‘My life in retail’

Former MSNNBC commentator Joseph Williams had the good life going right up until the moment when he discussed race in the Obama-Romney campaign and was booted out of his job two weeks later. Then the Internet found a five-month plea deal for domestic assault. He was toast in the news business.

So he took a job at a sporting goods store.

“In a matter of months, I was broke, depressed, and living on food stamps. I had lost my apartment, and ended up living out of a suitcase in a guest bedroom of an extraordinarily generous family I barely knew. My cash flow consisted of coins from my piggybank and modest sums earned from odd jobs: freelance copy-editing, public relations, coordinating funerals, mowing lawns,” he writes this week on The Atlantic website.

Then he got a good lesson that more people of the upper crust should get: What it’s like to take the only job you can find, and what it’s like to work a retail job in America:

Irritated by my tardiness, Stretch lectured me on time management, including an Orwellian principle found in retail: If you arrive on time for work, you’re already 10 minutes late. Showing up early is necessary, he said, so you can “get ready to hit the floor.”

In that instant, I thought of my college football days, in full gear, psyching myself up for a game by blasting rap music into my headphones. Somehow, the metaphor didn’t translate to selling Nikes and yoga pants to suburbanites.

I later realized Stretch was invoking the principle of “wage theft”—retailers expect employees to be in position ahead of time, making their life easier, even if the employees aren’t getting paid for coming in early. There’s even a website devoted to fighting the practice.

When Williams quit to take a job as a communications director for a Capitol Hill non-profit, the store manager said, “I guess you don’t care about hard work and loyalty.”

My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Cheap – Joseph Williams – The Atlantic.