Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wal-Mart Is A Better Place to Work Than Both Target and The Small Mom-and-Pop Stores

Charles Platt (picture above) is a journalist, computer programmer and author of over 40 fiction and nonfiction books and was a senior writer at Wired magazine.

Charles moved recently from being a senior writer at Wired magazine to an entry-level position at Wal-Mart, "a company reviled by almost all living journalists," after he read the book "Nickel and Dimed," in which Atlantic contributor Barbara Ehrenreich denounces the exploitation of minimum-wage workers in America. According to Charles, "Somehow her book didn’t ring true to me, and I wondered to what extent a preconceived agenda might have biased her reporting. Hence my application for a job at the nearest Wal-Mart."

Here are some excerpts from his BoingBoing blog post "Life at Wal-Mart":

The job was as dull as I expected, but I was stunned to discover how benign the workplace turned out to be. My supervisor was friendly, decent, and treated me as an equal. Wal-Mart allowed a liberal dress code. The company explained precisely what it expected from its employees, and adhered to this policy in every detail. I was unfailingly reminded to take paid rest breaks, and was also encouraged to take fully paid time, whenever I felt like it, to study topics such as job safety and customer relations via a series of well-produced interactive courses on computers in a room at the back of the store. Each successfully completed course added an increment to my hourly wage, a policy which Barbara Ehrenreich somehow forgot to mention in her book.

My standard equipment included a handheld bar-code scanner which revealed the in-store stock and nearest warehouse stock of every item on the shelves, and its profit margin. At the branch where I worked, all the lowest-level employees were allowed this information and were encouraged to make individual decisions about inventory. One of the secrets to Wal-Mart’s success is that it delegates many judgment calls to the sales-floor level, where employees know first-hand what sells, what doesn’t, and (most important) what customers are asking for.

And here's Charles' most interesting and amazing observation (to me):

Several of my co-workers had relocated from other areas, where they had worked at other Wal-Marts. They wanted more of the same. Everyone agreed that Wal-Mart was preferable to the local Target, where the hourly pay was lower and workers were said to be treated with less respect (an opinion which I was unable to verify). Most of all, my coworkers wanted to avoid those “mom-and-pop” stores beloved by social commentators where, I was told, employees had to deal with quixotic management policies, while lacking the opportunities for promotion that exist in a large corporation.

MP: Isn't it interesting that Target escapes most of the vilification and attacks that Wal-Mart regularly receives, and yet workers seem to prefer working at Wal-Mart over Target. And the small downtown merchants that Wal-Mart (but never Target) is routinely accused of destroying, also seem to offer inferior employment opportunities compared to Wal-Mart.

HT: Newmark's Door


At 2/03/2009 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may find my essay, Is Walmart really more evil than Google?, of interest: http://mathoda.com/archives/184

At 2/03/2009 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was hired to be an Operations Manager at a mom-n-pop technology business (reselling Sun Microsystems solutions), and it was the only job in my life where I quit without notice.

The environment was so toxic and the owners (mom-n-pop) were so quixotic (a good term) that I walked off the job at 10:00 AM one morning after a meeting.

At 2/03/2009 12:37 PM, Blogger Trevre said...

Great Post! I constantly have this argument with my friends and family as most of them believe Walmart is just bad for everybody. You do a good job of highlighting the good parts of Walmart and how those parts are overlooked.

I don't see many people boycotting Wikipedia, even though it has made most Encyclopedias virtually obsolete.

Shouldn't people be up in arms about e-mail or phone for that matter, which must be cutting into the post office's deliveries?

At 2/03/2009 2:58 PM, Blogger Marko said...

The attack on Walmart is mostly fueled by unions and their cronies. People will believe almost anything if you shout it out long enough, it seems.

At 2/03/2009 3:56 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Ranjit Mathoda says: You may find my essay, Is Walmart really more evil than Google"...

Well yes it was interesting but I think you have some odd ideas: In a just society, everyone clearly should have a certain amount of basic services, including healthcare...

Actually that's a socialist society you are attempting to describe...

None the less Ranjit aside from that little detail I pointed out your posting is well worth the reading...

At 2/03/2009 4:31 PM, Blogger David Foster said...

A lot of the hostily toward Wal-Mart is really based on aesthetics...the stores are a bit uglier than Target stores, and the shoppers are, on the average, perhaps less-well-dressed.

Many "progressives" have adopted aesthetics as a substitute for ethics.

At 2/03/2009 5:17 PM, Blogger Bloggin' Brewskie said...

Defiantly a good post. It brings up some valid points.

Bringing up another corporate titan, Starbucks... one never hears Amy Goodman railing against the many small indie coffee shops that don't offer health insurance or opportunities for promotion; two halos the corporate bad boy offers to grunt baristas.

At 2/04/2009 4:49 AM, Blogger sethstorm said...

He got lucky.

He's yet to experience the worst of it - and they wouldn't let this guy ever see that. He just gets the polished experience so he could write a good story.

The company that the offspring of Walton developed would have Sam spinning in his grave.

The only thing they won't delegate is morale. When they try, they send in the private jets with PR and such to demonize the supporters, flood with no-vote, or determine how to put down the uprising.

At 2/04/2009 12:31 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

I used to be a hard-core Wal-Mart = evil empire, but I'm slowly being won over to the dark side.

I've never claimed to be a progressive, but as David says, some of my distaste stems from "aesthetics." I have found Wal-Marts to be confusing, unhelpful, filled with people I'd rather not spend time with, and presenting less variety compared to some of the stores I prefer.

At 2/04/2009 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of all the postings Marko said it the best. Unions at one time were necessary and may become necessary at some point in the future, but not at this point in history.I have been in several unions and even did some organizing for the Steel Workers Union back in the 60's. Unions have ruined the work place. The auto workers union is a perfect example. You can price yourself right out of a good job. There's plenty of room to rant on Managers and CEO's along with unions. I've been in both places (worker and Superintendant) and I can honestly say, I don't care what type of job you have or how big the company you can count on 10% of the work force being trouble makers. Now think about where you work and if your honest, you look around and you will know who they are. With a strong union or governmental agency these people drag down the company and this cuts in to the companies profit margin and usually causes trouble to the employees and lowers morale. During hard times like we are feeling now that can spiral companies downward like the big 3 automakers. Then throw in a load of mis-management and, you get the picture.
Don't be so hard on Walmart, Personally I'm glad their around. I don't work for Walmart, Im just a retired old fella that's been around the block a few times.
One more observation. If people don't change the way their thinking, this will be a Socialistic Country within 10 years and you will remember the good ole days of being a Capitolist.

At 2/07/2009 12:08 PM, Blogger Obliterati said...

Two things:

1)Was Wal-Mart aware that this guy was a journalist? I'm sure that would affect the experience he had working there.

2)Ehrenreich's book came out...what? Ten years ago? This guy's story is like going to where the Berlin Wall used to be and saying "What was all the fuss about? Everything seems fine to me."

At 2/09/2009 2:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, this is ~proof~ that walmart isn't evil. i mean, right here we have anecdotal evidence of a guy who experienced only the best at walmart. how could that be questionable? he was just a regular joe, like all the other walmart workers... same background, same circumstances... why by golly, it's ~proof positive~! you betcha.


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