generation college students, we have a lot of like burden on our shoulders. So it wasn’t an option for us to just be like, Oh, I’m done, like I quit. So we just had to stick it through. 

NARRATOR: Mercy Solorzano is a worker organizer for LAANE and the Fairwork Week Campaign in Los Angeles. The campaign focuses on advocating for mainly customer service and food service related workers. Solorzano knows it first hand: she worked at Starbucks for several years, and quit a few weeks ago. 

MERCY: And yeah, it was a few times where I would be at work. And I would just envision myself just leaving, like right in the middle of work. And all of us felt that way. Like every single person that I worked with, we would just not only that, but when you have a drive thru store, they put a lot more pressure on you. 

NARRATOR: Where are the resources? Where is the help? Most of the time, workers like De la Cruz and Solorzano don’t have access to proper healthcare or adequate scheduling. 

MERCY: As of now for, you know, the coalition, we were trying to fight for better working conditions. And part of it is just, we’re working on a policy change to make these jobs in the return grocery sector sustainable, and just better paying jobs as well… The CW Oh, so they’ve been teaching us how to, how to write complaint or how to, like submit certain, like health issues and stuff like that. Um, but as of like, resources, I think that’s something that we’re still kind of working on. 

NARRATOR: Much of the time, every employee’s health is not represented through one problem, but a host of them. The coalition LAANE created is focusing on those major issues. 

MERCY: But I know that they are trying to fight for like a policy to make these jobs better. So they have these, um, you know, these resources available to them, as well as just like, you know, better pay better conditions, you know, better health care, because a lot of them don’t even have health care, to be able to see, you know, maybe a therapist or something right, or, you know, have like health insurance that can provide something like that. But that’s one of the things that we are pushing for, it’s just policy in the LA area, where workers can have these resources for better benefits for them.

NARRATOR: Because at the end of the day, Solorzano says, all workers just want dignity and respect. And that’s all anyone can ever really ask for. 

NARRATOR: This is Rachel Livinal, signing out from The Hub located in Long Beach CA. 

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