I’ve held two steady jobs during my college career, working only as long as I needed the cash. Put in my time for a year or two, pay my bills, save a little, avoid punching a clock for as long as possible. When I run out of beer money, I start the cycle over again.
Both of my jobs have happened to be with Pittsburgh-area grocery chains. I’m not sure why—it just seemed like a decent way to earn a living. I suppose off and on I’ve worked for about three years stocking shelves on the graveyard shift for just over minimum wage.
The first store I worked for was managed by a middle-aged Italian woman who may or may not have had mafia ties. She drove a huge, brand new Chevy truck, dressed as if she were working on Wall Street and turned in 10-hour days six days per week. She ran a tight ship, and despite the fact that her building was more than 30 years old and desperately in need of refurbishment, it proved to be one of the company’s biggest money makers.
This lady knew how to run a grocery store, as she’d been in the business in one form or another—from bag girl to office clerk to manager—her entire life. She knew that to keep things running smoothly, she had to delegate to her department managers. She couldn’t keep eggs and frozen food and meats on the shelves herself: She had to trust that the people she chose for positions of authority did their jobs and did them well.
I almost cried the day I quit that job—almost—because I honestly enjoyed the time I spent with my coworkers; it didn’t matter that I was making just over $200 a week while working hellish night shifts and taking classes by day. There was definitely a reason I didn’t stick around—the grocery business is far from a glamorous line of work—but I enjoyed what I did because the time was structured, my colleagues were professional and I was given the responsibility of making sure my department was well maintained. And it all started from the top: The store manager made sure that her orders were carried out the whole way down the totem pole.
After about a year of trying to subsist on Top Ramen and Milwaukee’s Best, my bank account told me it was time to go back to work. I decided to try stocking shelves again because it worked out so well the first time around. Same gig, different company: I put in an application to serve as a grocery clerk for another regional Pittsburgh store for a few more cents an hour with the same set third shift schedule.
This time around, the store owners were phantoms: The employees knew they existed, but we never saw them in the store and we knew we didn’t have to answer to them. The company went through three store managers in a six-month period, two of which were fired for sleeping on the job or stealing from the store.
The department managers saw similar turnover: The few individuals who were diligent enough to take on tasks soon grew frustrated and disenchanted by a poor organizational system, and the many who were hired who didn’t care about doing their jobs well didn’t stick around because of insufficient performance.
There wasn’t any chain of command: The owners technically kept the store manager in line, and he was responsible for overseeing the department heads and 9-to-5 employees—but all hell broke loose because there weren’t any real consequences for not following the rules. I can’t even begin to count how many employees took five-finger discounts or cut out early when no one was looking.
I didn’t cry when I quit that job. In fact, I smiled: It got so bad that I walked out mid-shift after my manager showed up three hours late one night before heading to the front office for a nap. If the store’s well being didn’t matter to him, then there was no reason for it to matter to me.
Paul Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the Coonelly hire is all but finalized and that Ruben Amaro Jr., Tony LaCava and Frank Wren could be among those considered for the GM job.