8.15.2008

The Walmart Empire

I watched a Robert Greenwald documentary on Walmart last night. While I don't shop there and while I have heard and read much about this corporate giant's business practices, I learned some things, things that appalled me, so I thought to post them there.

Some little known facts about Walmart you may or may not know about:

For starters, here's what you can expect as a Walmart employee, or "associate" as they are referred to:

*To begin with, if you're a Walmart associate, your pay averages around $4,000 below the federal poverty level. While Walmart claims close to 75% of their workers are full-time, their definition of full-time is around 30 hours a week.

*Once hired, you will be expected to work any hour, any shift, including assigned days off. You're basically on call during all store hours. If this causes distress in your home, too bad. You don't show, you're fired.

*Don't be surprised if your Supervisor changes your time sheet. Walmart has a strict "no over time" policy. If you happened to work over-time, Supervisor's are guided to remove the hours to avoid the extra pay.

*If Walmart offers you health insurance, the premiums are usually too expensive for you, so therefore you do what Walmart stores all over the country tell you to do: apply for Medicaid. And hey, they'll have the forms and everything for you.

*If you're female, you can forget about getting into Management, regardless of all the promises you're given by your Supervisors upon hire.

*Walmart associates have cameras at their work stations and in employee break rooms. And if that weren't enough monitoring, Store Managers are told to watch out for employees who are found talking together, only to stop talking when the Manager approaches them. Some managers have been known to fire such employees, on the spot. Why? This little employee pow wow could signal some sort of behind the scenes plan for employees to, you know, actually work together to create a fair work environment and expose the lies they were all told upon hire.

Here's some of the financial stats behind the Walmart Empire:

*The earnings of CEO Lee Scott: $27,207,799.00 (2005 stats)
*The earnings of the avg. employee: $13,861.00

*The Walton family (the family behind Walmart) has assets exceding $100 billion. If they took just $10 billion of that, this would ensure every associate received health care and a living wage.

*The Walton family gave $2.4 million in campaign contributions in 2005 alone and yet they've given less than 1% of their income to charity.

*Walmart has what's called a Critical Need Fund, which is used by Walmart employees in times of emergencies. In 2004, employees donated over $5 million. The Waltons? $6,000.

*The Waltons received a federal tax cut of $91,500 per HOUR in the 2004 tax year.

*In order to avoid returning money back to the community in terms of sales tax revenue, Walmart has been known to close an existing store and build another one, sometimes just a couple of miles away, outside of the city limits. And think the abandoned store then gets reused? Think again. As of recent stats, there are now 26,699,678 square feet of EMPTY Walmarts across the country. That could house a lot of people, educate a lot of children stuck in portable classrooms, grow food inside with climate controlled greenhouses or tear down the store and grow food or hemp, use the land for wind turbines, etc. etc.

*And hey, if you're Walmart, the city will likely dish out a nice little subsidy in the hundreds of thousands once you construct a new store. Overall, cities pay over 1 billion in such subsidies. Kaching! Kaching! Think mom and pop stores receive such subsidies? Nope. Zero. Nada. None. Read on for more what happens after Walmart enters a new city.

What happens when Walmart moves into a new city?

*Former upper echelon employee said upon entering a new city, he and another wig big would go down streets and point to local small businesses and make comments such as "See that place? It will close up in 6 months. That place over there? A year." This happens in every city Walmart sets up shop. And their predictions, sadly, are very accurate. Sadly if you happen to have a working conscience.

Walmart's Environmental Record:

*In 2001, the EPA levies a fine against Walmart for $1 million in TX, OK and MASS for violations of the Clean Water Act.

*In 2004, the EPA fines them again for $3.1 million for similar violations in TX, CO, CA, DE, MICH, S.D., TN, UT and New Jersey.

*In 2005, Connecticutt EPA fines them $1.5 million for Clean Water Act violations in 22 of its stores.

Doing Business Overseas: Where Do Those Fine Products Come From?

China:

*Walmart CEO Claims that China has "strict standards" of employment and sanitation. In reality...

*Walmart Factory workers in China often work 14-15 hour days, 7 days a week.

*Dorms are allocated for the workers and rent is deducted from their paychecks. However, even if you choose not to live in one of the provided dorms (which are cramped, confined spaces with beds no bigger than a cot), the rent is still deducted from your paycheck.

*The factories are hot and there are few fans.

*The meals provided to Factory Workers were described as "disgusting".

*The average pay for a Walmart Factory Worker in China is $3.00/day. There is no time off allowed.

*During inspections, Walmart Factory Workers are told to lie about how many days they work and most of them comply, due to fear or punishment and/or termination. In fact, if a Worker successfully lies, he/she is rewarded.

*$18 billion in products was imported from China in 2004.

Bangladesh and Honduras:

*Factory conditions very similar to those in China.

*Female factory workers in Bangladesh make clothes and work from 8am-10pm, 7 days a week. Their wage averages between $.13 - $.17/hour.

*The Cost for a factory worker to assemble your typical product: $.18, which is then sold for a retail price of $14.96.

What happens if an Inspector actually does his job and reports the truth of working conditions overseas?

*You face retaliation and you're fired.

Watching all of this, reading it, can be overwhelming. Walmart is obviously on a mission to monopolize the Retail Economy of our country and they're receiving plenty of financial incentive, support and help from our Government at every level. They seem unstoppable. However, you can stop a giant. Residents in local cities and towns have been banning together the past several years to stop Walmart from setting up shop. And they have been successful in hundreds of communities. With persistance and in numbers, this Empire can be put out to pasture.

Of course, all of this is merely a reflection of much larger problems: wages that have failed to keep up with the COL, the nightmare of NAFTA, the eroding of Unions, and basic survival needs such as food, housing and health care costs skyrocketing at ridiculous levels. For many people, shopping at Walmart isn't always about mere choice. It's about necessity. Why pay $52 for a toaster when you can buy it at Walmart for $45? For many families, that $7 is like $5,000 to the upper class. Sure, we can remove Walmart but what about the other stores? The Sam's Clubs. The Costco's. The Dollar Tree stores. They offer low prices on their products and import most of them from China and other countries, from factories that employ the same deplorable conditions as described above. Removing these stores is only half the battle. At the same time, we must bring back the mom and pop stores of years past, stores that offered full health insurance benefits, pensions and living wages. We must demand our removal from NAFTA. We must demand political figures who represent the people. We must STOP the complacency by voting for status quo puppetheads, simply because "there's no one else to choose from". Like hell there isn't! Look around and research. There are ALWAYS a huge variety of other people running. You can't just sit in your armchair and expect the MSM to inform you of who they are--because, well, they aren't going to do that.

I know, I know, lots of "yeah but's" and other words of scepticism. All duly noted and all understandable. However, as one of the business owners driven out of business by the invasion of Walmart said (paraphrasing), "If something isn't done soon, this nation is going to be ruined. At some point, there will be a revolution if monopolies like these aren't stopped." We can be complacent or we can be active. If small bands of people in select communities can hang in there and shout "NO" to Walmart and be successful in their efforts, we can do ANYTHING.

7 comments:

Pugs in Space said...

Clap clap clap! Bravo! Great blog Nina!

: JustaDog said...

What you fail to mention is when ever a Wal-Mart opens a new store there are thousands that wait in lines to work for this "horrible company".

You also fail to mention that with the slow economy thanks to the Pelosi and Democrat-controlled budget and their interference in the economy - people trying to save money from rising prices will go to Wal-Mart. There they can find the same products for less than a union store in the same town. Those lucky enough to have a Wal-Mart with a grocery store are regulars there - even union members!

Sorry - but this post reeks of typical pro-union, anti-capitalist agenda.

It's like the union lies that Wal-Mart was telling people how to vote - while at the same time unions are sending mega-millions into the Obama (their puppet) camp and sending out tons of fliers to their union pawns ordering them to vote for Obama.

Nice try.

Nina. Or is it Norman? said...

Sorry JAG, but apparently you failed to read my piece carefully, for I did mention the reasons why people shop at Walmart--cheaper products. I also address the reasons why people apply to work at Walmart by discussing NAFTA and the other reasons for our eroding economy. I also addressed the fact that, according to employees past and present, Walmart offers a lot of promises to new employees, making it seem like a great, family-friendly environment, when in reality, these promises are nothing but hot air. What I neglected to mention is how they short-staff their stores, Managers complaining and whining about the issue, while stacks of applications sit on desks.

Sorry dude--Your attempt to argue w/my points fall flat.

Do you think it's ok for Walmart to do the things I've outlined? Is that what you're saying? If you wish to have an adult discussion with this issue, you need to do better than what you've offered. Perhaps reading it again, slowly, will give you a different perspective.

You also fail to understand that Walmart isn't about capitalism at all. It's about monopoly and that goes against the origins of western capitalism. There's nothing wrong with capital, nothing wrong with making a profit and a healthy one at that. However, when that venture infringes upon the rights of other businesses to do the same level of business and abuses workers here at home and across the globe, then all of the shouts of free market go out the window. Walmart doesn't operate on the principles of Freedom. With all of your american ra ra's, I would think you of all people would see that.

Perhaps you need to watch the documentary, for in it, they show examples of present and former employees who share how Walmart Management intimidated employees into voting against the efforts to unionize. You have something against a working individual making a living wage and receiving affordable health insurance? How utterly un-american. Perhaps you need a new avitar, my dear.

And if you're familiar with my blog, you'll know I don't support either party. Both are and have been equally disasterous for our country.

My suggestion to you: Go work at Walmart. Try living on that wage for a year. Then report back to us on your experience. Curious minds will be waiting... :)

Pugs in Space said...

Yeah! What she said! Yeah!

M2M said...

Guys, I am not from US and in fact from India where Walmart is just starting to plant their stores. So my interest in this subject is to understand the whys and see if there is any implication for another society like India which is on the verge of opening up retail industry to global retailers of the likes of Walmart and Tesco. So here goes -

1. Why does a country like US, which is the ideal of capitalism and free markets, cringe on a retailer's internal organizational issue?

2. Why do a section of people (like of yourself and other 'watchdogs) are going nuts when a larger section of the americans are voting for Walmart with their monies and making it the fastest growing retailer in the country?

3. Why is a $3 salary in China being frowned upon if you know that the cost of 3 meals a day in China would not be more than $1.5? (Thanks for asians who do not believe in the value added food supplied by the likes of KFC, McDonalds and Subways)Also, alternate employment for these laborers does not exist!

4. WM being the largest employer in the private sector makes me wonder, why people even work there if it is less than the minimum wages? Isn't there a better employer in the nieghborhood or is there a moral binding to work for this particular retailer?

5. Why is it that the american appetite to consume does not stop at just its own available resources and that it has to go around the globe looking for other poor economies to support the insatiable desire for something newer and something 'cooler'?

6. Will the american consumer not take any blame for creating a global economy of borrowed luxury (read outsourcing)?

7. Would you recommend that growing economies not be allowed to give access to the markets or its natural resources?

Nina said...

M2M:

You ask some good questions. I'll try and answer them in the order that you asked them.

1) America's economy isn't really one of free market capitalism. Perhaps it once was, but now that large corporations are becoming the mainstay and are buying and/or forcing out the competition, we can't really use the term "free" with "market". That being said, America is about justice, equality and human rights. At least it once was (most people still hold these values) and so when we have a company (take your pick) that violates these principles, you're damn right the people will be speaking up about it and taking issue.

2) People shop at Walmart for a variety of reasons, most because the products are cheaper. (I discuss this in my post.) And given our economic situation--stagnating and falling wages and COL factors soaring, many people are left with little other choice but to shop at the Walmart's. It's all been planned this way, you see. There are people who don't need to shop there but still do because Walmart shows brilliant but grossly untruthful commercials, priding itself as an American Company and as we all know, marketing is effective--until one begins to question what they've been told, and unfortunately, not enough Americans question the System. But more and more are, so that is encouraging.

3) I don't care if it cost one penny to eat your meals for the day in China, $3 salary is outrageous when the top earners for said corporations are making hundreds of MILLIONS every year, not to mention the bonuses and stock options. It is income disparity to the extreme. I also realize that alternative employment is often not an option and that is indeed a huge problem, so I would never think to cast the finger to the workers. My fingers are pointing towards those who are taking advantage of unnecessary suffering and disparaging economic conditions.

4) Walmart is required, like all U.S. Companies, to pay minimum wage, assuming you are a legalized citizen. Like the documentary showed and like I pointed out in my post (ahem), Walmart offers it's employees/associates a lot of promises upon hire that they usually fail to deliver on. Given you don't live in America, you aren't fully aware of our economy. When Joe or Jane America has been laid off due to yet another American Company leaving for another country (China, India, etc. etc.), when they've been out of work for over a year they become desperate. Well enter Walmart. They decide to set up shop and put out the welcome mat and thus, Joe and/or Jane apply and the cycle begins and is continued.

Proponents of our current economic model love to spout "Working is a CHOICE." Yes it is. But one must not neglect the fact that for millions, if they do not work or if they choose to bypass companies like Walmart in hopes of holding out for something better or different, that often means they lose their home and the ability to provide for themselves. Some choice.

5) Excellent point, one I make myself. If ever you can afford it, take a trip over here and spend some time watching television. We are bombarded with commercials telling us what we NEED. Commercials with subliminal messages (and for those rolling your eyes, here's a slap in the face--subliminal marketing EXISTS--I've encountered it first hand) that tell us things such as "you will be more liked" or "women will want to have sex with you" and other such nonsense. Again, until people WAKE UP and question their reality, both internally AND externally, this spend spend spend frenzy will continue.

6) Good question. What must be realized is that buying goods made in America can be next to impossible, if not impossible. For example, I was in search of a toaster. I could not find one that was not made in China, regardless of the price. Our choices have been greatly reduced to the point where NOT supporting outsourcing has become very challenging. And what are the workers of a plant to do when it's made the decision to close up shop and go overseas (like our own Hewlett Packard is gearing up to do)? I would point most of the fingers at the politicians for allowing and encouraging this practice (encouraging through tax breaks) as well as asking these other nations--why are you helping to contribute to this trend? As it is, we're ALL responsible, some more than others--but we all have some influence in this, great or small.

7) I have two words: respect and balance. As long as one is fully engaged in these two concepts, then I say have at it.

Thanks for your thoughtful questions. They've made me revisit some of my own opinions.

M2M said...

Thanks for your patience in answering my questions. Appreciate your balanced presentation of the facts. I am actually quite sick of reading innumerable blogs poping up everyday talking about why they hate Walmart. Very few have answers or even humility to understand that it is a bigger problem and that Walmart is only mirroring the society - economic, social and other wise. I hope that in all this, there will emerge a leadership that will actually bring that change which will ultimately brind down the institutions like Walmart.