Sometimes I question the logic behind distribution of work. The jobs that are considered menial and worthy of little more than the minimum wage are often much more difficult and vital than the work of millionaires. Educators earn notoriously low pay, especially in preschool where the hours are longer and the work more physically grueling. Most social workers find it difficult to make ends meet, yet their case loads are unwieldy and their work requires a level of passion and commitment that should be rewarded with more than good feelings.
This reality is not news to me, but it came to mind the other day as I was buying my groceries. Specifically, as I watched my beautiful, ripe avocados disappear into a plastic bag beneath the hulking weight of a 4 pound roast. I took issue with this travesty on many levels. First, the obvious. Raw meat on top of produce. Just ew. Second, the plastic bag. I had plenty of reusable canvas bags, but they had been so poorly packed that the bagger had run out, and was now using plastic. Third, I did not want to speak up because the bagger was clearly working hard and doing her best. I am proud that the grocery store I frequent hires adults with disabilities. I am more than willing to sacrifice a few avocados for the greater good, and I generally enjoy the colorful conversations I have with the baggers much more than the banal chatter offered by the cashiers. But it irks me that the cashier didn't intervene on behalf of my absurdly overpriced indulgences.
On this particular day, the cashier was a store manager who had stepped in when the checkout lines got too long. His badge declared that he had been serving my community in this capacity for nearly 20 years. He had surely learned a thing or two about bagging groceries and about training personnel. Yet he was either not aware or not interested enough to offer guidance to his employee on the handling of my purchases. He stayed focused on the oversight of my credit card transaction, which I used the keypad to complete. And I paused to wonder, which of these positions should employ the skilled worker?
The cashier’s job is to drag items one at a time over a panel, making sure that the lines on the UPC code run across an electronic red line. It’s simple and it’s kind of fun – or am I the only one who gets a charge out of using the self-checkout option when it’s available? After the last item is scanned, press the button to signify that the purchase is complete. The customer then uses the keypad to pay for his or her groceries. The cashier pulls out a receipt and hands it to the customer.
The bagger’s job is to catch the food items as they move down the conveyor belt and put everything into bags. The idea is to fill each bag so that it can be managed by the customer, and to ensure that the food inside makes it to its next destination safe and intact. Cold items should be bagged together to retain their temperature, and raw meat should be separated from anything that its juices could contaminate. This job requires quick decision making, knowledge of safe food handling procedures, the ability to estimate weights and measures, and the ability to work quickly.
Am I crazy to think that there should be a role reversal here? If the cashier runs into a problem, the manager is right there bagging and can step over to push a button or whatever. In the unlikely event that the customer actually uses money to pay for groceries (do any of you use money anymore?), the manager could be called to accept it and make change if necessary.
The thing that really bothered me that day was that while I contemplated the lunacy of the situation while writing a blog post in my head, the next crabby guy to come down that aisle might verbalize his displeasure about the squashed expensive avocados, and that hardworking girl might internalize the opinion that she is doing poorly at her job. The job that was undoubtedly intended to enable her independence and nurture her work ethic. That would piss me off.