Wednesday, December 06, 2006

20 years and All I Got Was This Lousy Shirt: The Annals of Wal-Mart

The New York Times ran an article on Wal-Mart with what one can only imagine is the sarcastic headline, "Wal-Mart Says Thank You to Workers." So just how does the management team at Wal-Mart say thank you to their workers? From the article:
The program includes several new perks "as a way of saying thank you" to workers, like a special polo shirt after 20 years of service and a "premium holiday," when Wal-Mart pays a portion of health insurance premiums for covered employees.
Any ideas on what makes a polo shirt special?

The article goes on to talk about new policies at Wal-Mart:
Wal-Mart has sought to create a cheaper, more flexible labor force by capping wages, using more part-time employees, scheduling more workers at nights and weekends, and cracking down on unexcused days off.
. . .
the new attendance policy, which originally called for disciplinary action after three unauthorized absences (although it was later revised to four unexcused absences).

Asked if absence for a family emergency, like a sick child, would be authorized, Mr. Uselton recounted, the manager said, "No, it’s not."
So if your kid gets sick and you miss work to take care of them you can get fired, but in exchange if you make it 20 years you get a polo shirt? Now I really want to know what makes that shirt so special! Back to the article to find out:
Other perks, like a shirt that states length of employment in five-year increments starting with 20 years of service, appear designed to build morale, but might do the opposite.
I think low pay and lack of health insurance have more to do with low morale at Wal-Mart than those "special" shirts. But with sales at Wal-Mart falling, the chickens are coming home to roost. An article in Business Week talks about how Wal-Mart management's poor treatment of their workers is hurting the company's bottom line:
One question on the minds of some retail experts: Is Wal-Mart's reputation hurting sales? After all, last year consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that 2% to 8% of the company's customers have stopped shopping there "because of negative press they have heard." And that was before the negative publicity campaigns by two of its most vociferous opponents - union-funded groups Wal-Mart Watch and This year both groups have ramped up their attacks on Wal-Mart, calling on the company to provide a "living wage and affordable health care" for employees
Read more on what WakeUpWalMart has in store this holiday season.

And check out what Wal-Mart workers have to say.

I'll give the final word to Saturday Night Live.

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Anonymous said...

As a nation, we are going to need to redefine the nature of work, because the nature of all work is changing.

Corporations aren't as dependent on workers anymore, except as customers. Jobs are more skills and project-centric. They don't last for more than a few years at best.

There is no incentive for employers to invest in training people. Technology is replacing a lot of people, and the rate that that happens is accellerating.

Its happening all over the world. Thats the real reason why wages are falling. Enjoy the era of the "job". It won't last much longer.

In 20 years, most wealth will be inherited wealth. Just look at today's BBC story about 2% of the world's population owning 50% of the world's wealth.

It will only get worse.

Silicon is cheap and people are expensive. We need to start a national dialogue on the future of work. Or else, we won't know what hit us.

Alex Navarro said...

Sounds right, anon. How do we get the coversation started? What does it mean to redefine the nature of work?

Anonymous said...

Wal-Mart's business model can't be allowed to become the model of the American workplace if we hope to maintain a decent standard of living and quality of life.

The WFP members need to assist the UFCW union to help them reach and communicate to Wal-Mart workers that they need a "real voice" at work.

The negative press that Wal-Mart is getting is not critical of their workers but the "system" that their in. They are proud of where they work, just like anyone of us who is proud of their-own workplaces.

After all, Wal-Mart is "dependent" on the people who do the work in their stores.

The best "model" of the American workplace is a partnership between the employees and management, and not just the few fat cats at the top who are making all of the decisions and have been getting richer and richer off the backs of the employees.