Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

I recently overheard a couple of part-time produce clerks lament the loss of summer volume and the annual cutback in labor hours that accompany the change of seasons.

While business journals point to a rise of a part-time economy, this has been a constant in the grocery industry, where the vast majority of clerks work less than 30 hours a week.

To our part-timers chatting as they stocked, I wanted to tell them if they aren’t getting enough hours to make ends meet, here are a few way to improve their situation.

  • Speak Up. Make it known that you are looking for additional hours. Many times the full-timers are looking for just the opposite — a chance of burning some vacation days. All they need is someone to cover. Let them know that someone is you. Try calling sister stores in your area as well. Every produce department has their share of people who are out on medical leave, or any of a dozen reasons, and those stores may be looking for experience to fill in.

  • Be Available. Just walking out the door on a day off when the phone rings and it’s the store looking to cover a sick call? This isn’t the time to dream up excuses not to help (like this is the day you’re rotating your tires or some other lame excuse). Go to work when called. Always. If a produce manager knows you can be counted on, your name will quickly rise to the top of the call list.

  • Lombardi Time. Only working a four or six-hour shift? Come to work an hour early to see if you can be put to work sooner. Oftentimes on a weekend or ad-breaking Wednesday, a produce manager can justify putting you to work right away, which adds up at the end of a pay period. Also, always offer to stay past your scheduled shift, perhaps negotiate extra time to take care of some unusual task the produce manager yearns to have done, like scrubbing out a cooler or reorganizing the sign kit.

  • Stay Late. Admit it. You don’t have a Friday night date. Always offer to stick around to help get caught up, or suggest that you stay late to put away the late produce delivery. Many times this helps get the morning crew off to a great start, including the produce manager.

  • Make Yourself Valuable. Cross-train, not only for other produce shifts but in other departments too. One enterprising part-timer I had used to close the produce department only to throw freight with the grocery night crew for a couple additional hours before going home. He never worked less than 40 hours a week.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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