“I was a manager at the Borders Books in downtown Seattle for several years. There was a general manager above me, and then I was the inventory manager. There was also another manager, 4 or 5 hourly supervisors, and about 30 or 35 employees in total.
I don't remember how many millions of dollars the store was, but it was downtown Seattle, so it was a good store for Borders. It was really busy during the day, but it got really quiet at night which meant for scheduling purposes that you just didn't have a lot of staff in the evenings. I often closed and I had maybe like three people on a two-story store, with multiple desks to man. And so I was on my feet the whole time checking in with people, helping customers and whatever else needed to get done.
All told I worked at Borders for 11 years, as a supervisor or manager for half of that. I was making $38,000 or $40,000, which I thought was good. And I was invested in the job — I loved the product, and I loved the people I worked with. So the idea of going into a salaried manager position was attractive.
But there was no hard and fast delineation between the managerial positions and the work the hourly employees did. As a manager you just stayed to get the work done. I rang on the cash registers when I needed to. I restocked things and cleaned and answered questions, and also directed the employees. We had a team that was supposed to process the inventory and push it out, but if things got behind, they couldn't stay, because they couldn't go into overtime to get the work done. The company wouldn’t allow overtime. So I would stay to do the grunt work.
They wanted to save on payroll as much as possible, so if an hourly employee called out sick and you were overtime-exempt, the expectation is that you're going to stay, maybe until the end, or maybe until someone comes and relieves you who is also overtime-exempt. And you’d be doing literally the same job as the person who called out, and then also your other job. Some hourly person called out sick, and I'm a free body.
It was pretty common to be there for 13 hour days.
It was still attractive though because the increase from the hourly wage to the salaried position was enough that you would snatch it. If you really calculated how many hours you were working for that guaranteed paycheck, it's probably not much better than the money you were making as an hourly person. But when they offer it to you it seems like "yes, I'll take that". If nothing else, you’d have a steady income instead of the question mark each week of whether you get a short paycheck.
I do believe the laws need to change. I do believe that they're incredibly unfair. And if the laws did change so they had to pay overtime when you worked extra hours, that would definitely put the kibosh on working overtime. Because they don't want to pay you time and a half for doing grunt work, that they could have someone do for less. So you'd have a much more rational experience that way.
Right now people who have salaried jobs don't always take advantage of all the so-called benefits that come with being salaried. Even in my job now in a research lab, I see in some other labs that people with a professional staff designation still have this mentality of thinking you have to be at work for 9 or 10 hours to make it look like you’re working as hard as you should be to deserve the money. When I started, they had to train me to not tell them when I was taking lunch!
You hear about the crisis of the birthrate in the US, how it's going down and people aren't having kids. That’s because we can't afford them, and we don't have the time. I waited until I was in my late 30s to have kids because I finally had a job where I could afford daycare, and could have time to take care of another human being who might get sick.
The money isn’t as big of a carrot for me right now. It’s more about time for me. I'm almost 40 and I have a family.
You have to make a lot of hard choices.”
— Nicole Smalley, former Borders Books manager, Seattle