In the past, we have brought you several volumes of true stories from Wal-Mart workers, describing what life is like as an employee of the biggest retailer on earth. Union-busting and heartless corporate behavior stories abounded. Today, we bring you a few more plaintive wails from inside the Walton empire.
Ever since we published our first round of WM employee stories, a slow but steady stream of emails has continued to trickle in from current and former employees desperate to share their stories somewhere, anywhere. They deserve to be seen. These have no common theme in particular, except for "fuck this shit."
I know this story was published weeks ago [this letter is from late 2011], and you probably are done collecting stories for it, but I wanted to, if nothing else, thank you for telling the world about the sad plight of the American Wal-Mart employees.
Wal-Mart no longer pays a dollar above minimum wage; they start cart pushers and people greeters at minimum wage and everyone else based on what job they have. As a cashier, I am "level 3," so I started at $7.65 when minimum wage was $7.25.
The worst part is the benefits. We have to work all holidays except Christmas, and we don't get paid any extra. They do have "holiday pay," but the way they do it is that everyone gets it, whether they work the holiday or not, based on their average hours worked. So I get to work an 8 hour shift on Thanksgiving, covering both lunch and dinner times, and get maybe 6.5 hours holiday pay. They refuse to make anyone full-time, but I never work less than 32 hours, and frequently work 39. I don't complain because I need the money. Our health insurance recently came up for renewal, and I decided not to renew mine. The price was going up $10 a month while the benefits were going down. The deductible is so high that I would have to have a serious illness or injury before the insurance would cover anything. I haven't been to a dentist in 7 years, because I can't afford it, and my ex-husband (who would have been on my insurance at the time I first became eligible) was in desperate need of crowns. I was told I couldn't get dental insurance because I'm not full-time. When I asked how I could become full-time, they gave me some BS about ratios of part-time to full-time people.
This past spring one of our full-time ladies in the garden center retired. They put me and another cashier who had been there a few months to take her place. We both work 32 hours a week. No full-time status for us, and no raise for having to work outside in 90+ degree weather and just inside automatic doors in freezing weather. Last winter, I was so cold that my muscles were tensed up and when I went home I had uncontrollable muscle spasms for a few hours. We are allowed to wear jackets, but it's hard to work in anything bulkier than a hoodie. They never said we couldn't wear gloves, but try counting change with gloves on.
The stories about how you can get your way if you argue long enough are true. I can't tell you the number of times I've knowingly changed the price on an item when I knew the customer was wrong or lying just because I didn't want to argue with them. I have seen a few people get turned down, but probably because they didn't raise enough hell. We had a "clearance" aisle in the garden center. Most of it didn't have prices marked, and none said what the original prices were, so I always had people coming up to check prices. I came to realize that "clearance" was code for "crap we want to get rid of but that hasn't been marked down." If we work at a 20 items or less lane, we cannot turn anyone away. I have had people with carts literally overflowing. They like to place their items on the drink cooler, which is not part of my register, and then watch me try to stretch across the counter to reach their stuff rather than sliding it down to the actual counter. Then they watch me pile up the bags until I am out of space and make no move to get some of the bags out of the way. If you have more than 20 items, please go to a belted register. I do not have go-go Gadget arms...
Another man I work closely with is in his 60's, and they have, multiple times, cut his hours so that he works one day a week and sometimes no hours at all. I have mentioned going on strike to some co-workers, but of course we can't because we can't unionize. I know of a manager that supposedly got fired for something he put on Facebook. I have posted things on my Facebook about work several times, but I don't have any members of management that can read it, and I am always careful to not use names.
My boyfriend is in college. He has classes at 8 am and is almost always scheduled until 10 pm. He is consistently asked to stay late because his department isn't "zoned" enough, which means cleaned/organized enough. That is because, usually, he is the only one working, it's Friday or Saturday night, and he is busy with customers all night. We have this one manager who says that our top priority in the store was to keep everything zoned. I thought it was to help customers, but anyone who knows this man will tell you that is not true. I work a register in the garden center and have been scolded both for standing at the register and not leaving and for leaving the register to do work in nearby aisles. We consistently have to call the mangers up front for breaks and lunches, because they don't keep track of how many people are back there, and they keep changing the rules about how many we are supposed to have. We also have to park in certain places, and when I go in at 11, I often have to park on the far side of the dimly-lit lot. The people who leave during daylight hours get the close spots because they get there earlier, and those of us who leave after dark have to walk all the way across the lot to our cars. There have been a couple times I've considered grabbing a male co-worker to walk me out, because some customers are scary...
I can't count the number of times I have seen the most badly-behaved children being rewarded with toys or candy for screaming the whole time they're in the store and fighting with their mother. Once a customer finally turned around and yelled at a little boy behind her who would not stop screaming. His mother just laughed. I saw a mother give her newborn daughter Dr. Pepper in her bottle to drink. I have been scratched by children for trying to ring up a toy they didn't want to let go of. Once a child was ripping bags off my register and throwing them on the floor. His mother told him to stop, but he kept doing it and, rather than moving the cart with him in it a few inches so he couldn't do it anymore, she let him continue. Near the end of the transaction, I smiled and calmly said to the child, "Why are you doing that?" As his family walked away, the mother could be heard complaining about me "giving him an attitude about the bags."
Let's not forget the theft. People come up with all kinds of ways to steal. We can't stop them until they get out the door, and we aren't allowed to touch them. I have seen a guy walk out with boxes visible under his shirt. Some people chased him, but could do nothing about it because they can't touch him. I had one woman change all the prices on the things she was buying. When I caught her, she blamed my system for scanning things incorrectly when she had actually replaced bar codes with much cheaper ones. I have found things hidden in tackle boxes, shoe boxes, zip-up binders, and backpacks. I had a woman say she was taking a phone to customer service to pay for it. I watched her walk over there with it, to make sure she didn't steal it, but couldn't hear her telling them she wanted to return it. It's infuriating, especially when they take it out of our bonus. They say it can be up to $2000. Last quarter it was $11.
I have spent a long time composing this email, and even if you don't read it, it's helpful to vent. I will say we do have a few customers who restore my faith in humanity. I have, several times, had people come back into the store to pay for an item they accidentally walked out with. I have had customers give back money when they received more change than they were due (saw that happen today, at the register of a new cashier). I even had a lady bring me a bottle of makeup and told me to ring it up but not give it to her because her child had accidentally put one in her purse the last time she had shopped with us. There are still good people in the world, and let's hope Wal-Mart doesn't kill the souls of all of them.
An attempt at regret
I worked at Wal-Mart for a few years to pay for college. I left because they were going to cut my hours for wanting to have Wednesdays off when my courses changed for the next semester.
I would get physically ill going in to work from the stress, but had nowhere else to go. One member of management seemed to relish keeping those lowest on the totem pole down. I was his special project.
All four of my wisdom teeth were badly impacted and had cavities. I could not take care of them, because it cost $50 just to get my teeth looked at. Had to work somewhere else first before they could come out. Lived with it for two years.
I worked in the "Fabrics and Crafts" department in the back. Other employees would abandon shopping carts full of misplaced merchandise, and customers would leave dirty diapers and used plates form the snack area.
Here is the worst part:
All evening shift employees would be forced to stay an extra hour after closing. The store is located in far Northeast Philadelphia, PA. Another employee (who worked the snack bar) and I would always be the last to leave before the overnight stock crew came in.
We would have to run, after dark, across four lanes of Roosevelt Blvd (turns into Route 1), to get the only bus home. There were no crosswalks nearby, so we took our lives into our hands every time we did this.
One day I came in, and was told she was struck and killed when two cars were doing an illegal drag race across the boulevard. Management made an attempt at regret for what happened. A photo of her was put on the wall by the snack bar until it was converted into a Subway.
Find your zen balance
I’m 20, almost 21, and worked at Walmart for a year and a half. I started overnight, because it was full time, and I was attending college-I thought it was a good choice, at the time. I was getting paid 8.65, which was abysmal for the work I performed. I lost 30 pounds during my time there, and walked an average of 7 miles a night. I left at 120 lbs , at 5’4”.
There are very few women on overnights, and only one other that was close to my age. I would get constantly sexually harassed by other associates (often in front of management). One asked me every day if I wanted to fuck-I repeatedly told management, and they refused to do anything, and wouldn’t even take care to separate us on the floor. Finally he was arrested, for smoking meth with and then raping a 13 year old girl. My store was full of such winners.
On another occasion, while helping an associate stock the pets department, a pallet of dog food fell on top of me after I cut the shrink wrap. I started screaming for another associate, and was greeted by one that frequently hit on me-he stood and laughed, as I lay trapped, telling me that he had seen “mosquito bites” that looked worse than that. I informed my manager, and he simply told me to “find my zen balance”, and that it wasn’t their problem.
I got called in on Thanksgiving (a day off!) simply because I hadn’t been there long enough, and wouldn’t be eligible for holiday pay, making it cheaper for them.
People were frequently fired just because management didn’t like them-a friend of mine because he drew a smiley face on a box...
After about a year, I moved to the bakery. When the Health Inspector came, stores called each other frantically alerting the others of their whereabouts. We went into a cleaning frenzy, as there were many violations. Ovens and pans were never cleaned, people handled bread and meat without gloves-we’d even had expired meat sitting in our bread freezer for months. Even in the back room, where produce was stored, there were rats that ate watermelons and could carry away cucumbers that were never dealt with.
Did I mention I was attempting to attend college? Before I ever moved to day shift, I gave them my school schedule and alerted them that I would need to be leaving for those classes. They kept scheduling me during class, and writing me up when I missed, simply because the store manager would never sign off on my schedule change.
Lastly, as to how the pay ‘cap’ system worked…there were several levels for associates, each associated with a position and pay grade. For example, if you were a level 3, you could be on Modular Team, and your cap could be, say, $11.00. Once you hit $11.00 an hour, you couldn’t get a raise, even if you moved up within the company. This led to an elderly woman taking a position in the frozen section, because she was about to hit her cap! Yearly you could get up to a 60 cent raise, and there were no ‘merit raises’.
I worked for Walmart in canada where I live. I had a terrible experience there and would never do it again. They would force us to work when we told them we were unavailable. Threaten to fire us for asking for time off. Tell us to be active in loss prevention then yell at us when we confronted shoplifters. Told us that if we unionized we would lose our jobs...
They just went on and on about how there is an open door policy and all employees are treated fairly and equally. About how there is no need for a union and any union activity is to be reported to management, I heard that someone was driven quit because of trying to start one. In actuality, you can't talk to managers about your issues because they make you feel uncomfortable then tell the person you made a complaint against, who then, confronts you, sometimes in front if customers or in the middle of the lunch room.
I became pregnant during my employment and they fired me as soon as they found out, so that they wouldn't have to give me time off for mat-leave.
The customers were bad as well, I worked in Aniyah shrink department and customers constantly shoplifted or messed with price tags and so when we come up tens of thousands of dollars short we would get "coached" like it's our fault.
The managers chose favourites and wouldn't give recognition to anyone else.
They didn't want to spend money in labour so they expected one person to cover half a store of departments.
"You've disgraced Wal-Mart"
I worked part-time at a Walmart supercenter for a few months after graduating high school. I was a cashier at the front end of the store, and needless to say the job was the worst part-time job I've had. In comparison, I once worked as a cashier at a hardware store, and probably only had to deal with 1/3rd or 1/4th of the workload that I did at Walmart, for about the same pay - the only days that the "customer traffic" was anywhere near what Walmart's was on a daily basis - was on holiday sales. The worst part is that Walmart refuses to hire baggers out of pure cheapness - even though most other retail or grocery stores of its size (like Target) do - this results in the front end cashiers basically doing two jobs and getting paid only for one - plus there's no way we can keep up with the rate of 2 people no matter how fast we go - so this results in customers getting pissed off at the long lines, and taking their anger out on us to boot.
The fellow associates all seemed discouraged and had a bad attitude (so did I, but how can you blame us?) - there was no sense of community here - people just came in, did there shifts, and went home without giving a crap. The managers even discouraged talking to fellow employees while on the clock - are you kidding me? Overall the management were incompetent, phony, hypocritical, and a little unstable. No two managers ever told me the same thing if I had a policy question, and some would just get huffy and rude because of you "wasting their time" by asking them these questions. Other managers would just say "uh.. didn't it say in the CBLs? (training material)". Hell no, the "training modules" didn't cover anything other than how to deal with spills, biohazards, and emergencies - it didn't cover anything related to cashier operation or policies at all. You were just expected to "learn on the go", but if you missed some facet that was never told to you prior in training, you'd get get the blame for it. As I said before, these people are also downright phony - they're trained to act as nice and bubbly as possible, unless they (usually falsely) assume you're in violation of policy, at which point they yell at you and act like your worst enemy. They also love to invoke the name of "der furher Walmart" every chance they get, to the point that they almost sound like members of a cult. A couple time I requested coaching due to not having been given adequate training, and the managers would take me to the back room and give me some huge spiel on "the virtues of working for Walmart" - while another time a manager got mad at me for breaking a company policy and told me "You've disgraced Walmart!" - I had to hide the laughter under my breath while thinking to myself "You've got to be f-k kidding me."
[If you are a retail employee burning to share your story, email Hamilton@Gawker.com. Photo: Getty]