Today we’re joined by a good friend of mine I’ve known for years. His current job is at Wal-Mart but isn’t interested in being named as the big W is pretty much the poster child for workplace retaliation. He’s here to talk about exactly what it’s like to work for the nation’s largest private employer, warts and all…mostly warts.
1. Thanks for coming. Since you don’t want to be named, mind if I give you the slave name of Wally? I mean if there’s anything you probably want, it’s to be named after Sam Walton but inherit none of his fortune.
Wal-Mart Worker: Oh, there’s nothing I would like better than that. Sam Walton is a great man…I’m being sarcastic in case people can’t tell.
2. I’m sure you have a statue of him you worship at night. I know when I worked briefly at Wal-Mart, as I guess every kid in a rural area has at one time or another, they showed you videos during your training of what a great man he was and built him up into an almost messianic figure. They still show that?
Wally: It’s been a while since I’ve been through training, but I do remember they tried to brainwash you. First, they make you take this personality quiz to see if you’re a good fit for Wal-Mart but it’s all these questions that feel creepy. Like “Would you consider yourself a non-comformist?” or “Do you think you can do things better than the Wal-Mart way? That your own way is better?” It’s like fascism basically. There’s all this training where they try to get you to believe Wal-Fart is the best place in the world to work and anyone with half a brain knows better than that.
3. I remember when I worked there that a lot of the employees really didn’t like it but nobody said it out loud. There’s a really paranoid atmosphere that I think most of the customers are oblivious to. And, if we’re being honest, they probably don’t care either. For them it’s like going to the zoo, nobody really gives a shit if the penguins are miserable. They say “Look, this is a pretty sweet gig. The penguins get all the fish they can eat and never get eaten!” Just like people say “Hey, that’s a pretty sweet job! Wal-Mart workers get to wear that sharp blue vest, and, hey, they even get a discount!”
Wally: You’re cracking me up over here because that’s pretty much how it is. Customers don’t give a turd if we’re being paid nothing or have no benefits or pushed out before we can retire or told to do work after we clock out. They think we’re living the good life because we get a ten percent discount on 5 dollar bluejeans! The discount we get doesn’t even apply to food which is about all people that work at Wal-Mart can afford to buy. Most people that work there are part time and they can’t exactly go back to electronics and buy up a bunch of flat screens or PS3s.
4. I think most Wal-Mart customers just really don’t want to think about it because they are so thrilled to be saving a quarter on yogurt. I have had people, very wealthy people, defend the Wal-Mart business model because they like buying things cheap. They don’t really care if WM pays it’s employees nothing to get it cheap, even if they won’t come out and say that.
Wally: It’s selfishness on everybody’s part. Customers don’t care about employees or if we have a life outside of Wal-Mart, they just want their products and to come home and have a life. There have been times I’ve already clocked out, and Wally World intentionally puts the clock in the back of the store so you have a long way to go to get out of the damn place, and then on my way out a customer will ask me something. I’ll say “Sorry ma’am” because it’s usually an older lady that does this but I’ll say “Sorry ma’am, I’m off work.” And if I don’t wait on them, they’ll pitch a fit, and the manager will pitch a fit to me. Hell, half the time it’s the manager asking me to do stuff. They’re not supposed to, and they won’t admit that they do it. But the second you clock out at 39 hours, they’ll start asking you to go stack something or clean something, all so you don’t get up to 40 hours or overtime.
5. What kills me is that you’re considered part-time help, but I have never known you to work less than a 38 hour week.
Wally: They schedule you to the bone of forty hours. And sometimes you’ll even be lucky enough to actually clock 42 hours or something like that, but if you’re labeled part-time, you’re labeled part-time and they pay you part-time wages and no benefits. Everybody they can possibly get to be part-time, they list them as that because full time people they’re forced to treat like human beings.
6. It seemed to me when I worked there years ago like the full time workers had a slight chip on their shoulder. Is this just more phony classicism where the people at the top play the poor off the slightly less poor?
Wally: Oh yeah. There’s this one woman up where I’m at, and she’s a lot older than me but she’s actually been there about the same time. She’s been there maybe a couple weeks longer, which is nothing in the total time we’ve both been there, but she thinks her shit don’t stink. The managers you see might make pretty good money that work up there but there are other workers that wear a red vest, and most of them aren’t managers and don’t make a ton more than we do but they power trip. A CSM is only slightly better than a cashier but somebody gets a little bit of power and it goes right to their head. These are people that ain’t nothing, won’t ever be nothing, are never going to college and couldn’t graduate if they did, but because they got that red vest on, whew buddy, they think they’re living large and Lord it over the ones that are only a half-step below them.
7. That just about sums up my experience. I know Wal-Mart is a red state company, but to me there is a real anti-intellectualism there. I feel like they really encourage their workers to be stupid and not ask any questions. They like guys that they could tell to go outside in a hard blizzard, and they would do it. In fact, once they did tell me to go outside and push buggies when it was snowing and freezing and everything else, but I was a cashier instead of a cart pusher. I did it but since they had already asked me to do two times before that, I complained, and I feel like that was the moment they decided to fire me even if it didn’t happen for another couple of weeks.
Wally: Yep. If I really told people what went on there, it would make them sick.
8. [I had to go back and follow up on this after the interview. It was just too good to let go.] Well that’s why we’re here Wally, tell us.
Wally: I’ve been electrocuted while working there because they asked me to do a job that has nothing to do with my job. I’ve slipped off a ladder because of unsafe working conditions and a ladder they were too cheap to fix. I just about broke my arm that time. I’ve pushed carts in [inside the building] severe rain storms with lightening going on all around the store and I’m pushing ten carts of metal outside. I’ve been told to tackle a shoplifter even though I’m not security and got scolded when I didn’t do it, even though that guy could have sued me afterwards. I’m a young guy but my joints hurt, back hurts, and I’ve sprained my wrist all from some of the stuff they’ve asked me to do that ISN’T what my actual job is. I mean, shit, how much time you got? I really could fill a book with stories about that place.
9. In my experience, Wal-Mart puts the retail in retaliatory, and really goes after people that complain or speak out about them. Most of my readership live in blue states people care about and they always say “Well why doesn’t somebody complain?” or, if it’s bad enough, “Why doesn’t somebody sue?” But they don’t realize that Alabama is a right to work state which means there is zero labor laws and extremely few wrongful termination or unsafe working conditions laws. It’s an easy state to get fired in but awfully hard to do anything about it. Plus, taking Wal-Mart to court is a nightmare and almost no one wins a case against them.
Wally: They spend more money on lawyers than they ever will their cashiers. Everything I’ve ever seen on the news says Wal-Mart will keep a court case tied up forever and is just about the stingiest place on Earth in terms of wages. But some people that work there don’t want to believe that. I’ll try to talk to somebody about it or something I’ve seen on Wal-Mart, a documentary, and they’ll be like “No, no, no, it’s all lies.” Well no it ain’t lies neither. It’s like you said earlier about people being ignorant. They don’t want to know any better because maybe then they couldn’t work for Wal-Mart anymore. People have a hard time admitting they’re not working for good people.
10. That of course brings up the main complaint people will have with this interview. They’ll say “Well, if Wal-Mart is so awful, why do you work there?” I think maybe the same people that have never watched a Wal-Mart news story have also never seen an unemployment figure about how there are no other places to work right now.
Wally: Well where I live at you won’t find a lot of alternatives for young people trying to go to college to work at. Some people are like “So it’s good Wally World created these jobs for you?” but they don’t get that Wal-Fart also put a lot of other places to work out of business. Before it came here, there was a big grocery store, now it’s out of business. There was a beauty shop but [Wal-Mart] has a place that cuts hair, so it’s out of business. There was an automotive place, but [WM] sells tires so now it’s out of business. And so on. All these mom and pop stores can’t compete with our bulk rate, so they can’t keep up, and they get put of business so people can save fifty cents on a fan belt that’s not worth a damn.
My main thing is trying to go to college and at least get an associate’s degree so I can work somewhere else. Everybody just starting out at Wally World thinks they’re meant for better things but a lot of them give up or don’t want to go to college or can barely read. I know I can’t give up on college because there’s not much future without it.
11. It seems to me that there’s a lot of hypocrisy at Wal-Mart. They brag about low prices but could easily pay their workers more and still have low prices. They talk about being a family friendly company but they put family businesses out of commission. And they show all these stupid videos about how you shouldn’t discriminate in the workplace but even their own managers don’t follow it. They had a sexual harassment case go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Wally: Yeah, they’re a bunch of hypocrites. There’s the propaganda that’s out there about them that the company spreads and then there’s the truth.
12. And finally, what kind of things could Wal-Mart do to make working there better? Better wages, healthcare, or is it really just all about the vest and you would like to wear a black leather motorcycle vest instead?
Wally: I would love to come rocking the Hell’s Angels getup in there because I’m pretty sure they would shit a brick. You were right to point out how conservative most of the people that work there are and don’t encourage any type of individuality, so that’s one thing they could change. And yeah, more money and better healthcare wouldn’t hurt at all but I don’t hold my breath for that to happen. They could pay me and every employee they got a dollar more an hour and still be the world’s largest retailer but they won’t. Something they could do more in the short term is just treat their workers more like human beings.