Walmart

Wal-Mart Smoking Gun, with Bonus Egomania

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As a mild egomaniac myself, I'm quite sympathetic to those who see themselves at the center of major events. But since Wal-Mart announced new labor policies which analysts say will shift about 40 percent of its workforce to part-time, human interest stories about dissed workers are popping up like mushrooms, each with its own theory about just what kind of worker Wal-Mart is out to destroy.

The New York Times tells a legit hard luck story of one Wal-Mart worker:

Sally Wright, 67, an $11-an-hour greeter at the Wal-Mart in Ponca City, Okla., said she quit in August after 22 years with the company when managers pressed her to make herself available to work any time, day or night. She requested staying on the day shift, but her manager reduced her schedule from 32 hours a week to 8 and refused her pleas for more hours, she said.

"They were trying to get rid of me," Ms. Wright said. "I think it was to save on health insurance and on the wages."

Wright is probably right. If she has been at the company 22 years, she is a relatively expensive greeter to keep on the payroll and insurance rolls. But if she's getting screwed, she getting screwed in exactly the same way that professionals, support staff, and managers are getting screwed in every industry, all over the country every day:

To some extent, Wal-Mart is simply doing what business strategists recommend: deploying workers more effectively to meet the peaks and valleys of business in their stores. Wall Street, which has put pressure on Wal-Mart to raise its stock price, has endorsed the strategy, with analysts praising the new approach to managing its workers. In the last three years, the stock price has fallen about 10 percent, closing at $49.32 a share on Friday.

"They need to be doing some of this," said Charles Grom, an analyst at J. P. Morgan Chase who covers Wal-Mart. It lets the company schedule employees "when they are generating most of their sales—at lunch, in the evening on the weekends."

Let's hope most commenters will manage to keep the lament about the extreme, unusual cruelty of Wal-Mart's labor practices in a relatively low key this time around–the Times story is surprisingly even-handed. But I'm not holding my breath.

Here's the smoking gun [PDF] for those interested in checking out the primary source. It wasn't supposed to be a public document, so common sense suggests it's as close as we'll get to a clean description of what Wal-Mart actually believes will happen as a result of the policy.

NEXT: Tickle Me Sullum

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  1. Dear God, I hate unlabeled PDF links. Hate them, hate them, hate them.

  2. Wow! When you talk to God, he really does listen!

  3. The server squirrel is God? She doesn’t listen to me.

  4. Let’s hope most commenters will manage to keep the lament about the extreme, unusual cruelty of Wal-Mart’s labor practices in a relatively low key this time around–the Times story is surprisingly even-handed. But I’m not holding my breath.

    You know, I don’t really have much of an opinion about WalMart one way or the other, and I rarely say much in WalMart threads. But when somebody admonishes Hit and Run posters, of all people, to be nicer to a large company, um, well, that’s just bizarre.

    I think this thread merits a new slogan:

    Bizarro World: Some call it strange, Katherine Mangu-Ward calls it home.

    Somebody call CEI’s PR firm, stat!

    (Disclaimer for Eric the 0.5b: I’m not trying to imply that Hit and Run posters all go too far in the other direction, I’m well aware that I’ve made such broad generalizations in the past and you’ve called me on it. But you have to admit that this place isn’t exactly a hotbed of anti-business sentiment.)

  5. I will love Wal-Mart when they fire all the grannies. Creepy damn greeters. It’s like shopping at Skeletor’s Bargain Basement.

  6. Who cares if they screw their workers, I can get Soft Scrub for $1 and 75 cents off of tit-nickels!! Low Prices = Super Awesome All The Time!!!!!

  7. …when somebody admonishes Hit and Run posters, of all people, to be nicer to a large company, um, well, that’s just bizarre.

    For the 2nd time today, I’m not sure if my sarcasm meter is on the fritz.
    I am sure that if mine is functioning properly, then thoreau’s is not.

  8. I recently sent a letter to my local Wal-Mart’s manager praising the associate who managed to stay in good cheer even though I needed help getting something heavy and large off a high shelf, right after somebody else asked her to do the exact same thing.

    I don’t know that that’s relevant to anything, but I’d like to think that associate isn’t going to lose her job.

  9. I can get Soft Scrub for $1 and 75 cents off of tit-nickels

    Excuse me, Lamar (or someone), what is a tit-nickel?

  10. I just made it up.

  11. I just made it up.

    Damn! And I just ordered a gross of them.

  12. Disclaimer for Eric the 0.5b

    None needed. It’s a genuinely weird admonition. (And in the interests of amity, I’ll avoid being annoyed by a personalized disclaimer. 😉 )

    In her defense, in this one post, she manages not to sound like some liberal’s parody of “what libertarians think”.

  13. Who cares if they screw their workers, I can get Soft Scrub for $1 and 75 cents off of tit-nickels!! Low Prices = Super Awesome All The Time!!!!!

    Yes, you can get those things for that much because of Wal-Mart’s ‘low prices’ policy, but you don’t have to. Most people choose to do so. So what? You only come off as a smug elitist when you deride other people’s choice to save money rather than be more “community-oriented”. If you don’t like Wal-Mart’s policies, don’t shop there. Not tough.

    Now, a question for you: what does “screw their workers” mean to you?

  14. Eric-

    Fair enough, I won’t personalize it in the future. But since you had rightly taken me to task over these things before, I thought it only reasonable to acknowledge you.

    And she doesn’t sound like a stereotype until that admonition, which makes the admonition all the more out of place.

  15. Let’s hope most commenters will manage to keep the lament about the extreme, unusual cruelty of Wal-Mart’s labor practices in a relatively low key this time around–the Times story is surprisingly even-handed. But I’m not holding my breath.

    I’m not sure there wasn’t a mix up in terms here. “commenter” means something specific to us Hit & Run commenters–but I’m not so sure that Ms. Mangu-Ward wasn’t using the term in a broader sense. …as in the journalist who wrote the New York Times piece would be a “commenter”. …and any other journalist who might write a human interest story commenting on Wal-Mart’s new policy.

    I hope she corrects me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think she was talking about Hit & Run commenters here.

  16. And she doesn’t sound like a stereotype until that admonition, which makes the admonition all the more out of place.

    I don’t know that the admonition sounds stereotypical so much as bewildering. Almost as bewildering as her claiming to be concerned about what commentors are saying when she never gives any sign of reading the comments…

    Hmm. Perhaps K M-W is just republishing things she’s posted in some other blog we’re not aware of?

  17. Ayn Randian: I’m so smug and elite that I don’t even have a Walmart in the community where I live. I even have an advanced degree, that’s how blue I am!! That’s my choice. Absolutely. To answer your question, I was going to say they insert their rudimentary peni into the screworifice, but then I figured, hey, running an employee of 22-years out of a job speaks for itself. Of course, I don’t advocate government intervention, But I am a super-smug S.O.B. who thinks 22 years with an employer should mean something.

  18. I am beginning to believe that WalMart, since the death of Sam Walton, has gradually been taken over by imbeciles. I expect further confirmation of this hypothesis in the form of an announcement that WalMart will be relocating their Global HQ to a glittering $350 billion monument to poor business judgement. I’m getting an image (vaguely reminiscent of a brass spitoon) of a Frank Gehry designed WalMart Trade Center Tower, located in a major northeastern metropolis.

    Sell your shares.

  19. I read the first few pages of the pdf, and I’m baffled as to what the smoking gun might be. Sounds like the central office is establishing pay minimums and maximums for all their stores. It says about 3 times that nobody will get their pay reduced or lose their benefits. People currently over the maximum will be frozen at their current salary but receive a one-time payout to compensate.

    What’s the big deal? Am I missing it?

  20. I agree with Ken Schultz. Thoreau, you’re so vain, you probably think this comment is about you. And under a headline about big egos! Classic.

  21. I’m confused.

    Did someone tell the 22 year worker her job was for life? Did she not know the perks and benefits 22 years ago, such as shares of stock and a written contract of employment hours?

    I’m surprised by anyone in this day and age who expects job security by showing up at a job which any person (and some other mammals) can do. If your skills or knowledge are replicated accross the majority of the population you should always keep in mind that your job is not secure.

    On the bright side, if she’s such a great greeter that her work was boosting the bottom line then I’m sure she’ll get a better position!

  22. Maybe now they’ll actually have more than two people running registers when I go there.

    I usually avoid Walmart because the lines are a pain at the times I shop.

  23. I’m in complete agreement with everyone who has essentially said that Wal-Mart made a business decision that they had every right to make. In the long run though, I think they are making a bad decision. They shouldn’t sacrifice their future for an immediate momentary blip in their stock price.

    Wal-Mart was built on two pillars. Price and the community/family of employees. They seem to be making a decision to weaken or eliminate one of them. The question is, how long can an organization the size of Wal-Mart balance on one foot?

  24. I think the real problem is that in most of these situations there is no capacity to negotiate wages instead.

  25. “If you don’t like Wal-Mart’s policies, don’t shop there. Not tough.”

    Don’t forget, you can also try and convince others not to shop there by talking about Wal-mart’s policies and why you don’t like them.

    I haven’t shopped at Wal-mart for well over a decade. I encourage others to try it. You will find your quality of life improves in unexpected ways…

    You should also encourage public policy makers to make smart decisions in regards to what mechanism they use to encourage development in your local community. If they are considering giving your tax dollars to Wal-mart (usually via a tax break), you might encourage them to try a different strategy to encourage development. There is even a fair amount of good research available on the pros & cons of big box development on communities (most points to a negative impact on local employment and income when a Wal-mart comes to a community. Wal-mart is the most studied due to it ubiquity), although there are important contextual factors that need to be considered.

  26. It’s like shopping at Skeletor’s Bargain Basement.

    Hey! Don’t hate on Skeletor! He went from being an out-of-work actor with a pain pill addiction (he did his own stunts) to being the head of a multi-national corporation with a pain pill addiction (one problem at a time, people!) That’s the American dream in action! Eternian dream. Whatever.

  27. OK, I guess the other interpretation makes more sense, and she was referring to commenters in the media at large, not just Hit and Run.

  28. “They need to be doing some of this,” said Charles Grom, an analyst at J. P. Morgan Chase who covers Wal-Mart. It lets the company schedule employees “when they are generating most of their sales — at lunch, in the evening on the weekends.”

    When I attempted to contact J.P. Morgan Chase this evening about my portfolio I recieved a recorded message that said “Our Regular office hours are 7:30AM – 6:00PM Eastern Standard Time”. Perhaps they should take thier own advice and start splitting shifts.

  29. I’m in complete agreement with everyone who has essentially said that Wal-Mart made a business decision that they had every right to make. In the long run though, I think they are making a bad decision. They shouldn’t sacrifice their future for an immediate momentary blip in their stock price.

    There are a number of major American corporations staving off bankruptcy and/or being taken private partly because of employee health care costs. …and taking preemptive measures makes sense to me in the long run.

    I would also argue that some of Wal-Mart’s recent success was built on trade with China and elsewhere. But if the rising costs of manufacturing in China and elsewhere continues to climb and the dollar weakens, it’ll be interesting to see how Wal-Mart responds. K Mart and Sears were once really big dogs…

  30. I thnk PBrooks hit the nail on the head; since the death of Sam Walton, WalMart is not the same company. Having grown up in Wal-Mart country, I can see a noticable decline in the quality of their stores in the last 10 years. They never were nice stores, but when the old man was alive they were always well kept, neat and very practical places to shop. In the last few years they have gotten increasingly ill-kept, have fewer employees running the check out lines producing long waits to get out during peek hours, and carry fewer and lower quality goods. It didn’t used to be an ordeal to go to a WalMart. I never liked shoping at them, but I hate shoping of any kind. But, now it is just an ordeal to go to them. I don’t see the point when you can go to Target and get the same crap for the same price in a cleaner better run store.

    I think this policy is just another step in the slow decline of the company. They will no doubt loose good employees to other companies and the ones who remain will be less dedicated since many of them will be part time. My guess is that in 20 years Wal Mart will be in about the state GM is in today long since replaced as the main retailer in the country and the all of the smug liberals who railed against it in the 00s will be demanding a government financed bailout to save jobs.

  31. I’ve been inside a Target twice. Way too much red and tan. I literally felt like I was going to suffocate.

    My local Walmart has responded to the problem of long check-out lines with those self-checkout stations. Unfortunately, all this succeeds in doing is increasing one’s appreciation of the cashiers. After all, if there’s anything more annoying than waiting for a slow, dimwitted Walmart cashier to scan items at the rate of one every fifteen seconds, it’s waiting for a slow, dimwitted Walmart customer to scan an item every thirty seconds.

  32. The (usually) fat dimwits who work for Wal-Mart get exactly the treatment they should get. The real world has winners and losers. The nanny state encourages the losers to become whiners, so they’re not just repulsive to look at but also tiresome to listen to. Maybe genetic engineering will some day permit the cultivation of low-IQ deafmutes.

  33. ‘In her defense, in this one post, she manages not to sound like some liberal’s parody of “what libertarians think”.’

    Actually Eric the .5b, this does read like liberal’s parody of what libertarians think:

    “As a mild egomaniac myself, I’m quite sympathetic to those who see themselves at the center of major events.”

    This is how the lady introduces a story about people losing their jobs at Wal Mart – by chastising them for thinking their little lives are too important.

    What do you think, you’re the center of the universe? You should pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.

    Psst, Ayn Randian, the reason nobody takes your of elitism seriously – the ones who so promiscuously throw about whenever someone suggests that it is possible for The Market (TM) to do wrong – is because you so obviously agree with Bob. I don’t care if you think it’s elitist to have zoning regulations; you think poor people have it coming, so I don’t care.

  34. I don’t get it. Just because the stupid SOB’s at Walmart CAN decimate the hours of an employee with 22 years of service DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT. I’d like to personally smack the dimwit manager upside the head.

    On the other hand, this is just the sort of ignorant corporate abuse of power that makes fertile territory for union recruitment.

  35. You should also encourage public policy makers to make smart decisions in regards to what mechanism they use to encourage development in your local community.

    The only thing I’m interested in convincing them of is to go away. To dissolve – or at least weaken – whatever governmental or quasi-governmental body they belong to. To repeal. To not *encourage* adding yet more crap to their venal agenda. That’s the best thing I can think of for my community.

  36. I have had many and varied experiences with Wal-Mart. I can say that the quality has gone down hill majorly. As far as what they are doing concerning their employees, it is what they think is best for the bottom line. Let ’em do it. Let the employees unionize, it’ll serve Wal-Mart right for treating employees like shit. I really think this will hurt Wal-Mart in the long run, but I guess they will have to figure that out on their own. However, like DMAIC said, if that woman has actually worked there for 22 years, and has nothing she is an idiot. Weren’t greeters exercising stock options for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 80’s? I know my fratenrity brother in college had some good stock options even in the late 90’s early 00’s.

    Nick

  37. This is how the lady introduces a story about people losing their jobs at Wal Mart – by chastising them for thinking their little lives are too important.

    Damn. I was so annoyed over the unlabeled PDF link I completely missed that. How utterly callous.

  38. Psst, Ayn Randian, the reason nobody takes your of elitism seriously – the ones who so promiscuously throw about whenever someone suggests that it is possible for The Market (TM) to do wrong – is because you so obviously agree with Bob. I don’t care if you think it’s elitist to have zoning regulations; you think poor people have it coming, so I don’t care.

    Have you been drinking, joe? This post makes zero sense to me. I am not going to spend more than the 15 minutes I already have trying to make sense of it. Come back when you’re sober.

  39. I’m surprised by anyone in this day and age who expects job security by showing up at a job which any person (and some other mammals) can do.

    i just had a picture flash though my head of Lassie in a walmart smock jumping on and barking at people as they enter the store.

  40. joe wrote:

    Psst, Ayn Randian, the reason nobody takes your [claims?] of elitism seriously –

    this coming from a guy who told me this only yesterday:

    Frankly, it was boring enough to have to read people with twice your education play that game.

  41. I think the main disconnect is that many people in this country believe that the #1 responsibility of a private business is to provide jobs.

    That being said, I fucking hate Walmart, because as John describes, it’s an ordeal. It’s not worth saving a dollar on some piece of shit if the effort is going to cost one an extra half-hour of aggravation. Time is money.

    And the invisible hand, as always, is the one true factor. If you treat your employees like shit, they will treat the customers like shit. Customers don’t show up. You go out of business.

  42. Ayn Randian,

    If you can’t will yourself to stop smoking, it will disprove everything you’ve ever believed about the individual will being the driving force for good in the world, and the controlling force in human activity.

    Next time you pick up a cigarette, realize that I will be laughing at you can’t stop yourself from lighting it up.

    Me.

    Just in case you needed a little more motivation.

    😉

    Good luck.

  43. I’m confounded by the idea that the length of your employment with a company should mean anything more than you being paid during the time you were there. I can’t even fathom working for the same company for 22 years, as far as that goes. It sounds horrible. Maybe people who want job guarantees based on tenure just like to sit around and be overpaid for what they do, which I guess I can understand. But I sure like the freedom to be able to LEAVE a job whenever I want.

  44. Actually Eric the .5b, this does read like liberal’s parody of what libertarians think:

    “As a mild egomaniac myself, I’m quite sympathetic to those who see themselves at the center of major events.”

    This is how the lady introduces a story about people losing their jobs at Wal Mart – by chastising them for thinking their little lives are too important.

    Ehn, it’s a tone-deaf intro, but since she’s clearly referring to people who think the policies of a huge corporation were changed to eliminate them personally, I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. She’s not writing like a parody of libertarianism – she sounds more like a clumsy college-newspaper writer who just Found Libertarianism.

  45. She’s not writing like a parody of libertarianism – she sounds more like a clumsy college-newspaper writer who just Found Libertarianism.

    Are the two really all that different?

  46. “You should also encourage public policy makers to make smart decisions in regards to what mechanism they use to encourage development in your local community–MSM

    The only thing I’m interested in convincing them of is to go away. To dissolve – or at least weaken – whatever governmental or quasi-governmental body they belong to. To repeal. To not *encourage* adding yet more crap to their venal agenda. That’s the best thing I can think of for my community.–BEE”

    In many cases this is the right strategy. But given that your local government is going to be involved, it is worth looking at what kinds of economic activities they are encouraging in your community. A player like Wal-mart can have a big influence in a local political arena, and will certainly not have the interests of the community at large in mind. Citizens who disagree with their policies can make sure that those in government that might make bad decisions hear the objects, and hear another alternative. No government encouragement of development is a potential strategy. I haven’t seen it play out that way in my lifetime. Governments choose winners in development games all the time, often at the expense of the long-term health of a community. Only citizens that engage the government actively can every hope to influence that process in positive directions.

  47. I am 100% in favor of getting rid of lazy, incompetent (and yes, even insolent) employees. I would never advocate that anybody should be able to prevent that from happening (drink up- I’ll wait). As I have said many times, in many places, “If you’re good at what you do, you don’t need no stinkin’ uniion.” And you definitely don’t need government regulations which impair legitimate (or even stupid) business decisions; ask the Germans and the French.

    BUT

    In a well run business, experienced, knowledgeable employees are recognized as an asset and an investment, rather than a drag on profits. This dimwit proposition that there is no difference in value between an employee with one year on the job and one with ten years on the job has “business school” written all over it. Formulae are nice, and can be useful, but individual employees can make or break a business; even a large one.

    If this is such a great principle, then the board of directors ought to turf that imbecile Scott out on his ear and replace him with some nobody- that way they can realize a significant reduction in payroll expenses; maybe they can institute a policy of enforced turnover in the executive suite.
    I’d really like to sit in on that discussion.

  48. Seriously guys, we’ve all talked about the need to diversify out base, and when a voice comes along that sounds a little different…

    …and it sounds like you guys are criticizing the key rather than the music. I thought we’d all agreed that the music doesn’t have to be 100% either… So why are we grumbling about the tone?

  49. “She’s not writing like a parody of libertarianism – she sounds more like a clumsy college-newspaper writer who just Found Libertarianism.”

    Are the two really all that different?

    I think so. “Sincere, if a little clumsy” versus “Corporate Robot”.

    Seriously guys, we’ve all talked about the need to diversify out base, and when a voice comes along that sounds a little different….and it sounds like you guys are criticizing the key rather than the music.

    Except she doesn’t sound different, she mostly sounds like the sort of stealth-Republican we’re generally accused of being.

  50. “In a well run business, experienced, knowledgeable employees are recognized as an asset and an investment, rather than a drag on profits.”

    That depends on the employee and the job. I once worked at a company where people in a certain department had been doing the same thing for almost 30 years. They simply repeated a process over and over, without improving (or even questioning) it. Yet these employees also got 4% or 5% “cost of living” raises every year. After that much time, you’ve got some seriously overpaid workers! You can hire someone off the street for a lot less money who will probably do at least as good of a job – if not better. Of course if the company let these slugs go, it would be raked over the coals for not showing the employees any loyalty.

    However, you make a good point when it comes to other situations. Employees who are always learning and building their skill base should switch jobs every two or three years, because then they can do a lot BETTER than a 4% or 5% raise every year.

  51. “This dimwit proposition that there is no difference in value between an employee with one year on the job and one with ten years on the job has “business school” written all over it.”

    Agreed, many times the employee with one year on the job is far more valuable than the employee with ten years on the job.

    signed: dimwitted b-school grad

  52. I learned a lot of very useful things in business school; the notion that employees (excepting, of course, those exhalted denizens of the executive suite) are qualitatively indistinguishable, and consequently always and everywhere interchangeable, was not one of them.

    Mike- you are completely correct; there are always circumstances in which one individual is more motivated, or more competent, or more qualified than others regardless of length of service. I have been in that situation, and I believe that you have, too.

    I left myself a cheat on my prior assertion: that of the “well run business.” As a devotee and practioner of the “kaizen” approach to any process, I do not consider inertia and habit to be hallmarks of well run businesses. Further, as somebody who has never had the same job for two years, I have little sympathy for those who want to spend their lives in the same place doing the same thing, waiting for retirement.

    In my estimation, the most pernicious effect of unionization is not its impact on payroll; it is the slavish devotion to seniority over competence, and rigid work rules and job categories which impede improvements in productivity and efficiency.

    If I believed WalMart was engaged in a well thought out campaign to improve operations by weeding out the dead wood and underperformers on its payroll, I would be heartily in favor of it. However, I don’t see that as being the case. I think they are engaged in an ill considered attempt to manipulate the numbers for some short term goal, likely related to the price of WalMart shares and options thereto related.

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