03 August 2008

Some perspective on Wal-Mart

(This is a reprint of my post to misc.transport.road regarding employment practices at Wal-Mart and other big box retailers.)

Say what you will about Wal-Mart -- I admit to not shopping there much, mainly due to the crowds and the attendant 30 min. wait to ring up groceries (and this is the self-checkout line). But I will say one thing: If not for Wal-Mart, folks in my neighborhood would not be able to afford a decent meal, or otherwise obtain the necessities of life at a reasonable price.

When it comes to a choice between corner grocery/convenience stores with their sky high markups and Wal-Mart, I dare say that I understand where the crowds come from.

Granted, Wal-Mart's wages are low, measured by the average national wage. (Actually, it is much higher than comparable jobs at other companies, but I digress. In La., Wal-Mart starting pay for the least skilled positions is $8/hour where most other retailers start at
minimum wage.) That is how they manage to obtain their everyday low prices. I rarely hear anyone complain about how affordable Wal-Mart is, or how it manages to keep the average household fed and housed without busting the family budget.

Wal-Mart is no different from a thousand other retailers who employ mainly low skill, low wage labor. One has to understand the type of labor material they sometimes encounter - poorly motivated, unskilled, poorly educated, light committment to work ethic. Some may have
checkered work histories, criminal records, or otherwise unsavory backgrounds. This is by no means universal, but regrettably retail workers (outside of people in transitional groups such as college students and retirees) as a group are generally not people which are prone to high achievement. Thus they are inevitably treated more or less like children by the management, for various reasons legitimate and non-legitimate. This seems to be the unfortunate 'natural' response of society's 'betters' to their social 'inferiors.'

Of course the fact that retail workers tend to be poorly educated also permits management to take advantage of them in various ways.

Unions are not the answer; like any essentially political organization they are in it for themselves and are interested in obtaining unearned benefits for their clients through the use of force. The American economy is littered with the bleached bones of many industries and companies which have either disappeared or gone to seed thanks to widespread unionization.

The only answer I can give is to better yourself, so that you do not ever come into a position where working at a low skilled, low paying job for Wal-Mart, or any other service sector company, is your only employment option.

And yes, I have worked in the retail/service sector, so I have some perspective on this topic.

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