A postscript to “My Encounter with the Precarious and Service Workers
Assembly of Occupy Oakland.”
(The Real Food Company is two expensive natural food stores in San
Francisco’s Russian Hill and Marina District neighborhoods. I was employed
as a cashier at the Polk Street store from March 2012 to March 2013. After I
got fired I wrote this leaflet. A friend and I distributed about 1500 of them to
customers outside both stores on a series of Sunday and Monday evenings in
June and July 2013. Sunday and Monday evenings are the busiest periods at
As a former employee of Real Food who left on good terms with my fellow
wage slaves, my perspective had credibility with my former co-workers. And
as someone who was no longer employed here I could now act with a
complete impunity that is unavailable to people still employed there.
Like everything else that I generate in this vein, this is part of a larger everevolving
template for anti-state communist action embedded in the everyday
life concerns of mainstream working people.)
LES MISERABLES: SIX-FIGURE-INCOME-STEPHANIE HONG’S 100% RAW
DEAL FOR THE WORKING POOR AT THE REAL FOOD COMPANY
Frequent shoppers at the Real Food Company no doubt notice that this store
sheds employees more frequently than most yuppies change their shirts. ‘Help
Wanted’ signs are permanent front window fixtures at Real Food for painful and
At Real Food, store employees work at a frantic pace, selling expensive items, to
expensive people, in two of the most expensive neighborhoods of the most
expensive city in the United States -- and 95% of us do this for wages that
condemn us to hardcore poverty. Pay levels for most Real Food Company staff
members never rise more than a few dimes above the lowest amount that Real
Food Company owner Stephanie Hong is legally allowed to get away with paying.
There are people who have been working at Real Food for more than five years
who make less that $13 an hour. Others have been here for more than a decade,
and aren’t even getting $15 an hour. This store’s high sales volume brings in
plenty of money for repeated store renovations, but never enough for pay
increases. Frenetic toil for Ronald McDonald compensation levels ensures “Chief
Operating Officer” Stephanie Hong a comfortable six-figure annual income and a
lovely condo with a spectacular view at 2140 Hyde. The phenomenal high rate of
turnover at the Real Food Company helps to keep those who haven’t been fired
yet atomized, intimidated, and bewildered, and guarantees that this abysmal setup
The Real Food Company presents the public face of a spunky little locally owned
natural foods store fighting the good fight against GMO’s, with a corporate
mission of helping neurasthenic yuppies think they can live to be 140 by wolfing
down bushels of overpriced organic kale. This is nothing but ‘Greenwashing.’
The Real Food Company is a textbook example of the hyper-exploitation and
relentless on-the-job policing of the working poor in an ever more socially
stratified United States.
Let’s take a tour of the Polk Street store, as seen through the eyes of the people
who make this place run:
1: One of many negative hallmarks of the rise of digital technologies is the
extinction of privacy. It is now a given that an individual is not entitled to any
form of privacy in any public space, especially in the workplace, and most
especially in a low wage dead-end workplace like the Real Food Company. Take a
look at the small cameras ringing the store’s ceiling behind the cash registers.
They are not aimed at the customer’s side of the register, but at the cashiers.
This in-store digital surveillance system worthy of a medium security prison isn’t
for the protection of the employees in the unlikely event of an armed robbery, but
to allow Stephanie’s management minions to spy on the harried staff, the fear
being that the wage-slaves might be tempted to steal, since their wages aren’t
enough to live on. This invasive Orwellian touch is an expression of the
relentless suspicion and hostility with which six-figure-Stephanie relates to the
people she impoverishes and exploits.
2: Few people who work at Real Food spend their meager pay shopping at this
phenomenally overpriced store; the $25 jars of almond butter are a
laughingstock among store employees. But in order to work hard, we have to eat,
and this is where “Culls” come in. “Culls” are food items that are slightly
damaged or past their expiration date. Employees are allowed to buy these for a
nominal five cents per item. Culls are a form of officially sanctioned dumpster
diving, allowing the overworked and underpaid staff to keep burning enough
calories to produce enough surplus value to feed six-figure-store-owner-
Stephanie’s profit hunger.
3. Offering employees nothing and demanding everything, store managers run
staff members through periodic asinine “employee assessments,” as if
employment at this Gluten-Free-Jack-in-the-Box has any kind of future.
Significant wage raises to a level that an adult can live on in 21st century San
Francisco are never on the agenda. The only question is how much more can you
give and how much more enthusiastically and frantically you can give it. If you
put on the requisite fawning cringing act, you may be rewarded with a whopping
.25 cents per hour raise. If you are less than effervescent in your enthusiasm,
you are free to lose your meager income, and be replaced by a steady stream of
the fearful unemployed lured by those permanent “Help Wanted” signs. In a
place like the United States there is always plenty of fresh desperation for sixfigure-
Stephanie to feed on.
LIFE IN THESE UNITED STATES…
A stock response at this point is to say, “Dude, that’s life in the service sector!
The work is supposed to be shitty and pay bad! Don’t like it? Go get another
job!” The US has entered a period of long-term economic decline, and many socalled
“good jobs” have permanently ceased to exist. Most of us can’t become
cyber-weenies -- and many of us wouldn’t avail ourselves of that option even if it
became available to us.
A problem doesn’t cease to be a problem simply because large numbers of other
people are being victimized by it. The appalling situation that prevails in today’s
service sector messes up the lives of a vast number of people and this situation
must be confronted and abolished.
From the old IWW of one hundred years ago to the Civil Rights struggles of the
1950’s and 1960’s, appalling social conditions have been rendered inoperative
and overturned when those affected by them have taken sustained collective
action to abolish those conditions. The right kind of on-the-job direct action at a
relatively small, awful, and incompetently managed exploiter like the Real Food
Company could have a positive ripple effect among employees of bigger
sweatshops like Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
A terminally deformed scene like the one at Real Food Company produces
endless toxic workplace melodramas. Again the main malefactor here is the
store’s owner, Stephanie Hong. Stephanie presents an image of herself as a
“nice” person by leaving the hands-on staff harassment to escapees from the
Addams Family like General Manager Jean Greenfield, and Jean’s homunculus,
Jason, at the Fillmore store. “Shift leads” (a shift assistant manager and straw
boss) are employed for their eagerness to crack the whip on the field hands and
their skills at apple-polishing -- and we’re not talking about the produce now.
These servile servants are themselves frequently and cavalierly consigned to the
ranks of the unemployed when their usefulness to the program has expired. At
the Real Food Company, high turnover is everything.
On “LinkedIn,” Real Food’s “Chief Operations Officer” -- a two-syllable word for
this is “owner” -- Stephanie Hong acknowledges membership in the “San
Francisco Employers Advisory Council.” The SFEAC is an exploiter’s cabal where
people like six-figure-Steph get advice in how to get away with as much as
possible at the relentless expense of the proles. A recent former president and
secretary of SFEAC, Bob L. Zaletel, is an attorney with Litler, Mendelson, one of
the largest and most notorious anti-labor law firms in the US. By every salient
indicator, the Real Food Company is a completely anti-working class operation.
“IT’S TIME TO STOP SINGING AND START SWINGIN’!”
Unions are no longer defensive organizations protecting wage earners from
employers, but auxiliary mechanisms of capitalist exploitation. Getting a labor
brokerage to fight our battles for us will never be as quick and effective as wildcat
action against management, and against management’s wannabe collaborators,
This means --
A series of rolling sickouts, where a majority of store employees call in sick
on the same day. We should not do this once, but again, and again, and again,
and combine this with --
a high-profile public information campaign drawing attention among the
public at large to how bad it is to work for Stephanie Hong, Inc.
For the duration of the effort, it can also be useful to draw attention to how much
cheaper it is to shop at other service sectors sweatshops. Customers can save
20% and more by patronizing the Trader Joe’s at California and Hyde.
The only thing exploiters understand is force. Sustained, on-the-job direct
action hammering this store’s profit margin can bring about massive across-theboard
pay hikes, and abolish management’s ability to abuse the staff at will.
STARTING PAY AT THIS PLACE SHOULD BE AT LEAST $18 PER HOUR --
SIX-FIGURE-STEPHANIE CAN CERTAINLY AFFORD IT.
The Real Food Company is vulnerable. The Real Food Company is an
incompetently run operation built on a culture of extreme exploitation. Bareknuckle
collective direct action is the only thing that can bring a halt to this. The
right kind of belligerent solidarity can impose massive pay and benefit increases,
and serve as a style model in combativeness for our fellow hard-pressed wage
earners at Trader Joes and Whole Foods. Our bosses are our enemies. The U.S.
economy is our enemy. We have nothing to lose but our pains.
POSTSCRIPT: This leaflet was initially distributed among employees attending
the June 19th mandatory company meeting. At this meeting, six-figure-Steph
referred to this leaflet and claimed with disgusting temerity that the abysmal
wages she pays are “competitive.” Wages at the Real Food Company are
“competitive” with what people worked for in the pre-Civil War plantation south,
but they are not remotely “competitive” with the astronomical cost of living in
end-stage gentrification SF. Only a cosseted child of privilege like Stephanie
Hong can have the gall to claim that eleven or twelve bucks an hour is a livable
rate of pay for this city. It goes without saying that if the purpose of this leaflet
was to engage in cordial dialog with six-figure-Steph, we’d offer to type it again
WHEN WE ACT TOGETHER AGAINST OUR EMPLOYERS WE ACT IN THE
INTERESTS OF ALL EMPLOYEES EVERYWHERE
Contact us at:
This text can also be seen online at: www.indybay.org