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Wal-Mart Manager Speaks out About His Store’s Ugly Reality

From no time off, to working multiple roles at once, here's what's really going on at the mega-chain.
 
 
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President Obama sparked a new round of big business ire this month, directing the Labor Department to reform rules that exclude salaried managers making over $23,660 a year from overtime protections.

That was welcome news for a Wal-Mart assistant manager – granted anonymity due to concerns over retaliation – who told Salon the retail giant exploits managers’ lack of overtime protection by making managers do rank-and-file employees’ work in order to cut costs. (Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment last week.) A condensed version of our conversation – on chronic understaffing, firings of strikers, and why he sympathizes with the union-backed non-union workers group OUR Walmart – follows.

The regulatory change that’s been proposed by the president on overtime — how would that change things for you, if that went into law?

That would force Wal-Mart to, one, start to count how much managers are working … The more time I spend at work, the less time I spend with my family … Without compensation for it, it makes no sense to me … My time with my family is worth a lot more.

How many hours a week do you think you’re working now?

Right now, it’s consistently about 48 hours a week. However, when we get toward the holiday season …you’re regularly working 60 hours a week.

How much do you bring home … from doing that?

My yearly salary is $44,000.

What would change in your life if you were covered by overtime protections?

I think I would get more time with my family — and if I didn’t have more time with my family I would definitely have money … to compensate me for time spent away.

Right now, do you think there’s work that Wal-Mart has managers do rather than rank-and-file employees because they don’t have to pay you for overtime?

Absolutely … What the average customer sees in the store is forcing the manager to step out of that manager role, and into that hourly associate role. So you’ll have managers that are cashiering, stocking shelves … We’re trying to take care of our managerial duties too …

[Managers are] not getting proper lunches or getting breaks. There’s no way for Wal-Mart to ensure that we’re getting breaks, because we don’t punch a clock, of course – we don’t track our time.

It’s been suggested by business groups that this kind of regulation would kill jobs … If this kind of regulation went into effect, do you think your store would be hiring more people or fewer people?

You know, I think Wal-Mart’s way is Wal-Mart’s going to hire fewer and fewer people regardless of what decisions are being made …

With the recent Sam’s [Club] restructuring, Wal-Mart, you know, might pull something like that within their actual [management at] Wal-Mart positions …

[Already] there’s a lot of work to be done that’s not being done right now with the amount of people we have.

In management, in the rank-and-file positions, or both?

In both …

As a salaried manager, if I’m [moving] freight all night long, I’m not able to give my associates in the building the attention that they need, or you know, the developmental process … [to] grow within their role within Wal-Mart. You know, it makes the job very hard to do.

How does that affect Wal-Mart customers?

If you have a manager that’s running a cash register, you know that manager is not on the sales floor ensuring that product is on the shelves. You know that manager is not able to respond to customer calls as quickly …

So I think customer service definitely does lack.

Your job as an assistant manager – what do you think is different about it from what people imagine?

When I came into the role, I thought it was going to be that I’m going to handle paperwork, be there for the associates, and help them with issues that may arise with them; I’m going to be the guy that they can come to for answers, I’m going to develop leaders …

There’s not enough time in the day to do it … They don’t have enough people to get the job done. And it shows. It shows on the shelves, in terms of the stock. You know, it shows with the morale of the associates. That definitely has issues …

If you look at companies like Wegman’s or Costco, you know, that staff their stores, and they have high payroll percentages, but they’re still [showing] profits, because they’re getting the product on the shelves …

If you have empty shelves, your baskets aren’t as good. What really matters is: How much does that customer buy going through the register? You know, if the customer comes in with a shopping list of 35 items, and you only have 20, you lost a good portion of that sale … to your competitor …

The company made $17 billion in profit last year. They paid the CEO $18 million … There’s no reason why they can’t pay overtime, they can’t give hours back to associates.

The group OUR Wal-Mart … What have you heard from Wal-Mart corporate or Wal-Mart management about it?

Corporate has been very quiet recently about … OUR Wal-Mart. What they have told everybody is “most of these aren’t Wal-Mart associates” and … “the union sees Wal-Mart is a big paycheck.”

And you know, I can understand Wal-Mart’s stance on unions, and why they don’t want it. However, I can say I see a lot of validation in these associates’ claims that are part of the organization.

And you know, I think that they’re trying to bring the issues up the best way they can … Sometimes managers don’t hear it, and it’s not because we don’t want to hear it. It’s because we have 65 things going on at one time …

The individual attention is just not there in the stores right now, because … they’re understaffing.

Have you been tasked personally with doing anything to talk to people about OUR Wal-Mart or discourage people from getting involved in OUR Wal-Mart?

No … I’m on the fence.

I’m not going to say that a union is the answer for Wal-Mart; I’m not going to say that it’s not. However …associates should speak up … Those concerns should be able to be handled by people that have the time to handle them …

It’s not fair to the associates to bring a concern to a member of management in their store who doesn’t necessarily have the time to take care of it … If I don’t get my compliance done, that could cost me my job …

The firing of more than 20 people who had gone on strike with OUR Wal-Mart – what’s your view of what motivated that?

My view on that would probably be: They don’t want it to spread. Wal-Mart’s going to say, you know: “Hey, it’s an attendance policy” [being enforced] … The real reason … is that you don’t want that apple spoiling the bunch, as they would say. The last thing you would want to see is associates … speaking out and … organizing and not facing retaliation, so other associates feel more comfortable with it.

When the president or members of the Obama administration do events appearing with Wal-Mart executives or promoting Wal-Mart, do you think that’s a good move or a bad move?

I think that it would be a good move if Wal-Mart had good intentions …

We can donate a ton of money to everybody out there … That’s something that Wal-Mart should be proud of. But Wal-Mart should take its pride back in taking care of its associates and taking care of its customers …

It’s kind of sad that, you know, you have associates that are struggling right now — especially struggle this time of year — to get 24 hours a week … They didn’t ask to be part-time. A lot of them would love to be full-time …

I think that the associates that are out there voicing their concerns — especially through their organization — I think that they should continue to do so … I think the only way that things are going to change is for the public to start understanding what we’re going through …

I think it’s important for the associates to know that not all managers are monsters. There are some people that are certainly bad managers out there … There are a lot of managers – and I’m, you know, personally speaking to managers at my store and managers at other stores — that are unhappy with the direction that the company’s going. It’s a lot different when you’re working at a store than when you’re sitting behind a desk in Arkansas.

Josh Eidelson (josheidelson.com) is a Nation contributor and was a union organizer for five years. He covers labor as a contributing writer at Salon and In These Times. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

 
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