Gordon Edgar  @  ChelseaGreen

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Discrimination

Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011 at 11:57 am by Gordon Edgar

“I would like to file a complaint. I’m being discriminated against.”

As an urban grocery store worker — unless you work in one of those neighborhoods so fancy they might as well have gates — you develop a tough skin. Now, I’ve written about retail workers as the new social service agents before, and to me this adds to that point. For our own protection, we have to sniff out the bullshitters right away.

At a co-op conference years ago, we once dismayed some fellow cooperators by our attitude. During a presentation, a co-op grocery worker from a small college town started crying while re-telling a story about a crazy customer who asked them (repeatedly and somewhat threateningly), “Do you have to be a lesbian to shop here?”

The Rainbow workers in attendance started laughing. She tried to turn the tables, asking, “What would you have done?”

The response, pretty much in unison, “Kick him the fuck out of the store!”

Because – in this day and age of underfunded safety nets and general despair – that kind of random abuse is a common occurrence at places, especially where odd-looking people are not kicked out right away. We are a store that is a beacon for the odd, so we get more than our fair share. Our freak flag still flies even if a lot more classes of people want natural foods than did in 1975.

Abusive customers are common enough that over a decade ago we voted to give the power, on a shift basis, to one worker in the store at all times. A permanent ban needs to go to an elected committee, but our Front End Coordinator has the power to kick someone out for the day: immediately and with no appeal.

True, this is partly because it’s really awkward to try and hold a vote on such things while trying to run a store. Someone always used to pipe in with, “She’s just off her meds,” or “He’s a Nam vet, you have to cut him some slack.” But it was a common enough problem, that we had to give someone what is – for us – almost unheard of power.

So anyways, I was still putting on my apron last Saturday. I had just walked in the door and the counter was crazy. Right away I saw trouble. Now, being a drug addict and a shopper at our store is, generally speaking, just fine. Some people can manage these things and lord knows many habitual drug users could use vitamin supplements and fresh food. But when someone gets right up in your face, has little bleeding wounds from over-scratching, is holding half eaten food, and is being followed by two of your co-workers (one of whom is the aforementioned Front End Coordinator), the benefit of the doubt is not with them.

“I would like to file a complaint. I’m being discriminated against.”

Let’s also note, for the record, that this is a white woman being pursued by my co-workers who are Black and Latina. “Well then, maybe you better leave,” I said. Flustered and twitchy she hurried away without another word.

A minute later, when I thought of it, I wished I had added, “Being a junkie thief is not a protected class!” I will try and remember to use that next time.

Later I found out she had a novel way of drawing our collective ire. Instead of just eating out of the bulk bins or off the produce shelves like a normal junkie, she was actually taking food out of other people’s carts and eating it!

It’s true, we do discriminate against that.

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.
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