Sunday, April 27, 2008

Labor Relations

Yesterday I went grocery shopping at Ralph’s, the local chain owned by Kroger, which is something I am not prone to do any more. The experience reminded me precisely why I no longer shop there.

As the checker was ringing up my order she was talking past me, rather loudly, to conduct a social conversation with the checker in the next lane and was ignoring me completely. The only time she acknowledged me was to present the credit card slip for my signature and I commented to her, in a tone that was as neutral as I could make it, that socializing with a coworker while waiting on a customer was actually quite rude. She did not respond until I was turning away, at which point she voiced in a sarcastic tone to her coworker, “Oh well.”

Had she simply not responded, I would have left it alone, since her conduct is very much the norm for employees at Ralph’s and I had, after all, exposed myself to it by shopping at a store I usually shun for that very reason. But her sarcastic rejoinder to her coworker prompted me to speak to the manager about the exchange, and he was less than pleased with her; agreed with me that such treatment was not a good way to get customers to return to the store.

Interestingly, the subject of the conversation had been another coworker who had been fired for not showing up for work and not calling in. My checker had been voicing the opinion that the worker should get with her union rep and challenge the action, because her getting fired was unfair.

I am pro-union but on the face of this event, on the face, it would appear that the union representing the workers at Ralph’s is not fulfilling a positive role here. These are very good jobs, they pay well and they have an excellent benefits package, so the union has done well for the workers.

But to foster an attitude that one need not show up for work and need not call in? To foster an attitude that the worker can treat the employer’s customers with indifference and discourtesy, and in so doing drive business away? This is not the proper function of a labor union, but I don’t think blame rests with the union alone here, or even primarily.

Vons and Albertson’s are represented by the same union, and their contracts are negotiated simultaneously. I find the people, workers and management, at both of those stores to be very pleasant and friendly. Vons and Albertsons seem to be maintaining a healthy relationship between labor and management; a relationship which benefits everyone, customers included.

It would seem that labor and management at Ralph’s have developed a very poor relationship. It may work for them. It doesn’t work for me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wel, I go to Ralphs regularly, and they generally seem to be fine for me. Vons is always good, perhaps a bit better. I do agree with Jayhawk about the rudeness issue... there is no place for that in this setting (or any, really).

Unions have a duty to collectively represent empooyees in terms of salary, befits, workplace environment, management relations (no abuse for example), and unfair anti-employee actions. This DOES NOT absolve the employee from behaving responsibly. And when they break the rules, they have consequences. Period....

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