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Wal-Mart Stories

[ 65 ] July 13, 2013 |

Gawker’s series encouraging Wal-Mart employees to tell their own stories is both incredibly powerful and scaring the world’s largest corporation. The last thing Wal-Mart wants is for workers to have a voice about the terrible labor practices of the company. Check it out.

Comments (65)

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  1. sparks says:

    There’s a reason I don’t shop there, the Gawker horror stories just confirm what I’d heard. I can go to Costco and see some of the same people who were there 20 years ago.

  2. aimai says:

    I’m sad to say that their letters from Target were nearly just as bad. I do shop at Target–once a quarter, probably, but I guess I should stop even that.

    • Andrew says:

      Probably safe to say that with rare exception, contemporary retail and service work is a soul-sucking experience. They’re extractive industries. Human resources is a vicious play on words.

      • The Dark Avenger says:

        I worked in a retail environment for 8 years, and I can tell you the difference between a good manager(rare) and a bad manager(common) is like the difference between night and day in what goes on during a work shift.

        • demz taters says:

          A big part of the problem with these places is that managers are chosen based on their willingness to be apologists for company policy rather than their skill as managers.

          • Andrew says:

            I also wonder how their manager recruitment looks. Are more people recruited from the floor into manager training or are they college/MBA grads who never worked retail?

            I wouldn’t doubt that many who are promoted from the floor are apologists for corporate policy or otherwise have an “I got mine” attitude towards former peers.

            • Murc says:

              This is somewhat uncharitable.

              A lot of the low-level management are treated just as bad as they treat the people under them. The reason they’re such screaming monsters is because not being one will get you fired. They have their own completely impossible goals to meet (deliberately impossible; that way there’s always an excuse to fire them) and they do that by passing it on to their employees and then instilling fear in said employees.

              You could take the tack that someone should refuse to comply and get fired rather than treat their fellow human beings that way, but I have trouble being overly mad at a “manager” whose take-home pay is about 30k and who maybe has kids doing what he has to to put food on the table.

              • Andrew says:

                Yes, it’s a layer cake. Feces all the way down.

                Frontline managers may have a Hobson’s Choice to model their own supervisor’s poor behavior. It still shows a distinct lack of class awareness, solidarity, and compassion for their fellow workers. Really, they should have their own bargaining unit in the union.

                • Murc says:

                  Really, they should have their own bargaining unit in the union.

                  This is, in fact, illegal.

                  Managers are legally enjoined from organizing themselves into unions. It was part of Taft-Hartley, I think; it was deliberately constructed to make sure lower-level managers (who have always had more in common both economically and culturally with the workers under them than they had with upper management) would be less likely to side with unionizing workers, because said unionizing workers couldn’t offer them a piece of the pie.

                • Loud Liberal says:

                  I don’t think Taft-Hartley illegalizes (prohibits), supervisory unionization. Supervisors just don’t have the same protectoins under the NLRA that non-supervisory laborers have.

      • Loud Liberal says:

        The term “human resources,” accurately implies what corporate employers really think – that employees are fungible goods.

    • sparks says:

      I would expect the difference between the two is just a matter of degree. I have to go to Target once a month for a prescription that no other pharmacy carries at a reasonable cost. The only good thing I can say is they’re cleaner than any Wal-Mart I stepped in.

    • nanute says:

      aimai,
      Do you know that Target allows their pharmacists to refrain from filling birth control prescriptions on religious grounds? I won’t give them any of my money.

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        I’m sure people here know this, but: even if there were someone who honestly thought that a zygote had the rights of a human, the fact is that BIRTH CONTROL SAVES LIVES of both zygotes and mothers. It prevents ovulation, which avoids failed implantation, miscarriages, and complications of birth. There is NO legitimate religious reason not to serve birth control, even for a crazy zealot.

      • aimai says:

        I thought that was beaten back, especially here in the North East where it wasn’t going to be tolerated?

    • Major Kong says:

      Most of them are bad, but Wal-Mart is definitely leading the race to the bottom.

  3. wengler says:

    I don’t want this coming off as defending Wal-Mart, but the shit you read there is industry-wide. Retail pay sucks, retail work sucks, and the whole goal of it seems to be a constant demonstration of how very little power you have.

    The way they make you a compliant peon is through scheduling. They control how many hours you get(and therefore how much money you make) and perhaps even more importantly when those hours are scheduled. You have to work opening after closing? Suck it up. Five hours is enough sleep for anyone. You don’t like this job? Plenty of unemployed people out there willing to work for your peanuts. It’s a disgusting, degrading existence.

    • EH says:

      I don’t want this coming off as defending Wal-Mart, but the shit you read there is industry-wide.

      Great. Kill ‘em all.

    • N__B says:

      Here’s my approach: assuming that all retail employers play these types of games with their employee’s lives, is Walmart better or worse than average? If better, I’ve been grievously misled. If worse, they deserve the shaming.

      And, of course, shaming Walmart does not preclude shaming other scumbag corporations.

      • aimai says:

        I have to believe they are somewhat worse than others if only because by all reports they really don’t give a fuck even about their customers or the cleanliness and safety of the public work spaces.

        The vast majority of the nickle-and-diming they do to their workers is to reduce worker hours and the certainity of hours and schedules. This they clearly do partly out of an effort to get around overtime and health insurance rules (such as they are) and partly out of an effort just to destroy the worker’s peace of mind and ability to plan a life. I don’t think this has to be typical of retail, it just is typical of retail because our laws let it be typical.

        I also think size matters. A small store can be run by tyrants and fuck the workers over but not for as long–responsibility isn’t as diffused by multiple supervisors and lines of hierarchy and where there is one small store there are usually others so workers can vote with their feet. In these giant employers you run up against the problem they have which is basically the need to crowd control through intimidation. That has to be more dehumanizing and anonymizing even than the same level of intimidation at a small, local, place. At any rate I think workers endure it for longer.

        • N__B says:

          Part of the problem with Walmart is the devastation of the small-store ecology. The smaller retailers are forced out because they don’t have the economies of scale and the American public doesn’t care about anything but price, is too poor to be able to choose on any basis but price, or both. The bigger retailers like Target are locked in a war of attrition with Walmart and become more like it as time goes on. The result is bad for shoppers and worse for employees: both groups would like choices that are disappearing or have disappeared.

          • Warren Terra says:

            It’s not just price. There are efficiencies of scale for the shopper as regards time: the megastore will likely have everything you need at the one stop, and is perhaps more likely to have a selection of makes and models, and is unlikely to be out of stock – and even leaving aside the one-stop shopping aspect even within their bailiwick a smaller store may have fewer options and less stock.

            Although, of course, that’s a comparison massively biased towards the convenience of purchasing finished, essentially disposable mass-produced consumer goods; if you want lower-volume, higher-quality items, or if you want parts to make or fix something, and especially if you want real customer service and expert advice, the megastores aren’t interested in serving your needs. But serving those needs is often unprofitable for the smaller stores, too …

            • Royko says:

              I have heard Walmart was losing market share to dollar stores partly because people want to buy plastic cups without walking 30 minutes through a giant store. There is such a thing as too big.

            • Andrew says:

              Essentially, the best way to compete is by offering a curated selection with staffers who offer better customer service and product knowledge. As well as some not-Wal-Mart branding.

              One chain has adopted some of the selection/brand stuff like their partnerships with big name designers. They’ve invested in figuring out who their clients are and what they buy, like using consumer data to send particular ads to women who are likely pregnant.

              Another offers tech support/service and a mini-boutique for all the products of one of their brands.

              There’s also been a bit of a trend toward boutique shops that sell stuff designed to be more expensive but that has quality and durability.

          • Doug says:

            I know it’s been a long time, and it’s time for change to come again, but I remember retailing in rural Tennessee before Wal-Mart, and it was either much, much worse or completely non-existent.

        • Anonymous says:

          Good point about size. I worked in 20-40 employee stores for a dozen years, for assholes and angels alike, and somewhere like Target strikes me as a whole different ballgame. I imagine working there is something like being a deck-swabber on an aircraft carrier, or a towel-folder on a cruise ship.

      • Andrew says:

        Worse. Union grocers are better. And even without unionization, Costco has demonstrated there’s a better employer-employee model.

      • Loud Liberal says:

        Walmart deserves the shaming in any event, along with the pea brained conservatives who vote for the republican pimps who enable the Walmarts of the world to exploit laberers so grievously. It’s no excuse that everyone else does it.

    • Linnaeus says:

      I don’t want this coming off as defending Wal-Mart, but the shit you read there is industry-wide.

      Having worked (briefly) in retail a long time ago, I don’t think you’re wrong and I don’t think it’s a defense of Wal-Mart to point that out.

    • DrS says:

      I worked at a grocery store in Texas for a few months as a bagger, part time. We were frequently was scheduled for 3 hr, 45 minute shifts.

      Cause if we worked 4, the law would mandate we’d get a 10 minute break during our shifts.

      Can’t have that.

      • Linnaeus says:

        Christ. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m not, but pretty shit like that still makes me shake my head.

        • Linnaeus says:

          Er, make that, “petty” shit.

        • DrS says:

          Amazingly, it was a step from my previous job, waiting tables at a fking bennigans. That was terrible.

          At the grocery store, at least I made a touch over minimum wage, plus tips. At the restaurant, we got 1/2 minimum wage, which gave us $2.125/ hr.

          That was 20 years ago. The minimum wage for waitstaff in Texas now is $2.13/hr.

      • aimai says:

        I just don’t understand why something as petty as that isn’t obviously counterproductive: you have to waste time chasing people down to stop their shift (that costs money) and people are always later starting and stopping shifts than they are after their breaks so you add that time lost/cost of supervision. Plus people get pissed off and need a rest so they probably work slower and less efficiently and pleasantly. And all to save a ten minute break? Its all so short sighted.

  4. Sly says:

    Yesterday, in response to our publication of employee stories, Wal-Mart posted a message on its employee website: “Many people in the media don’t know the amazing stories you have to share. This week Gawker is posting stories about Walmart, attacking the work our associates do, and it’s up to us to set the record straight,” said the plea. “Feel free to share your story about the real Walmart today and what makes you proud to be working at Walmart.” Contact information for us was also posted.

    “LIBERALS THINK YOU’RE TERRIBLE PEOPLE!”

    Nice bit of propaganda, that.

    • Shakezula says:

      What a brilliant strategy. Alert every single employee to a place where they can bitch about their fuckhole of a job. Because the people we regularly shit on will take our word for it, right? I mean, they haven’t strung us up by our lower intestines so they must be completely cowed, body and soul and won’t actually check this “Gawker.”

      Thank Christ for arrogant fuckstains.

      • The Dark Avenger says:

        It’s an example of the Streisand effect. You’d think they’d be able to learn from a liberals’ mistake:

        The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

        It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.[1][2]

        Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term after Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs.[1][3][4] Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-sanctioned and government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project.[5][6] Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850″ had been downloaded from Adelman’s website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys.[7] As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.[8]

    • Loud Liberal says:

      I saw that too. Hopefully, an angry Walmart EE crammed that one so far up Walmart’s ass, the Walton family can taste it.

  5. c u n d gulag says:

    I worked at a new Sears store in the new mall (teensy-weensy compared to the ones after it) that opened up a few miles from my home, from my last year of HS, 1976, until the summer of 1981, after I’d just graduated from college, when I was ‘laid-off.’

    It was GREAT place for people to work.
    There were people there who’d been at other Sears stores for decades.
    And they were really great with us college students. The pay was pretty good, and, for the most part, you got the hours you needed and wanted, when you needed and wanted them.
    Exam week? No problem, work as little as you want.
    Summer/Winter break? ‘How many hours you need, kid?’
    People who went away to college, always got their job back when they came back on breaks. ALWAYS!
    We had benefits, and discounts, and vacations, and sick pay, and… well… everything.
    They were really GREAT!

    And then, Reagan got elected.

    And right away, the bullshit started.
    Cutting hours and cutting benefits. New rules that made no sense, except to prove to us that we were nothing in the eyes of the company.
    I swear, it happened THAT fast at that store!

    They came up with more stupid shit in 6 months, than in the 5 previous years combined.
    As a matter of fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything they did that didn’t have the customer’s, and the employee’s, best interests at heart. I know that’s hard to believe, but I was there.
    And they really DID believe in Customer Service – I know, because that’s where I worked.

    Well, after a few months of this new bullshit, and a lot of people losing their jobs over nothing – not counting students coming back, expecting the job they’d returned to after college for years and being told there were none – a bunch of us who really liked the company and our jobs, started talking about some job protection for ourselves and others.
    And, as one of the “smarter ones,” I was asked to contact the retail workers union.
    I met with them a couple of weeks later, with a couple of other people, older ones, a guy and gal, who’d been there for years. We wanted to check out the union’s story, tell ours, and see if there was a fit.

    Well, next thing I know, little ol’ me, who was called “indispensable” by upper management, was laid-off.
    And so were the other two folks.

    Coincidence?
    Maybe.
    But I think not.
    For whatever reason, even Nixon held to some of the more liberal programs and rules.
    The Conservative powers-that-be decided to completely change the dynamic.
    And so, a massive paradigm shift began.
    I think before Reagan came in, he had his people (or, rather, they did it on their own, since he was nothing but a figure-head) talk to business leaders, and told them a new day was dawning.
    Or, as I call it, “Mourning, in America.”

    And ever since then, things have been getting worse and worse for working people – and better and better, for those who are already well off.

    We need to tell the rich and powerful, “Enough, is enough!”

    You can start to either start to equalize things peacefully, or, we do it another way.
    And that way, if things don’t work out your way, may include an extra charge for us to remove the rust, and sharpen the blade, on the guillotine.
    You rich folks don’t really want us riff-raff hacking away chop after chop, at your necks with a rusty dull blade, now do you?

  6. LosGatosCA says:

    One clear difference between Target and WalMart is that Target stores are not depressing, aesthetically. They also have carts that work and they don’t hate their customers. Most Targets have reasonably clean parking lots.

    So they have those advantages at least.

    • Andrew says:

      One thing that seems a constant from the Wal-Mart stories is that the People of Wal-Mart don’t have much respect for the workers there either.

      That’s probably true of most people when they’re shopping. Not that there was some golden age of politesse. But we do seem to be pretty awful at showing respect to strangers.

      • Joshua says:

        Some of that stuff really grossed me out – dirty diapers hidden on store shelves, clothes in dressing room getting urinated on, etc.

        I know this is just some commie hippie-dip stuff, but man: for the most part, the employees and customers of Wal-mart are in the same boat. The people who work low-wage, low-security, no-benefit jobs go to Wal-mart because that’s all they can afford, and in turn decide to shit on (literally) low-wage, low-security, no-benefit employees. The fact that these people don’t realize this is as much an explanation for what has happened in the US the past 35 years as anything.

    • delurking says:

      Also, Wal-Marts (at least here in Arkansas) are always over-crowded and under-staffed. There are 40 check-out lanes, but only five or six will have “associates” available to check people out, even at the busiest time of day; lines will be nine or ten people long, with carts piled high, so that you’re standing 40 minutes waiting to check out.

      And sometimes longer, because if there’s a problem, the “associate” doesn’t know how to fix it, and it takes forever for the manager to appear.

      In the store itself, of course, no associate is ever available to answer a question.

      We go there only when our local Harp’s (employee owned, clean, with wonderful produce, and never more than two people in line or they’ll open a new register) doesn’t have something in stock. Not often.

  7. Bruce Vail says:

    I saw three cheers for Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan (author of this WalMart piece), who has brought pro-worker news reporting to that venue in a very refreshing and accessible way.

  8. ChrisTS says:

    Jeezus. Why did I go read all that? Time to pluck out mine eyes, I guess.

  9. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    As I pointed out in the BART Silicon Valley thread, I worked at Whole Foods in Palo Alto, and had to endure mandatory anti-union meetings there. WF was shitty, but not nearly as bad as WalMart.

  10. e.a.foster says:

    Wal-mart may be some what worried, but not much. This too shall pass. The fight against Wal Mart has been going on for a good 30 yrs, when I first saw it on 60 minutes. Wal-mart still expanded. Wal mart continued to do well. There will always be people who need jobs and they will work at Wal mart if it means they can feed their children. Wal mart knows it. There is no reason to change.

    The people who shop at Wal mart have helped them maintain their poor working conditions. The town politicians who approved Wal mart setting up shop in an area helped. When wal mart wants something the federal government jumps. Wal mart didn’t want inspections/x-rays of containers in L.A., the Port didn’t get it. If any one truly wanted Walmart to change its ways, it woudl have been easy but when push comes to shove, nobody cares about the next person.

    If Wal mart and others like them had their way, the workers at Walmart would be working in conditions similar to those workers in Bangledish who dismantle ships and make clothing. The only thing which seperates the American workers and those in Bangledish is the American workers can join a union. It is still something in the back of the mind of many who own corportions. Can’t let it get too bad for everybody or we could see a resurgence of Unions.

  11. [...] Nolan continues his excellent labor reporting at Gawker by following up his Wal-Mart stories piece with Amazon stories, collecting stories of what it is like to work at the company. These are [...]

  12. ぼわぱぉ says:

    Good kind of sharing about the seo black hat very interesting too.

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