Friday, March 22, 2019

Banged Up and Battered By Bluestem Brands: Part 3 - The Incompetencing

Will the real supervisor please stand up?

Over the course of my time at Bluestem, there were a few questionable management choices made. After the shakeup, the department manager for the picking and return crews became our new "big boss." Our department at large was still managed by our old supervisor (although this was not to last forever), so we really didn't notice much of a difference in day-to-day operations, except when the big boss would (rarely) come to our morning start-up meetings, or to stand around and pretend like she had any say over the contained chaos of our department.

Then, slowly over the course of the following months, we began to notice a change. It was imperceptible at first; I was fairly new, but the old-timers explained that we were much busier than we used to be -- we had virtually no downtime anymore for doing our normal housecleaning and repair chores around the department. It was also becoming more and more difficult to earn that +110% rating, despite the fact that the work was flowing from us at the same pace. Like I said, it was lost on us (the newer members of the crew), as we had no frame of reference to "how it used to be." Slowly but surely, we saw our department's numbers (and our incentive benefits derived from them) slowly erode into effectively nothing.

But at least we had "Paperboy"

The biggest blow came when they started training the stock picking crew on "Paperboy." This was ostensibly done to help the receiving department, who were now inheriting a steady stream of work on the docks just as people began to leave the department; less people in the department meant the need for more trained help. Although it may sound cynical, I knew as soon as these people were brought in that they were going to take the "Paperboy" job away from us -- it was, after all, our highest paying job.

A bountiful gain (#sarcasm)

In April of 2018 there was a big announcement: Bluestem would be raising its starting wage from $9 an hour to $10.50. This meant that those of us starting at the bottom were getting an effective $1.50 an hour raise overnight! What a boon! But there were caveats...

The primary caveat was that we would be losing our off-standard incentive pay. This really didn't affect most departments. Unfortunately, it really affected my department, as about 80% of the work we did there was off-standard. Now we wouldn't be paid any incentive for that -- at all. Now, we never earned a whole lot from these jobs to begin with, but that money was there, and now it was gone, replaced by a raise that now seemed modest in comparison. But at least we had "Paperboy."

But at least we had "Paperboy" (#sarcasm)

So, just after this announcement, there was another announcement issued: Our long-time supervisor was going back to the "Finishing" department. A new supervisor would be picked. This meant that the "big boss" would be temporarily handling the supervisory role until the replacement was chosen. This also came with a bigger shakeup: The receiving and warehouse departments (who had been joined at the hip since the century began) were split apart; warehouse would now be associated with stock, receiving would be associated with the "prep" department, which was completely 100% unrelated in anything other than its proximity to the docks. This meant that morning meetings for the receiving department's 10-14 employees would now be folded into the prep department's 70-90 employees. 

Almost as soon as this was announced, it was determined (never made official) that the "Paperboy" job would now be handled by the stock picking crew instead of receiving. This immediately took that reliable income out of the receiving department's hands and gave it to more inexperienced, less driven people. Receiving was now banished entirely to the docks, to perform back-breaking labor every day with virtually no reprieve.

I know that it sounds strange to complain about a job that one was hired to do, but it's worth stressing that this was, in fact, no longer the job I was hired for, but was now slowly twisting into something unfair and unmanageable. 

That's when they hired our new department supervisor. He would oversee both the receiving and prep departments' functions. He was a shrewd fellow, not unfriendly, but also somewhat no-nonsense, not having the patience of our previous management. He came in at a time when we were unhappy, and for that I have regrets. He was also in charge of 70-90 prep department workers, and for that, I'm sure he had regrets. He was also the punching bag of the upper management, and that may have hastened his doom.

More in part 4.

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