Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Meijer and the union-style service

maybe where you live the grocery stores aren't unionized. lucky you. it has been my experience that when a service industry goes union, it stops being a service industry.

besides the deli counter, the only other place my shopping experience comes to a screeching halt is the check-out counter. on this particular day, I had crammed way too many errands in before I had to go pick up the kids from school. Meijer was last on my list, I sped through the usual barriers, had no run-ins with distractions (Meijer crazies), and was on to look for the shortest check-out line.

personally, I think it is cruel and unusual punishment for a grocery store to have 32 check-out bays and only schedule four people to work them at a time. with that said, you can imagine looking for a short line wasn't in the stars. still, I review my options and go for the line that has the fewest people with the least amount of items.

now, because I frequent this store often, I usually like to get in a line with a capable check-out person. they know their produce, they know where the bar codes are to scan, they know that my $12.95 per pound steak is actually on sale for $5.45 per pound. unfortunately for me, I hit Meijer that day on what I like to call, "Meijer's sink-or-swim day," aka, new cashier's first day.

it was a coin toss. do I stand in line with the older cashier waving her hands like the keypad was a hot iron poker, or do I go for the younger, hipper guy looking chilled out. what the heck, let's go for the dude.

I'll admit it. when I'm in line for awhile I read the magazine covers, but only the covers! once at church, this really uptight, zealot guy explained to me that if you pick up one of the magazines and read/skim through it while standing in line, but then put it back, you are actually stealing. "think about it," I recall him saying with earnest, "they're selling words. if you read their words and don't pay for them, you're stealing!" I like to think that I don't pick up a magazine while standing in line because I couldn't care less if Jessica and Nick are partying separately or because I couldn't care less if a woman lost 127 pounds eating chocolate. but, you know...whatever.

so, as all of these honesty vs. dishonesty issues are rolling through my mind, I suddenly realize that my line hasn't moved. I remember when I first rolled into the dude's bay I glanced at the time 2:46pm, now it was 2:56pm. I look to the head of the line to see the same woman looking peevish. she's just staring at my dude, with her eyes wide and mouth shut tight. ahead of me is a foreign (I guessed Russian) woman happily unloading her cart while chatting with her toddler, oblivious to any doom.

I look to dude's check-out light. if a cashier is having problems, or is waiting for a manager the bay's number light will be flashing. no flashes. I look at dude. He's leaning back on the metal divider completely zoned out. of course, I can't stand there all day, I've got elementary kids to pick up! I call out, "is there a problem?" dude lethargically looks at me, "frozen." I'm assuming this means some technology is frozen, I continue, "have you called someone?" "nope, just giving it some time to see if it un-freezes." I raise my ire and my eyebrows, "time? I've been standing here for 10 minutes. should I leave your line?" dude shrugs his shoulders, "do what you like." I choke out a half-laugh, "no," I get louder, "I'm asking you if you know how to fix it or should you close this lane?!" dude sits up a bit on his lounge bar, "I don't know what's wrong, I'm just gonna wait." suddenly, I get it, new- guy with a splash of union. I'm betting he missed out on some break and is now taking his god-given right to a 15 minute melt-down.

now the lady at the front of the line is getting angry too. why she didn't ask these very questions I'll never know--maybe she is used to the deli counter protocol. but the best is the Russian lady. during my conversation with dude, she is watching us as if at a tennis match. I can tell she understands just enough and starts a huffing panic as I and all the other people behind me begin to shuffle our carts, effectively fleeing the infuriating scene. you see, her entire cart is emptied onto the lifeless conveyer belt, her options are nil, she is forced to wait out dude's break time.

so here I go, furious that now I am going to be late picking up my kids. I fly by the other three open bays fixing my gaze on bay #1, the fast lane, 15 items or less. I quickly glance at my cart, oh yeah, there's at least 23 items in there. I pull in, no one in front of me, no one behind me. this next union cashier looks at my cart's items as I start throwing things onto her conveyer. "uhhh, you see my sign?" she asks with a degree of smugness that only comes from false power.

mistake. there is no way I am going to let the union get a point on my scoreboard, not when they've already cost me 15 minutes and a half gallon of melted vanilla bean specks! she shrivels while I explain this to her in a menacing low voice.

as I leave the store I am torn as to how to honestly record this. true, I beat Meijer at its attempt to conquer me via the union, however, I'm pretty sure I crossed over to the "Meijer crazy" side when I growled at the fast-lane cashier. I decide on the only decent and fair solution.

Meijer crazies= 1.5 traci= 2.5


  1. This is great. Keep it up.

  2. just got back from meijer shopping and people may think i'm a meijer crazy from all my snickering i'm doing while i'm thinking of your stories at each section of the store...

  3. Anonymous8:40 PM

    If the "new guy" was really new he was not in the union. All new hires spend their first 90 days on probation and are not given union protections.

    Actually the UFCW does very little for Meijer employees other than take union dues.