There is an electronic billboard on I-3 between Union City and Soundview that says something to the effect of “Fred Meyer, firing workers for one honest mistake is JUST WRONG”. I read that and I think “Right on!” I say this as someone that was fired from his first job for a some mistakes that were easily verified to have cost the customer nothing but whose accounting practices made it so their accountants got headaches. Long story. Anyway, I’m sympathetic to the grunts because it’s often the case, as it was at that theater, that the “right way” to do things slows everything down to a crawl and results in much worse customer service.

But here’s the thing that gives me hesitation: Fred Meyer has the absolute best cashiers of anywhere I have ever shopped on a regular basis. To take last night, for instance, I was on my way home from a late-night trip to Walmart. It took an insanely long time to check out because of a $1 sale on kid’s clothes that apparently hadn’t been put in the computers. The result is that one manager had to go between five different check-out lines and okay every single sale purchase. Given that they were selling kid’s clothes for a dollar, that was a whole lot of moving around. That type of thing doesn’t happen often at Walmart, but it does happen. It’s not yet happened at Safeway, but the Safeway employees are almost aggressively apathetic. Individually I think that they are actually worse than Walmart’s, but their systems are considerably less likely to be screwed up (at least in part because Safeway limits their sales to a narrower selection of goods than Walmart or, for that matter, Fred Meyer).

Fred Meyer, though, is a dream. Whereas at Safeway I have to make absolute sure that I have all of my items grouped according to how I want them bagged and even then they often seem to cherry-pick from my piles almost randomly. Never, ever happens at Fred. In fact, if I just dump everything into a pile because I don’t have time to sort them, half of the time they will sort them for me. They’ll pick the freezer stuff and put it together and even subdivide the fridge stuff into cheese, meat, and other. They don’t always do this, but they seem to over half the time.

I don’t know if Fred pays their workers any more than Walmart does theirs. If they do, of course, they have more righteous grounds to say that they’re paying a premium for absolutely no mistakes. But it could also be the case that Fred Meyer has a more freewheeling atmosphere that would trust their employees to charge $1 for kid clothes without requiring a manager for every single item. If that’s the case, then it is even more important that they enforce fewer mistakes to get a better caliber of worker than places that where the cashiers have less margin of error. In other words, if I want employers not to have the sorts of policies that the theater had that gave the employees no ability to compensate for a customer changing their mind on something or simply to correct their mistakes, it also stands to reason that they could demand that fewer mistakes be made.

So… I guess I’m not sure I want Fred to change their employment practices until or unless it results in a shortage of employees. Cause I sure seem to benefit from the results.


Category: Market

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3 Responses to A Single, Terminal Error

  1. web says:

    I assume the situation is this one?

    Depending on your position, I’m not sure. The actual situation (the “honest mistake”) is failure to take (or “inadvertently handing back”) a check from the customer and place it in the till.

    Most grocery stores would allow the cashier to pay the difference out of their own pocket to keep their job. Fred Meyer doesn’t allow even that possibility.

    Fred Meyer’s also gone as far as to try to have those ads blocked.

    The other thing I notice is an odd pattern – almost all of the employees fired under this policy have been working for over 15 years at FM. That can’t be a coincidence; I wonder if there’s a walmartization going on whereby they implement their own version of the old Continental Can/BELL strategy whereby they boot employees who are close to qualifying for certain longevity or retirement benefits?

    If that’s the case, then it is even more important that they enforce fewer mistakes to get a better caliber of worker than places that where the cashiers have less margin of error.

    Sorry, but no. Expecting zero errors over a 15+ year period, or even a 5-year period? That’s inhuman.

  2. trumwill says:

    Most are under 15 years on the link you give me, though there are still a surprising number of veterans. If that’s what’s going on, that’s definitely wrong.

    Notably, the web site in question is set up by the union. If it is what you say it is, it seems likely that the UFCW would come out and say so.

    I’d be interested in hearing what sort of retirement benefits they have, if any. Bell was caught doing their stuff back in the time of pensions. Does Fred Meyer offer pensions? Does Walmart? I’m skeptical of longevity pay being a factor when lengths of service span from a few years to over 20.

    You’re right that no mistakes in 15 years is pretty astounding threshold. But… from a customer’s perspective… it’s working. I really cannot say enough about the quality of the checkout people there.

  3. john says:

    Having one cashier watch over ten self-checkout aisles will kill this labor market. I’d gladly pay an extra dollar or more per trip to maintain the old system, but that’s not the way the market works. We’re just too damned advanced…

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