Sitting or Standing Cashiers (Continued)
Yesterday's column about the D.C. Chevy Chase woman who was disturbed that supermarket cashiers have to stand all day -- and decided to do something about it -- drew a huge response from readers, with some arguing that the policy American supermarkets hew to is a classic example of uncaring employers, and others contending that the job really can't be done while the worker is sitting.
Deana Jordan Sullivan's solution was to buy a bunch of stools at Ikea and deliver them to her neighborhood Safeway, but Safeway has declined to give the stools to the cashiers, saying that there's simply not enough space at the checkstands. The most interesting part of the story to me was the idea that this policy is driven by cultural expectations, that, as the Safeway spokesman put it, Americans don't really believe someone is working if they're sitting down.
Readers had lots to say:
A cashier at a high-volume store called the "do-gooder" gesture "presumptuous. I personally would not want stools in the cash register area because they get in the way. We work shifts and we get breaks. We trade off standing and actually, standing for hours is not all that hard to do. I am used to it."
But a longtime Safeway employee wrote with the opposite view:
"I spent the majority of my first 25 years as a Cashier. I could not be more ecstatic that you wrote your article! During my time as a Cashier, I would frequently have to visit a Chiropractor for back adjustments. I would often tell my Manager's that I work that in a space designed for 5'2" people and I am 6'3" and without a stool, I am running up the cost of Health Care for my company. Safeway's corporate response was to eventually limit our annual Chiropractic visits! Fortunately for me, I now have a new position in Safeway that allows me movement. I have not visited a Chiropractor for over four years! Corporate Management should give the go ahead to stools to save even more on Health Care. As for Deana Jordan Sullivan, tell her thank you ever so much for caring and she is a hero in my eyes!"
Bob Fustero, a longtime Giant employee who ran as an independent for Montgomery County Executive last fall, voiced similar frustration with management: The company view was that workers should be standing, so when cashiers had no customers, they were instructed "to wipe down the register, load bags, organize bags (remember paper bags used to come in a variety of sizes) and overall, look busy. The cashiers eventually learned that even if there was nothing to do, at least look busy, or management would find something else for you to do."
The contrast between European markets, where cashiers usually sit, and American ones stood out to many readers. A Maryland man noted that the Aldi grocery chain, which is based in Europe, allows its American cashiers to sit on stools.
But several readers said it's important to note that while cashiers in European markets do have stools and do their work sitting or perching, their job is somewhat different from their American counterparts. As my friend Bob put it, "in many of the large European chains, it's the customer, not the clerk, who does the bagging. So the movements required by the job are different than in the US. This may be one reason stools are more common abroad."
A reader in Alexandria noticed that the American rule that grocery cashiers should stand does have the occasional exception, such as a cashier he saw sitting at the checkstand in the Wegmans near the Fairfax County Government Center. "There were about 18 checkout counters, and one of them was lower then the others: The cashier was sitting--and only occasionally getting up. And the cashier was bagging by using a carousel located under the counter. The carousel was similar to the one used in the Wal-Mart stores that is located on top of the counter.
Our thought was this might have been an accommodation for the employee, and a thoughtful one at that."
Indeed, the Safeway spokesman told me that exceptions are occasionally made for workers with documented disabilities. Which again raises the larger question: If it works for those exceptional cases, why not make it the policy?
Finally, Montgomery County community organizer Alisa Glassman added another fascinating question about the work lives of cashiers:
"I had often wondered though about the cash register bottom (where the money is) hitting the workers each time the machines open to make change. I can't imagine being at a job where I'm hit throughout the day." I've always wondered about that--why are cash registers designed to smack the operator in the gut with each transaction?
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