Monday, February 13, 2006

Large, Cheap, Old Box

I work in a box – a large, cheap, old box. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a few leaks in the building (like the spot in front of the general merchandise doors where a plastic container is always stationed to catch the brownish liquid dripping from above.) But when it rained through the first week of the New Year, the waterworks really started up, and not just the normal trouble spots. Back in claims I realized that with all the leaks if the rain kept up much of the receiving area would be flooded by morning. Far more disturbing though was the positive deluge in the, wait for it, Electrical Room! A blue tarp hung haphazardly above part of the machinery, doing little to slow the rush of water. Looking from the “HAZARD” signs to the puddle of water I was standing in, I got the hell out of there. Sure enough, the next morning I walked into a partially darkened store; the flood had shorted out three large panels of lighting running across the back half of the store. I would also discover that a water-bogged ceiling tile above Electronics had crashed on top of a display case of DVD’s, thankfully missing any customers (or associates.) Five days later the lights were still out, and more Tupperware containers had been broken out for the Electrical Room.

Given workplace dangers like this one, I was surprised to discover when I started my job that the store was in its second month of being-accident free. Once the old record was broken our new goal became going for 90 days without an accident, with “reasonable” suggestions for a reward solicited from employees. Ignoring all of the proposed monetary awards, our store manager instead promised us “chicken and potatoes.” Sadly, we did not make it when a guy in receiving slipped and screwed up his foot pretty badly. Predictably enough, the other associates were very upset, wondering why he couldn’t have just “sucked it up." Blowing the whole thing into a big deal was very clever on their part, serving the dual purpose of making us more aware of safety issues and less likely to spoil the party by reporting injuries. I saw this firsthand when I tried to get a close friend of mine to report and injury suffered to her wrist while moving boxes around in Layaway. She refused to, afraid they would blame it on her and say she was "stupid," a fear I couldn't honestly dispute.

And customers aren’t always spared either. A big commotion ensued after one woman was struck in the arm by a falling humidifier. Whoever had stacked the boxes hadn’t done a very good job, but this was hardly unusual. With little extra space to store all of the merchandise coming in every evening, the pallets are wheeled onto the sales floor and the overnight associates are expected to find a place for it. The result is predictable: rickety displays jammed with merchandise and boxes towering inside of the three feet buffer zone of the ceiling that was meant to prevent fire hazards. A friend who heard the woman scream when hit said she was given ice, told to see a doctor and that the insurance company would be in touch. While I don’t know what happened in her case, I do know of another woman who was befallen by a similar situation. After filing her accident report WAL-MART promised the insurance company would call, but a ten days later they still had not returned her call.

Accidents are to be expected everywhere, what upsets me is WAL-MART’s preoccupation with covering their own ass and lack of concern for the people who are actually getting hurt. The best anecdote I can offer played out on one of the busy weekends before Christmas. Snow from the previous night had frozen on the many carts that had been left out in the parking lot. The problem, of course, came the next morning when customers brought the icy carts into the store and they began to thaw. Quickly massive puddles formed in the aisles and I was dispatched to find a mop, only to find that we did not have one for the front-end! I stood by a couple of spills as we had been trained, only to have the Lead CSM tell me there was nothing she could do about it. On hearing this, we left the spills and went back to work. A few minutes later a PA announcement was made to warn the customers to “be careful” – no doubt this was deemed the easiest way to absolve WAL-MART of responsibility for the situation.


Anonymous said...

I have to say thank you for this blog. I have just read everything you have posted and quite frankly, I am shocked, appalled and disgusted with Wal-Mart. You hear the news stories, you experience the horrors of shopping there first hand, the energy-drain you feel when you leave the store, but YOU have put it into a more human, employee perspective. You've given it a face. I worked one summer at Store 433, just before college - long before it became a Superstore and I vowed NEVER to go back.

Again, thank you for opening my eyes wider to the atrocities of this big box store.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's good to read this and hopefully open some eyes to the truth about Wal-Mart! I'd love for people to see Store 232 receiving area, and the poor folks that work in it. Like you said, if you get hurt, they will make you feel like it's your fault! However, Wal-Mart asks for work related injuries by making people over work themselves. It really should be a crime the way they bully, brainwash, cheat, and abuse their workers. I can't count the times I have seen someone injured, due to poor equipment, overworked, or other reasons, then management and most of the store turns on them if they report it! Better to suffer in silence than take 1 cent from the Walton Empire, you can bet they live well off many unreported injuries.Oh here's one you'll get a kick out of. Picture this, a receiving team of 6, to unload a semi trailer. Lawn mowers, TV's, 60 lb. cases of sevin dust,ect. you know, the usual nightly truck freight. The 6 team members composed of 5 women, 1 man. 3 of the women are over the age of 55. 1 of the women isn't supposed to lift anything over 20 lbs. 1 has a bad ankle. This crew of 6 has to unload the trailer, stack the merchandise on the heavy wooden pallets that they have staged on the floor, they have to pull these pallets to the floor, 1 person to pull the pallet, 1 to walk behind it ( this is to prevent accidents) and then put the merchandise up on the shelves. They have to have all pallets off the floor by 7:00 a.m.These people work 10 1/2 hours, 30 mins. of that time is an unpaid lunch. AND management can't figure out why they can't get ALL the merchandise put out! Isn't that amusing?

Anonymous said...

Typically Wal-Mart!