Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Taking a Stand

I always envisioned my final exit from the store with me yelling over my shoulder as security threw me out onto the curb. Surely there would be some sort of scene -- I would quit on the spot, throwing my vest to the floor. But things had changed. Four months into my career as an associate, I realized that WAL-MART has largely insulated themselves from criticism. I like to think of Lee Scott as a hostage taker, with 1.4 million bodies piled in front of him. Let me explain: some customers who were upset about not enough registers being open would harass me about it, or if they were really clever, one of the red-vested supervisor’s. However, this was not our fault; we have no control over this and if we brought the issue to someone who did we would only get in trouble. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help but internalize these outbursts. I knew it wasn’t my fault, and sometimes the customer would even admit that, but just being the receiver of this anger is enough to ruin your day. As much pleasure as it may have given me, a big scene would only hurt those around me, the people I supposedly cared enough about to take up this project in the first place.

So I resolved to give my two weeks notice, something I never would have thought possible. I rationalized that by doing this I would have one last opportunity to take a principled stand and air my grievances with WAL-MART to my friends in the store. But this was not a task I looked forward to since I would break the hearts of many of my friends in the store. I started with my favorite CSM. After pulling her aside on my way back from lunch, she feigned shock when I said the reason I was quitting was that I did not like how the company treated its workers. Well aware that this would be a surprise to those who had helped me climb the ladder, I had decided to frame the issue as a moral one, which came to a head after I was pushed toward joining management. I focused on the low-wages WAL-MART paid, occasionally using a secondary example like how the store heartlessly fired my fellow temp workers on the day after Christmas. Visibly upset, she called her supervisor over since management would know better how we could “take care of this.” Next thing I knew I found myself in the manager’s office debating the evils of WAL-MART with the Front-end Manager and one of the Co-Manager’s (the big boss had left for the day so I got the second-in-command.)

The co-manager hit me with the typical argument: WAL-MART pays its workers the going rate, more than the minimum wage or their competitor’s, and besides, isn’t any job better than no job at all. Biting my tongue I asked why the largest employer in the world couldn’t pay its workers enough to live off of; after all, our store was making money hand over fist! Ignoring my appeal to the people who were struggling to make ends meet, the conversation turned political and really fell apart. We went round and round about how the federal minimum wage shouldn’t be raised (it’s up to the market); how we don’t have unions at WAL-MART (“Thank God” the Front-end Manager quipped); and bizarrely, how I should join the military (they were both members of the Air Force.) The Co-Manager’s last stab was to challenge me to change the company from the inside (oh, the irony…) But when I asked if he really believed that when I became a store manager I could raise the starting wage to $10 per hour, he ducked the question. Surprisingly he later admitted that he too had once had moral reservations about the company’s practices, until he “saw the reality of the situation.” It is important to note that these are both good people, who were simply firm believers in a company that they had succeeded in.

The two would confirm my belief before the end of the evening. As the conversation wound down some half-hour later, I gave them a simple last request. Please give my position at the service desk to the woman who been at the company for a full six years, and was twice the associate I would ever be. Guarding the door for the rest of the night, I noticed that the two managers remained in the office for another 45 minutes, probably a little shaken up from my accusations. Employees want to believe, need to believe, that their employer is not evil and that their jobs are not done in vain. By and large, those who work at WAL-MART are good people, but they are rarely given the opportunity to do the right thing. That night however, those two managers did have the opportunity to see justice done, however small an instance it may have been. And they did. By the time I called it a day, the woman had exciting news for me: she had been offered a position on the service desk! That evening was the best ride home from work I had ever had -- after four months of playing their game, I finally took a stand and did the right thing.

22 comments:

Dan said...

FINE!!! Apparently I need to be the first of the group to respond. I was hoping "Liberal George" or "Eventually Turned Becc" would respond to your effort first but I'll go ahead and do it. Josh, we're proud of you. In all seriousness, the blog helped make sense of it all. No one really thought you were going to unionize Wallmart. That goal was, understandably so, never truly attainable. But, knowing you intentions, we all sat back and waited to see what would come of this charade. And to be honest, I'm kind of impressed. You made a difference to someone. You helped promote a deserved worked. You shed some light on ignorant, yet admittedly respectable, managers. You undoubtedly left your impression on that place and that is probably the best we could have expected. You may not have solved the problem (then again, who could?) but perhaps you helped others see it. One person made a discernible difference. You should be proud to know that this person is you. Even though I will probably be the only one to admit it, we are all impressed by your efforts. We really are.

But on a side note, Josh, please don't go to Africa. We all know that Wallmart wont pay for those immunizations....

TomMadLibGuitar said...

I so admire you for taking the courageous stand against Wal-Mart. You're example is an inspiration to people everywhere who yearn for justice!

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hooray! Congrats! *KP jumps up and down!*

Adirondack Wal-Mart said...

Awesome website!!! Congratulations. Really great writing and interesting experiences. We are trying to fight off a second attempt at Wal-Mart locating in our little 5000 pop. community of Saranac Lake, NY. I will definitely encourage all to visit your website. Really, the best anti-Wal-Mart site I have seen.

DoIAmuseYou said...

Here's the thing most people don't understand. Wal-mart is a business, not a charity. As with any other business the primary concern, is to produce a profit not to engage in charitible activities. Now that may sound cold and calculating, but no business ever survived by giving it's inventory/services away.

Could Wal-mart raise it's hourly wage? Yes it could, but not without consequence. What many fail to realize is that what often coincides with any wage increase is a reduction in hours. So if you formerly worked 34 hours for $7.92hr = about $269 you might very well find yourself having your hours reduced to 27hrs @$7.92 to almost equal your original pay. In this scenarion it amounts to about one hour a day forfeited. This method of adjusting hours to compensate for increased wages is not exclusive to Wal-mart either. Some grocery chains employ this technique. Now the only way to ensure a minimum number of hours is to either unionize or through some enacted legislation, however this too has it's drawbacks. If employers are forced to increase both hourly earnings as well as total hours worked, they may choose to lay off some workers as an alternative to cutting costs.

Another note. In some areas Wal-mart actually helps to boost the econimies of small towns the citizens of which, would otherwise have to venture to other neighboring towns to find work. Keep in mind most of those "underpaid" workers most likely haven't obtained any education beyond high school and sometimes not even graduated. Therefore a non graduate/non degreed worker cannot erxpect to receive the same level of compensation as their better educated counterparts. Suppose Wal-Mart was unavailable to these workers, where else would they obtain employment. A fast food restaurant? A grocery? These other types of businesses also pay minimum wage or slightly higher. So they would still be earning a salry of below $15,000 yearly in all likelyhood. The difference is, without Wal-mart to provide goods and services to these low income consumers, they would have no alternative but to buy goods at more expensive costs through local businesses , thereby further reducing the ability to make the most of their wages.

Oh one last note, on the offhand chance that you might get the impression that I'm a current employee or otherwise affiliated with Walmart or any of it's subsidiaries, I can assure you I am not. I'm merely a businessman in my own right :-)

TooWoozy said...

"Let the workers organize. Let the toilers assemble. Let their crystallized voices proclaim their injustices and demand their privileges. Let all thoughtful citizens sustain them, for the future of labor is the future of America."

John L. Lewis

Anonymous said...

"Well aware that this would be a surprise to those who had helped me climb the ladder, I had decided to frame the issue as a moral one, which came to a head after I was pushed toward joining management."
IOW, you deceived your "friends" and co-workers, and then, after they had helped you progress in your job, you show your appreciation for their assistance by revealing that you actually despise and loathe the company and want no part of the company whose corporate ladder they were trying to help you climb.


Nice how you decide to frame your duplicitity as a "moral issue".

Anonymous said...

Are you willfully blind or just ignorant? You were being "pushed toward management" which would have resulted in better pay, hours and benefits but you still bitch about Wal Mart not paying people enough to live on. That's the ladder most people climb in this world. At least those who understand and appreciate capitalism. And do you understand the consequences of raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour? How many of those "friends" did you just send to the unemployment line? How caring. How compassionate. How.....typical. Grow up. And take an economics class while your at it.

catshere said...

I've just finished reading your complete blog & agree with most of what you've written. But to say that Wal-mart employees are, for the most part "working poor", might be a bit off. My store may not be the norm, as I have said in another post to this blog. The majority of associates I work with are concidered middle-class in this part of the country. The store itself is located in a predominately middle-class neighborhood & many of the stores employees reside there, myself included. This may be due to the fact that the employees I've mentioned are female with spouses who are gainfully employed. Geography plays a great part in whether an associate is "working poor". Wal-mart is everywhere, from the poorest of towns to more "upscale" neighborhoods & many stores are serving a myriad of customers & hiring a variety of employees. My Supercenter is a fine example of this.

Anonymous said...

Amd there you have it -- your plan was to bad-mouth the company to other employees after giving notice. The company was wise to isolate you, but not wise enough to senisbly remove you from the premises as soon as you started arguing with the ... what? CSM? Whatever that is.

Have you ever seriously considered that a capitalist society is not the place for you to be living?

fezworth said...

Very interesting blog. I'd just like to point out that Wal-mart is not the 'largest employer in the world'. Not by a long shot.

There are probably hundreds of companies that employ more people. Indian Railways for instance, employs over a million people.

Otherwise, as I said, very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes.. "How Brave of you".. How brave of a pretentious kid that could afford to attend and graduate from college and have his entire priviledged life ahead of him to take a job at Wal-Mart for the purpose of "research" while some poor schmuck was in the Unemployment line and would have probably killed for that job as a means to FEED HIS or HER family!!!

I ask again: How much of your WalMart Paycheck did you donate to charity? How many of your co-workers did you ACTUALLY help during your tenure there?

MANY U.S. retailers, NOT just Wal-Mart use suppliers that exploit Third World labor and take away American jobs, MANY U.S. retailers do not pay their employees well or give sufficient benefits.. Actually, many companies, NOT just retail..

It seems to me that the TRUE fear of the Anti-Wal Mart crowd has is "Low Prices!".. Wal-Mart is able to lower their prices making their items affordable to many families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford said items MADE IN CHINA or PAKISTAN or BANGLEDESH at Premium Prices!

I'm NO advocate for Wal-Mart but it seems the Anti-Wal Mart crowd are more concerned about their beloved "Property Values Falling" due to the amount of Low-Income people that Wal-Mart will bring to their neighborhood.. Another case of "Not in My Backyard" Liberal hypocricy!

Anonymous said...

That last comment said everything I could possibly have wanted to say. Thank you to that last poster!

College Clint said...

It sounds like Wal-mart saw your potential and was trying to elevate you to where you belonged - toward the top rather than at the bottom. But, hey, every general had to go through boot camp.

I also think you could have done a lot more good if you had stuck with it and risen through the ranks. Your bosses probably were being at least somewhat disingenuous when they suggested you could change WMT from the inside, but you really could have.

Finally, if WMT were to take all of their profits ($13.6 billion) and divvy them up evenly amongst all of their (2.1 million) employees it would come out to $6500 per year each, or $3.13 per hour. That means if you actually got everyone's starting pay raised by $2.60/hr (from $7.40->$10) you'd be giving away 83% of the company's profits and that would destroy the stock price and leave you with relatively little to invest in raising the wages of their Indian slave laborers.

David Meadows said...

Wow, i love how all these people saying you should study economics, and quoting wal-marts 12 billion dollars don't understand that the 12 billion isn't used to pay payroll, thats just the net income of the company, in other words after payroll is already done. It's just money siting the bank. their Net Revenue witch is used to pay payroll and taxes and the cost of doing business is, hold your horses, a little more than 378,000,000,000 dollars. So that means if they where to divide up that net income evenly , that would be an extra 6,500 dollars a year, and an extra 3.13 cents a year witch would be what a little more than 10 dollars more an hour.. wow you people need to go back to economy class and learn the difference between net income, and net revenue. There is many other things that wal-mart could do to help pay for a higher wages without running out of money. And this is a good blog, hope you still read the comments.

Anonymous said...

i completely understand you! thank god i dont work there but there's a friend of mine who does and they treat her like crap! she has a 2 years old baby girl and while she was working she got a call from her husband, her baby was in the hospital having a asthma attack and so she told her supervisor (grocery) she had to leave to see her baby and he said: öh? your baby is in the hospital with her father? ohh then she will be ok, you could go at the end of your shift!!!!!!!! 6 hours later!!!!!!!!!! abusers!!!!!!!!

Car Lady said...

"I always envisioned my final exit from the store with me yelling over my shoulder as security threw me out onto the curb. Surely there would be some sort of scene -- I would quit on the spot, throwing my vest to the floor."

LOL! LOL! LOL!

I think that there are more of us who fantasize about our final departure from the mart. One of my many fantasies is that I am being fired for going ballistic on a disrespectful customer, and trust me there is no shortage of them at the store I am currently working at. I will proceed to tell management what I think of them after the firing. Then I will march through the store chanting "Wal-Mart Sucks...Wal-Mart Sucks!!!! Wal-Mart treats their employees like sh#$!!" at the top of my lungs. I am sure AP would step in at some point, and some type of scuffle would ensue. I would then come back to the store donning my "Wal-Mart is EVIL!" T-Shirt and run wildly through the aisles with about 100 helium filled, yellow frowning-face balloons, stopping every so often to do the "squiggly" and set a balloon free," all the while screaming my own personal Wal-Mart cheer. I would also be sure to have my husband present to film.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you sure are full of yourself.

You're 'breaking hearts' by quitting your job?

You 'shook up' the managers because of what you said to them in their office?

And you act like you're single handedly changing the world through a blog??

You are a prime example of the flaw of raising children to believe they can do anything. You're limited by your potential. Not everyone can be an astronaut, buddy.

Get over yourself and maybe you'll be able to get your dream job at Target some day.

Anonymous said...

"You are a prime example of the flaw of raising children to believe they can do anything. You're limited by your potential. Not everyone can be an astronaut, buddy.

Get over yourself and maybe you'll be able to get your dream job at Target some day."

Your "potential" is whatever you allow it to be (I.E. Only you set your own limitations). This coming from an individul who ranked in the top 5% of the nation and can quite literally achieve whatever I aspire to do.

I find your arrogance disconcerting but I'm not surprised, you probably come from a broken home. Daddy or Mommy didn't love you enough and told you thatyou were worthless, leading to a skewed view of reality where everyone else's self worth and potential is as bad as your own.

TheOne1 said...

Only worked for the company for 2 days, a record for me. I found the co-workers strange, and the customers creepy. Wal-Mart customers don't know how to dress, what with the cheaply made clothes wally world gets from China. At 50, I was the youngest cashier there. Poverty level wage should be the mantra at wally world.

Synchsoup said...

I have worked at walmart for almost three years, and my boyfriend has been there for almost five. We both hold a ZMS position (the last management position you can hold before you have to step up to a salaried positon.) I think a lot of things differ from store to store, and I do think you are a little whiney, (this could be the walmart brainwash talking!) but I definitely agree with most of your points. Which is why I am glad that we will both be staring our last week at walmart tomorrow. It is certainly a soul ducking environment, and the higher up you go, the more dependant you become.

Something I would like to touch on is walmart brainwashing. It goes much farther than CBL'S. The farther up the ladder you get, the more brainwashed you become. They tell you that you are part team, and to do everything you can to serve the customer. On the same page, they frequently teach you to screw over your fellow employees, or the people under you. Time their bathroom breaks, try to push the elderly out of their jobs. Frequently load people up with additional responsibilities and goals that are impossible for a single being to achieve- and hold them accountable. They teach you not to trust customers, that they are racing to screw you over. They also have favorites.

AND THE FAVORITES. I was groomed from day 1 for management. They saw that I was a smart, competant, able-bodied, friendly young person who didn't like to engage in the melodramas of my peers. Within thee months I was "backup CSM," -a total joke, all of the responsibilty, none of thr pay. I was also made full time, but they didn't tell me until six months later that I was never "coded" as full time, therefore I would not receive as much vacation and personal time as I should have been alotted. and management joked how I was their "Gopher," because if they needed something done I would "go for it."

I decided I wanted to go to days and at the drop of a hat I was put into a department manager job. A incredibly disorganized (but willing!) 20 year old who had been there just over a year, versus an actual CSM who had been there for 7 years, with a bachelor's degree in business management. My boyfriend became a favorite by association, and was also brought into a department manager position. After 3 months for me, and 1 month for him, we were both given ZMS psotions. (Though I think this was done because we have had a large of managers at that point, and the candidate pool was fairly meager.)

The worst part is, I don't think the salaried managers realize what they are doing. Walmart convinces you that they are being logical, when they are not. Either that or they fully realize it, and have just become part of the machine put of necessity for survival. The managers I have are all very caring, mostly intelligent, polite people. But as soon as "policy" has to come into play they suddenly transform into heartless animals.

I love the way you outlined the open door policy, and talked about temps.. those were probably your best pieces. Another thing they do with temps is dismiss them after the holidays, then call them a few days later and offer them their job back. That way they can hire someone they won't have to train again, and they can push back their benefits another three months.


Those are my very disorganized thoughts on your blog. Thanks for the read.