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Overtime Retail Workers: "I'm Christmas-ed Out"

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Colorado Springs, CORetail chain Michael's Inc. requires their salaried store managers to work 50 hours per week but Kay and many others in management spend at least 80 percent of their time completing tasks outside of managing—such as stocking shelves and even cleaning bathrooms—up to 60 hours per week, with no overtime. "We got so Christmased-out that we didn't care about the holidays --it sucks the Christmas spirit out of you," she says.

"Store managers at Michael's are required to work a minimum 50-hour work week (usually without a meal break), with the exception of the six week Christmas holiday season, when they are required to work 60 hours per week," says Kay. An average day for a store manager includes unloading trucks, stocking shelves, merchandising, cleaning, & cashiering. All sales associates, cashiers, and hourly department managers are authorized to complete these tasks. Store Managers are salaried (no overtime, usually no meal breaks).

Christmas-ed OutIn California, Michael's store managers are considered exempt but they are performing tasks that have nothing to do with management and therefore are misclassified. As well, this giant retail chain is in other states throughout the US and Canada where managers are overworked and not getting paid overtime compensation.

"When I was hired, I was told this job was a 50-hour work week," says Kay. "We undergo an extensive training program at their corporate offices near Dallas. The program strongly emphasizes that 'you are there for your brain, not your body.' and it is important to lead rather than do, and to learn how to delegate. The management job sounded perfect.

"When you are training, you are paid hourly because you performing physical work but once you become a manager and have your own store, you are salaried."

Michael's stores, like many chains and typical of retail, are broken down into volume categories. The higher-volume stores get more payroll but store managers do less. The lower-volume stores require management to work more, which entails more physical labor. Kay says her management job comprised 90 percent physical labor-- such as stocking shelves—and 10 percent managing, usually within a 12-14 hour day. She thinks that there should be different titles for higher-volume store managers (who should be salaried) versus lower-volume store managers who should be paid hourly—and overtime.

"I stocked shelves every single day," she says. "I unloaded trucks, I wore every hat in the store. Sometimes we did demos and I often cleaned the bathrooms and floors. These lower-volume stores didn't have a cleaning service - maybe they would come in once a week.

"Rarely did I work less than 14 hours a day and that went on for seven months. During holidays we were required to work six 10- hour days in a row and the only compensation was two comp. days at that beginning of the year-- Thanksgiving and Christmas."

She finally broke down and got physically sick from stress. "All they cared about was when I was coming back," says Kay.

"The two weeks leading up to Christmas are extremely grueling and it is really sad. We are there to help people decorate their homes and help with festivities but we are never home to enjoy the holiday season. Our only day off was Christmas day.

And there is no such thing as a Christmas bonus and there is no complaining allowed.

Complaints are not accepted. They trick you into this management position; they really know how to recruit. You are told all this stuff during training and the recruiting process but once you get into the real situation, it's a whole other story. And if you don't like anything about it, 'Too bad, there is the door'.

"I took three weeks off due to stress and went back to work; the only goal my district manager had was when I was coming back, nothing about how I was feeling. Most district managers would have put someone in charge; someone responsible enough to keep up with the business. Instead I came back to three weeks worth of cleanup during one of the busiest times of the year and it was a constant struggle for the next few months. I was so unhappy and tired that I had to quit.

I have been in retail management for more than 15 years and I am now 35. I used to love it but now I am so soured on the whole retail experience and I am looking for a career change.

Every year, retailers seem to be competing more and more and our retail seasons are coming months earlier: Christmas in August is silly. Customers complain; we run out of products; it's a constant struggle with service. The demand on our time is higher each year and it is exhausting. Yet we still aren't compensated any more.

The district manager and all the other executives go home every night around 5pm to their families and take weekends off while we're still in the stores working, sometimes all night long. I calculate they owe me 15 hours per week in overtime for the past seven months except for Christmas when it was 25 hours per week for six weeks."

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