Opinion piece from the StarTribune on Target’s layoff announcements

From:  The StarTribune, March 8, 2015

Think of us lowly Target team members
By:  Doug Champeau

Pope Francis’ arrival at the Vatican signaled an upheaval in the day-to-day operations of one of the world’s largest Christian denominations. The housecleaning continues with financial and organizational reforms aimed at curing the dysfunctions afflicting the Roman Curia.

Brian Cornell’s arrival at Target as CEO signaled an upheaval in the day-to-day operations of one of the nation’s largest retailers. Failed Canadian operations were booted, costing more than 500 corporate jobs. The housecleaning continues with last week’s announcements that the Minneapolis-based firm would trim thousands of jobs at its corporate offices to increase efficiency and to undo a culture of complacency (“Target reboot has steep job cost,” March 4).

It has been decades since I attended mass, much less confessed my sins at St. Augustine on the south side of Milwaukee. I am a charter member of lapsed Catholics. But I’ve been at Target now for seven years, working at the firm’s parish, eh, store, on the east side of St. Paul. At 61, I am just weeks away from retirement.

I am a cashier, since promoted to a Target-Starbucks barista. The lattes are the same, but Target Starbucks baristas are not allowed to accept tips. I make $10 an hour.

But my modest wage has no bearing on the sympathy I feel for the many better paid at corporate who will find themselves tuning up their résumés, hoping to land somewhere at a comparable salary. Many from my “parish” were promoted to corporate on an article of faith. It’s a shame that individuals might have made life decisions — a home, children, a new car — based on the financial security they believed they had when they donned the khaki and red at the Vatican on Nicollet Mall.

But Cornell’s Wall Street acumen was timed appropriately, especially when Wal-Mart announced it was raising the base wages of all its associates. Would Target follow suit? At the front lanes of my store, there’s a placard advocating careers at Target and its competitive wages. It all seems dated. There was a small part of the Target cutback announcements that perked up my ears: that productivity gains had already been achieved at individual stores. What a wonderful euphemism. That would explain the cut in hours and wages over the past few years.

Like Catholicism, Target has a theology. It’s called Brand. Don’t ask anyone to define it; it’s often easier to say what it isn’t. Consult a rabbi. When a computer kiosk at the self-service photo department went dead, I was faulted for sticking a hand-drawn “Out of Order” sign on the terminal. It wasn’t brand. Minutes later, a word-processed, laser-printed “Out-of-Order” sign appeared.

To the guest — Target’s euphemism for a customer — Brand is invisible, but ever-present. It’s reinforced in advertising, online as Cartwheel, and made to make a customer as enlivened as a Catholic enthralled by absolution through confession. As team members, we are induced to have faith in Brand, even if it’s inexplicable or unknowable, and oftentimes counterintuitive, even to the bishops who run our store.

For a Catholic, there is faith that a new leader like Pope Francis will lead with a sense of reform and purpose for the church, seeking foremost to address those who are poor and disenfranchised. CEO Cornell is doing his job as well, ensuring the long-term viability and profit of the corporation he is charged to run. He receives high marks from Wall Street. But in addressing the errors of before, unlike Pope Francis, the harder sacrifice is being asked of those who serve him, and on the store level especially, those who ring up sales.

Here’s hoping Mr. Cornell and the college of cardinals on Nicollet Mall will have an epiphany, and in restructuring, think of the team members who bag it for you. It’s Brand.

Doug Champeau is a writer from St. Paul.