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Friday, November 23, 2012

Does Walmart Deserve a Whipping?

Walmart exteriorcropped
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Stirrings of Protest 

         One day in early October when I was out for one of my morning walks, I noticed some unusual activity going on at my neighborhood Walmart.  Several people in matching green t-shirts were preparing signs for what was obviously going to be some sort of demonstration.

          An hour or so later when I returned to Walmart to pick up some groceries, I was taken aback by what I found there.  A picket line of perhaps 30 or so green t-shirted people marched orderly in front of the store. In the center of their path blared a very loud and exuberant mariachi band.  More "strikers" wandered the parking lot with more professional types watching on.  I could tell that the business attired latter group were the organizers of the event.   This was obviously union organized.

         After I got home that day I began exploring the website referred to by literature that was being distributed at the protest event.  The site confirmed the union connections as did several other sites that a Google search led me to.

         In the succeeding weeks I began to read and hear more about the Walmart attack.  It was a nationwide tour organized by union activists.  I had already been annoyed to learn that possibly none of the protesters worked at my neighborhood store and the ones I spoke with said that they either knew someone that worked at Walmart, worked at a Walmart store elsewhere, or were hired to walk the picket line.  To me this was all a union instigated sham that apparently didn't interest many employees at my neighborhood store.

A Black Friday Threat

         With the coming of Black Friday, threats of walk-outs and sale day disruptions have been talked about nationwide.  By the time you are reading this, the whole situation will be seen in better perspective.  For now I can report on my observations of my local store in Pico Rivera, California.  

          At about 2 PM my wife and I walked over to the store--Walmart is in a shopping center across the street from where I live.   Business was brisk at Walmart and we were surprised at the number of smaller stores that were also open.  The Walmart customers were busily shopping and the employees appeared to be contentedly at work preparing for the Black Friday sales that would commence at 8 PM and then run periodically through the actual Friday.  No sign of any problems.

         Later at about 7:30 I returned to the store by myself to see the chaos that I expected to erupt at 8 PM and see how many employees would walk out to join the picket lines in front of the store.  Except there was no picket line and there were no demonstrators.   A local TV news truck was on site in case anything exciting happened, but they looked pretty bored.

          As 8 PM approached I wandered the store.  Customers patiently were queuing up for the sales items they were interested in.   Perhaps as many as 400 or more store employees stood waiting to unwrap the pallets for Phase 1 of the sale.   All of the employees seemed happy and enthusiastic.  Several asked me or others if we needed any help.

           When 8 PM hit, the employees opened the first pallets and calmly guided customers to pick up the items they were waiting for.  No screaming and shouting or any anger that I could see and no pushing or stampedes.  It was one of the most professional and well-organized events I have ever witnessed.

A Change of Perception

            I was all ready to write a post about stupid Walmart employees, but I was impressed by my first Black Friday experience.  These sales are something I have always avoided and will probably continue to avoid.  However, these employees were top notch with no signs of disgruntlement.

            As I strolled about the store before the first phase began, I conversed with several employees.  They were all very friendly and seemed happy to be there.  I asked each of them if they thought anyone would be walking out on the job.  They all indicated that they did not think so and that there was apparently not much interest in doing so at this store.  I can say nothing bad about the employees I encountered on this visit to Walmart.

          My observations may be hasty since Friday hasn't even arrived as I write this.  Things may have entirely changed at the store since I left and the sales will be going on for several more hours.  A lot could still happen or may have already happen as you are reading this.   And this is only one store that may not exemplify other stores across the nation.  It all remains to be seen at this writing.

         There are many videos about Walmart protests that can be found on the internet and a Google search will reveal a great deal of information about the issues between Walmart and labor and the unions.   The Care2 site has a petition to "Avoid Walmart when workers walk out on Black Friday".  It's been signed by a whopping 17 people. Not 17,000 or 1700, but 17 people.  Pretty sorry participation there.

           The sign-up for the Worker's Manifesto at the OUR Walmart site (not affiliated with Walmart) managed to fare a bit better passing the 1700 mark.  Not a big deal if you consider the two million workers employed by Walmart.   And most likely many of these signers are not employees of Walmart at all, but most likely just rabble-rousers who would sign anything to disrupt society.

Stay Tuned for More

           I will be having a lot more to say about things like Walmart, unions, and job market in future posts.  Black Friday seemed the most appropriate thing to focus on today.   There are many problems in the workplace, but sometimes those problems are exploited and even generated by forces outside the workplace.  There are also problems concerning wage disparity and workers' rights, but what are the arguments in these cases?  Stay tuned.  This won't be going away soon so I'm sure I'll be bringing it up again.

           Did you go or are you going to go to Walmart for the Black Friday sales?   If so, what was your experience at Walmart?   Do you think there are pervasive problems among Walmart employees concerning their jobs or do you think this is a ruse stirred up by union organizers?     Would it be a good thing for unhappy Walmart employees to walk out at an important time like Black Friday?   Does Walmart deserve a whipping?

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  1. Hi Lee - good post .. we heard about it over here .. but as it has nothing to do with me I switch off. I do get concerned when people are paid to do things ... join in strikes etc There's too much manipulation going on .. and coercing ..

    It'll be interesting to hear what happens today and read your other commenters ..

    I hope you had a good Thanksgiving and didn't spend the day walking backwards and forwards?! cheers Hilary

  2. Heard about the possibility of strikes but no idea what happened here as I don't go anywhere near WalMart (or any store) on or around Black Friday.
    Still think it's a shame they don't even wait for Black Friday. Soon Christmas won't be sacred either.

  3. Lookit you, Lee, doing investigative reporting! Good for you and great post!

  4. While I love your country a lot Lee and adore the concept of Thanksgiving, one thing that I cannot abide by is the concept of Black Friday. I mean sure it's great to get bargains but to read about an actual death in the shopping either this year or the last is just too much, they really need to catch themselves on. I love the Walmart experience in general though and while they, like Tescos in the United Kingdom may be able to accept the majority of blame for killing off the small corner shop concept I think it's maybe a change for the better.

    Thought provoking post as per the norm Lee, good job.

  5. Given today's economic setting, most who have jobs aren't eager to lose them. Walmart, like McDonald's, is a place you can find a job when you can't find one anywhere else. Like I tell my son, there's no shame in working in walmart or fast food. The shame is not getting a job when there is one available and then depending upon the State or Fed to care for your family.

    Yes, I've been to Black Friday at Walmart. I call it organized Chaos. I had to be there when I worked for Kodak. ONE black Friday. Sorry. So far as I'm concerned there isn't a deal good enough to willingly walk into a Black Friday sale. *shudder* I hate shopping anyway, but Black Friday is insane, imo

  6. Hilary -- We had one of the most peaceful Thanksgiving days ever. The height of the day's excitement was walking through Walmart. Wow! Actually not boring, but quite a refreshing day.

    Alex -- No way would I go and stand in line for a bargain or jostle with crowds in sales.

    Cathy -- Some minor investigative reporting, but I'm so curious about this Walmart thing.

    Yeamie -- I think the retailers are learning from the disastrous mistakes of the past to make each year safer and more efficient.

    Sia -- I'll be talking about this job thankfulness issue in future posts. I didn't mind just walking through the store last night as an observer, but I just don't get the people who camp out and deal with long lines for stuff.


  7. I had heard about the Walmart strike and thought it was ridiculous. I didn't do any research though, so thanks. I actually detest the two Walmarts that are close to my house. I find the employees rude and the customers even worse. I only go there when I have to (like when they have the best price on something I want to buy).

  8. As much as my husband loves to shop at Walmart, we totally avoid going on Black Friday. My husband thinks that Walmart is not too bad with the employees. I never worked there so I wouldn't know. Here in Orange County NY they all seem pretty satisfied. I hope that you had a happy Thanksgiving.

  9. I could say a lot about this, but I really think you should read the book Nickel and Dimed. It's a good read, and there is a section about Wal-Mart.

  10. PART 1 OF 2

    Wal-Mart – are you sure you want to get me going? They have been a major source of contention here in the islands. They are not located on my little island, the nearest one being in Puerto Rico (about a 90 miles swim away). I might be wrong but, I do believe that this is the only place they are located in the Caribbean.

    About four months ago they started enticing the locals to buy from them online. They were shipping everything for free, as long as you order $45 or more of particular items. This even included dry good groceries. The locals went wild.

    Things are very expensive here. First everything is shipped in and second we pay around $.65 - $.70 a kilowatt for electricity. I costs me about $190 a month for lights, computer, ceiling fans (which I am a nazi about turning off when you leave the room) fridge and washing machine. My dryer and stove are LP gas. Now think about what the local K-Mart and grocery stores pay per month, it’s rumored to be in the thousands; twenty and thirty thousands (I of course, don’t know for sure, but it sounds about right). It only makes sense that they cannot compete with prices that Wal-Mart is shipping from their warehouses in the States. Add to that, the fact that the major local industry on the island Hovensa (a partnership between Hess Oil of the US and Venezuelan Oil a government entity overseen by Hugo Chavez) shut down their facility last April. This put about 2000 people out of work (in a total population of about 50,000). The effects have taken about six months but are beginning to trickle down to every single one of us on island. This, along with the fact that folks from the US are not traveling and the few who do come (mainly on the cruise ships) are not spending like they have in the past.

  11. part 2 of 2

    Enter Wal-Mart; it was like they were on a one corporation crusade to put every local business on island out of business. While I support free enterprise, here’s the rest of the story. After this grand scheme caught on (about 2 weeks) suddenly you couldn’t get anything. When you went online everything was out of stock. Next things were back online, but they couldn’t ship here. When locals contacted Wal-Mart the rumors really started to fly. Supposedly it was our governments fault. They wanted to impose an extra tax on Wal-Mart, they shut down the shipping, and they threatened everyone and everything. While none of the above are beyond our tiny and very corrupt government, none of the above were possible, at least not within the two week time period that they took place. First of all to impose a tax, they would have to hire a few consultants and study the matter to death. Next they would have to see who would kick back the most for their entering into this type of thing. As far as the shipping restrictions, we are serviced by the USPS, an entity run by the Us Government. Our little Territorial government is not about to tell the USPS what to do or how to do it. In the end the Territorial Government, including the Governor’s Office has spent time and effort defending themselves against these outrageous ‘Wal-Mart’ claims, while crime rises, our infrastructure crumbles and more jobs are lost. All of the rumors appear to have started with Wal-Mart. Talk about outside agitators.

    An old acquaintance of mine (a complete bleeding heart liberal) used to refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, because she said they took advantage of the undereducated, underprivileged, lower classes. I used to groan and roll my eyes when she got on her Wal-Mart bandwagon. While I still don’t agree with her ‘we gotta take care of everybody and make sure life is fair’, I do think that Wal-Mart likes to hit below the belt, BUT, all that said somebody better wake up in the US and put a lid on the union agitators. They are a part of the insidious plan to put and keep us all in bondage. Maybe Wal-Mart and the Unions deserve each other, but the citizens of the world will hopefully get their act together, open their eyes, and get them to a place where they deserve neither.

    Sorry for the hijacking and taking this in a whole different direction. Once riled up, I’m not as ‘nice’ as I look, and my associations with certain people become evident.

    Personally, I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague either on line or in person and Black Friday is a whole 'nother totally hijacked subject for me.

  12. Lee-

    There has been a lot of hoopla over the 8pm Thursday start for Black Friday sales at Wal-Mart.

    Here's my .02....

    (1) It's not a Black Friday sale.

    It's an 8pm Thanksgiving sale because it is not Friday yet!

    (2) Many people LIKE to work holidays to get time and a half plus the holiday money.

    The media here in AZ portrayed it like these people are all working under the threat of being fired.

    I do not believe it, I think it is more media crap in the toilet that is American television.

    (3) The papers also kept talking about how these sales are ruining the Thanksgiving holiday.


    People in AZ eat their holiday meals early. I thought I was arriving early at a friend's house yesterday at 1:30 PM and they were just starting. In my seventeen years in AZ I have never been to a holiday mean served later than 2pm.

    People in AZ all dine on senior citizen schedules.

    Are we now the thralls of Black Friday retailers, consumers who do what they are told?

    If you want to hang out with your family and friends, don't go to the bleeping sale!


  13. Lee-

    One other thing-one comment made me think the writer thought Black Friday had to do with death or violence.

    The Friday after Thanksgiving was always considered the kick off of the Christmas shopping season which was the retail industry's last chance to "keep it in the black," or finish the year with a profit.

    I'm pretty sure that tradition started in Bethelehem in about 4 BC, which is why managers were rented to people...

  14. Thea -- I used to have a very unfavorable opinion about my neighborhood Walmart. The place still leaves some things to be desired, but I'm happy to have the convenience of the place. And the "people of Walmart" in my locality--employees and customers--are all that worse than what I find at the local mall or supermarket.

    Munir -- We had a great Thanksgiving and I hope you did as well. I haven't had too much direct experience with disgruntled Walmart employees other than one friend, but she tends to be disgruntled with a lot of things.

    Andrew -- I am familiar with Nickel and Dimed and know the premise. I thought I had a copy around my house somewhere but not sure where it is. Hopefully some of your thoughts will surface as I explore this topic more in future posts.

    Farawayeyes -- Since I don't know anything about the situation where you are, I can't say too much. The Walmart arguments could have some credibility though. You included two bad ingredients to your mix--the government and USPS. These are both hotbeds of waste and non-business thinking so with these thrown in the Walmart problem could be heightened. As to the argument of small businesses being crushed by Walmart, I don't think a lot of the owners are taking advantage of their assets. All businesses have to learn to adapt to any change or they will not be able to operate against the innovators. There are a lot of arguments from many sides and I will eventually address at least a few of them in future posts.

    Larry-- As usual I think the media has overhyped the Walmart situation and I think union reps add to the hype media receives. Even the police are suspect. On a local news coverage of one Walmart protest today, a police spokesperson said there were over 1000 protesters on site. I wasn't there so I can disprove this figure, but I kind of doubt it. Last time I checked the OUR Walmart website they were still looking for leaders for protests at all area stores. Since there were not many protests I don't think they found the leaders. The people they did find were either bused to the site or came on their own, but I just don't think there were a thousand. They arrested 9 protesters by a prearranged agreement. Those arrangements have to be made with the police, who are part of a union. I don't trust any of the hoopla that's surrounding the Walmart movement and from what I've seen so far I think it was all a big bust nationwide.


  15. Well, let's just say that they have some of the worst policies for employees of any place of business. They don't offer full time employment so that they don't have to offer benefits. They punish any employees that attempt any type of organization or protest. Their attitude is that employees should be grateful to them for any kind of work that they offer, even if it's not enough to live off of.

  16. This is a tough call Lee.

    So many folks are in need of employment at this time in our nation's history that I believe if conditions were stronger for the average working individual, things would be different.

    Coming off the end of the Hostess Bakeries fiasco (as a union person myself, SAG-AFTRA and EQUITY) I fully understand what they are striking about, but commonsense and basic survival instincts kick in, and I cannot blame the handful of striking employees - that's - IMHO- known as survival mode, or doing what one believes is best for their individual situation.

    I sincerely hope that corporate America wakes up to the call that true profitability depends in a large part on their workforce.

    I have always believed that workers will do extraordinary work if they are compensated fairly and treated with respect if they are doing their jobs well.

  17. Lee-

    Came back to read your reply to me and saw Andrew's comment.

    Andrew- I am not trying to extoll the virtues of WalMart as an employer, but I do understand their attempts to cut down benefit costs.

    Employer-sponsored health care is a relatively recent phenomena that for some reason everyone now thinks is a birthright.

    And it costs a fortune.

    And the demand for Walmart product is there. Americonsumers want cheap product, and Walmart delivers.

    They deliver by buying from China and having the kind of employment conditions you deplore.

    And if you want to put an end to it, don't protest WalMart...

    Protest WalMart shoppers.

    And buy American.

    You pay more, but if enough of us made the effort, Walmart might change their tune.


  18. I also wanted to offer up a comment to Paula.

    Without starting a union versus non-union debate, I would ask you to consider why Hostess management would choose bankruptcy over union demands if they could meet the demands?

    Remember, much of their compensation is in the form of stock, which would not be worth much in a bankruptcy.

    Could it be because their costs are already so high that they cannot compete?

    I would expect that some of those costs are driven by the handful of executives who, I will grant you, make a boatload of money and could probably earn a little employee goodwill if they were to offer to take salary reductions themselves.

    But the majority are driven by the rank and file. And I believe I read that all but one union came to the table.

    Someone is going to buy the popular Hostess brands, and since they have shelf lives longer than the effects of a nuclear boms, they will probably join the rash of American jobs that went overseas.

    Who loses?

    Corporate America is not going to wake up. They're going to continue to talk about a global economy while they take the jobs to where the labor is cheap.

    I don't know who has to make the first move (labor union or employer) but until they start behaving like partners, any corporation who can offshore for less, will.

    And what jobs are waiting for the displaced?

    Walmart! Call centers! Fry cooks!


  19. Andrew -- All of the points you mention is what I hear through the media, though other sources tell be otherwise. I think as with all business environments there is a matter of perception on many sides of the table. Employees, management, shareholders, and customers all have a side of the story to tell and not all are in agreement. Once again education on all sides would be beneficial, but everyone has to be open to all ideas and not just be looking out for themselves.

    Paula -- Things have gotten out of hand in corporate America and everyone needs to wake up and have a meeting in the middle of things in order to come to logical agreements.

    Larry -- Cost cutting and increasing profits is one of the main goals in business success. I don't think employees always understand all of this while at the same time I think the upper echelons are on their own cloud of disassociated thinking. Voices must be heard, but they must be voices of reason to get the right results. The "Buy American" concept is a great ideal, but people with small pocketbooks are thinking of their own immediate gratification and inexpensive sounds good to impulse shoppers. We all want a bargain, but at what cost?


  20. Not working at Wal-Mart, I don't think I'm looking out for myself. Those things I listed are objective truths, not just media opinions. If you do a comparison between Wal-Mart and almost anyone else, you will find that Wal-Mart is more exploitative. Well, unless you are looking out of the country. Wal-Mart probably compare pretty favorably to, say, China.

  21. Terrific post Lee! I thought I was watching an episode of 60 Minutes. Great in depth reporting. I avoided Black Friday. Didn't want to get trampled, but it seemed this year was more mellow that previous years. I'm glad you had an enjoyable experience. Nice to hear the employees were taking things well. But the big question, did you buy anything?

  22. Interesting and fun to read. As for us, we don't have Walmart of Black Friday, so not a problem. We do have green shirts though . . .

  23. Andrew -- I'm not sure I'd call what you listed as objective truths, but perhaps something more like perceptions based on a certain bias on one hand and a difference of philosophies on the other. I won't deny that your statement may be true in some cases, but I don't think it can be used as an absolute condemnation. And even China, from recent reports I've been hearing, is striving to create a better life for it's workers. Propaganda or empty party promises? Perhaps, but the situation of American workers is not so much of a plight as it is a clash of attitudes. I will look at these topics more in future posts.

    Buck -- Thanks for saying so. I'm hearing that this may have been the most successful Black Friday ever. And, no, I didn't buy anything while I was visiting the height of the Walmart sale, but my wife and I did return to much lighter crowds at mid-morning on Friday and she bought a couple of calendars. We really don't need all that much more stuff.

    Rhonda -- The bright fluorescent green shirts stand out for protesters and might work for people parking cars and the like, but they'd be a bit too gaudy for me to want to wear.


  24. I did not go to Wal-Mart or any store on so called Black Friday, which is a stupid name by the way.

    The union will always manufacture work related problems in order to stiff arm their way in. This is America, not China or Russia - if the founders and owners of Wal-Mart can't start a business, choose to run it their own way and pay what they wish then capitalism is dead.

    It is never a good thing to walk out on a job you agreed to do unless you are asked to do something illegal or immoral. You don't have to work there.

    No, if we are still the United States of America and not the Socialist Republic of such and such then, as long as Wal-Mart does not violate existing laws they should be able to do as they please.

  25. Gregg-- Well said. I agree that "Black Friday" is kind of a stupid name, but I do like Larry's explanation of the financial bottom line though this explanation does not jibe with Wikipedia's explanation of the origins of the name. I've never been a Black Friday shopper, but after seeing how well organized Walmart was I suppose I could consider it in the future if the sales were really decent. I'd never camp out though, or wait for hours in a line. I've got better things to do with my time.


  26. Hi Dave, I'm sorry to hear that. But seriously .. you really have amazing things in yourself. A spirit!

  27. Nancy -- Gregg made some good points, but I'm not done with this yet. And I'm not sure that there are any clear winners when all is said and done. Stay tuned for more in a future post.



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