While Wal-Mart has been getting tons of bad publicity for its abuse of its workforce, Target, the fifth largest retailer in the U.S., has been enjoying a free publicity ride. Target presents itself as a decent corporate citizen and boasts of its generosity to charities, in contrast to the big bad Wal-Mart wolf. But this is all a smoke screen, as I can tell you from experience.
A typical workday at a Target warehouse involves lifting 30,000 lbs. of freight over a ten-hour period. Yet management at the distribution center where I work refuses to acknowledge most hernias as job-related injuries. Target requires that a drug test be administered less than 24 hours after any injury, no matter what the circumstances. One worker at my warehouse was hit in the head by a falling shampoo bottle and required stitches, and still had to take a drug test.
Injuries are Target's favorite way of getting rid of workers - especially workers who receive top pay and benefits. All injuries are investigated by management and are then blamed on the workers who suffered them.
"Failure to be aware of surroundings" is a particularly favorite reason to discipline an injured worker. One worker fell from one of the stools used to stack cartons in trailers (ironically, the stools are a required "safety measure"). She injured her back badly enough that she couldn't work for several months. She was fired. The reason? "Improper use of loading equipment."
Target, like its main competitor Wal-Mart, is also ferociously anti-union. They say, "We don't want a third party interfering with team member relations." That phrase is in the Target employee handbook and is repeated ad nauseam by its CEOs during interviews.
Any worker who attempts to use his or her right to organize is targeted by management for termination. Like most other retail corporations, Target claims to agree to the principle of collective bargaining but secretly vehemently opposes it. So the worker who attempts to organize is watched very closely for any infraction of the rules. Any violation, real or imagined, is blown out of proportion so the worker can be fired.
Target will also fire the middle management of any distribution center that attempts to organize (this happened in New York recently). Thus, supervisors show great zeal in rooting out and eliminating union sympathizers.
Target's other weapon against unions is the meeting. Every few weeks, “team members” and their bosses get together and talk. This gives the appearance of management and labor being in a partnership. In reality, this is a steam valve, a way to allow angry workers to blow off steam without actually addressing any real concerns.
Recently, this tactic has backfired. Over the last year, my warehouse has been subject to many changes made by management – making vacation hours harder to accrue, firing long-time workers for trivial reasons, changing shifts, and announcing mandatory overtime (they even forced almost everyone to work on Thanksgiving!).
A series of "roundtable" meetings with senior management was met with scorn, with nearly 50% of the workers refusing to even attend. Production slowdowns now occur on a regular basis. There is even talk of organizing a union among some workers.
Workers are sick and tired of being treated like animals, subject to an authoritarian dictatorship in the workplace where management can fire us for bullshit reasons without explanation if we have a big mouth and dare to speak up against them, while they beam Fox News into the break rooms to distract us. But the situation at my warehouse does demonstrate that class struggle is a daily event, and takes place even in the most mundane of workplaces.