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What It's Like to Work in Walmart Hell

Thanks to recent teacher layoffs and the miserable job market, I've gone from substitute high-school teacher to Walmart associate.

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And it's demoralizing knowing that by working for Walmart, I'm sleeping with the enemy. Our clothing section is filled with goods sewn by Third-World sweatshop workers earning pennies per hour. The toy section brims with petroleum-based products that will just end up in landfills a few months from now. There's the in-store McDonald's and its high-sugar, high-fat menu. There's nothing -- not a goddamn thing -- about big-box retailers that makes the world better.

But one of the worst parts of my job is the one that makes it all possible: the customers, which brings me back to the Avoid the Customer game.

I didn't always play this game. When first hired, I followed founder Sam Walton's 10-foot rule: Whenever a customer wandered near me, I smiled, greeted them, and asked if there was anything I could do to help.

But that was before the guy who was looking for blenders in the garden section. Or the woman who left her half-finished generic soda sitting in the toy section. Or the guy who shoved another customer's kid out of the way to pull a pillow off the rack. Or the guy who was pissed -- pissed! -- that the coffee filters were stocked next to the coffee machines. Or the woman who, after almost plowing me over with her shopping cart, laughed, "You can't hit the help."

Avoid the Customer mostly involves walking the least-trafficked routes through the store. When heading out to lunch, I take the path of least annoyance: through furniture, automotive and sporting goods. (No surprise on that one; many customers have at least one X on their clothing tags, due partly to the aisles and aisles of processed, low-nutrient junk food we gladly sell them.)

Next week, though, I'm adding a new trick: When asked for help, I'll respond, " No hablo inglés."

Even my supervisors, whose qualifications generally include being white, male and sporting unfortunate styles of facial hair, do their best to avoid the pawing hordes who make their miserable jobs possible. (Yeah, that class-action lawsuit alleging that Walmart promotes mostly men to management positions? Totally the case in my store.)

A couple of months ago, Consumers Digest ranked Walmart stores dead last in customer service among big-box retailers. So was it coincidence that Sunday I spent a half hour watching a training video on customer service?

I tried not to gnaw my arm off as Gas-X commercial rejects enacted examples of less- and more-effective customer service. Supposedly we're not supposed to act as though customers are interrupting us from our endless tasks, even though that's exactly what they do.

Walmart keeps hammering it into its associates that we're here for the customers. Bullshit. I'm here for a shitty paycheck so I can buy beer and rehash the poor life decisions that brought me to Walmart in the first place.

Call me pessimistic, but any signs of economic recovery aren't trickling down to my paycheck. My roommate just beat out 300 applicants to land his new job. Craigslist job postings are filled with scams. (Did I say scams? I meant, "work from home" opportunities.)

But like I said, I should count my blessings. It is better than not having any job. And at least I don't work in fast food.

Walmart is America: underpaid workers cleaning up after malnourished customers purchasing Chinese sweatshop goods.

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