Target's backrooms are becoming unsafe, overcrowded 'nightmares' as the company cuts shifts and hours, workers say

  • Target quietly cut overnight and backroom shifts in stores across the country in an effort to increase the availability of workers to help guests on the floor.
  • The result, in many cases, has been extra work for daytime team members as well as overcrowded and messy stores.
  • Business Insider spoke to 28 current and former Target employees who have observed or experienced the effects of shift changes on their stores. Many of them said their backrooms had become messier since the changes were implemented, and 13 said they felt their stores' backroom had become unsafe. 
  • A former employee in a Wisconsin Target store told Business Insider that she hurt herself in the backroom multiple times before quitting in October 2018. Her location was a pilot store for changes to Target's shifts and backroom jobs.
  • "At Target, the safety of our guests, team members and community is always our top priority," a Target spokesman said in a statement. "Our store leaders and team members undergo mandatory safety training every year and we invest in the technology, tools and processes that keep our stores safe and ensure we comply with all federal safety guidelines. We work quickly to investigate and remedy issues anytime we receive safety-related concerns from our team members."

Target's move to cut overnight and backroom shifts in stores across the country hasn't just inconvenienced workers. In some cases, it's put them in dangerous situations.

Business Insider spoke to 28 former and current Target workers, 13 of whom said they felt that the shift changes made their backrooms an unsafe work environment.  

Target cut overnight and backroom shifts in some of its stores across the country over the last several months, the retailer confirmed in an email. In some stores, those positions were eliminated completely, while in others they were drastically scaled back.

The workers in eliminated positions were given the option to switch to daytime shifts, the company said, adding that shift changes have been rolling out to various markets since 2016 before launching nationally this year.

Without people working those overnight and backroom shifts, the backrooms in many Target stores have become overcrowded and, in some cases, unsafe, some workers said. As a result, the daytime workers, whose responsibilities also include helping customers, have been expected to pick up the slack. 

Some employees say their stores underwent changes as early as September 2018, likely as part of the earlier trial period, while others say they only started noticing differences in the last few months.

"There was a point where my store should have been shut down due to unsafe working conditions," said a former leader in an overnight inbound team who worked at a New Hampshire Target for three years and left in February. 

This worker and others — some current, some former employees — were granted anonymity in order to speak frankly about working conditions and the situation more generally at Target. 

The former employee in New Hampshire said that changes in her store began last September and took effect practically overnight. Without enough people whose jobs were dedicated to clearing away deliveries, boxes of merchandise piled up in the backroom, she said, adding that the store often stacked thousands of pieces of freight in piles that could be up to eight feet tall. Wooden platforms — called pallets — were often scattered on the sales floor or placed in a way that made them likely to fall on passersby.

"At Target, the safety of our guests, team members and community is always our top priority," the company said in a statement to Business Insider. "Our store leaders and team members undergo mandatory safety training every year and we invest in the technology, tools and processes that keep our stores safe and ensure we comply with all federal safety guidelines. We work quickly to investigate and remedy issues anytime we receive safety-related concerns from our team members."

Backrooms in many Targets are overcrowded with merchandise

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards regarding safety that say workplaces must maintain safeguards and operational features for exit routes and emergency action plans.

Target stores — and other retailers' stores, for that matter — have been inspected by OSHA for a variety of complaints in the past, but many workers say they worry that the backrooms in their stores are not meeting standards.

Employees in Midwestern, West Coast, East Coast, and South-Central Targets said that their backrooms have become chaotic as a result of the cuts in the backroom and overnight shifts.

"The backroom has become an actual disaster," said a former member of the team who set up shelves at a Louisiana Target and who left her job in June. The employee said her location had eliminated the entire backroom team in the spring and that it was not uncommon to find items that were incorrectly stocked.

"It is a nightmare to work there these days," said Rob Butkus, a former team lead in a Chicago area Target store who said he quit in July, two months before his 10-year anniversary at the company.

He said that the shift changes created unprecedented stress in his store and that his backroom was previously organized when there was a staff to take care of it. When those shifts were cut, he said, his store's backroom became a "total nightmare."

A former part-time employee who worked in a Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, Target for about a year until October 2018 said that her store was a pilot location where Target's new changes were tested. She said that before the backroom shifts were eliminated at her store, stocking was a side priority, and doing extensive work in the backroom was never done by regular employees.

Once the shift changes happened, this employee, who worked in electronics, said she hurt herself multiple times in the electronics stockroom, which was narrower and separate from other merchandise.

"[I] would sometimes tell a guest we were out of a product purely because I didn't want to brave the electronics stockroom for something that wouldn't affect my sales numbers," she said, describing a space with aisles barely more than two feet wide with sharp metal corners. 

A photo of backroom in a New Hampshire Target last October.

Courtesy of an anonymous former Target employee

A former Illinois Target employee who left his job in May said his backroom had posters that outlined certain OSHA standards such as the minimum points of contact required before climbing a ladder. The employee said that given the crowded nature of the room, these standards were almost impossible to adhere to.

Blocked fire exits, fire extinguishers, and electrical cabinets

Another current employee in a Target store in the Midwest also said that safety violations exist in the backroom on a daily basis.

"They're only ever compliant just before and during corporate or safety visits," he said.

A New Jersey store worker said that he had observed safety issues such as blocked fire exits, blocked fire extinguishers, and blocked electrical cabinets. All three of these blockages could be classified as violations of OSHA standards, said part-time senior occupational safety and health consultant Tim Gordon, who worked as an OSHA compliance officer between 1988 and 1989. Gordon currently works part-time at Safety Controls Technology, a company that provides occupational safety and health solutions to ensure that its clients adhere to local and federal regulations. 

Target in ArizonaCourtesy of an anonymous Target Employee

"Everyone has been told, 'Make it fit,' somewhere," the New Jersey store worker said.

This employee, who has worked with Target for nearly 10 years, noted that many locations' backrooms have historically been chaotic, but that the changes in shifts have caused the mess to bleed into the aisles as well. 

A spokesperson for Target declined to comment further on questions about its stores' backrooms possibly violating OSHA standards. 

Doing more with less

Thirteen former and current employees said that payroll hours in their stores were cut drastically in the last year, which has forced employees to complete heavy workloads in a short amount of time.

A spokesman for Target disputed this, saying the company's mix of full-time and part-time employees has remained consistent and that nearly half of employees are working more hours today than in previous years on average. The spokesman also said that Target has invested more than ever into payroll. Target declined to provide specific numbers when asked about payroll hours. 

A current part-time backroom employee in a California Target store said she has had at least three major panic attacks in the last year, as she says she is expected to move at a pace that is "completely unrealistic."

"I was in charge of 32 isles [sic] by myself and I cried twice in the backroom because I left [sic] like I was drowning in work," said a current Target employee who has been working at an Arizona Target store for the last two years.

She said the changes were implemented in her store around five months ago.

Another employee who worked in a Winter Garden, Florida, Target for six years said hours in her store were slashed across the board near the start of the year. She currently still works one shift there, but said the changes had initially made it nearly impossible to get her work done.

"I was literally having panic attacks almost every day," she said. "It's like a no-win situation."

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