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October 03, 2006

New York Times Smash!

The Times has a fantastic editorial on Wal-Mart's plans to screw its workers over. A taste:

For instance, Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro reported yesterday in The Times that employees at several Florida stores say that managers are barring older employees with back and leg problems from using stools they had sat on for years.

Other employees are complaining of sudden scheduling changes they say are skewed to chase out long-term employees, and wage caps that act as a disincentive for those longer-tenured workers. In a stunning deployment of corporate doublespeak, a memo to store managers describes the wage caps as a way to maintain “internally equitable pay levels.” It is true that if everyone is making the same everyday low wages, a perverse form of equality is established among them.

The company says it is not trying to encourage long-term employees to leave, and that the caps encourage them to move up if they want higher pay.

How charming. It's worth noting the fatuousness of the "move up" rationalization. There are, to say the least, fewer managers than clerks, and more stockboys than supervisors. Wal-Mart would like to imply that the reason workers are languishing in low-level positions is an unwillingness to accept promotion. Of course it is. While there's nothing wrong with having fewer supervisory roles than entry-level positions, there is something wrong with working to subtly eject the sick and the old from low-level jobs by denying them stools, and capping the pay of those jobs so dedicated employees who aren't promoted can't continue to advance their own living standards. And that doesn't even get into the company's widespread discrimination against women.

October 3, 2006 in Wal-Mart | Permalink


Not to justify what Wal-mart is doing... but I do object to the implication that you automatically are supposed to make more money ("advance their own living standards") without actually doing anything better, contributing anything more or doing anything more efficiently.

Why does simply stagnating in one position automatically entitle more money? (Not saying that staying at the same position always entails stagnating either... but sometimes it does.)

Posted by: Tito | Oct 3, 2006 10:35:11 AM

Enough evidence is already on the table of the perverse effects of Walmart's policies on not just the US economy, but large swaths of the rest of the world as well, that it seems time to discuss remedies.

Early 20th century Standard Oil seems like the right model to consider. Rockefeller's company was compelled to split into nearly 100 separate firms to break their stranglehold on the in energy business which was not yet dominant on the economy.

Would 100 small Walmarts be any better than one huge one? Yes, because they would not only compete against each other, but other non-Walmart firms could join the fray of competition as well.

Dissolution of Walmart won't solve the problems alone. A return to pre-Reaganite anti-trust enforcement, and new anti-trust laws as well would be required. And certainly a US executive administration committed to a new view of the role of the corporation in society is a requirment, including absolute prohibition of corporate lobbying, campaign contributions (directly or through trade associations).

I see Barry Lynn's article in Harpers (linked in the mini-blog on the right) as just a starting place.

But who in the Democratic Party is going to carry the banner for a renewed and strengthened Progressivism (along the lines of the old progressive movement of the early 20th century) - as outlined by Eric Rauchway's piece in TNR on the difference between progressivism and liberalism (also linked to the right in the mini-blog)?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 3, 2006 12:06:51 PM

Wal Mart is a business, not a charity. if a seventh year associate's labor is only marginally more valuable than a first year associate's, why should the seventh year get paid more than a marginal amount more?

A comparison: If you're buying a computer, do you ask how many man-hours it took to manufacture, or hat it's worth in features to you? Obviously, you don't care about the former. Similarly, it doesn't matter how hard somebody works or how long they've been with the company; their labor is of a certain value, and they should be paid that amount. What Wal Mart has really done is revolutionize valuation and fair compensation.

Posted by: American Hawk | Oct 3, 2006 12:11:14 PM

Why does simply stagnating in one position automatically entitle more money?

The "more money" is to address the continually rising cost of living which, in terms of actual purchasing power, would mean that a worker who never gets a raise is in fact making less money every year.

They are not "doing anything better, contributing anything more or doing anything more efficiently" because workers do not write their own job descriptions. Doing more and doing it better or more efficiently requires a deviation from standard procedure that few employers tolerate (especially low-wage employers).

Posted by: Constance Reader | Oct 3, 2006 12:25:14 PM

In practical terms, Standard Oil was broken up as much for the way it became a monopoly as for its having become one. Wal-Mart's methods have been saintly in comparison. I don't expect to see any significant move to break up a business that remains very popular, with about 20% of its market, and that achieved its success through basically legitimate means, especially since it would mean higher prices.

Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 3, 2006 12:25:18 PM

Constance, it's raises in addition to cost of living adjustments, based on length of employment, that are at issue.

Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 3, 2006 12:28:46 PM

Sanpete, are you honestly suggesting that employers, and in this specific case the charge is not specific to low-wage employers, pass out raises every year that are in excess of the cost of living increase? I have worked in the corporate world for nine years and I have yet to receive an annual raise that is equal to, much less in excess of, a cost of living adjustment. Many companies, including my own, assign raises independent of performance review (the company I worked for longest actually approved the raises before the review period even began; the review was official notification of the raise and was not scheduled until the raises were approved).

Also, many companies give raises as percentages of current salary. So a person making $20k per year received the same 3% raise as the person making $60k per year. Guess which person was actually compensated commensurate with the cost of living adjustment?

Posted by: Constance Reader | Oct 3, 2006 12:34:23 PM

Sanpete, are you honestly suggesting that employers, and in this specific case the charge is not specific to low-wage employers, pass out raises every year that are in excess of the cost of living increase?


Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 3, 2006 12:47:49 PM

American Hawk,

Excellent point. Why anybody expects Wal~Mart to act as such is beyond me.

Why those who do expect Wal~Mart to act that way and ignore the charity that they have given time and time again is truly willful blindness.

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 3, 2006 1:39:32 PM

There is nothing willfully blind about recognizing the entirely PR-motivated charity boards every Wal-Mart posts in their entrance and also recognizing that their public charity, no matter how good in itself, in no way counterbalances their negative effects.

Wal-Mart has been incredibly successful so far in its business model, which can be described in analogy as winning an election by killing off your opponents so there’s no one else to vote for.

Such a business model is precisely why we have anti-trust laws, because it's inherently destructive. It is destructive to it's employees, the communities it's in, and eventually to all of society.

Wal-Mart's ruthlessness may be considered a virtue to those who aspire to be the next Wal-Mart, but that makes it no less unhealthy for society.

Posted by: Damien | Oct 3, 2006 4:55:47 PM

Excellent point. Why anybody expects Wal~Mart to act as such is beyond me.

I dunno. I'd expect Wal-Mart to let employees with back or leg problems use stools to sit on sometimes, wouldn't you? At least, I sort of hope you would.

Posted by: Constantine | Oct 3, 2006 7:35:30 PM


Wal~Mart has won the ~20% market share that they have, hardly a "crushing monopoly" buy the getting the most votes in each market method. Perhaps you call that killing off opponents, I call it competition.

When I walk into a Wal~Mart and see evidence of the "stool problem" I will ask someone about it. Have not seen it yet.

Sounds like you judge football games by yards and Presidential elections by total popular votes too.

Now, please explain to me how a tiny little country store turned into a murder organization against Sears and K-Mart?

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 3, 2006 9:20:24 PM

Guy, what evidence of Walmart managers forbidding employees to use stools would you be able to see?

Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 3, 2006 9:29:05 PM

Constantine, Wal~Mart has won the ~20% market share that they have, hardly a "crushing monopoly"...

Guy, since your post was ostensibly addressed to me, I have to wonder -- I may have missed something, but the 3/4ths of your post is a complete non-sequitur reply to mine. I didn't use the term "crushing monopoly," nor did anyone else here. What on earth are you talking about and what about my post prompted the better part of your reply?

Posted by: Constantine | Oct 3, 2006 10:19:08 PM

It was actually meant for Damien, I think, except for the stool part. It's a proper reply to Damien's claim that Wal-Mart is winning by killing off its competition (improperly).

Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 3, 2006 10:26:32 PM

I am by no means rich. But, I've boycotted Walmart for years. They are evil. They are everything bad about coorporations and big business. They are the modern day version of scrooge.
I hate them.
I go elsewhere and usually find that if you know where to go you can find better stuff for better prices.
Thier stuff is cheap in ways of cheap looking. It does not have anything I can't find elsewhere and like I said, I find stuff cheaper elsewhere. Like outlet stores. Or online.
We must make sure people know and understand this and get a movement, a real movement going to boycot this nasty, evil, insidious place.
Boycot Walmart. Make lists of places that have better prices and pass it on in your community.

Posted by: dlake | Oct 4, 2006 12:40:31 AM


Thanks for properly decyphering my post.

As for "evidence" on the stool issue, not seeing any stools provided for people who look like they need them might be a clue for me.

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 4, 2006 7:00:06 AM

Guy, I think I saw the evidence you seek, then, a couple weeks ago when I went into Wal-Mart to use my credit union and noticed a very weary looking older Wal-Mart employee standing by the door inspecting bags or something. I wanted him to sit down, just looking at him, but there was nowhere to sit. But of course it's hard to be sure without asking.

Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 4, 2006 12:24:50 PM

As for "evidence" on the stool issue, not seeing any stools provided for people who look like they need them might be a clue for me.

I'm sure that would be definitive.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Oct 5, 2006 12:04:06 AM

You may call it competition Guy, and it rightfully is competition. Where we seem to disagree isn't so much on the legality of Wal-Mart's actions or their motives. Every company has the same motive, to make the most money possible.

Where we differ then is the fact that you see their market control and say, "free market, it's their right", while I view our economy as more than just a venue for companies to make money. If you destroy your competition (which you cannot in truth say Wal-Mart doesn't do if you've ever been outside of a large city) you control the local economy. Because of their market share they also have overwhelming power to dictate to their suppliers, something which I don't agree with.

Yes my "killing off your competition" may sound harsh, but I've seen it in every town within a hundred miles of where I live. Maybe this has biased me against Wal-Mart, but I can't justify any one company having this much power, no matter how "legal" it may be.

Posted by: Damien | Oct 5, 2006 2:27:53 AM

I would ask the question, Have any of you actually worked for WalMart??? My husband did, he was injured and put on the door without a stool, then he was put outside in the hot sun to protect the plants they had in the parking lot, without a hat or umbrella to keep the heat off of him, then came to cut of hours from 40 a week to 8 a week, tell me how just that is to an employee that is a hard worker and nice to customers? He took a medical leave of absence when he had surgury and they fired him, where is the great WalMart when you get hurt on their watch? They want you to go away so they do not have to make thigs right with you, honesty is not one of WalMarts virtues......

Posted by: Nadine | Oct 29, 2006 1:07:51 PM

As promised, getting back to you on that stool issue:

Apparently the Wal*Marts in VA have not gotten the memo about crippling their greeters, killing 'big oil' or crushing every other business around!

Oh, they did have self-checkout, but it was a little quirky and I had to try a second machine to buy synthetic hydrogen for the hybrid Jeep and Charger.

Happy to be of service!

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 7:25:55 AM

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