In 2011, I worked for a popular NS drugstore, in the southwest shore region. I want so badly to tell you the name and exactly where.
I was hired to work in the postal outlet. Almost immediately, it began – the subtle discrimination, harassment and unfairness that were cleverly disguised as rules and regulations. So much happened to me here, and I’ve recounted the story too many times. For time’s sake I am just going to list key points and incidents for you:
– I was the first Black person (that I am aware of) to work in this store, in this community. I was the only Black employee while I worked there.
– From day one, I was harassed about my uniform. I wore black pants and a collared, short sleeve, button-down shirt. My physicality and an underlying health condition, forced me to wear the shirt untucked. It was otherwise neat, tidy, and pressed. I was told every day to tuck it in, and I kept explaining why I did not do it. Nevertheless, I started getting pink slips. All this while other employees did the same with no consequence, even wearing graphic t-shirts under their unbuttoned uniform shirt, which was against written policy, and never getting the same warning as I did.
– My shifts were taken and given to white employees several times, without them contacting me first, which was also supposed to be policy.
– When I tried to talk to my supervisor about the shirt issue, I opened up and told her about a medical issue I was having and explained that it made tucking the shirt in very uncomfortable. Her response was that there are other people here with worse problems. I did not know what to say. It made me feel like I did not matter.
– When I was hired, a chair was in the mail room behind the postal counter. I noticed all the other workers would steal a moment on or around this chair now and then, checking their phones, snacking, or sometimes just gossiping. My supervisor even smiled and mentioned that that’s what the chair was for, and it’s been like that for years. I never dared to sit in that chair, but one day, weeks into my hiring, near the end of a long shift on my feet, and with no customers in sight, I took a moment to sit and take weight off of my right foot in particular, which was throbbing. It was only a minute or so. The next day, the chair was gone, and a huge sign on the wall read, “No employees sitting while working”. All because I sat there for 60 seconds.
– There was an old laminated sign by my register in the post office, used by workers when they ran to the bathroom, which is just behind the postal outlet as well. It said ” back in 5 min”. This sign was shown to me when I was hired, and I was made to feel that I could use it if necessary. It was old-looking and worn, so I knew it was used often and for a long time. One night, I did use the sign, and was back in a few minutes. The next day, the sign was gone, and I was told that if I needed to use the washroom, I would have to ask one of the cashiers at the front of the store (who were often much younger than me and always white, I might add). I was beginning to feel there was nothing I could do that wasn’t wrong here…even using the bathroom. I began to get pink slips for going to the washroom and making my own sign when I needed.
– I was constantly given pink slips for my shirt until finally I had enough and said, “If you want me to tuck it in, then make the other cashiers do the same, because it seems they are allowed but I’m the only one you have a problem with.” She (shift manager) then pretended to be empathetic, and said they would order me a different shirt to try and see if I liked it. When the shirt came, I opened it to find it was a size 3xx and was much too big for me, as I was a size medium-large at the time. I think she knew it was much too big. When I did not wear it the next day, I began getting pink slips for every day I did not wear the shirt.
– Toward the end of my employment, I was getting fed up and wanted to meet with the store manager to discuss the issues I was having. An incident had just occurred in which my shift was shuffled again without my knowledge, causing me to be late for work, and I felt I needed to go over my supervisors and complain. He said he would be in his office at the end of my shift, but was gone when I arrived. This happened over and over until I realized I was being dodged, because he already knew what the issue was.
I eventually quit after 6 months. I could not take the constant pink slips for seemingly unfair and unwarranted reasons, and being made to feel like I was less than everyone else there. In my heart, I knew it was discrimination. I tried to pursue action against them, but I didn’t even know where to start. I kept a record of every incident and sought advice from the Black Employment Resource Centre in my community, because I did not know who to contact about this. I was given the runaround by them too, and my case with them got buried. I called Employment Rights NS and was told they do not deal with this type of issue, only regarding issues related to wages. Because I was not physically harmed or threatened, I did not feel my case was a human rights issue.
I had discovered the brick wall – that barrier between people of colour and the information and resources needed to rectify everyday discrimination, like at work or in the public community. What do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you contact? How do you find justice? Before I could sort through these questions and even begin to see a path, too much time had gone by. I gave up. But the pain from that time is always with me.
Thank you for hearing my story.