In 2000, I was working for a strong regional grocery chain as a department manager, making a very good salary, and very satisfied with the 5 years I had spent with the company. I had taken this job so seriously, that I had planned out my promotions and salaries, and how long I would work at those wages before retiring. I had no idea that a monster was about to eat the town and company, forcing it into bankruptcy and to layoff over half of their employees in less than 3 years.
In February, 2001, Wal-Mart began the construction of it’s new Supercenter. Sure, we always had a Wal-Mart, but it was the typical 80’s and 90’s style small store carrying a short line of food, decent selection of soft lines, electronics, household items, and hardware. I had not set foot inside a Supercenter in several years simply because I hated the size of the store in a nearby city, and it was nearly impossible to shop. The store opened in mid 2001, and our business was immediately cut in half. Needless to say, our staff was affected, but fortunately the store manager had the forsight to stop replacing departing employees, and just increase part time hours until the opening. We only had to drop a few employees to part time status, and they stayed with us until a full time position opened. This doesn’t mean that we did not cut jobs though… A year earlier, there were a total of 45 (including management) full time employees. After the Supercenter, there were less than 25. Our staff lost 20, the other grocery store in the area lost more than 30, and Wal-Mart hired 50. This sounds like a clean break, right? We can’t forget dozens of small businesses, 2 discount/dollar stores, 3 drugstores, and at least a dozen specialty stores that lost another 20-30 jobs combined. Then, factor in that Wal-Mart laid off nearly all of their initial hires for grand opening, and replaced them with part time employees, we are back up in the 70+ unemployed range.
This taught me two valuable lessons about life. First, never expect to have a job tomorrow. Second, Never trust a company like Wal-Mart to fulfill it’s responsibility to employees.
Within a year, if memory serves, Rite Aid Drugs, Bargain Town (local discount store), and at least 10 downtown shops were closed. Both grocery stores dropped their full time staff by nearly 50%, which Wal-Mart quickly hired then laid off for part time workers. If the 70+ number from this town holds true, and it is a small Wal-Mart by comparison to most Supercenters, this means for the 1050 Supercenters, there ahve been 73,500 workers who have lost their job not once, but twice, because of Wal-Mart. This number does not count the many small businesses which close due to Wal-Mart leaving their owners and employees jobless. My overall estimate for each Wal-Mart Supercenter is over 150 jobless within the first year. In a town of 7,000 residents, that’s 2.1% of the population, and closer to 5% of the actual workforce unemployed.
Never fear though, because Wal-Mart is here! We can save money now, and live on the breaking backs of underpaid workers. Certainly you have heard about Wal-Mart’s poor wages?
Our Bakery Manager was demoted to a standard Cake Decorator with the downsize the year following the Supercenter’s opening. It was only a cut of a couple bucks an hour, but it was still a cut and hurt her pride badly. She made a point to be the best in town, and in her mind was getting a slap in the face by the company. She decided to apply at Wal-Mart. They were ecstatic about winning a competitor’s outstanding cake decorator, since most of their bakery business was disappointing, and made a salary offer to her for their bakery manager position. Her salary at our store was $10/hour as a cake decorator, $12/hour as bakery manager. They offered her $6.50/hour to be their bakery manager. After hearing that offer, she replied that she could not consider that large of a pay cut, and thanked the manager for his time. His response, to paraphrase her words: You can take it now, or wait until we put that store out of business in a couple years and then you will be lucky to get minimum wage.
A second example was a senior citizen that worked part time as a service clerk for our store for 5 years. His hours were cut in half with the downsize, and he had to leave. Wal-Mart offered him more hours, at just a couple dollars less, so he made the move up the road to be a greeter at the Supercenter. Two weeks ago, I bumped into him in town and he told me he had to leave. 7 years ago, he started out making $5.65 per hour, and when he left he was making $7.10. 7 years was only worth $1.45/hour to Wal-Mart. The worst part was that at the age of 74, he was having serious problems with standing for 8 straight hours due to knee problems. His 30 years of teaching on his feet had finally caught up with him. He went to the Co-Manager, expecting him to honor a promise that was made when he was hired that if the workload was too much, his daily hours could be lowered. The manager’s response was, to paraphrase his words: If you can’t physically do the job anymore, we’ll just take you off the schedule and hire someone without the same issues who can. He asked if he could possibly have a stool to sit on from time to time to rest his knees, and was told that’s what breaks were for, and repeated the same “hire someone new” speech. Does that sound like discrimination?
This one is about my ex-wife… Fortunately, there are 8 years separating that divorce, so it’s not a sore spot! Several years after we divorced, I saw her wearing a Wal-Mart vest. She told me she was now working there, making about $8/hour as a department manager… Odd, since I was making nearly $13/hour in a similar position at the time. She had a similar position with my company during our marraige and was paid nearly $11/hour, 4 years earlier.
I have seen firsthand how Wal-Mart can bury a town. They create jobs, but not the kind of jobs that the majority of Americans need. They are capitalism gone horribly wrong. They milk a town for every last bit of pride it has, and converts it into the Wal-Mart mentality. And, usually about half of the town goes along mindless of the destruction building around them, as long as they save a few bucks on the backs of underpaid, overworked employees. I believe in survival of the fittest in business. This country was built on that mentality. But nowhere does that mean that the strong not only sets the standards, but forces the standard on the entire industry. Nearly every retail company failure in the last 5 years, and successive job losses, can be attributed to Wal-Mart’s expansion.
The next time you decide to shop at Wal-Mart instead of the local grocery store, or the other hardware store, remember you may be helping thousands lose their jobs. Every customer does count against Wal-Mart, and SayNOtoWalMart.com is here for that reason.
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