Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Undercover at Wal-mart

My wife and I have had a tumultuous love affair with our local Wal-mart Supercenter. On the one hand we visit the place maybe sometimes as much as 2 to 3 days a week. Primarily it is for the groceries; 3 dollars for a gallon of milk is truly amazing. If you happen to be a member of Sam's Club, its even cheaper at a 1.85 a gallon.

On the other hand...


let me say that the "associates," Wal-mart "new speak" for "employee," are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. At least at our Wal-mart where I live. Now, that doesn't mean smart people don't work there. I just know when I need something, if I can even find an "associate" to ask, the person either speaks broken English, if at all, or its a surly teenager named Kari or Devon who doesn't give a rip about helping me and hurriedly gives me a lame response so as to be excused from being compelled to meet my inquiry.

I written about my adventures with Wal-mart in the past.

In spite of these foibles, we are willing to suffer even longer with the mega store because of the crackpot lefty union activists who have been slandering Wal-mart for nearly a decade now as an exploiter of the working poor. Wal-mart doesn't pay their "associates" those 27-dollars an hour wage for scanning bananas and pushing carts in from the parking lot, nor do they guarantee a 100 percent return on a risk free 401(k) plan that the state pays out regardless of the fluctuations in the economy. You know, the type of union jobs that are bankrupting California. These activist are so gallingly shrill, I want to shop at Wal-mart to shut them up.

Recently a retired journalist went undercover as an "associate" at Wal-mart to investigate if the super retailer really lived up to all the bad press and exploited their workers along the same lines as a Hong Kong bowling pin factory. His findings were quite the opposite,

I had the soul sucking, dignity shredding experience of working for Wal-mart back during the early 90s in between graduating college and preparing to come to California to pursue seminary. A friend I knew from church who was attempting to make a career out of working at Wal-mart recommended I go apply at the new Supercenter opening up. The store was hiring lots of folks for heavy labor to help set everything up. I was hired immediately. I didn't have to run any of the gauntlets this uncover journalist did in order to be hired.

I was assigned to the garden center, where I was required to assemble lawn mowers, racks to hang plants, and other garden related furniture. My supervisor was a big hoss of a guy with a ruddy complexion and a round, cherubic face who had just graduated from college somewhere. He had a loud, boisterous personality that reminded me of those frat guys who paint their bodies with their school's colors and stand shirtless in 37 degree weather cheering on their football team.

He insisted on having individual personnel reviews every week with the garden center "team." I was probably the least motivated of all the others in our department, because I saw this job as a temporary paycheck until I moved away to seminary in 5 months. I recall the first review he gave me: an intense, impassioned rebuke against what he perceived as an under achieving slacker who sort of just showed up for work but had no "get-up-and-go" attitude that characterized the mythical Wal-mart attitude.

I remember how he sternly looked at me eye-to-eye, waving his outstretched hand behind him at a store full of busy workers constructing shelving and stocking the shelves, and said, "Look at all these people out here. Let me tell you son, if you want to go anywhere in Wal-mart, you are going to have to pick up the pace in attitude." Him calling me "son" was probably the most condescending aspect of his speech, because he was probably 2 years older than I was at the time. Anyhow, I was delighted to extinguish the blaze of glory in his eyes when I told him I wasn't planning on a career at Wal-mart and would be moving to L.A. by the end of the summer. His muffled response of, "Oh. Well. Okay." was precious.

One other amusing part of my Wal-mart working experience was the group indoctrination sessions we had to endure every morning when we arrived at work. Once all the "associates" were clocked in, we were to gather together at the front of the store near the check out lanes. During the first half hour or so of our work day, we were subjugated to a series of crudely made and poorly acted training videos which had a better purpose of curing insomnia than training associates. Most of them were documentary style explaining the founding and growth of Wal-mart, while others were re-enactments of how to be, and not to be, an obedient associate.

My favorites were the videos of real security footage of would be shop lifters and thieving associates being taken down. They were like watching an episode of COPS. Generally, these videos were preceded by an ominous, but matter-of-fact discussion of how the in-store Wal-mart security system is as high tech as those systems found in the Las Vegas casinos and no one can escape the gaze of the cameras. Then we were shown footage of a shop lifter being followed around the store or an associate faking an accident to get workman's comp.

Our indoctrination time ended with everyone doing group calisthenics. It was believed that because the major Japanese companies encouraged morale by doing fun things like jumping jacks and lunges, and that in turn created bigger profits because the workers were having fun, well then Wal-mart should do the same for their associates in order for them to think Wal-mart was a lot of fun and not a mean place to work. Little did the management realize that the Japanese did group activities NOT to encourage morale by doing fun things, but it was for the purpose of squashing individualism and creating a unified dynamic.

Then again, maybe they did realize what they were doing.



Blogger Mike-e said...

Dude, why shop at Wal-mart when you can shop at Target? Its so much better and you can actually get help.

This is all kinda funny because I work at Lowe's and go through the same thing as you did. So whenever you think about complaining for poor customer service wherever you are, remember that those "slackers" are just like you were :-)

5:56 AM, February 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

My wife loves Target, but two reasons to go to Wal-mart over Target:

Wal-mart has groceries.
And there is no store anywhere that can beat their prices. Honestly. 2.50 or 3 bucks for a gallon of milk? Unheard of at Target. If they have milk stocked, I think a gallon is like 5 bucks.


6:08 AM, February 12, 2009  
Blogger Mike-e said...

Oh, you poor deprived people who don't have the fortunate pleasure of Super-Target. I truly pity you.

6:23 AM, February 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

We do have a super Target. That's what I am speaking about.


6:26 AM, February 12, 2009  
Blogger Daniel said...

In Canada, we pronounce it tar-zhay (i.e. as if it were a french word), it makes it sound so upscale.

7:38 AM, February 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

They pronounce it like that here as well.

8:03 AM, February 12, 2009  

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