The cashier’s face was deeply lined and her arms tattoed. In a raspy voice, she asked the same question she’d asked me the last several mornings.”Would you like to round up to make a donation to [the local charity]?”
“Sure.” With only four cents to the next whole dollar, it was easy to say yes. “How are you doing on your fundraising goal?” I asked, making conversation while she processed my credit card. Management, she had told me, had set a daily donation goal for employees.
“Only $10 yesterday.” She looked despondent.
“Oh? I’m surprised people haven’t given more.”
“Management threatened to write us up if we didn’t get at least $10 every day.” There was agitation in her voice.
“That’s not right,” I said, dismayed.
“No. I told them I would walk out the door if they wrote me up for something I had no control over. It made all the employees feel bad. If they don’t treat us like people, we’ll walk out that door.” She pointed to the front doors. I had no doubt she would make good on her threat.
What would quitting her job mean to a woman her position, a low-wage earner: a missed mortgage payment, late rent, being short on grocery money? How long would it take for her to find another job?
I was angry that she had been put in the position to have to make such a threat. Ironically, I thought, if she quits, she might have to avail herself of the charity’s assistance. The organization’s leaders would have been mortified to know a low-on-the-totem-pole employee of a fundraising partner was threatened with being ‘written up’ for failure to reach an arbitrary goal for them.
My steaming hazelnut coffee in hand, I left the counter perplexed. I was here to write the next blog post for Lovers of Justice and World Changers. But what about this woman? What should I do for her? I wasn’t sure.
But I knew I could not attempt to inspire World Changers to address the myriad forms injustice takes in this world–poverty, trafficking, racism, forced marriage, etc.–and not do something for this woman.
I stepped outside and made a call to my husband who is knowledgeable about human resources. After explaining her situation, I asked, “What should I do? What can she do? I don’t want to get her fired.”
“Corporate will have an ethics hotline for employees. She can call anonymously. The number should be listed on their web site.”
As we were talking, I looked up and saw her smoking a cigarette down the way. Our eyes met and there was fear in hers. Worried that she might have overheard my conversation and misunderstood, I met her at the counter when she stepped back inside. Again, no customers were around. I passed along my husband’s advice and, a little while later, handed her a piece of paper with the corporate ethics hotline number on it.
The ball was in her court now.
I hope she called. I hope corporate addressed the issue in a way that would protect her from any backlash and eliminate this injustice for her colleagues as well. I hope that her courage results in protection for baristas she may never meet, at other stores. But I don’t know what action she took, and may never know.
Nonetheless, I am thankful for her ‘inappropriate’ disclosure.
Sometimes, that’s the only way to get change, to let some light in on the secret. I appreciate the brief window she gave me into her life and her suffering. As Lovers of Justice and World Changers, we are busy saving the world–starting nonprofit organizations, managing social enterprises, establishing safe houses, giving orphans homes, writing books and articles to catalyze others, setting social media accounts on fire with advocacy, amplifying the voices of the vulnerable, running for office, leading Bible studies, and innumerable, other world-changing activities. In the midst of all of that activity, we can overlook the person standing right in front of us because they don’t fall into the category of people we’re passionate about rescuing, our target group, but who is experiencing injustice all the same.
These may be divine appointments. Some big action may be required of us, or we may only have to connect the dots for someone so they can take the next step to advocate for themselves and others in their position.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act. (Proverbs 3:27, NIV)
What surprising encounters have you had in your day-to-day life with people facing injustice? What steps did you take or wished you had taken (in hindsight)?