Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Cool $42

One big reason that I wanted to take this project on was a desire to settle the furious public debate being waged about the corporation by the various sides of the political divide. Conservatives were quick to point out that WAL-MART's low prices greatly benefited the poor, with Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post using some horrendous math to suggest that the store saves poor American's $200 billion per year, more than food stamps and the earned-income tax credit combined. On the other side of the spectrum Liza Featherstone, author of "Selling Women Short," a comprehensive look at the historic class action lawsuit that accuses WAL-MART of gender discrimination, put it this way:
"In a chilling reversal of Henry Ford's strategy, which was to pay his workers amply so they could buy Ford cars, Wal-Mart's stingy compensation policies contribute to an economy in which, increasingly, workers can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart."
Whether or not this cold-hearted logic passed through Walton's head is uncertain; what we do know is that history did work out this way. There are countless studies to show that when WAL-MART moves into town it drives down wages and small businesses into bankruptcy. But I see this play out on a smaller level in my store, with every employee sending a significant chunk of their paycheck directly back to the company in order to buy groceries or any other necessities (and occasionally luxuries.) Bizarrely, many associates would come back to WAL-MART on their day off in order to do their weekly shopping, something that I wouldn't be caught dead doing for oh so many reasons.

In addition to convenience, many associates are drawn to shopping at WAL-MART by the 10% employee discount. However, this discount is only for immediate family, does not cover items that are on sale, and most importantly, does not cover any food. I have made it a habit to announce an employees discount to them in an effort to get across how shitty a perk this really is. "And 5 cents is your discount..." Essentially, WAL-MART has captured the market of 1.3 million American's, nothing to slouch at. This stranglehold is never more pronounced than at lunchtime. Nearly every associate will clock out for lunch then run back into the store to pick up a container of popcorn shrimp or a frozen dinner along with a soda and some other junk food. Although this meal is still meager and unhealthy, it nevertheless adds right up, easily breaking 3, 4, or even 5 dollars.

Therefore I have been bringing my own lunches, a luxury I am well aware many of the associates do not have. My seemingly modest lunches of rice and bean leftovers have drawn ooh's and ahh's, and feeling guilty I have tried to cut back as much as possible. Not helping matters is all of the people who content themselves with a bag of chips and a soda from the vending machines, or even worse, not eating at all. I routinely chide my friends -- especially the young women -- to eat something substantial since far too many of them treat their poverty as an incentive to diet. One woman summed it up tragically when I asked her if the tiny burrito she was sitting down with was dinner. "Yeah, if you are poor" she sighed. "The second week [after payday] is always meager."

Sadly, the first week after payday isn't much better. As I said earlier, my starting wage as a cashier was $7.40 per hour, which to be fair, is higher than my state's minimum wage. However, the livable wage for my county -- the amount needed to cover basic living expenses such as housing, transportation, child care, etc. -- is $11.70. Making matters worse is the fact that WAL-MART considers full-time to be 34 hours a week, and at my store a third of hourly workers are part-time, like myself. In other words, for an eight hour shift I earn $59.20. But taxes shrink this amount by 20%, closer to $47. And two gallons of gas for my 30 minute drive each way in to work (which I would say is only slightly above the norm for workers at my store) lop off another $5. So at the end of the day, after slaving for 8 hours on register, I take home a cool $42. Like I said though, many days I don't even get a full shift, instead going in for only 4 hours of work, or $19. As a cashier getting part-time hours at my WAL-MART Supercenter, I will not break the $10,000 mark in earnings for the year.


Anonymous said...

Balderdash, poppycock, ctc.

Who do you expect to believe that bringing a lunch to work is something most employees can’t do?

Anonymous said...

lol...working as an associate isn't expected to be a career where you make a living. If you want a career at wal-mart go into management! :P

$7.40 is more than you would get paid when working at a local grocery store. Consider yourself privileged.

You do the same exact job as anyone else at any entry level job. (cash register, stock shelves, and watch greeting customers), but just on a little bigger scale.

Wal-Mart isn't a charity... They are in business to make money. You need a class in how business works. Or just go back to working charities. That might make you feel better. :D

Anonymous said...

If you're working at walmart for $7/hr, chances are you get your federal and state income tax back.

Anonymous said...

I started at Lowes Foods at 9/hr in the south where cost of living is lower, or at least it was in my area. So 7.40 is not more than what one would get at a local place, unless you mean a mom and pop store where you would not hate your life.

This idea that giving people a living wage in exchange for work is somehow charity is insane. It is not charity to give people what they are owed. Claiming that this is how the world works is just foolish when at the same time this type of person might complain about unions. Well unions are a part of business and govt is a part of business. The govt is part of the economy and we collectively make up the govt. Its time to stop this moronic sense of business where we just throw up our hands and say, well, its sacred business ground. Its not sacred, its business. So lets change it