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change their ways. “If people are caught stealing, what would you suggest be done?” said Mozingo. “Food Lion loses millions of dollars every year on employee theft. There are warnings posted in the stores, and people know before they go to work that stealing will get you fired.” On some details, however, the company can’t seem to get its story straight. Asked why ex-employees report being interrogated behind locked doors, loss prevention supervisor Martin Whitt said: “That would never happen at our company. We don’t have locks on the doors where the interviews take place.” Mozingo had a different explanation: “The person is free to leave at any time the room is locked on the inside, not the outside.” Locks or no locks, former employees say the tactics used by loss prevention agents are simply business as usual at Food Lion. Betty Deck, the Gastonia store manager, quit after she was questioned about pushing employees to work overtime without pay. She said she knows first-hand how managers treat workers, because she was one of the managers.”Food Lion made me a bitch,” she said. “I didn’t want to be, but I had to be. They expected more out of you than any one person could deliver. I was working 100 hours. a week. If I didn’t have an understanding husband, I’d be divorced right now.” Deck and other managers say Food Lion relies on a system called “Effective Scheduling” that simply doesn’t give employees enough time to complete assigned tasks. Routinely forced to work overtime without pay to get the job done, many employees burn out.”I’ve seen the company reports on turnover,” said Robert Willett, the assistant manager accused of munching grapes on the job. “It’s nothing for a store to go through 50 or 60 people a year. In most cases, that’s 100 percent turnover.” Fed up with such abuse, 183 current and former Food Lion workers filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor in September, saying the supermarket chain illegally worked them overtime without pay. According to the complaint, Food Lion deprive s employees of $64 million a year in overtime pay, giving the company an unfair advantage over its competitors. “Food Lion just thinks of you as a number,” said Peter Carpenter, a grocery manager from Aberdeen, North Carolina who was fired for taking outdated food home to feed his father’s pet squirrels. “I think they get their kicks from getting rid of people. They treated us like nobody.” Jeremy Barker was stocking groceries with Carpenter the night the loss prevention agents arrived. “They threatened us, said if we didn’t tell the truth they were going to take us to jail. They showed us the handcuffs they carried with them. I had never been threatened like that before. Here I was, 19 years old. It was only later that I come to find out we were talking to someone who didn’t have the right to threaten us like that.” RICHARD BARTHOLOMEW Presumed Guilty Mention “loss prevention” to former Food Lion employees like Barker, and the reaction is apt to be one of terror. “We used to call them the Gestapo, because they think they run everything,” recalled former Asheville manager Rusty Hornaday, who was interrogated about giving beer to under-aged employees. “You’d be working in the store at night, and you’d turn around and they’d be standing right behind you. That’s a spooky feeling.” “They would raid your store and interrogate everyone,” adds Betty Deck, the Gastonia manager. “It was horrible feeling you were guilty until proven innocent. I’ve never been treated like that before. They wore me down until there was nothing left . I felt like I had been raped.” Martin Whitt, the loss prevention supervisor, said Food Lion agents only interrogate employees they know are guilty. “Once you get to the interrogation stage, you have your facts pretty much together. Every criminal has a rationalization; even murderers have an excuse. But that’s irrelevant once you get to the interrogation. You already know what happened.” But former employees say this assumption of guilt made it impossible to defend themselves against false accusations. “If somebody’s got a grudge against you, they just call one of the hotline numbers posted in the store and say, ‘I saw this guy stealing’ and boom! You’re out the door,” said a former manager who was fired last year for eating on the job. Tammy Minnick was fired from her job as customer service manager at a Food Lion store in Bristol, Va. after loss prevention agents accused her of forcing employees to work overtime without pay.”They were very arrogant,” Minnick said. “They try to belittle you. They didn’t listen to anything you said they knew it all. It didn’t matter what you said, you were guilty.” Minnick said she eventually signed a confession, but not because she did anything wrong. “By the time they were finished with me, I didn’t know what I was admitting to,” she said, her voice breaking at the memory. “I was scared to death.” If she had been able to keep her job two more months, Minnick would have been eligible for $20,000 in profit-sharing benefits. The $3 Thief Delores Wilson, an executive secretary, used to work down the hall from the loss prevention department at Food Lion headquarters in Salisbury. One day, on her way to lunch, she found three one-dollar gift certificates lying on the floor. “I put them in my pocket to give to the girl who handles them, and forget about them until I got home that night,” Wilson said. “I set them aside, and by the time I remembered them again I couldn’t find See Food Lion page 19 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9