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Work in the Walmart Economy

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This is why unionizing Walmart is so important and why just ballot measures for the minimum wage isn’t enough to improve the lives of workers. Unions are about dignity and power on the job, which is why companies hate them. Because those companies want to make pregnant women work with chemicals and then fire them when they complain:

Candis Riggins says that she isn’t the only pregnant worker who was discriminated against by Wal-Mart. And despite having a policy stating it will make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers, Riggins alleges that Wal-Mart made it virtually impossible for her to safely work through her pregnancy.

“I made it clear to my supervisors that I wanted to keep working and that I could do several other jobs well,” Riggins said this week in a statement. “I just needed to keep away from the chemicals, but Wal-Mart said, ‘No,’ even though I know they gave light duty to a coworker of mine when he hurt his back. Finally, I was forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and my paycheck. No pregnant worker should have to make that decision.”

In the claim, Riggins states that the chemicals she was forced to work with while cleaning bathrooms at the store made her ill, and that bending over for hours at a time caused her severe back pain. The pain became so intolerable that she went to see a doctor, who recommended lighter duty during the rest of her pregnancy. When she went to her supervisor with this information, she was moved to mopping and sweeping the store, work she said still exacerbated her back pain and involved chemicals that made her ill.

Finally, she was moved to be a greeter at the door. But the time on her feet, at least 8 hours, according to the claim, was still hard on her, so she asked if she could sit on a stool. She was told she could not sit, despite other workers with injuries being allowed to sit while greeting customers. According to the claim, “Wal-Mart has engaged in a pattern or practice of gender discrimination against female sales associates and in policies or practices that have a disparate impact against women.”

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  • Sev

    There is something about seeing low paid employees sitting down that drives managers nuts, even when people can do their jobs perfectly well in that position. Though here it seems to be all about gender/pregnancy.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Workers should either be on their feet or on their knees!!!

    • tsam

      Sounds to me like firing her without firing her. Make her so miserable she just quits. It’s a common tactic for middle manager types at these big box retailers. I’ve witnessed them zeroing in on pregnant women, knowing that they will have to get maternity leave and put the poor, hardworking manager in the position of having to deal with staffing in her absence.

      tldr; These guys are fuckers who need to have their nuts smashed with hammers.

      • These guys are fuckers who need to have their nuts smashed with hammers.

        That’s sometimes true, but the real fuckers would never lower themselves to the level of a mere store manager. I’ve known enough people at the big box stores to know that the managers tend to be making middle class money at best, but with the knowledge that there is no parachute for them if the margins go down a little or even if other stores in the area start doing better. There’s a lot of pure asshole behavior, sure, but those people are in an unenviable squeeze, both personally and professionally.

        It’s the spreadsheet wielding assholes in Bentonville that need the nut/hammer treatment.

        • tsam

          Those store manager shits do their dirty work for them, and buy into the system. So I say nut smashing all they way up the chain.

          Or better still: Anyone who considers profits more valuable than human lives and basic rights and dignity shall be summarily executed. So saith tsam. I have spoken.

          • UserGoogol

            Blame the system, not the individuals for “buying into it.” Each person is just acting in a way which seems reasonable (even if they know they’re not actually being moral) next to how everyone else is acting. People at the top of the pyramid are certainly far more comfortable than people at the bottom, but none of them have control over the system.

            • Brett

              Maybe. But Walmart could do a lot more about this if they actually cared, and for not much cost. They could appoint ombudsman who could overrule the store manager on human resources decisions (like certain staffing patterns) under threat of the manager being fired or demoted.

              Accountability in their system is abysmal, though. Just look at the alleged degree of pervasive inventory fraud in their stores.

            • tsam

              They don’t have control over it, I agree, but looking at the situation in the OP, I’m thinking “how fucking hard is it to give the lady a fucking stool so she doesn’t ENDANGER HER PREGNANCY???”

              It’s not about control over the system, it’s about using what control you do have to be a decent fucking human being and a supervisor that wants his employees to be safe, happy and secure.

        • Phil Perspective

          It’s the spreadsheet wielding assholes in Bentonville that need the nut/hammer treatment.

          And it’s those people that Hillary used to hang out with, and still does. She was once on the Walmart Board of Directors, don’t forget.

          • DrDick

            Which is why everyone here is such a big Hillary supporter. You really need to pull your head out.

        • Brett

          They need to actually enforce the corporate policies at the local level. In a company as big as Walmart, there’s a lot of incentive for store managers to bend the rules to increase the narrow margins, and not a lot of incentive for their managers up the chain to do anything because the numbers look good and “nobody’s complained, right?”.

          So yeah, this is something you’d either have a union steward handle (if Walmart stores were unionized), or some type of ombudsman if not. Or something like the three-party arrangement with an NGO that Loomis brought up a few days ago with agricultural growers down in Florida.

          • Murc

            They need to actually enforce the corporate policies at the local level.

            Having the local managers kick the shit out of their employees is corporate policy at Wal-Mart.

            It might not be written down anywhere, but that doesn’t not make it policy.

            • Brett

              They are afraid of being sued by someone like this woman, so it’s not like they’re encouraging people to act like shitheads at the store manager. It’s just that the layers of management and business environment encourage the people above the store managers to ignore any issues as long as the complaints aren’t too loud and the store managers are meeting their requirements. And of course, the workers themselves don’t currently have any institutional way to push back immediately against misbehaving store managers, unlike if they were unionized.

    • Brett

      When I worked at Home Depot, they always seemed to think that customers would get annoyed at our “laziness” if they saw employees sitting down. Which might have been true for people working in specific departments, but not for the job I had (loader). And I’ve never understood why they make cashiers stand all day long – would it kill them to give them some cheap stools?

      • solidcitizen

        How the hell are you going to learn the value of hard work if you are sitting down all day? If you could sit down all day, your $1000 a month paycheck would seem like free money and you’d have no incentive to improve yourself. If you’re not thriving, you’re dying. If you got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. You can pee on your own time!

        That’s the American way!

        • Brett

          It was incredibly annoying and pointless on their part. They issued radios for us to give us a call when they needed someone to help load something, and we got good at making sure the shopping cart area was full of carts for people to use. Honestly, we could spend the rest of the time sitting in the break room or sitting down and it wouldn’t make much difference in how well the job was done.

      • hickes01

        Your Home Despot has cashiers? I always have to use the self-checkout at mine. I’ll need to request a W-2 from them to fill out my taxes this year.

        • Brett

          They have them, although I prefer to use the self-check-outs. It’s just a lot faster to use them if you’re not buying something huge (like plywood or wood).

          It’s weird hearing from people who say the self-check-outs go unused in their area. People have always liked them here – they even draw lines while regular cashier stations are open and empty.

    • Emily68

      When I was a tourist in London in 1987, The grocery store checkers were sitting on stools at their cash registers. At Safeway, no less. What a concept, I thought. Even thought I’d been a waitress and knew about spending long hours on my feet, I hadn’t thought how easy it would be to provide stools for the checkers.

      • Donalbain

        That is still standard practice.

  • MPAVictoria

    Can someone please explain to me why we hate workers so much?

    • Steve LaBonne

      Some of them actually want to be treated like human beings. The nerve!

    • tsam

      Probably because way too many workers have been complicit in turning a low wage job into a form of indentured servitude, and buy into the notion that you can be completely happy and miserably poor at the same time.

      It doesn’t help that people making $100,000/year sneer and bitch about them wanting to make enough money to survive, and use guilt and shame to keep workers from complaining.

    • Murc

      The legacy of puritanism, mostly.

      There seems to be a pervasive attitude that if you don’t want to bust your ass, from dawn till dusk, working your fingers to the bone, you’re lazy, morally suspect, and not worthy of the rewards that accrue to the virtuous.

      It’s out of that kind of mindset that the prosperity gospel arises; people who are rich must work hard, because if they didn’t work hard they wouldn’t receive the rewards of virtue, which are self-evident in their wealth.

      I won’t have any of that bullshit. I have no problem proclaiming, proudly, that I don’t want to work hard. I don’t want to work at all; I work because I need to do so to live and because I believe we all have an obligation to be productive in some way. If possible, I’d like to be productive as a literature reviewer, cultural critic, and editor. It turns out I can’t really do that, so instead I work in IT.

      And I don’t want to bust my ass every day working hard doing that. I want to come in, work a moderate, healthy amount for eight hours, and then go home. If people would like me to work to my utmost every single day, the rewards had better be commensurate with the ruinous toll that takes.

      • tsam

        But Sire, the happiest man in your kingdom has no shirt.

        BULLFUCKINGSHIT!

        You work to live, not live to work. If you live to work you have a neurosis to deal with,

        • Murc

          The people who live to work and are happy about it seem to either be doing something they love (which in my opinion doesn’t count as work) or to have some sort of obviously large payout coming towards them. The guy working 80-hour weeks and doing energy pills to make the rent is to be sympathized with and aided if possible; the guy working 80-hour weeks and doing energy pills because if he does so, his bonuses will mean he has twenty million dollars of fuck-you money by the age of thirty is not.

          • tsam

            For sure–and honestly, if you aren’t neglecting a family and you WANT to do it, fucking go right ahead. But don’t fucking condescend to me and everyone else that wants to have a life outside of spending 12 hours a day making money for someone else.

      • MPAVictoria

        “And I don’t want to bust my ass every day working hard doing that. I want to come in, work a moderate, healthy amount for eight hours, and then go home. If people would like me to work to my utmost every single day, the rewards had better be commensurate with the ruinous toll that takes.”

        Same here. And I take a lot of shit from people when I tell them that. It is weird.

        • tsam

          I work with contractors on a daily basis. You should hear how those fuckers respond to that.

          Them: “Are you guys taking the day after Thanksgiving off?”

          Me: “Of course! Aren’t you?”

          Them “NO! It’s just an excuse to get another day off”

          Me: “Precisely. You should try it. It’s a free way to give my employees a little extra bonus and make them happier. They work hard for me because I reward that sort of behavior.”

          Them: “BAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!”

          Me: “LOL suck it bro”

          (The last part is silent, but you get the idea)

      • solidcitizen

        I also love the theory that everyone higher up on the ladder must be working harder. The manager gets paid more because she works harder! The district supervisor gets paid more because he’s really busting his hump. The CEO gets paid a shit ton, but dammit, he doesn’t necessarily get weekends off! The owner, well can you imagine the pressure he’s under making sure all you lazy slobs stay employed? No wonder he needs to have three vacation homes!

        • Murc

          The part that always weirds me out… I’ve been doing IT work for about ten years. Worked my way up from helpdesk work to deskside support and some light network tech work, with a lot of setbacks.

          But the super surprising part was that each minute promotion came with more respect, easier work, more flexible hours.. and more money.

          And it’s like “What the fuck? I’m not working nearly as hard as I was when I was manning the phones for eight hours a day, but I’m making 50% more? How does that work?”

          • tsam

            Meritocracy, see? Don’t you know nuthin?

          • hickes01

            Jebuz, we have almost the same job and work history. No wonder you make so much sense. My favorite is the IT manager with the best equipment who doesn’t know how to use it.

          • DonN

            I’ve worked as an engineer for 30+ years at both semiconductor and software companies. Certainly, the autonomy I was given went up as I was promoted, but the hours and expectations went way up, too. I don’t know about IT since I’ve always worked in R&D but more senior means more work everywhere I’ve been employed. I’ve spoken with lots of folks working in IT in tech companies – which certainly may be different – and their experience has been much like mine. In any case, I wouldn’t take Murc’s experience as typical. I suspect it varies by industry.
            DN

        • ChrisS

          Yeah, that’s only true until everyone is working hard and then it’s some other excuse.

          My mentor/supervisor was fired because of a dispute and afterwards and I was passed around to a few different supervisors who already had a preferred employee. No one knew what to do with me, but I busted my ass in my current role for four years. I did whatever and whenever. Worked nights, weekends, cancelled/shortened vacations, and got precisely dick for it. Working hard was only part of it, I was told.

      • hickes01

        Murc – You’ve just encapsulated my beliefs to a T. I want to LIVE, man.

    • Brett

      It’s more the incentives in this case. Walmart stores run on thin margins, and the store manager is being graded for promotion based on whether he or she hits their targets and does well on their evaluation form. There’s big incentives there to bend or break any rules that inconvenience them in their store profit goals, or that might require extra cost or more staff.

      That’s common to a lot of low-margin service businesses these days. Restaurants and Fast Food have that issue.

      • JustRuss

        Where does this “thin margins” BS come from? There’s enough margin to make all of Walton’s spawn billionaires many times over, so I don’t think they’re all that thin.

        • ChrisS

          It’s the individual stores.

          If you’re selling a 20 ounce coke and making 5 cents on it, you don’t have a lot of leeway. If you have a workforce selling 2 billion cokes and making $100m on your coke sales, then you pretty much become evil.

        • Brett

          Walmart’s margin over their operating costs is something like 3%. That makes them exceptionally profitable among discount retailers, although it still makes for very narrow margins (Costco and Target are closer to 2%, and Costco has membership fees to help towards that). They make money, but it’s on large volumes of stuff sold – and of course, the Walton Family are billionaires only as long as the stock is valuable.

          That’s the average company-wide, too. Individual stores might be more profitable or less profitable, or even running in the red for periods of time.

  • Just_Dropping_By

    I would be curious to see Walmart’s HR materials on this case because I would not be surprised to learn that requiring a pregnant employee to keep working with hazardous chemicals was the result of a manager misunderstanding some in-house lawyer’s explanation of International Union v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187 (1991) (which held that it was discriminatory for a company to prohibit pregnant women from working with toxic chemicals).

    • LawyerWhoWantsToHelp

      HA! I can see it now.

      In-house: So…you can’t stop a woman from working with chemicals just because she’s pregnant.

      Manager: Oh, ok. So if a woman gets pregnant, I re-assign her to the chemical inhalation department. Got it.

  • DonN

    It is hard to even imagine how much the store’s management must hate women to do this to her. When I hear stories like this it appears that store managers, who are well paid at Walmart, are drawn from a pool of sociopaths. This sort of action isn’t being handed down from central management. It is the decision of one or more people in the store at which she works. Some person – likely a man with a wife and perhaps a child – decides it is fine to screw with this woman and not care about the consequences.
    DN

  • Origami Isopod

    An anecdote from the Daily Beast comments:

    WalmartAssociate 2 days ago

    At the WalMart I work at, a department manager was six months pregnant and had to work the line for unloading the truck, along with the other department managers. This is not something sales floor typically does, it’s a job for the unloaders.

    This is a very physically taxing job – you’re unloading freight off a manual conveyor track and stacking it on pallets. She was exhausted and having difficulty with the job. The store manager wanted it done because we had a lot of trucks with a lot of pieces (freight) that night.

    The store manager was in the back of the truck and he saw her there, but it made no difference to him.

    It’s not just associates who are pregnant who aren’t being accommodated.

    On Thanksgiving, an associate with MS (it has progressed to the point she walks with a very pronounced limp,) was a queue line monitor. Another associate brought her a chair to sit in while she helped monitor the line.

    An assistant manager made her put the chair away. There was one customer in the line and three associates assigned to the line. Walmart is all heart.

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