This is the text of a leaflet I distributed among co-workers and customers at The Real Food Company in San Francisco. Real Food consists of two high priced natural food markets in SF’s Russian Hill and Marina District neighbourhoods. I was employed as a cashier at the Polk Street store from March 2012 to March 2013. I tried to get my co-workers to put our collective foot down and demand a three dollars per hour pay hike for everyone, regardless of our current rate of pay or how long we’d been employed there. I wrote this leaflet after I got fired. After first distributing this among co-workers, an excellent friend and comrade from the combative LGBTQ group Gay Shame and I distributed about fifteen hundred copies to customers outside both stores on multiple Sunday and Monday evenings in June and July 2013. Sunday and Monday evenings are the busiest periods at the stores.
As a former employee of Real Food who left on good terms with my fellow wage slaves, my perspective had credibility with my former co-workers. And as someone who was no longer employed there I could act with a complete impunity that was unavailable to people still employed there. This is an important point: you may often have an unlimited freedom of action as an outside agitator that you don’t have as a current employee.
The name of the owner of the stores, the owner’s home address and names of the owner’s management minions have been changed in the version presented here to avoid various problems for all involved.
This leaflet is offered as a possible template for similar, better, more far-going future efforts against bosses and landlords, one of many small steps that can contribute to the rise of a larger rapidly expanding social movement in a fast-declining United States…
SIX-FIGURE-INCOME-LESLIE LARSON’S 100% RAW DEAL
FOR THE WORKING POOR AT THE REAL FOOD COMPANY
Frequent shoppers at the Real Food Company no doubt notice that this store sheds employees more frequently than most yuppies change their shirts. ‘Help Wanted’ signs are permanent front window fixtures at Real Food for painful and obvious reasons:
At Real Food, store employees work at a frantic pace, selling expensive items, to expensive people, in two of the most expensive neighborhoods of the most expensive city in the United States — and 95% of us do this for wages that condemn us to hardcore poverty. Pay levels for most Real Food Company staff members never rise more than a few dimes above the lowest amount that Real Food Company owner Leslie Larson is legally allowed to get away with paying. There are people who have been working at Real Food for more than five years who make less than thirteen dollars an hour. Others have been here for more than a decade, and aren’t even getting fifteen dollars an hour. This store’s high sales volume brings in plenty of money for repeated store renovations, but never enough for pay increases. Frenetic toil for Ronald McDonald compensation levels ensures “Chief Operating Officer” Leslie Larson a comfortable six-figure annual income and a lovely condo with a spectacular view at 1234 Wood. The phenomenal high rate of turnover at the Real Food Company helps to keep those who haven’t been fired yet atomized, intimidated, and bewildered, and guarantees that this abysmal setup will continue.
The Real Food Company presents the public face of a spunky little locally owned natural foods store fighting the good fight against GMOs, with a corporate mission of helping neurasthenic yuppies think they can live to be 140 by wolfing down bushels of overpriced organic kale. This is nothing but ‘Greenwashing.’ The Real Food Company is a textbook example of the hyper-exploitation and relentless on-the-job policing of the working poor in an ever more socially stratified United States.
Let’s take a tour of the Polk Street store, as seen through the eyes of the people who make this place run:
- One of many negative hallmarks of the rise of digital technologies is the extinction of privacy. It is now a given that an individual is not entitled to any form of privacy in any public space, especially in the workplace, and most especially in a low wage dead-end workplace like the Real Food Company. Take a look at the small cameras ringing the store’s ceiling behind the cash registers. They are not aimed at the customer’s side of the register, but at the cashiers. This in-store digital surveillance system worthy of a medium security prison isn’t for the protection of the employees in the unlikely event of an armed robbery, but to allow Leslie’s management minions to spy on the harried staff, the fear being that the wage-slaves might be tempted to steal, since their wages aren’t enough to live on. This invasive Orwellian touch is an expression of the relentless suspicion and hostility with which six-figure-Leslie relates to the people she exploits and impoverishes.
- Few people who work at Real Food spend their meager pay shopping at this phenomenally overpriced store; the $25 jars of almond butter are a laughingstock among store employees. But in order to work hard, we have to eat, and this is where “Culls” come in. “Culls” are food items that are slightly damaged or past their expiration date. Employees are allowed to buy these for a nominal five cents per item. Culls are a form of officially sanctioned dumpster diving, allowing the overworked and underpaid staff to keep burning enough calories to produce enough surplus value to feed six-figure-store-owner-Leslie’s profit hunger.
- Offering employees nothing and demanding everything, store managers run staff members through periodic asinine “employee assessments,” as if employment at this Gluten-Free-Jack-in-the-Box has any kind of future. Significant wage raises to a level that an adult can live on in 21st century San Francisco are never on the agenda. The only question is how much more can you give and how much more enthusiastically and frantically you can give it. If you put on the requisite fawning cringing act, you may be rewarded with a whopping 25 cents per hour raise. If you are less than effervescent in your enthusiasm, you are free to lose your meager income, and be replaced by a steady stream of the fearful unemployed lured by those permanent “Help Wanted” signs. In a place like the United States there is always plenty of fresh desperation for six-figure-Stephanie to feed on.
LIFE IN THESE UNITED STATES…
A stock response at this point is to say, “Dude, that’s life in the service sector! The work is supposed to be shitty and pay bad! Don’t like it? Go get another job!” The US has entered a period of long-term decline, and many so-called “good jobs” have permanently ceased to exist. Most of us can’t become cyber-weenies — and many of us wouldn’t avail ourselves of that option even if it became available to us.
A problem doesn’t cease to be a problem simply because large numbers of other people are being victimized by it. The appalling situation that prevails in today’s service sector messes up the lives of a vast number of people and this situation must be confronted and abolished.
From the old IWW of one hundred years ago to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, appalling social conditions have been rendered inoperative and overturned when those affected by them have taken sustained collective action to abolish those conditions. The right kind of on-the-job direct action at a relatively small, awful, and incompetently managed exploiter like the Real Food Company could have a positive ripple effect among employees of bigger sweatshops like Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
A terminally deformed scene like the one at Real Food Company produces endless toxic workplace melodramas. Again the main malefactor here is the store’s owner, Leslie. Leslie presents an image of herself as a “nice” person by leaving the hands-on staff harassment to escapees from the Addams Family like General Manager Maxine Smith, and Maxine’s homunculus, Buzz, at the Fillmore store. “Shift leads” (a shift assistant manager and straw boss) are employed for their eagerness to crack the whip on the field hands and their skills at apple-polishing — and we’re not talking about the produce now. These servile servants are themselves frequently and cavalierly consigned to the ranks of the unemployed when their usefulness to the program has expired. At the Real Food Company, high turnover is everything.
On “LinkedIn,” Real Food’s “Chief Operations Officer” — a two-syllable word for this is “owner” — Leslie Larson acknowledges membership in the “San Francisco Employers Advisory Council.” The SFEAC is an exploiter’s cabal where people like six-figure-Leslie get advice in how to get away with as much as possible at the relentless expense of the proles. A recent former president and secretary of SFEAC, Bob L. Zaletel, is an attorney with Litler Mendelson, one of the largest and most notorious anti-labor law firms in the US. By every salient indicator, the Real Food Company is a completely anti-working class operation.
“IT’S TIME TO STOP SINGING AND START SWINGIN’!”
Unions are no longer defensive organizations protecting wage earners from employers, but auxiliary mechanisms of capitalist exploitation. Getting a labor brokerage to fight our battles for us will never be as quick and effective as wildcat action against management, and against management’s wannabe collaborators, the unions.
This means —
A series of rolling sickouts, where a majority of store employees
call in sick on the same day.
We should not do this once, but again, and again, and again, and combine this with-
a high-profile public information campaign drawing attention among the public at large to how bad it is to work for Leslie Larson, Inc.
For the duration of the effort, it can also be useful to draw attention to how much cheaper it is to shop at other service sectors sweatshops. Customers can save 20% and more by patronizing the Trader Joe’s at California and Hyde.
The only thing exploiters understand is force. Sustained, on-the-job direct action hammering this store’s profit margin can bring about massive across-the-board pay hikes, and abolish management’s ability to abuse the staff at will.
STARTING PAY AT THIS PLACE SHOULD BE AT LEAST $18 PER HOUR —
SIX-FIGURE-LESLIE CAN CERTAINLY AFFORD IT.
The Real Food Company is vulnerable. The Real Food Company is an incompetently run operation built on a culture of extreme exploitation. Bare-knuckle collective direct action is the only thing that can bring a halt to this. The right kind of belligerent solidarity can impose massive pay and benefit increases, and serve as a style model in combativeness for our fellow hard-pressed wage earners at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
Our bosses are our enemies.
The U.S. economy is our enemy.
We have nothing to lose but our pains.
WHEN WE ACT TOGETHER AGAINST OUR EMPLOYERS WE ACT IN THE INTERESTS OF ALL EMPLOYEES EVERYWHERE
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POSTSCRIPT: This leaflet was initially distributed among employees attending the June 19, 2013 mandatory company meeting. At this meeting, six-figure-Leslie referred to this leaflet and claimed with disgusting temerity that the abysmal wages she pays are “competitive.” Wages at the Real Food Company are “competitive” with what people worked for in the mines of 19th century Colorado, but they are not remotely “competitive” with the astronomical cost of living in end-stage gentrification San Francisco. Only a cosseted child of privilege like Leslie Larson can have the gall to claim that eleven or twelve bucks an hour is a liveable rate of pay for this city. It goes without saying that if the purpose of this leaflet was to engage in cordial dialog with six-figure-Leslie, we’d offer to type it again more slowly.
Image taken from Google Earth.
Special thanks to our patrons, John Walker, BoringAsian, Mr Jake P Walker, Joseph Sharples, Josh Stead, Dave, Bliss, Hol, Aryeh Calvin, Rylee Lawson, Meghan Morales, Kimonoko, Aaron, Squee, Manic Maverick & Maisy Blackbourn.
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