Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updates 10/24/12 -- My Walmart story.

Hello everyone.

My apologies for the lack of news yesterday. I've been in some immense pain, and it's making things quite difficult for me. It turns out that I have a bad infection where they extracted my tooth, and a partial dry socket. If you've ever had dry socket, you know what I'm going through. The pain radiates throughout my entire head, causing massive headaches and jaw pain. My dentist quickly put me on antibiotics, and it's starting to feel a little better after only one day. If we didn't have modern medicine, I'd be dead (again) by now. 

There's something I probably haven't told you all. A little tidbit about me: I've died twice. I was born dead, and I drowned when I was around preschool age. All together, I've been dead for about 45 minutes of my life. Crazy, right? After the drowning, they thought I would have brain damage since I was gone for so long, but according to my mother, I was a sharper, shyer, brainiac when they finally brought me back. I'm always afraid of that saying "Third time's a charm." For me, it means a little more then "We'll get it right next time."

After the news today, I have a very long story for you. I'm going to tell you about what it was like for me when I worked at Walmart. I warn you, it is shocking and sad. It broke me. I am so proud of the workers standing up to Walmart. Please, read the story. You are welcome to share it if you feel you want to. It's all true. 

Let's get to the news. 

-- In Mexico, a group of hooded protesters took over the government's representative office in order to demand the release of eight students still being held in custody after student protests over a week ago. On October 15, the students had commandeered over 80 vehicles to protest changes to the curriculum at their schools, which prepare them for the workforce. At least 176 were arrested, but most have been released. Only the eight remain in custody, and protesters say they are being beaten and that the government refuses to negotiate. 

-- [Chuck] An Indiana appeals court has ruled that lawmakers cannot defund Planned Parenthood in the state simply because it performs abortions. The court said that taking away all funding for the organization's works, which include cancer screenings, effectively stamps on a person's right to choose their physician. The state had appealed the original ruling, saying that funding Planned Parenthood's other works actually indirectly funds their abortion clinics. 

-- [Chuck] Earlier this week, former Democratic Senator George McGovern passed away at the age of 90. Even though I make an effort to remain informed, I did not know much about this man, and many people I know didn't either. Here's a great video sent in by Chuck to help us get to know the man who ran against Nixon to get the troops out of Vietnam.

-- Proposition 30 is a big deal in California. The bill will be on the ballot, and voting on it will likely change the course of California's educational system, either for better or for worse. If Prop 30 passes, educational funding will be restored. California's educational budget for the upcoming years actually hinges on the bill's passing. Should it fail to pass, major cuts will be seen from K-12, all the way up to higher education.

-- [Chuck] Here's a great little fact-checker of the last Presidential debate, which shows just how many lies Romney told.

-- [Chuck] The workers at Walmart are not giving up their fight, and we should all be standing with them. Here's a video where many of the workers explain why they are standing up to live better.

I want to tell you a little bit about Walmart. If you've never worked there, it may shed some light on the treatment these people get. If you have, beware. This may bring back some bad memories. 

I started working at Walmart about a year after I graduated high school. I had a different job first, working as a cashier at a small convenience store, so it was only natural that Walmart hired me to be a cashier. Even though I had a full year's experience, I started out making only a quarter about minimum wage, the norm for a cashier. You get that extra quarter simply because you handle the money. 

I liked my trainer. She was an older woman from the Phillipines, and she was kind and understanding. Their systems were much different from what I was used to, so it took me a bit of time to get it down. But, I did. The manager over the cashiers is called a CSM (customer service manager,) and mine was a hateful old religious woman (who had a very happy name, strangely enough) who treated all the cashiers like they were easily replaced pieces of sod. In Walmart's opinion, she was right. 

Here are some of the things I faced as a cashier.

-- Money in strange amounts would disappear from my register, leaving me short at the end of the night. It was always exact increments, like $2.00, $5.00, $10.00, and so on. I was accused of neglecting to notice that I was giving extra money to customers as change. At my old place of work, this had never happened. I was meticulous in counting out money, because I didn't want to get in trouble. After the first time of getting "talked to" (aka yelled at by my CSM in the back about my "horribly stupid money-handling skills) I made sure to be extra vigilant, but it kept happening. After I had been working there for six months, I began noticing that this happened to all the new cashiers who were under the age of 25. I tried to report it to management to ask them to investigate. I was ignored. 

-- My ride home from worked stopped by my register as I was counting down to ask me if I would be off work soon. I told him I would, and that I would come get him when I was ready. The conversation lasted ten seconds at most. I was immediately berated in front of customers for "chatting at my register with money out" and told that I better not have any missing money, or they would arrest me for giving it to him. 

-- A restaurant owner that I had also previously worked for had a grudge against me. (It's a long story, but let's just say I walked out of the job after he tried to get me to do some things that weren't in my job description.) He sent in two of his employees to come through my register. I knew something was up, so I just politely got them through their order without saying much. After they left, I was whisked to the back room and screamed at by the CSM and Asst. Store Manager for harassing the employees about working for a "chauvinistic pig," among other things. My CSM declared that I "had been talked to about this sort of thing before." I was not allowed to speak until after they wrote me up. I blew up on the CSM for lying about my history, and at the Asst. Manager for not letting me defend myself. I told them that if they watched the security video, they would plainly see that I did not say almost anything to them. I walked out, but somehow still had my job. (Almost a year later, the Asst. Manager was demoted for shoddy practices, and attempted to apologize to me. I walked away from her mid-sentence.)

-- I was attacked by an animal at home, and my right hand swelled up and became unusable. I had a bad infection, but was told that even with a doctor's note, I had to come in to work or I would be fired. I was written up for working too slowly, and was refused a stool to sit on when I got dizzy. Customers were obviously disgusted at how I looked, but the CSM would not allow me to leave, even after I threw up several times, once in the trash can next to my register.

-- On several occasions, I was berated (both in front of customers and in the back) for not assisting customers while I was off the clock. We had to walk through the store to get to the clock or the break room, so even if I was not working, I was expected to help them. Once, when I did assist a customer, I was screamed at for working off the clock, and told I would be written up if it ever happened again.

I was one of the few cashiers who always did what I was supposed to do. If I had no customers, I would either be straightening shelves or washing my register and the area around it. After a while of being a cashier, I was transferred to the snack bar. Technically I was still a cashier, had the same bosses, and my pay rate didn't change, but I had a lot more duties. I was expected to not only serve customers, but break down and clean all of the food prep equipment. If I didn't finish on time, I was threatened with a write-up. I had a half-hour to close the snack bar after I stopped serving customers. In that time, I was expected to clean and break down all equipment, most of which was still hot from just having food made. I have scars from cleaning the popcorn maker. Here were my duties (to be completed in a half-hour):

- have at least twenty bags of popcorn bagged and set out for customers to buy
- have at least 20 bags of cotton candy bagged and set out
- tear down and wash the popcorn maker and cotton candy machine
- tear down and wash the hot dog rotating machine, nacho maker, and soda machine
- wash all trays and dishes from both food prep and customer use
- clean all counters, tables, and chairs
- sweep and mop all areas of the snack bar
- count down my register
- throw out or bag all leftover food after inventorying it
- clean the snack bar bathrooms
- vacuum all rugs in the snack bar area

That's not much, huh? I never finished on time. I was also allergic to the sanitizer they used for the dishes. My arms would turn scaly and bright red after washing three or four pots. I begged them for gloves, and finally bought my own, only to have the CSM tell me that since they weren't Walmart-issued, I couldn't use them.

Fed up with the way I was treated like a slave, I decided it was time to go to my local community college. I enrolled, started classes, and a month later was told by management that they were moving me again... this time to overnights. When I protested that I was a student, they told me to choose. Knowing I couldn't afford to lose my job, I dropped out of school.

If working as a cashier was bad, working overnights was hell. Our Walmart was a "community store," meaning we closed at night. I thought it would be nice not having to deal with customers. Working at Walmart is like working in a giant high school. Everyone tells rumors. Everyone hates everyone. Everyone apparently sleeps with everyone too, which is mostly rumors and sometimes accurate. I worked nine months as an overnighter before I finally lost my mind and just quit. Here's some of what I dealt with on overnights:

-- A manager left an open pallet (BIG NO-NO) on the floor. Stocking shelves, I stepped backward onto it, breaking the pallet and severely twisting (actually fracturing, but I wouldn't find that out for years) my ankle. I was forced to sign a waiver saying I would not sue the store for "my error" under threat of termination. 

-- An older couple (in their sixties) worked with me on the night shift. The man was a nice guy, and his friendliness made his wife think I was flirting with him. She would throw bags and boxes of canned dog food at me while we were unloading the truck, and walk down my aisles (I worked health and beauty) breaking shampoo bottles and generally tearing up my area. A trip to the manager did nothing to stop her, even though there was video evidence of her actions. We eventually ended up in a screaming match on the truck unloading line, and she tried several times to hit me, with her husband holding her back. My coworkers blamed me for her psychotic outbursts, and I was an outcast for several weeks. She is still employed there.

-- A male coworker with several children was very friendly with another girl my age who worked there. She was a horrible person, who liked to be friends to your face and spread rumors behind your back. When she told me that he was going to lose rights to seeing his children because he wasn't paying child support, I had had enough of her malicious mongering. I told him what she had said and suggested he go to management. He did, and she somehow turned it around so that I was the one spreading the rumor. Both he and management believed her. I asked him "Why would I tell you to go to management if I was the one spreading it? I didn't even know you paid child support!" His reply was "I don't know, maybe you wanted to be caught. You're fucking crazy and stupid. It wouldn't surprise me." The manager agreed with him, and told me that if I was ever caught spreading another rumor, I would be fired. The girl sat there with a smug look on her face, happy that she had gotten me back for turning her in.

That last one got me. After that happened, only two of my coworkers and the two elderly men on the cleaning crew would speak to me. Even the manager ignored me, even if I had a relevant question. I struggled to work on my own, lifting dangerously heavy boxes and operating machinery I wasn't qualified to use, because no one would help me. If the two young guys that did still talk to me came over to help, the manager would send them to the opposite side of the store. But the cleaning crew could still stop and chat and help me out if I needed it, and the manager hated that. Eventually, she did the worst thing she could have to me. She put me in softlines. Now, in the daytime, softlines is all about being out on the floor, putting clothes on the shelves. At night, however, you sit in a back room by yourself, opening boxes, taking plastic off the clothes, and hanging them up. You have NO human contact. You don't even know when break is unless you watch the clock. You're supposed to be allowed to listen to music, but I wasn't. It is a horrifyingly lonely job to do alone, which is why most stores have two people doing it. I wasn't allowed in the breakroom anymore anyway, since no one would talk to me or even look at me. The manager eventually got to the two younger guys that still liked me. They told me later that she threatened them with difficult departments if they didn't ignore me too. 

I worked like this for at least five months. I was in despair. I remember this so well, because it is the first time I ever contemplated suicide. It was in the first month of this torture. I had just replaced the blade on my box-cutter, and I walked back into the clothing racks where no one could see me if they walked by, and began to cry. I thought to myself "How easy would this be, with a new blade? How much blood would spill before I died? Who would find me? They don't even look for me anymore. They don't care. I probably wouldn't even be found until tomorrow morning, if even then." 

I worked like a robot. I opened boxes, hung up clothes. I didn't eat on breaks anymore. When I got home in the morning, I slept through until it was time for work again. My family and friends worried about me. I was dead inside.

One day, I just couldn't do it anymore. I called and talked to one of the day managers, who was actually a somewhat nice lady and on her last day herself. I said "I don't think I'm coming in." She replied, "Okay, I'll mark it down." Then I said, "Actually, I don't think I'm ever coming in again." And she said, "Well, that's good for you then. I've heard about what they've been doing, but I don't have any power over the night manager. Have a good life, hun. I'll mark that down for you."

I cried. I cried so hard. I always cry when I leave a job, because it's scary and sad to leave the people you've grown to care about. But in this case, I cried for my life. I knew this would save me. I had to leave.

Then the emotionally abusive man I was dating at the time told me that I was worthless for quitting. But that's another story. 

Walmart is a horrible place to work. I rarely ever got a raise, and if I did, it was a mandatory raise for everyone. I was treated horrible by my coworkers, my managers, and my customers. I was treated as if I was a replaceable robotic slave. I was screamed at for doing humanly necessary tasks, like taking restroom breaks during an 8 hour shift. I was belittled, berated, and broken. Because that's what Walmart does.

I wasn't alone in that treatment. I saw my coworkers go through things that would shock the conscience of any human. I saw coworkers work through pain to try and feed their families. I saw them ashamed to buy food at our store with their food stamp cards. I saw them get sick and just deal with it because they had no health care. I saw a single mother work from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning even though she had two young children who believed in Santa, all because Walmart refused to let anyone take the day off. I saw a coworker, bleeding, forced to sign a waiver after being beaten by a customer on Black Friday. I saw management scream at employees in front of customers, breaking them down into tears, then laughing as the coworker ran away. I saw a woman fired for protesting the reduction of her hours, which were being given to a new employee who just so happened to be the child of a department manager. I saw that my coworkers were terrified. I was terrified. 

This is Walmart.


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