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The Disturbing Reality About Being a Low-Wage Retail Worker


When recruiting new employees, many retailers portray themselves as being willing to work around workers' personal schedules. But the promises of flexibility often quickly fade.

This article was written by David Schepp and originally appeared on AOL Jobs.

It's been more than five weeks since Hurricane Sandy roared across the Eastern Seaboard, devastating the lives of thousands residents in New York, New Jersey and several other states. Many are still dealing with the fallout caused by damaged homes, destroyed possessions and lost wages.

They include New Jersey resident Adriana Saavedra, whose car was flooded, along with her Jersey City home, causing more than $5,000 in damage to furniture and other belongings. The storm also forced her employer to shut its doors for five days, time during which Saavedra would have normally worked and been paid.

But she and other employees of Charlotte Russe at the Paramus Park mall weren't compensated for the days the store was closed, Saavedra says, even though they were unable to work through no fault of their own.

"That was a big shock for me," says Saavedra, 36, who has worked at the northern New Jersey store since April as a full-time assistant manager and earns $18 an hour. As a retail employee, she says, "It's not the first time that I've experienced snowstorms or hurricanes, and usually a company will pay you for the days that they weren't open."

Saavedra says the shutdown and her inability to get to work even after the store reopened resulted in her losing nearly $1,100 in take-home pay.

In the week after the storm, Saavedra couldn't stay in her flooded home and instead stayed with her boyfriend in Queens. But with her car damaged and public transportation running reduced schedules, Saavedra says that it wasn't possible for her to work through store closing time, typically 9 p.m. -- later on weekends.

She explained the situation to the store manager and her district manager with the hope of getting midday shifts that would allow her to get home to her boyfriend's home before the regional PATH subway system shut down for the evening at 10 p.m. That request was denied.

"I was told that the schedule was already made," she says, noting that it included one shift that required her to close the store. Unable to get to Queens, Saavedra was forced to stay in her soaked Jersey City home, which still had no water or power, so she couldn't shower. To make matters worse, she had to open the store the next day and was scheduled more closing shifts in the next week.

San Diego-based Charlotte Russe Inc. didn't return a request for comment for this story, and the manager of the Paramus store couldn't be reached.

The company's apparent decision not to pay workers during the time the Paramus store was closed caused five younger part-time staffers -- some who needed to take two buses to get to work -- to quit, Saavedra says. Having learned that they wouldn't be paid, she says, "they just didn't come back."

There is no requirement for companies to pay workers who aren't able to work when a business is shut down due to severe weather or other disasters. In the wake of Sandy, however, some employers elected to pay their employees anyway. But, as was the case with municipal workers in New York City, some employees were required to use vacation time if they didn't show for work.

Also on AOL Jobs:

November Jobs Report: Hiring Up, Unemployment Rate Falls -- Despite Sandy

Apple To Bring Jobs Back To The U.S. -- And Treats Workers Better

Michigan GOP Pushes Through The Right-To-Work BIll, Amid Angry Protests

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