Saturday, December 04, 2004

I've never understood the fashionable Wal-Mart hatred...

--Instapundit, 11/29/04

Here. Let me explain.

...the corporation insists on an elaborate aptitude test for new employees that is intended to weed out troublemakers. When Barbara Ehrenreich took the test at the Minneapolis Wal-Mart, she was told that she had given a wrong answer when she agreed "strongly" with the proposition that "rules have to be followed to the letter at all times." The only acceptable answer for Wal-Mart was "very strongly." Similarly, the only correct answer to the proposition "there is room in every corporation for a non-conformist" was: "totally disagree."


... Melissa Howard, a manager at several Indiana Wal-Marts, resigned from the company when a senior manager well known for his belittling of women humiliated Howard in front of her subordinates. He berated her for designating a certain type of plastic spoon as a nonreplenishable item, even though a junior manager had told him that Howard had done the right thing. Trudy Crom, an assistant manager at a Loveland, Colorado, Wal-Mart, was told by her immediate boss, the store manager, to reprimand all the shop floor employees who were working forty hours a week or more and were therefore likely to earn higher overtime pay. This was a way of making it easier for Wal-Mart to fire such potentially expensive employees if the corporation needed to reduce its wage bill. Crom twice queried the order with her store manager, and was told both times that it was company policy and she should go ahead. But when some of the employees complained to senior management about this treatment, the store manager denied ever have given the order to Crom, and it was Crom who was reprimanded.


...when deciding how many workers to employ, Wal-Mart management relies on a formula guaranteeing that the growth of the labor budget will lag behind the growth in store sales, so that every year there will be more work for each employee to do.... Each year Wal-Mart provides its store managers with a "preferred budget" for employment, which would allow managers to staff their stores at adequate levels. But the actual budget imposed on the store managers always falls short of the preferred budget, so that most Wal-Mart stores are permanently understaffed. The gap between the preferred and actual budgets gives store managers an idea of how much extra work they must try to extract from their workforce....

The pervasive understaffing at Wal-Mart gives rise to one of the most common employee infractions at the company, "time theft." With each employee having more work to do, managers assume that whenever they see an employee not working, she must be shirking her duties, or "stealing time" from the corporation, a punishable offense. When Barbara Ehrenreich worked at a Minneapolis Wal-Mart as part of her research for her book on low-wage work,
Nickel and Dimed, she was told by her boss that "time theft" in the form of "associates standing around talking to one another" was his "pet peeve." Later a fellow worker warned Ehrenreich that they could only talk about their work, and that anything else counted as "time theft" and was forbidden....


One of the most telling of all the criticisms of Wal-Mart is to be found in a February 2004 report by the Democratic Staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee. In analyzing Wal-Mart's success in holding employee compensation at low levels, the report assesses the costs to US taxpayers of employees who are so badly paid that they qualify for government assistance even under the less than generous rules of the federal welfare system. For a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store, the government is spending $108,000 a year for children's health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for low-income families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report estimates that a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart's 1.2 million US employees.

-- all from Simon Head's "Inside the Leviathan" in the current New York Review of Books

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