"Open Letter of Resignation"

© 1992 by Andersen Silva
Open Letter of Resignation

Attention shoppers, employees, department heads, managers, and so on up the chain:

This letter is the formal notice of resignation of one Andersen ("Andy") Silva from Toys "R" Us after five years of service. During that time, I have worked with three store directors, six assistant directors, approximately thirteen front-end managers, and over 26 managers all together; I won't hazard a guess as to with how many employees I've worked. Hired as a cashier/floor person, I graduated in one month to customer service, or refunds, and since have remained there, except for a few months' stint processing first the DCR and then the FAST. In the interim, I have done some work in every department in the store. I currently have been counting down the registers one or two nights a week, and occasionally I've been permitted to service the cashiers as a Designated Key Carrier, when I wasn't in customer service.

For all the experience I have accrued in this time, and with all the trust past managers placed in me, I seem to have recently been considered a necessary evil, an employee whose services are required but whose views and complaints are not to be heeded. The number of employees, department heads, and managers in the store who have my experience in running the front-end (by which I mean servicing and maintaining cashiers and service personnel, scheduling breaks and lunches, and keeping registers and lanes neat) can be counted on one hand. Nevertheless, because I devote myself to my cashiers and don't believe I should waste my time filling the lanes with merchandise, less experienced people are chosen to DKC. There was a time, under another front-end manager, during which I was a front-end department head in all but name (and pay); as DKC, I was given the keys, and free reign over registers and service area, when there was no department head scheduled, and we got through the Christmas season with little difficulty. There was a time, under another Area Director of Stores, during which I was responsible for the store safe from 9:00 AM until the early afternoon when I finished the FAST and locked the safe myself. Now, I'm not even allowed to let the overnight employees into the store; meanwhile, a trusted employee at the area office, so helpful in straightening out everyone's FAST problems, turned out to be defrauding the Company for thousands.

My first season in Totowa as a non-minor, I worked close to 60-hour weeks until Christmas, yet never complained. I have come in on my days off when called, I have come in earlier than scheduled when requested (where possible), and I have even spent a day training all-new staff in an all-new store (Middle Village). Yet I am still skipped over in favor of newer, more politically correct employees when it comes to certain things. No, I don't expect to be handed a crown and scepter for my tenure, but I do expect to be treated at least equally as well as, and probably a little more respectfully than, the new kids on the block. My physical age should have nothing to do with it.

Granted, I have gained some notoriety as the literary editor of the Underground Giraffe, the short-lived but highly controversial underground newsmagazine published by myself and a fellow employee (I am not printing any names in this letter, although some identities will be obvious). Our intention was never to smear the Company, the store, or any individual, but to cause people to think. While there was much that was outrageous and totally fictitious, there were also truths exposed to the light for the first time. Eventually, we both were written up and given final warnings, ostensibly for the distribution of some flyers on cars in the parking lot. The publication died shortly thereafter, not because of the implied threat but because of material dissipation. However, we both apparently still carry the stigmata of trouble-makers and demagogues.

I've also skirted other rules, by wearing variously labeled name badges, mocking the dress code, etc., and I've been unorthodox in my methods and opinions; for example, I am outspoken in my opposition to time-consuming dual-control "security measures" such as the present system of white-yellow slips for refund processing. One person writes and rings up a refund, puts the yellow slip on the item and throws it into a bin; fifteen minutes later, another person signs the yellow slip and removes it from the item, which is then removed from the bin. Redundancy is wasteful, and if you can't trust your service employees, maybe it's time for new employees, or new managers. I also fail to see the need for the night employees to break down pallets; for four years, the overnight crew did it without problem. Then, we got a new A.D.S. The upper echelons of management give the store a piddling pittance of hours with which to schedule employees, yet we stay past 11 PM most nights doing the pallets. Just think how many hours you'd save a week if all those people could punch out by 10:30 or 10:45 PM like we always used to. Maybe then you'd have the hours to schedule a full complement of employees, instead of three cashiers, three floor employees, and two ticket writers. With such a skeleton crew, one call-out can destroy an otherwise normal night.

When I first started, the seasonal area was, rightfully, the sales floor's responsibility. RGD was processed by the three or four service area employees who were scheduled per shift; one of these would also operate register #1 when necessary. Balloons were filled and register tapes were changed nightly by these same employees, who also gave cashiers change. The department head would take care of voids, item corrects, and any other procedures. There was no need for RGD employees or out-of-season DKCs, everything got done, and we still found time to have fun. A few weeks ago, one of my fellow customer service employees revived memories of those better days when she and I closed out the front-end together. In their quest for economy, however, the omniscient "higher heads" decided to cut down on the number of employees working in the service area and in the front-end in general, to the point where the single employee working in customer service must race to keep a line from forming; conversely, when it is slow, this employee is paid to stand around, as there is really nothing he/she can do to help out the front-end from within the confines of customer service.

Meanwhile, RGD has been relegated to a separate, sight-unseen area. In effect, what you have done in taken the bare minimum of employees necessary to get refunds and RGD done, which is two, and broken them up. Rather than have them work together on RGD when refunds are slow, and work together on refunds when the customers come in, each performs his/her duty separately and half as efficiently. Then there is the totally useless customer information area. This might actually be helpful if there were someone working in it regularly; there hasn't been in over a year and a half. It now plays the role of a managers' and department heads' hangout.

While I'm discussing the front end, I'd like to point out how degrading and demoralizing our "refund policy" is to service employees, and how unfair it is to honest but meek customers. The employees have the policy drilled into our heads, and we are warned of the consequences of not following it; but, as soon as one obnoxious customer decides he's/she's not going to be treated like everyone else, we call a manager, as instructed, and watch with slack jaws as said manager gradually caves in to the protesting customer and makes yet another exception. Meanwhile, dear old Mrs. Jones, who's trying to return her grandson Jimmy's birthday gift because it's defective and we don't have another for an even exchange, is politely but firmly denied a refund because she doesn't have the box, and heaven forbid, doesn't even have a driver's license. Yes, exceptions can and should be made, but they should not be decided on the strength of a customer's vocal cords or his/her relationship with someone in the Company. Watching this scene, day in and day out, is very embittering.

The morale of the store in general leaves very much to be desired. I remember when the ticket department was proud to have the #2 ticket area but strove to reach #1. I remember when cashiers didn't grumble about grabbing a cart of reshop, because everyone realized we had to work together to get out and go home. I remember when a manager would be as quick to go on a register, or grab some carts, as to ask an employee to do so. Managers standing around customer information ignoring pages, or department heads taking the day's fifth break, are not exactly going to win the employees' respect, nor are they setting much of an example.

There is no cooperation between departments, not at the management level nor, as a result, at the employee level. While cashiers are admonished by the "We Care" committee to break down the pallets with everyone else, the fact is that in five years, I have never seen ticket, floor, or pick-up employees offer to help out the front-end if we were still working after they'd finished. No, they go home, rather than help put out bags, or change garbage, or straighten register lanes.

There are few to be trusted in the Totowa store. It's run not like a store, but like a bureaucratic government, with new regimes taking over from time to time, when managers come and go. And like any government, there are cliques or "lobbies" who hold specific ears, and there are constant clashes between them. Not wishing to expose myself to the filth of politics, I have tried to steer clear of involvement, but I've not always been able to and have thus occasionally had to fall in with one side or the other. For example, I was trained for the DCR (and then the FAST) to replace someone who was not favored by the then-current regime; this person held fast and refused to quit under extreme duress, and when I took on another full-time job a few months later and could no longer do the FAST, this person was reluctantly reinstated in the tower and retrained. No, this is not speculation; I've been privy to many conversations and know enough about the store's politics to make me ill. I have seen numerous employees (and a few department heads) fired or forced to quit by managers who have basically just disliked them. Of course, there are always official, perfectly valid reasons for the terminations. Then again, I have seen other employees (and department heads, and managers) keep their jobs, and even earn raises and promotions, based on who they knew and brown-nosed and certainly not on ability and performance. It's all politics and no heart or mind.

Another sticky point in employee morale is, obviously, money. We are not paid enough; in five years, I have made a total of $2.15 an hour in raises. Then, hours are cut. Few (if any) full-time employees are close to 40 hours a week. Overtime is verboten, and if you accumulate it, expect to be written up (I have been). To add insult to injury, our Christmas bonuses, an annual incentive for working on the holidays, have been erased. Last year, they went toward the deployment of a battery of Video-carts; this year, the store is getting new front-end and pick-up areas at our employees' expenses. Managers, of course, still get their bonuses. The annual area picnic is also gone, and we are apparently expected to take some cheap towels, T-shirts, and fruit punch as compensation for the daylong volleyball, softball, swimming pool, and food extravaganza we "old-timers" remember.

Then, instead of hiring older employees who can stay later when necessary, we end up with minors who feel no incentive to work swiftly and efficiently. They know that, no matter what, they're not going home later than 11 PM, and the older folks will have to clean up behind them. The earlier shift, too, seems to take great pleasure in leaving everything for the night people; RGD piles up, reshop is overflowing in the customer service area's bins, reshop carts accumulate, etc. When I worked days, I got as much of my own garbage cleaned up as I could before I left; now, it's everyone for yourself!

Even worse, however, is the night before a tour, which is the most hypocritical event the Company has to offer. If an A.D.S., or a General Manager, or even a vice-chairman wanted to see what the store really looked like, he would drop by unannounced. By letting us know that a tour will come through on Thursday, you give the store free reign to look apocalyptic until Wednesday night, when the employees must stay until midnight or beyond making the store look like it did two minutes after grand opening. This is very unrealistic, when it would only take some managers with planning skills to maintain the store so that we could feel confident of passing a surprise inspection any day of the week.

This is not to say that all our managers are bumbling oafs, or even that many of them are. The few totally inept ones usually get weeded out before making it too far (though I've seen some notable exceptions in my time). However, by concerning themselves only with making their own departments presentable and sparing themselves from the A.D.S.'s, director's, or assistant director's wrath, the managers fail to achieve the finer results that cooperation with each other and the employees could give. Everyone is too afraid of catching hell from above; the motto of the store is, "Cover Your Ass." Of course, the employees usually bear the brunt of punishment by staying later before a tour, putting up with irritable managers after an unsatisfactory tour, etc. The managers will complain that they stay even later than we do; however, that was their career choice. Many employees have other jobs, or go to school, and cannot commit their lives to Toys "R" Us as our brave, selfless managers can.

If you've gotten the impression that I'm living in the past, well, that's not totally accurate. I am all for progress, and technology, and change; I am against dehumanization and totalitarianism in the workplace, however, and that is what I see happening. In five years, the faces on the employees seem to have gotten longer, the smiles and laughter are much briefer and less frequent, and the grumblings about management have gotten louder. The situation must change, or you'll lose more good employees than just me. My opinion is that once you are no longer happy at a job, and you must force yourself to go to work, it's time to leave.

A few more sore points before I retire this letter, along with my retail career: Why, as a money counter, can I not access many SOP screens on the VAX, even the ones relating to counting money? Why can't I access cashier over/short records either? I'm trusted to count the cashiers' money, but not to review their performances, even under surveillance? Why do I get the feeling that certain managers view us not as employees but as possible suspects? Why is it so difficult to get any kind of a raise unless you're in tight with one of the cliques, and why are they so miserly when you do get a raise (25-cent maximum)? Why is it so incredibly complicated for management to make a steady schedule where an employee works the same hours for more than three weeks in a row? Why, when customer service is understaffed as it is, must we make stock checks to other stores, tying up the phone lines while creating refund lines? What is the purpose of forbidding T-shirts with any writing or designs on them, and then not even enforcing this policy? I half-expected to be written up for wearing my Toys "R" Us "Reconstruction 1990" T-shirt to work! Why don't more managers try to improve their standings with the employees? I am the obvious focus point right now, but you'd be surprised at how much fear, anger, and contempt fills "R" workers' images of management (in general, and in some specific cases). This can only explode in your faces.

At a time when one of our main competitors, at least in the area, has gone under, and we are engaged in renovations in multiple stores, Toys "R" Us is obviously not exactly struggling to get by. It's high time attention was directed from business and appearance back inward to morale, satisfaction, and cooperation. Trust, patience, and unity have to be restored; pride must come before profit. Believe it or not, I do still care about the store, and I want to see it succeed. Maybe you can convince other employees that sticking it out will be worthwhile. I certainly hope so.

Now you know why I call myself Preacher. I do tend to orate. Anyway, I do wish to state that I will miss the store and the people, and maybe some aspects of my job. Some people have tried to convince me to stay; some may consider me a traitor of some kind for walking out now. Well, I offer no apologies; I simply decided that I could not last another season, with all the afore-mentioned problems, the incredibly late hours of Christmas season, and the almost nightly headaches from which I've been suffering after work. Although I've been given quite a few good reasons for staying, they don't outweigh the reasons for leaving. Yes, being vested in the profit-sharing also entered into my decision, but I'd been contemplating leaving for well over a year now, money or no money. It's no surprise that I've been unhappy at the store, and I believe that happiness and self-satisfaction come before money. I've stayed on board longer than most would have, and I'm finally jumping ship. With any luck, you can bail yourselves out.

While I hardly expect to see a restructuring of the entire Company as a result of this letter, I hope that you managers and higher-level stuffed shirts will realize that the complaints I air out here are valid ones. Some have been brought up to management before, by me or others. Some are general knowledge, though no one else has had the opportunity or the audacity to state them publicly. In any case, they've all been hushed up too long. If you care about the store, think about what I've said, and do something about it. My ex-fellow employees, I hope I've opened some eyes, activated some brain cells, and maybe awakened some kind of fighting spirit in you. No, I'm not telling you to go riot, but I do encourage you to stand up for what you think is right. The Totowa store, and the Company, must engage in some self-examination. Employees and managers must show an interest in cooperating to help each other and to serve the customer. We'll gauge how concerned management is by their response (or lack thereof) to this letter. I ask you employees to ensure that you get a response; wave this letter in their faces and ask them what they're going to do to make Totowa the best damn store in the Company. And don't ever forget, I'm keeping an eye on the store. If things don't work out, you'll hear from me again. Thank you, and have a good night.

Very sincerely,

Andersen Silva
"Fast Man"