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It’s time for a sit-down strike

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KAI RYSSDAL: Something called the International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics wrapped up today in Slovenia. Six days of discussions about how you interact with the things around you at home and at work. Commentator and retail employee Moira Manion says American companies have a thing or two to learn.

Moira Manion: Six customers in the airport shop where I work as a sales clerk have said, “You need a chair!” One Japanese businessman shook his head while saying, “Standing for eight hours. This is not good for the employees.”

This businessman was right: Standing for hours, especially on the concrete and stone floors found in many stores, is not good for employees. Our hips, knees and ankles ache. Our feet throb painfully. It effects the circulation in our legs and we sometimes develop varicose and spider veins. I weight train to keep my muscles strong, but even then, after five days of eight hours of standing, I hurt. If I could sit down when the business is slow, I wouldn’t be in discomfort.

My British and Australian friends assure me that, in their countries, chairs or stools for retail employees are normal. Apparently, most American businesses believe that a comfortable employee is a lazy employee. Evidently, having a chair would give customers the impression that we’re just hanging around killing time. OSHA is satisfied recommending only “anti-fatigue” mats. Now, if some OSHA workers had ever stood on them for eight hours, they’d realize the mats are useless. And most employers don’t want ugly black mats where customers can see them.

When we employees are comfortable, we’re more alert, more attentive, more productive, and have a better attitude toward our jobs and our customers. Keeping us in pain serves no purpose.

I have a radical dream. In it, all employees in America who have to stand for hours pick a day and time to sit down on the job for 20 minutes. When our customers ask what we’re doing, we tell them we’re in pain — and we won’t stand for it anymore.

Kai Ryssdal: Moira Manion in Minneapolis.

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