Home Depot union supporters say they are overworked and understaffed

Felix Allen never understood why it was so difficult to find an employee who could help him find what he needed at Lowe’s.

Allen works as a merchandiser and builds product displays for the big-box home improvement chain. Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to do. He said the staff was so stretched that he couldn’t go anywhere in his New Orleans store without customers asking him for help in other departments.

“If I walk past equipment, [a shopper] going to show me an archaic screw and ask me, ‘Can you find this for me?’ Said Allen, 26. “I’m going to spend 15 minutes trying to find this for them when I should be doing something else.”

He doesn’t blame the customers.

“Lowe’s put us in a bad spot,” said Allen, who has been with the company for about two years. “If you’re in a hardware store, you should be able to find things. This comes back to us often. »

Anyone who has wandered into the paint section of Lowe’s or Home Depot knows how difficult it is to find an available worker for advice. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, as home renovations skyrocketed and retailers struggled to retain employees without raising wages. The reduced workforce has frustrated not only buyers, but also the workers who are there to help them.

“If you’re in a hardware store, you should be able to find things. This comes back to us often. »

– Felix Allen, Lowe’s employee leading a union effort

Allen tried to form the very first union at Lowe’s, a chain with 2,200 locations in the United States and Canada. He filed an election petition at his store with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last month, but he and his colleagues later withdrew their petition. Allen said Lowe’s “flooded” the store with managers from other locations and headquarters after the union campaign was made public.

“Obviously if they can get that many people in on short notice, they have a lot of money to staff our store properly,” he said.

An organizational effort is also in progress at a Home Depot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the NLRB will hold an election that ends on Saturday. Home Depot, which has 2,000 stores in the United States, has no unionized workers at its outlets, although some of its truck drivers in California are members of the Teamsters. The Philadelphia campaign is independently run and not affiliated with any established union.

Lowe’s and Home Depot declined to answer questions about their workforces. Lowe’s noted in a statement that the union’s petition had been withdrawn and said the company is “committed to a positive work environment.” Home Depot said: “WWe respect the right to unionize, we just don’t believe it’s the best solution for our associates.

Vince Quiles, a 27-year-old man who leads the Home Depot effort, said the company does not want to have excess labor on the floor at any time “so that you, the employee, stay in movement all the time you are here.” He said the system doesn’t provide much leeway when an employee calls in sick.

“I work in hospitality. Say it’s slowing down and they really need help with the plumbing,” Quiles said. “Now you have to go work in the plumbing department. But you don’t get paid to do this work and you don’t have the expertise to do it.

What am I even looking for?

STEFANI REYNOLDS via Getty Images

He added, “When you work with this mentality, it puts a lot of unnecessary stress on people.

Quiles recently tweeted a photo of a letter sent last week to store employees urging them to vote against unionization. The letter seemed to acknowledge workers’ frustration with staffing.

“A union is not going to fix personnel issues or force the company to change rules that we believe are essential to our success,” the officials wrote.

Many retailers have complained during the pandemic that they cannot find enough workers to operate at full capacity. The jobless rate is still hovering around a low 3.5%, meaning companies have to compete for a small pool of available workers. Competition has led to wage gains in the retail sector, but high inflation has all but wiped them out.

Inadequate staffing is probably harder to hide in home improvement chains, because ― unlike Target or Walmart ― these stores are filled with shoppers who don’t even know what they need. The Home Depot noted in its last annual report that “our customers expect a high level of customer service and product knowledge from our associates.”

The company said the tight labor market remained a challenge and warned investors it could lead to “increased wages, benefits or other employee-related costs.”

In recent months, some retailers have decided to hire too workers. Walmart and Amazon both said in earnings calls in May that overstaffing took a bite out of their profits. The turnaround shows how sensitive retailers are to any excess labor over sales, and why many prefer seasonal hiring for temporary positions.

“I only work in one department, but they have me in four others. I don’t get extra pay for that.

– Home Depot Worker

Home Depot employees who support the union effort said it was hard to imagine morestaffing being an issue from their perspective. One of Quiles’ colleagues, who asked to speak anonymously for fear of reprisal, said their duties went well beyond what their position required.

“It’s overwork with the lack of pay,” said the worker. “I only work in one department, but they have me in four others. I don’t get extra pay for that.

Another Home Depot employee said the workforce was “too spread out.” The worker inevitably spends a lot of time helping buyers find the right bolts or fittings, even if customer service is technically not part of their job.

“I’ve had clients literally stop me when I was one foot in the toilet, the other out,” the worker said. “They are frustrated with us. They do not understand.

There are some ways a union contract could deal with such complaints. It’s hard for a union to force a company to hire more people, but a collective agreement could better define roles so workers don’t end up doing other people’s jobs.

Home Depot said earlier this year that it was trying to accelerate job offers to hire faster. The company was trying to add 100,000 workers ahead of spring and summer – peak times for home renovations – and said some workers would receive job offers within a day of applying. “In today’s climate, job seekers are looking for the best opportunity,” a company vice president said at the time.

According to Allen, many of his colleagues at Lowe’s are not scheduled for as much work as they would like, despite the tight job market. Retail workers have complained for years that their employers would rather keep a large pool of part-time workers than push more people into full-time positions with benefits or have them work overtime. which is accompanied by a time-and-a-half salary bonus. .

Allen said many workers want more time on the clock — they don’t want to feel so harassed.

“There’s this weird thing where they hire a lot of people but barely give them a few hours,” he said.

Lowe’s and Home Depot have opposed union campaigns at their stores, saying they value a “direct” relationship with employees and don’t believe unionization is in the interests of workers.

Home Depot dispatched outside managers, including from headquarters in Atlanta, to discourage Philadelphia workers from voting for the union. Meanwhile, Allen recently shared videos of Lowe’s staff trying to chase him out of the store parking lot where he was handing out union literature.

“People are recognizing that they’re spending a lot of money bringing people in” to fight the union effort, Allen said. “They could have used that money to treat us better.”

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