Testimonial #3 East and West Coast Culture
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
The following story comes to us from an anonymous worker.
Joel - I know that the East Coast group is emailing you about the systemic issues that Good Vibrations has regarding communication and fair treatment of employees and I wanted to add my voice to it.
When I transferred to California, I loved my job. I believed in the Good Vibrations mission statement and was dedicated to bringing my years of experience to stores that I was told were struggling and understaffed. I believed in the educational mission and high standards of customer service and expert knowledge that I considered integral to the GV experience.
Within my first week at the Mission location, I was faced with issues you’ll be familiar with - constant threat of theft and danger to the employees, security guards that were rumored to be temporary, and a staff of brand new hires with no training. I would not be surprised if every single one of those people has quit by now, due to the cost of living and, perhaps more so, cost to commute to that store being too much for them no matter how good they were at their job.
I was willing to accept that GV was doing the best it could with the situation, even though it was sad to see so many potentially talented SESAs who could have really helped the company grow and profit leave because their pay was just too low.
Then I worked at the Lakeshore store, where I was immediately targeted and bullied by the manager, where direct, visible favoritism, a total lack of professionality, and lack of any sort of legitimate sex education training was undermining what GV stood for. I attempted to bring my concerns to Laura, but because I was pushing for a promotion to management I was afraid to be too direct. I was told that the management was well thought of, the store was profitable, and therefore my concerns were dismissed.
I listened to untrained, unprofessional SESAs give incorrect information about basic safety measures like condom use, and was told it was not my concern when I tried to point this out.
When I was offered a position at Berkeley, it was just in time or I would have quit due to the toxic management of the Oakland store. There, I found a more positive and supportive environment that welcomed me, and spent a significant amount of time and effort working to restart the workshop and event efforts for that store and bring a sense of pride and passion to the sesas there that was very much lacking when I got there.
While there, I quickly discovered a new issue. Every single employee there was frustrated and unhappy with the management, but felt too unsafe to bring up these issues because Laura was visibly, openly, best friends with the manager and there didn’t seem to be anyone to turn to. They were afraid of being passed over for raises or promotion, even afraid of being fired, because they could not speak to their manager about issues with upper management, and they could not speak to upper management about their manager. I even, later on, was privy to the information that Laura had been told in multiple exit interviews that the reason for leaving was the store manager, but dismissed this because of personal friendship. Therefore, that information was never addressed or escalated.
I worked really hard to help my coworkers navigate conversations, and I think I actually had a really positive impact on that group and the store before I ended up leaving.
During my time as assistant manager, I also discovered that I was being paid significantly less than my counterparts at the East Coast stores - who had been with the company less time and who had fewer extra projects than I was taking on by choice. The pay raise my promotion came with broke even with the higher cost of living and commute that was part of having moved to California. I brought this to Laura’s attention and was told that because the East Coast assistant managers were losing their Sunday time and a half, they had been given larger raises - well I had also lost that Sunday time and half, while taking on significant additional living costs to be able to work the job. I was upfront that this felt both unfair and unacceptable, and was willing to compromise on simply being paid equally with what my pay would have been had I never transferred, even though I had been with the company at least a year longer than what that pay theoretically reflected. Not only was I shut down, it was implied that by debating this issue I was risking my future prospects. This was one of the major reasons I chose to leave.
There were many quantifiable, specific management decisions that were happening there that were actively undermining morale, causing unneeded stress, and a bad work environment. Had there been a safe way for me to communicate these concerns, I would have, and that store might currently have many more employees even with the current situation with COVID. Had there been a fairer approach to my pay, I might have stayed longer.
While I ended up leaving due to a family medical issue that required me moving back to Western MA for a time, I was also ready to leave because the Bay Area GV stores do not treat their workers well. The ideal of an education driven, positive, engaged staff is a fantasy there that is not supported by management in any way.
And I’ll be honest - I was afraid to send this because part of me hopes to work at the East Coast stores again some day, and the culture of the company so far has demonstrated that speaking out or providing legitimate criticism puts my future prospects at risk. I met multiple former employees who felt they lost their jobs or were denied opportunities simply because they asked for raises, or brought real concerns to management that their supervisors didn’t want to hear.
But even while I want to say it’s so much worse in California, I also want to support the efforts of SECSE to demand the beginning of real change, because Good Vibrations deserves to be the kind of place it says it is.
Their concerns are real, and systemic, and not specific to the Boston area or regional management. Their concerns have to do with the lack of HR, the lack of safe systems for employees to communicate their concerns, and I have friends in California now who I know are badly affected by these same policies. But they’re afraid - everyone I’ve spoken to out there is scared to take a stand because they think they’ll lose their job. So don’t think we don’t have more stories from there because they don’t exist - it’s because they are not in a position to employ the same sort of collective action as the East Coast. They aren’t really getting a voice in this, but I can at least try to do that for them.
This issue will not be solved by changing something small in Boston. If it’s true you want to improve things in good faith, you need to consider this part of a larger problem. Letting the East Coast unionize is a start, but it’s a start that shows you actually believe us and want things to begin to improve.