What retailers treat their employees well?
April 19, 2016 6:53 AM   Subscribe

I would like to spend my shopping dollars at stores that treat their lower level employees well. Where should I shop, and where can I find information on how retailers treat their employees?

I've read a lot recently (on metafilter and other sources) about how poorly many retail employees are treated. I want to support companies that choose to buck this trend with my business, but I am having difficulty finding this sort of information easily.

I am finding "Best Places to Work For" lists, but they aren't particularly useful because they are often looking at all levels of employees, and I'm most concerned about the people working the floor. (IE, if you are a great place to work because you have an on-site masseuse for your MBAs, I don't care.)

I know Costco is one example of treating people well, but I can't buy everything at Costco.

Some of the business practices I'm concerned about -
- Low wages (below a "living wage")
- Having lots of part time employees rather than full time to avoid paying benefits
- Requiring people to be on call or having a constantly changing schedule so that people can't schedule school work or child care
- Use of contracted workers rather than company employees due to lower protections

Right now, I'm doing a lot of shopping at Amazon, and would like to reduce / eliminate that because of what I've read about conditions at their warehouses. But I don't know what to replace it with and don't know how to find out who is doing better.

It seems like this information has to be available somewhere, but my google-fu is failing me.
posted by pallas14 to Shopping (31 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
my suggestion is to search for the stores you shop at/would like to shop at, on glassdoor.com
posted by INFJ at 7:03 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

People I know who have worked at Trader Joe's and IKEA really liked their jobs. The Aldi near me pays $12 an hour for starting cashiers, so I would look into them as well.
posted by soelo at 7:09 AM on April 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I used to work at a Target several years ago, and I felt like conditions there were OK (I made pretty good money at the time, worked full time, and had a regular schedule, but I also didn't get paid for some overtime I worked and my schedule was 5AM to 1PM). But a lot of the people I worked with had previously worked at Walmart said that Target was GREAT compared to Walmart. So, when you have the option, prefer Target over Walmart, I guess?
posted by mskyle at 7:11 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I worked a lot of retail jobs in my younger years and I can give you some first hand info on the larger chain places that treated it's employees well.

Target- Fantastic place to work, treated employee's like people, pay was good even for entry level positions. Worked with schedules and were very inclusive.

Big Lots-Great place to work, cared for employees. Pay wasn't stellar, but it was higher than minimum wage and you got fairly fair raises. Worked with schedule where possible, and was willing to cross train/assist employees.

Not recommended:
Wal-mart- I'm sure this goes without saying, but Wal-mart is absolutely terrible to it's people. It literally views them as a resource to be used up and tossed aside when no longer useful. We were constantly overworked, understaffed, and treated like sub human. Minimum wage, impossible to move upward for the lowly unloaders and stockers.
I once over heard the following conversation:
*Coworker calls out*
*Manager hangs up phone, checks schedule*
Manager says to other supervisor: "Well he wasn't evens scheduled today"
"So I don't need to put him down for a call out?"
"No, if he thinks he was supposed to be here and can't be here, thats a call out"
posted by Twain Device at 7:15 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

ResponsibleShopper.org rates stores on their records on the environment, human rights, labor, ethics & governance, and health & safety. You can choose a category (such as "Big Box") and compare grades for stores across the category, and then you can click through to, say, Costco, and read annotated summaries of their successes and failures in each of those areas with links to further reporting.

One of the things I find very helpful about it is that I don't live in an area with a lot of local or independent options, so this lets me compare national chains and make least-bad choices (and gives me info to write to corporate and be like, "I like your store, but ... I'd like it even better if you discriminated against female managers less."). It's also helpful that you can compare on the axes that matter to you, instead of seeing one overarching grade that encompasses a ton of areas so you don't know if you have a very environmentally responsible company that's terrible to its workers ... I can see their environmental grade AND their labor grade and weigh those issues myself.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 AM on April 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

Nordstrom, they pay commission and give their associates authority to do what it takes to please the customer. They have one rule, "Use good common sense."

Ikea in Atlanta pays $15 per hour and they started that a few years ago.

Weirdly, Waffle House. People LOVE working at Waffle House.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:19 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The gas station/convenience store chain QuikTrip is known for this.
posted by egregious theorem at 7:20 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are using Amazon for books, consider shifting some of that business to a local independent. They are almost certainly a better employer. They will probably not match Amazon's prices, but your local one may have an arrangement like one of mine where you can buy ebooks through them.
posted by BibiRose at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wegmans advertises its consistent "best places to work" ranking. That might be a good phrase to search for, there seem to be lots of ratings lists of "best places to work," probably including ones for local retailers in your area ("best places to work"+place).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not Nordstrom. Sorry, but they treat their floor employees poorly, won't schedule enough hours to give them insurance, and the commission is very hit or miss (employees can lose it for numerous reasons).
posted by dotgirl at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2016

I continually hear people raving about how great Trader Joe's is to work for. And I notice that many of the employees at my local Joe's have been there more than 10 years, which I think is a good sign.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:35 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't recommend Target. From my experience in two brief stints working there, they treat their employees just as bad as Wal-mart.

Target happens to escape criticism because of the focus on Wal-mart and a cultivated clean image they portray. They underpay their workers, often deny promotions, has a culture that prioritizes results above everything and tries their best to stamp out any unionizing....like wal-mart.
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 7:37 AM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Aldi gets massive points from me not only for the good pay but especially for letting their cashiers sit down if they want to. It's such an easy thing for retail employers to do, but a lot of them not only don't permit their workers to sit, they actually require that they stand in the middle of aisles to "welcome" customers obsequiously--off the anti-fatigue floor mats behind the counter.

One of the things I hated most while working retail was the corporate requirement to keep a bunch of TVs and display units blaring, all with different noises. I used to turn them all down any time I could get away with it, because they made the job so much worse. I never noticed any impact on sales from failing to assault the customers' ears. Relatedly, I hope there's a special place in hell for any retailer that plays an earwormy jingle over the store speakers. Menards, I'm looking at you.
posted by asperity at 7:50 AM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I hope there's a special place in hell for any retailer that plays an earwormy jingle over the store speakers.

Or "Rolling in the Deep" 3x per hour, every hour, for an eleven-hour shift. Or maybe don't schedule workers for eleven-hour shifts if you won't let them sit down. On this account, Total Wine is terrible. Also awful for chronically under-scheduling if you're seeking reliable full-time hours.

I know you didn't ask this in order to hear "go local!," but I fled to a smaller local wine shop as soon as I could, and it made Total Wine look like an Indonesian sweatshop. It makes such a difference to be working side-by-side with the business owner (as opposed to a store manager following edicts from never-worked-a-register Corporate). Such a difference. The wages were just a small step up, but work conditions were wonderfully humane at the local store.
posted by witchen at 8:00 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Menards is absolutely, positively horrible in terms of politics and their intrusion into employees' lives. They have an anti-gossiping policy, among others, and force employees to attend anti-union seminars.
Menard’s managers had to sign agreements to be personally penalized for things that go wrong. For instance, having 15 carts in the parking lot drew a $10 fine. And the fine was $100 per minute if they opened a store late.

Managers were forbidden from building their own homes, to ensure they couldn’t steal any building materials from Menard’s. And Menard hired private investigators to check whether employees who undertake even minor home-improvement projects were using pilfered supplies.
posted by St. Hubbins at 8:02 AM on April 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

Depending on where you are, Publix shows up routinely on those "best companies to work for" lists, likes to promote from within, pays a decent starting wage with plenty of room for advancement, and is mostly owned by the employees, who are the majority shareholders.

Around here, we have several Publix/Costco working couples, and people often wax poetically about their local store. My parents' neighbor is a longtime Publix employee, and she's always talking about how she's so grateful working there enabled her to buy a house for her and her disabled daughter.
posted by PearlRose at 8:15 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Okay, I guess Nordstrom has changed, but I'll second Publix.

It's a fantastic grocery store and my local Publix has the same folks working for it all the time. They did have an issue about women in management, but I think they've remediated it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

More bad guys:

Back when I worked at Harris-Teeter, they made me watch an anti-union video before I could start my job. I had to take a quiz after the video indicating that unions were destroying the sacred relationship between employer and employee. The pay was horrible, employee injuries were covered up, they cheated me out of my vacation hours, they forced unwanted employees to quit by giving them something like 5 hours a month, and they had random store-wide pee testing for drugs. As in, every single employee working that day would be drug-tested or lose their job. I do mean everyone - they drug-tested a courtesy clerk who was significantly cognitively disabled. The guy ended up covered in his own pee, thanks to Harris-Teeter's self-righteous bullshit.

I also have first-hand experience of Harris-Teeter deliberately humiliating shoppers who are using SNAP or WIC. Super hilarious because they likely have plenty of employees who qualify for public assistance.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:25 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another thing that seems great about Publix's employment practices (at least the ones here in NE Florida) is their commitment to hiring people with physical and developmental disabilities.
posted by saladin at 8:26 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm going to disagree with Target as well. A couple of years ago I interviewed with them/got hired and:
-they were 2 hours late for my second interview, during which I just had to sit there and wait with no idea what was going on.
-they then told me to get hired I had 4 hours to go get a drug test in a sketchy area poorly served by public transit and I don't drive. I managed to do it, but it sucked.
-the next day I was told to come in for "training" which consisted of just watching videos. The longest video by far (seriously at least twice as long as the others) was an anti-union video.
-we were taken on a tour of our various departments. The manager of one department, upon being introduced to a new employee who was Mexican and named Ignacio, said "I'm not going to call you that, I can't even pronounce that." (This was a store in a heavily Latino area to boot)
-at the end of "training" we were told to do some training modules on computers and then we could leave. There were about 10 of us and 4 computers and we each had to complete them individually. One girl had a visual disability and couldn't read the screen but we were just left in this room and no one was around. I helped her read all of the modules so she could complete them and then I left and never went back.

Now for a suggestion: If you live in northern California or the L.A. area I can't recommend Pet Food Express enough. I worked in management for them in the Bay Area, and while it wasn't the job for me due to other reasons (I'm really just not a retail person), they treat their employees AND their employee's pets really well. They did used to start out at the local minimum wage for sales associates, but there was a monthly bonus program as well (sort of like commission), though I believe they've raised their starting wage since I left. Every store has a mix of part-time and full-time employees, even at the sales associate level, and they have great benefits, including pet insurance and a really great employee discount. Scheduling is done at the individual store level and is super accommodating. No one is on call, no shenanigans. I really only have great things to say about that company and I still shop there exclusively for my pet supply needs.
posted by primalux at 9:00 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

One suggestion: take the "best places to work" lists with a grain of salt, especially for large retailers.

Most of the lists rely on company-prepared submissions, which are developed by their marketing and PR teams (either in-house or outside firms). The lists themselves are compiled by a combination of editorial and non-editorial staff members. Business interests of the publisher (e.g., advertising, conference sponsorships, better access to top executives, etc.) often influence what is positioned as an objective assessment.

You're better off looking at the likes of a Glassdoor.com or ResponsibleShopper.org.
posted by EarnestSchemingway at 9:02 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are using Amazon for books, consider shifting some of that business to a local independent.

There's buying from Amazon, and then there's buying from third-party sellers on Amazon -- some of these are quite sizable businesses, but a lot of them are mom-and-pop operations. If you want to support lower level employees, you could do worse than to look for what you need being sold by well-reviewed small sellers on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc. (Definitely read the reviews, though.)
posted by kmennie at 9:15 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Look around for longer-tenured employees. That will tell you if the place is good to work at or not. In my area, that is Costco and Trader Joe's. I see the same people there for years! Every job is going to have a certain amount of churn as people move, have health problems, etc., but no store can force people to work there. The bad places will have lots of churn, and lots of part-timers, so you will only rarely see the same person twice (in fairness, there is a Wal-Mart cashier who's been there for years, but only the one). I also notice that the farmer's market (which, in California, is required to be staffed by employees of the farm) has extremely stable employment.
posted by wnissen at 10:48 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a good experience working as a "seasonal associate" at Macy's. Unexpectedly good for a retailer like that at holiday time.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:49 AM on April 19, 2016

Aldi, from what I understand, treats its employees pretty well.
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:41 PM on April 19, 2016

Wegmans!! definitely, I know many students who worked for Wegmans and were treated very well much better than any other retail shopping stores.

Trader Joe's just based on experience at the store and Starbucks because od their health insurance policy.
posted by radsqd at 8:04 PM on April 19, 2016

Oh, if you live in the area you probably already know this but the Eastern-Massachusetts-and-adjacent-areas grocery chain Market Basket has a lot of very happy and loyal workers, though it seems like a super-intense place to work. Starting pay is generally better than other area chains and there are lots of people who have worked there forever. And employees across the chain went on strike for 6 weeks in 2014 to protest the firing of the CEO, who eventually regained control of the company.

Bonus: it's also usually the cheapest.
posted by mskyle at 6:20 AM on April 20, 2016

Starbucks because od their health insurance policy.

I wouldn't put starbucks in that list just like Target. Their health plan is absolutely abysmal. They are also at times anti union and do the typical retail management things like putting employees on irregular shifts (ie, Work a late shift and be scheduled for an opening shift).
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 7:28 AM on April 20, 2016

Target is a no. A hard no. They do every single thing that Wal-Mart does, they just have better PR than Wal-Mart. They still source their clothes and goods from sweatshops, they continued to partner with Salvation Army even after it came out that Salvation Army tried to make a deal with the Bush administration for the right to discriminate against its LGBTQ employees (and they still partner with SA every year on various things, don't let the no-solicitation policy that precludes bell-ringers give you any warm, fuzzy feelings). Target is more than happy to donate to anti-worker/anti-LGBTQ politicians through their PAC when it suits their needs to do so.

They're anti-union, their healthcare offerings get worse every year, raises are low even if you get outstanding reviews, they require a college degree for level 3 team lead positions but typically start you out at less than $15/hr on those jobs (only a few dollars more than minimum wage in many locations). They don't schedule anyone, even team leads, for enough hours to qualify for access to the better healthcare options unless it's absolutely necessary (pseudo-full-time for Target is a 32 hour per week average over the course of the fiscal year, so you might work 40 hours one week and 24 the next). If you're scheduled off at closing, you usually don't get to leave then, you have to stay and help "zone" the store (make sure shelves and pegs look nice, put back abandoned merchandise etc.). This can take up to an hour after the store closes, sometimes longer. Employees at overnight stores are usually locked-in and can't leave for lunch or breaks without setting off the alarm and getting in trouble. If you work at a low-margin store, your team support, hours and employee coverage will be cut to the bone but you will still be expected to get all of your work done. When I worked there, we liked to say that "Expect More, Pay Less" was the company's employee relations strategy as well as their advertising motto.
posted by i feel possessed at 9:02 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you've got a Raley's grocery store near you, that's a good place to work. Many of the employees at the one in my hometown have been there for years, if not decades, which is always a good sign. I generally chose it over Safeway, which has lower pay and higher turnover (still way better than Wal-Mart, though).

I don't know that I'd call them excellent, but Walgreens is pretty OK, especially for pharmacists. They're also an important resource in low-income neighborhoods (they have some groceries, and many offer clinic hours and discount flu shots), so I like them for that reason.

OK, this isn't retail, but: In-n-Out Burger, I was pleased to learn, has an $11-an-hour starting wage, which is pretty stellar for a fast-food chain, and offers health insurance to all employees. One more reason to go there.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 9:09 PM on April 20, 2016

Starbucks is not especially great to its low-level employees. It varies by store, but in general it is rare for baristas to be able to work full-time, to get paid more than a dollar over minimum wage (and it will take quite a while to work up to that), or to have a very regular schedule.

The healthcare for part-time employees thing used to be a big deal, but with Obamacare, people making Starbucks-level wages would qualify for equally-good very subsidized health plans in the marketplace if Starbucks didn't offer it (or if they don't work the required average of 20 hours/week), so no big whoop, really.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2016

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