Minimum wage workers do not need extra work

Shelby Niehaus, Columnist

When I was a child, I used to go with a close friend of mine on trips to Walmart. In my hometown, shopping trips were one of the few child-accessible forms of entertainment that did not involve aimlessly wandering town or making sleds out of old mattresses and staircases, so friend-based Walmart trips were a treat.

My friend and I would wander around the wonderlands of useless junk, trashy tabloids and ugly lawn furniture free from her parents’ gaze, our only stipulation that we must return to them by checkout time. The two of us would pick up little toys and cosmetics and snacks, hopeful that we could take a few trinkets back home to play with.

It was then that I noticed that our parents raised us differently. Her father had always been a postal worker and her mother a homemaker, while mine had held a range of odd jobs and service labors for years before settling in teaching and librarianship. As such, we were socialized differently, especially when it came to stores.

I vividly remember one incident when I was around 10 years old. My friend and I were about to find her parents to leave the store, both holding CDs we knew they would not pay for. I suggested we swing back by the electronics section to file them away where they belonged.

My friend, on the other hand, deposited her CD on a shelving unit, nestling it between displays of craft glue and sequins.

I was baffled. Up until that day, it had genuinely never occurred to me that you could just abandon an item you did not plan to pay for. When I shopped with my family, we always either returned it to its rightful place or handed it to an employee who could put it back. Leaving it wherever you stood has never crossed my mind.

The first few times she left unwanted items on random shelves, I felt a similar sense of confusion. After the first few instances, though, I started to feel angry. I encouraged her to put them back where they came from—we had just been wandering the store enjoying each other’s company, so what was the harm in doing a little more wandering?—but she refused every time.

She insisted that returning her unwanted items was the employees’ jobs. As a child, I never knew how to counter her, but that statement never sat well with me.

One of my least favorite things about working in retail is cleaning the store during a travel weekend. While travelers may not sweep through our store’s tiny soft drink display like human tornados and do not have a tendency to track mud and burrs into the building, they do have an annoying habit of setting things down wherever they feel like.

I try to keep my theories about human activity somewhat positive. It is rather tiring to assume that people are evil or lazy by default, so instead I like the think human fault comes mainly from ignorance. In this case, I think that people who can afford to travel on travel weekends are often people who have never needed to work in a minimum wage retail position and who have never had to scour a store for well-hidden keychains among the potato chip displays.

Our newspaper’s readership comes from a wide selection of socioeconomic standings, so I do not want to assume that every single person reading this is well-off just for being in some way affiliated with a college.

For those of you who are so well-situated that you have never needed to work as a store clerk, I would like to offer some pleas from your poorly-paid friends. If you do not want or need something and you cannot remember where it came from, please hand it to someone who works at the store. They will be more than happy to put it back, and they will greatly prefer taking a short trip over to the clothing section to finding hidden dry goods in the freezer isle.

Shelby Niehaus is a senior English language arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].