Mike Rowe, a professional Regular Guy, is the host of show Dirty Jobs. He is also a pitchman for Walmart. This week, he took to his Facebook page to vociferously defend Walmart from critics. Allow some real Walmart workers to offer a counterpoint.
Rowe is the narrator of a new Walmart commercial touting the company's plan to buy $250 billion of American-made goods over the next ten years. A cynic might point out that spending $25 billion a year on American goods is not so impressive for a company with $117 billion in gross profits last year—particularly not when that company's entire identity was once based on selling American goods, and particularly not when that company is also fighting against measures to raise wages for its millions of American employees. But let's stick to the story at hand.
After Rowe received some negative comments about an everyman like him voicing a Walmart commercial, he published a long response on Facebook purporting to answer his critics, in a rather meandering fashion. For example:
The world is bigger than "Workers vs. Bosses," and so is this campaign. Remember, Walmart thrives because a majority of Americans like to shop there. Like Apple, Discovery, Ford, and Facebook, Walmart does not exist for the purpose of employing people. No successful company does. Walmart's first order of business is to serve their customer. Ultimately, the customer calls the shots. Not management. Not labor. Jobs are just a happy consequence of that success...
I know that millions are out of work. But I also know that I've seen Help Wanted signs in all 50 states. Even at the height of the recession, the employers I met on Dirty Jobs were all hiring. They still are. And they all told me the same thing - the biggest challenge of running a business was finding people who were willing to learn a new skill and work hard.
I like this campaign because at it's heart, it portrays hard work as something dignified and decent. Lot's of people will criticize these spots as nothing but PR. But PR matters. A lot. Because right now, people are disconnected from the part of our workforce that still makes things. We can't reinvigorate the trades until we agree and understand the importance of buying American. Again - who can be against that?
Who can be against that, indeed? Perhaps Mike Rowe will be interested in a few emails from actual Walmart employees. This is just a sampling of emails we've received over the past few days, after publishing our recent testimonals from a Walmart manager and a Walmart worker.
To earn a chair
I worked in a Walmart in the Kansas City metro area for a little over 3 years starting in 2009. I was hired as a Customer Service Manager making 8.80 an hour. By this time I had worked retail for over 10 years and had a four year degree. 8.80. For a manager. After a few months I got tired of having to work until midnight a few nights a week and go to my full time job at 8 in the morning, so I was offered a position in the cash office on the weekends. I had to take a .40 pay cut. I was in a small room with at times upwards of $100,000. I was making 8.40. After a year I was eligible for health insurance, so that was nice. About halfway through my pregnancy I became a cashier working about four days a week, taking another pay cut. This store had self check out machines that required one cashier to monitor all of them so this is where I was usually placed because there was less lifting and I could pull up a chair behind my register and sit. Until one of the managers told me I needed to have approval from the ADA department at Home Office. My doctor and I filled out the required forms. My request for a chair was denied. Since pregnancy is temporary I didn't need to be accommodated. I worked as a cashier for about a year after my daughter was born and then quit when I decided that it wasn't worth working there anymore.
The "open door policy" in action
I am now a former employee, bullied into quitting by my superiors last year. Why, you may ask, would they do that? The simple answer is that I'm autistic. The complicated answer is that I was pregnant, bullied, and autistic. Sounds like some shitty lifetime network movie, right? I had an issue with my male coworkers commenting on my body type, harassing me for being underweight. Soon the taunts turned from eat a fucking cheeseburger to name calling, etc. Trying to follow their bullshit "open door policy", I went to my manager several times. When nothing got solved, I finally had enough and confronted these low level humans outside on a break. Someone told on me and I was pulled into the office and told that I should have come to them and would be getting written up for taking care of it myself. It would be my 3rd, the first two for lack of productivity since I failed to do 12 hours worth of work in my measly 8 hour overnight shift. I let it go.
3 days, maybe 4 days later I found out I was pregnant. I worked there for another week before being denied the restrictions my doctor had asked for (an extra 5 minute break between lunch and going home, and being allowed to use the facilities and have access to water as needed) and pulled into the office yet again. I was told that I could not have ADA restrictions because I hadn't worked there long enough and that they felt I was no longer a good fit for my job. I refused to quit initially and went back to my work. Over the next 3 weeks they proceeded to pile as much work on me as they could, knowing that they were putting my high risk pregnancy at risk and grossly overwhelming me. When I started falling asleep on 15 minute breaks, I was pulled into the office again and given the totally illegal option of quit or be fired. I was told I would be rehired after my son was born if I quit, but that I would never eligible for rehire if I were fired. I knew if I didn't I would be put through even more hell and quit. The greatest part of my year of employment with Walmart? According to my store, Aspergers Syndrome is not real, and I didn't look "mentally retarded" so I couldn't have the "real autism". ADA oaperwork was refused to me from the get go. They also never hired me back. I have since found a new job. Ironically still in corporate retail. I clearly have a death wish.
I would like to remain anonymous if this ends up being posted. I don't mind sharing my identity with the author of the article, but I live a nice quiet life these days and I'd rather keep it that way.
This may sound absolutely ridiculous. But, two decades after leaving my job
at Walmart, I occasionally have nightmares about being back there!
When I humorously comment to others that I have Walmart PTSD, many say that
they experience the same horrible nightmares.
* Please do not publish my name.
"I'm a big fan of the American Worker," says Mike Rowe. "I'm just a bigger fan of America." A very American thing to say.
[Photo: FB/ AP]