Last month, the National Labor Relations Board charged Wal-Mart with illegally retaliating against workers trying to organize. Wal-Mart says those workers' activities don't deserve legal protection. This seems like a good time to hear from some actual Wal-Mart workers.
The current NLRB case, as the Wall Street Journal notes, is somewhat of a test case (although union busting is nothing new to America's wealthiest family). Wal-Mart claims that it was within its right to discipline workers because, rather than engaging in a traditional union-organized strike, they were participating in "intermittent" actions like temporary walkouts and protests, which are "hard to distinguish from absenteeism."
Many Wal-Mart workers have willingly taken a very real risk of losing their jobs in order to participate in the recent protests and walkouts. Why? Here are four stories that were sent to us in the past several months by current and former Wal-Mart employees.
"Go chill out"
I had worked for Wal-Mart once before and quit due to a manager that constantly gave me shit. But I needed a job and figured if I worked for the Wal-Mart on the other side of my city it would be fine. I was hired for maintenance orginally. It was hard but I worked on my own so I didn't mind. It was overnight so there weren't even reallly any customers. Then the stockers needed help one night and they pulled me in. Again, I didn't mind. Work was work.
Well I was so quick and helpful they asked me to stock full time with a 25 cent raise. I said yes. That was when shit went down. They didn't train me at all. I'm a slender female with knee problems and they had me lifting boxes that were 50 or more pounds. I asked, ASKED, for training to do my job correctly and safely. I had never had a job like this so I was just lifting things however. They said they would train me and never did.
Then one night, lifting a heavy box, I twisted wrong and tore the tendons in my knee. They sent me home. No hospital. The next day I tried to call in so I could go to the doctor. My knee cap was the size of a baseball. They insisted on me coming in and filling out forms and them taking me. The only reason I went is because they said they would pay me for it. I was allowed to go to work but had to be sitting or using my crutches. They insisted I come in so I did. I asked my manager what I was supposed to do and his response was, " I don't know, go chill out somewhere."
I was a little unsure but said ok and went to sit in the break room so if he thought of something I could do I would be close by and easy to find. A little more than halfway through my shift, two other managers came to find me and asked what I was doing. I told them what the other manager had said and they took me to his office. He called me a liar, said he told me to go fix the clothing displays, and fired me. He also blacklisted me so I can never work for the company again. Oh and that last paycheck for the two weeks of work I put in before getting hurt and what they promised to pay me if I let them take me to the doctor? I never got a dime.
Making Wal-Mart work for you
I started out when I was 18 as a cashier and quickly realized it was a terrible job because I never got to sit down and all I heard was complaints from customers. The cash register is the dumping ground for any and all complaints the Wal-Mart shopper has about their shopping experience or anything else. You are held hostage by the register, you can't just wander off or tell the person you have to 'do something else...over there' and walk away. So I quickly requested to move to the Lawn and Garden Dept. It has an outdoor area where you can pretend to be busy or hide where customers and managers can't find you or bother you. I would often ride around on the forklift moving stuff around and pretending to work and no one could bother me.
I quickly realized that the Wal-Mart I worked at was such a huge place with so many people working there it was easy to disappear and be anonymous. I would often show up to work 1-2 hours late, take hour or more long lunches when I was only allowed 30 minutes and no one ever said anything to me about any of it. I could pretend to do work outside and not be bothered, most of the time if I just looked busy and avoided eye contact customers didn't bother me. I can't count the number of times I saw people stealing things and did nothing. Once I was working as a cashier and a person came up with a trash can to purchase. The lid on the can accidentally fell off and I noticed there was a bunch of stuff in the can, jewelry, clothing, shoes etc. The guy quickly put the lid on the can and looked at me and I didn't say anything. I rang up the trash can and on his merry way he went. I didn't really care enough about Wal-Mart to try to stop theft and I figured Wal-Mart stole wages from people through denying to pay people over time and had taken out life insurance policies on employees and cashed them in so what does it matter if people steal from Wal-Mart, it evens out.
Pretty much everything you've heard about Wal-Mart is true, it was widely known that female employees were paid less than male employees, they showed anti-union videos and gave trainings, I was outraged by these things but there wasn't much I could do but get what I could from Wal-Mart and move on. It was a crappy place to work and I would never go back to it but during that time in my life I made it work for me.
I have a family member who has worked for Wal-Mart for 8 years. Yesterday she was let go after just having worked 4pm to midnight for them on Thanksgiving. She has built her pay to over $12/hr. The reason they let her go is because for the third time in a year she forgot to take a lunch during a 6 1/2 hour shift in which you have to. She thought it was a 6 hr shift in which you do not have to take one. In there great mercy and forgiveness, they will allow her to reapply in 6 months, but her pay will go back to minimum wage. SHAME ON YOU WALMART!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As of today I'm done shopping there.
I am one of the past Walmart employees .. I worked 30 to 40 hr weeks , payed only a part time wage. I was told many times that I would not be lifting anything over 20lbs because of back issues, but ended up lugging 100lb or more flats of water without the assistance of a machine on a regular flat roller. I was told to clock out at lunch so I didn't get paid and that if I did overtime it would be off the clock. I was flirted with by managers and the straw that broke the camels back was when I passed out, hit my head on the floor and was told that I had to be at work the next day. They let me off work, but offered no health care for me as I was "part time" and no one rendered medical aid when I passed out. I was told not to talk about what happened at work and that it was my fault.
One can see how Wal-Mart employees—and Wal-Mart itself—could benefit from a little organized labor.
[If you're a Wal-Mart employee who'd like to share your story, email Hamilton@Gawker.com. Photo: Getty.]