At Wal-Mart, “How the Hell Is Anyone Supposed to Make a Living?”S

In the past week we've run quite a few true stories from Wal-Mart workers— stories that have scared the hell out of Wal-Mart itself, with good reason. We haven't requested more stories, but our mailbox is still overflowing. Here are more tales of life in retail purgatory.

Desperate times

My time at Walmart came when I was the most desperate. I was told the hours at work would fluctuate. No set shift. Which makes it difficult with child care. Had to work weekends and holidays. I was hired as full time, but that really doesn’t matter. When I started, full time was 28 hrs a week. Which means they can work me that low without changing my status. When I left Walmart, it was right when they were starting their new policy of hiring a mostly part-time worker. I remember during orientation, they stressed the “no union” viewpoint. I was even told that if we received a call from a union rep, I needed to hang up the phone and notify management. I actually received a call once, and notified management. Next thing you know, department managers were telling their people that union talk was against company policy, and if you get caught, you get fired.

There would be times I would leave at 9pm, already clocked out, when a manager would stop me to assist a customer. You could never tell them no. I tried. After a few months I moved to another dept. I made the same amount with the transfer even though, as I found out later, new associates started off with more money. Managers (and HR) constantly stressed about not talking about your pay. That’s because you would realize that other people make more. Once, there was a female automotive tech who transferred in from another store who made $2 less an hour than the new hire male tech. She told them if they didn’t increase her pay, she would sue. Not sure what happened, I transferred to another store. It was very common for males to make more than females. Saw that first hand. We also got breaks, about 5 hours after our shift started. Management made sure we took our lunch (unpaid) first, and then later, if there was time, we could take our 15 min ones. And break started as soon as you walked away from your area. Didn’t matter that you wore those stupid aprons/vests/uniforms and you got stopped by customers. It still counted as a break...

I still have my crappy discount card (10% off merchandise, souvenir) Still have my name tag. Still have my bad memories.

The working poor

Now, my storied history with Walmart is likely atypical because I worked at one in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia in 2009 when I couldn't find legal work as a freshly minted attorney. Student loans were coming due and the most viable option for an immediate paycheck was to take a 7.35/hr gig as a cashier. It was my worst nightmare come true.

First, there's the orientation video, at least in 2009, that basically described unionization with outlines of people holding picket signs and explained that Walmart gives you all the protections you need so why bother joining the mob with picket signs? I'm paraphrasing here but that's the tone of the message.

In terms of being able to obtain health care benefits, full time status is an anomaly and in the event scheduled hours would bring an employee close to benefit entitlement, hours were drastically cut, e.g., 32 hours to 15 hours or less for the next few pay periods. I remember working with a guy that did janitorial/maintenance work and his hours would dip under 10 hours per week.

It is so very true that Walmart feeds into the welfare and Medicaid systems because the hourly wage controls perpetuate poverty. Walmart employees are the dictionary definition of the working poor. Walmart permits employees to cash their paychecks at the register which is commonly eaten up by their cartfuls of food and other necessities. This company perpetuates a system where employee earnings flow right back to this colossal unseeing and uncaring corporation.

When I was there in 2009 there was a guy that at been corralling carts for 12 years, yes, 12 years, and he was finally making 10 bucks an hour, likely with no healthcare coverage. If an employee had the hours to qualify for healthcare coverage the monthly employee premium share was an incredible amount of take home pay. And the bottom line is that non managerial staff would likely qualify for Medicaid in the end.

In many communities where Walmart takes hold, the worked base is held captive to the possibility of employment because of so few other options.

Walmart back rooms are filled with huge posters of inspirational quotes from Sam Walton about the strength and benefit of empowered workers. What a freaking joke. There would be charitable giving campaigns when the people most in need of charity were the employees. Ice cream socials would be sponsored for employees that had fallen on difficult times and the management would ask for employee monetary donations. Maybe if this multibillon dollar corporation paid a living wage and provided benefits they wouldn't need to call on employees that made less than 8 dollars per hour to help similarly situated financially strapped coworkers.

The greeter position is perhaps the most egregious. I had the pleasure of working with a gentleman who was a Korean War vet. He had difficulty driving at night which was documented by his physician and the store still scheduled him until 10 or 11 at night. One night he got lost driving home and it took him over an hour longer to get home than it should have. I asked if he was going to discuss his availability with management and he was too afraid to address it for fear of losing his job. I offered to speak on his behalf and the very suggestion left him very anxious. And so I felt trapped on his behalf. Of course, Walmart promotes an open door policy with management but that is in name only.

There are probably other despicable details that I've missed but
I have tried to block this experience from my mind. I met so many wonderful people while working there and it is a heart wrenching shame that their reality is a company that only cares about corporate profits and tax breaks.

"We can't promise you anything"

I have worked at Wal-Nard, as I and my close friends would call it, for about 13 years. I've worked at two different stores through out my 'illustrious' career at Wal-Nard and still continue to work there because I've tried to apply with other jobs but can't get hired or I can't get past the online questionnaires that At&t and other companies put out when you apply for a job. Despite at one point having full-time, when I transferred to a different Wal-Mart they made me go down to part-time, I have health insurance but every year it goes up and I might one day have to ditch it so I won't be paying on something that I use once in a while. I inquire about full-time but they always tell me the same old bull shit, "We'll try but we can't promise you anything". I usually work about 32 hours sometimes 35 hours but then one day out of the blue they say we have to cut hours because apparently the store didn't make enough money. I have seen my hours cut down to 25 hours, how the hell is anyone supposed to make a living off of 25 hours?? I work in the connection center and we used to have 6 people and we would be busy but now we have 3 employees and yet they still cut our hours despite at one point having 6 people working in our department. I can't get dental due to not being full time so I haven't been to the dentist in years, I am constantly pulled to other departments to do work outside of my department. You would think if you did someone else's job that you would be compensated appropriately but no we can only hope for our annual .50 cent raise. I remember when you would get merit raises if you did good work for the company. A former manager of mine would give me merit raises because I did a great job of keeping the lot cleared of carts and I came to do my job but that was back in 1999-2000. I pray to god that one day I can get a better job or win the lotto so I can quit the place 'where the poor work till they die'.

The customer is always right

The only really bad aspect of the job was the customers. Our levels of theft were ridiculous. There were of course the people who would buy iPods, then return the box, re-shrink-wrapped, containing a pack of batteries for weight, but my favorite was the time we found the security shell for an SD card in a bathroom where someone had apparently chiseled a hole through the front of the shell with a screwdriver and torn out the SD card. (We were selling those for about $10 or $20, incidentally.) Which was especially funny because if you walked straight out the front door with one of those security shells or "spider wraps" on something, assuming it even went off, it was unlikely that anyone would even notice, much less stop you.

People would scream at you pretty much every time you made them wait while you helped another customer. They would always buy the cheap crap electronics when when you told them it was cheap crap and it wasn't worth their money. (Black Friday was especially entertaining that way, and I'll admit to some small evil on my part: we had a couple of Element TV's in storage that we couldn't put out because we were never given a display for them, and couldn't ship back to the distribution center because there wasn't anything technically wrong with them. I put them out on Black Friday when our inventory was running low—my manager did tell me to bring out whatever we had—and they sold within an hour. They were both returned within a week because their picture quality was so bad, but they'd been opened, so we could ship them back now. Victory!)

I've seen people try to buy TVs with their health savings debit card when their credit card was declined. (The register says "invalid payment type for this product," if you were wondering.) At least when you did provide good customer service, people were usually so overwhelmed that you'd get tremendous amounts of praise for it. Not that they'd ever tell management about it.

Not a member of the Walton family

i worked at walmart from january 2009 to july 2010 as a store standards person. i mostly pushed shopping carts. i was within a dollar of the minimum wage. vancouver is a city where the average house costs $1,000,000. they never gave us regular hours. it was all over the place. most of us were part time. usually the maintenance person would clean the bathrooms, but sometimes they had no one, and they expected us to do it. i refused or took my break when they asked. so its lucky i didnt get fired. my fellow store standards "associates" were not so lucky. i remember one time they had to clean feces on the walls and floor of the bathroom. walmart insisted we take 1 hour breaks unpaid during our shifts, and 2 fifteen minute breaks that were paid i believe. they also dictated when u could take your breaks. i used to rebel and take my 1 hour break 1 hour before my shift finished. they would hand out anti union pamphlets. i think they did this 2x or 3x in the year i was there. one of the cashier managers got pregnant and had to work and was throwing up out side. some of my fellow "associates" were in poverty but there was no mercy from the store managers, they made basically the same as everyone else. the managers were stimey about employees swiping 5 minutes before they actually started work for "stealing time". when shopping carts would smash into peoples cars, the managers would always take statements from the people and try and use it against them to save walmart money. walmart paid alot less than costco does. employees get 10% off walmart goods. the managers made a big deal if u used your card to buy your friends anything. as if the walton family didnt have enough money....with their $35000 / minute in profits and the walton family having more wealth than the bottom 42% of the US population. i also realized walmart is a drain on tax money because they dont want to hire their employees full time cuz it saves them having to pay benefits. so because their employees mostly work part time they need welfare. so essentially governments are subsidizing the walton family fortune.

A final note of good cheer

The Cheer they make us do at the beginning of the day felt like morning warmups at an internment camp. Often someone was singled out to do a cheer and every morning I swear to you that persons reaction was basically the same as if they'd gotten shot.

[Photo: AP]