Life at Wal-Mart: The Workers Speak, Vol. 1

Wal-Mart is planning its entry into America's last remaining Wal-Mart-free areas. (Hello, NYC!). Yesterday, we asked Wal-Mart workers to send us their experiences working there. Several did. Tales of puddles of blood, homophobic managers, and "mean assholes" below.

Employee Relations, the Wal-Mart Way:

A few years ago I spent a summer working at Wal-Mart between my second and third years of university. I'm Canadian, and the Wal-Mart I worked at was located in a city of about 50,000 people. I wasn't particularly enthused about spending my summer working there, but I was a student and I needed money. Here are some things that stick out in my mind about the experience: [...]

Wal-Mart is definitely anti-union. During my employee orientation, myself and a few other new hires were made to listen to a lecture from the store's HR manager about how unions aren't "necessary" at Wal-Mart because the employees are all treated "very fairly", and about how we should report any evidence of union activity to our supervisor. We were also strictly forbidden from discussing our pay with other employees. [...]

I was loading boxes into a cupboard under a cash register at the front of the store one day when I caught my hand on an exposed nail or screw or something. I yanked out my hand in surprise and suddenly there was a huge pool of blood on the floor. The floor manager rushed over and immediately ushered me into a nearby washroom. "Get him away from the customers!" was the unspoken but obvious goal. We haphazardly swaddled my profusely-bleeding hand in paper towels and then the HR manager drove me to the hospital in her car, but not before they made me sign...something. Presumably promising that I wouldn't sue them. And as they rushed me out of the store, I saw that they had erected the "biohazard" sign near the surprisingly large puddle of my blood. That's right - I singlehandedly created a biohazard!

The Real People of Wal-Mart:

I worked at Wal-Mart a few times in different states, mostly as a way to keep an income while between jobs.

I've never thought I was the type to work retail, and I still don't. Wal-Mart is essentially a way to remind me of why I would never change my mind.

The management at Wal-Marts vary. Some are good, some are terrible. There are some you can joke with and enjoy the company of, and there are always a couple that everyone hates, everyone avoids, and who seem to pick their targets and ride their asses constantly. I apparently got lucky to be the only male employee of a department (and gay, on top of it) with a manager that was both Southern and homophobic. She treated me like garbage, refused to give me full-time status when we had the position open (and subsequently gave it to a 18 year old girl whose cash drawer was missing 100's of dollars), and she said repeatedly how she felt about gays.

I know she was just one person, but it was her that prevented me from ever gaining a decent raise or any recognition, assuming I wanted any. She didn't even mail me an award I got for helping a customer above and beyond, while I was out having major surgery. I never did get to see it. [...]

On the topic of money, overtime was never and will never be approved, ever. If you should work any hours over 40 in one week, even if called in or requested or threatened by management that you must work, you will not get overtime pay. They will just cut your hours or say "take a 4 hour break today." which, for a 5 hour shift, was stupid and a waste of my own time at that point.

The very worst of it all though, was the same reason I walked out of a Burger King, was the clientele.

I realize the public varies a lot, from mean to wretched. But I think Wal-Mart truly does draw in the worst of the worst in society. I witnessed mothers teaching their kids to refer to us as 'the help'. Some would tell their kids not to talk to us because we were 'just employees', and I watched customers leave their car with a smile, and change to a scowl of hatred the moment they went through the automatic doors.

The reasons vary, but one major reason is Wal-Mart's unenforceable and waffling customer policies. They set rules such as clearance items being sold as-is with no refund option. But when I tell a customer who dropped her 300 dollar camera in the bathtub that we don't do returns, she yells for a manager and the manager overrides it, making ME look like the bad guy, at which point the customer bad mouths me to other customers, and I get a long line of irate customers to deal with afterward.
Wal-Mart managers would always return items such as "10 pound turkeys" or "a pound of bacon" with just the receipt, because the item was consumed and "not very good." The customers would then go and do it again and again, and we were always told not to refund an item without an actual item presented.

I am aware that there are just as many or possibly more friendly, courteous and polite customers in the world. The problem was that Wal-Mart knowingly fed the bad ones, and passed the buck onto the lower level employees. We had to stand there and NEVER talk back to the customer if they yelled at us over policies we are told to enforce, only to find out that the managers would secretly just do whatever they wanted. The customers very quickly learn that they can get out of paying for ANYTHING at Wal-Mart if they make a big enough or loud enough stink about it, or use tactics other customers recommended right in front of us, such as saying "Walgreens has these buy 1 get 1!!!"

Eventually I got fed up and told a few customers just what I thought of them or that I did not care how upset they were that the bagels rang up the wrong price two weeks in a row. My favorite was telling the lady who was busy ripping the sticker off of an item and putting it in her purse, that she was a thief. She actually got offended and, you guessed it, outraged...just prior to her arrest.

As an aside, I worked at Wal-Mart after an issue I had living in Georgia several years ago, where my car and credit cards were stolen JUST before my job contract was up with a government agency and I discovered that I needed surgery. I figured Wal-Mart to be a quick way to make some cash to cover some expenses while my accounts were fixed and setup again. I currently work in the research side of the pharmaceutical industry, and wouldn't go back to Wal-Mart unless given NO other alternative. The place has a way of demoralizing you and making you feel worthless, and its not something I want to experience again.

The View From the Supply Side:

I didn't work for Wal-Mart, but I did work for one of their consumer electronics suppliers where I worked closely with the salespeople for various product categories. Every single salesperson who had a product on Wal-Mart's shelf, or was trying to get a product in there, HATED dealing with them. The salespeople were kept waiting for their sales meetings at headquarters in a shitty windowless room that was seemingly designed to keep them uncomfortable — the temperature was always too warm, the chairs were hard to sit in, and buyers would intentionally keep the salespeople waiting until after their meetings were to start. There was also a big, looming sign on one wall that said, "We're buying from you, are you buying from us?" You know, to hammer home the point that the salespeople had a personal duty to buy Wal-Mart crap as part of their job with our company. The meetings themselves were contentious at best, and usually bordering on combative, with Wal-Mart lowballing to the point that sometimes it wasn't worth having shelf presence with them, profit-wise. It was often a sacrifice of market share, just because Wal-Mart is everywhere like a plague, but why bother if we'd lose money? We were actually out of Wal-Mart in our most important category for a few years because of that nonsense.

Our logistics/supply chain management team also hated Wal-Mart thanks to their ridiculously short delivery windows.

Wal-Mart corporate is just a bunch of mean assholes.

And a Wal-Mart Supporter:

Walmart is the best company I have ever worked for. There are so many career oppurtunities. The are so many benefits for the associates. I don't think a union would be benefical to me.

Are you a current or former Wal-Mart employee? Email me and share your experiences, good or bad.

[Photo via markjms/Flickr]