Alma stomped into the locker room, tears streaming down her face. At the sight of the normally cheerful woman choking back sobs, the other women checking in for their shift gathered around her to comfort her and find out what happened.
“Hey, what's wrong?” Sylvie asked, laying a hand on the smaller woman's shoulder.
“That bastard.” Alma's voice quivered with indignation. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure the person she was referring to hadn't followed her before repeating, “That dirty bastard.”
Everyone gasped. In all the years the woman had worked at the seafood plant, they could count on one hand how many times they'd heard her use profanity. Whatever had upset her had to have been major.
Penderly Blakeney crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want to bet her grievance is against Clemmons? I'll even bet you his middle name is 'bastard'.” She got a couple of snickers for her remark, but she wasn't kidding. Ever since Rast Clemmons was hired last week as the new head of Human Resources, it was almost as if he took great delight in creating as much havoc as possible.
Alma nodded as she wiped her eyes with a tissue. “Yes. Him. He's cutting my hours.”
“What?” the women exclaimed in unison.
“Starting tomorrow. He gave me the option of working seven to one Monday through Friday, or seven to three on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.” She tried to take a breath, but her voice hitched. “If he cuts my hours, it'll be the end of my benefits. God knows how Morris and I will get by without the insurance.”
“You've been here nearly twenty years!” Cora exclaimed. “How can he cut you?”
“It's the economy,” practical-minded Sharise surmised. “He was hired to find ways to save the company money, and you can be damn sure it won't be coming from the top.” She gave a nod in Alma's direction. “By cutting our hours and making us part-time help instead of full-time, that means they don't have to offer insurance, and if you do that with enough people, it'll save 'em a big bundle of cash.”
“You make a valid point,” Penderly said. “However, there's some people here who can't afford the cuts, like Alma. And Genevieve. And Mary. They need that insurance.” She shook her head, whipping her blonde ponytail back and forth. “Clemmons is targeting the wrong people, and maybe it's time someone went over there and told him.”
Several people gasped at her audacity. “That's a brave idea, Penny,” Sharise commented. “But whoever goes better pack their gear first, 'cuz sure as shooting, they're gonna get their ass canned for speaking up.”
Penderly smiled. “I didn't mean any of you. I meant me. Maybe I can talk some sense into the man.”
“Penny, no!” Several of the women called out.
“Hey.” She held out her hands in supplication. “If he cans my ass, so be it. I took this job to help out my family. I'm sure I can get another one somewhere, even if it means flipping burgers over at Crutcher's Burger Palace. But someone has to face the guy and try to talk some sense into him.”
Alma walked over and laid a hand on Penderly's arm. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her face was puffy, but her lips trembled with a smile. “That's very sweet of you, Penny, but you don't need to stick your neck out for my sake.”
Penderly patted her hand. “It's okay, Alma, but the sooner it's said and done, the sooner we can go about our business knowing we've tried, instead of standing around, cowering in fear, and wishing we had.” She patted the hand again, this time adding a wink. “Maybe it's time I brushed off a few of my skills and looked at a few other options if the talk doesn't produce results.”
Several women tittered, but a few like Patricia gasped in shock. “Oh, geez, Penny! You'd actually cast a spell on him?”
“Why not? You know how powerful the mind can be.” Penny laughed and gave the knot of women a wave. “I'll be back in a few. Don't wait for me.”
“Good luck!” a couple shouted out to her, but they doubted if she'd heard them. When Penderly set herself to do something, she was fast and relentless.
“Man, I almost feel sorry for Clemmons,” Sharise muttered as she closed her locker door, adding an emphasized, “Almost.”
The others unanimously agreed with her.