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Standing Debate: Why Can’t US Retail Workers Sit on the Job?

“Chair-gate” disputes center around in-store productivity.

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PHOTOGRAPHY: SeventyFour/iStock.com PHOTOGRAPHY: SeventyFour/iStock.com

When Zay started her customer service job in Atlanta one recent morning, she saw there were no longer any chairs in the break room she used. When workers asked their boss what had happened, they learned about a new no-sitting policy. The move, the business owner said, would “increase worker productivity.”

Zay, whose plight was detailed in a recent article by U.S. edition of The Guardian, has plenty of company in the U.S., but not in such places as Europe, the newspaper reports.

“This is a uniquely American ethos,” the paper says. “Cashiers in Europe, and notably at the German grocery store Aldi, are welcome to sit down during their shifts.”

U.S. workers have sought the right to sit for over a century, the paper notes. “In the 1880s, factory bosses took away chairs in the hope of speeding up production times. But employees fought back, and the ‘right to sit’ movement became a pillar for early union organizers.”

Now, more than a hundred years later, American workers again find themselves advocating for the most basic of provisions – the ability to sit while on the job. And that pushback has gotten results: In 2018, Walmart agreed to pay $65 million to 100,000 California cashiers in a class-action suit accusing the company of failing to provide seating in accordance with state law. Safeway and Bank of America and Safeway paid $12 million and $15 million, respectively, in similar suits.

But as Zay’s experience shows, the issue – which she and other workers refer to as “Chair-gate” – continues to crop up in retail workplaces. Click here for more of The Guardian’s coverage of this issue.

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