In Defense of Walmart
Out of all companies out there, Walmart seems to get the most hate from the public. Being someone who happily works at Walmart, I find that a bit frustrating, to say the least, because I find criticism of the company to often be either inaccurate or harsh. So I would like to rectify that somewhat by offering a defense of Walmart. This article will tackle each claim against Walmart one-by-one, and I hope, by the end of it, you will see Walmart not as an evil company, but just as a company. Even better if you come out seeing Walmart as one of the most accommodating and ethical companies out there, as I do.
The specific claims I will be tackling are as follows:
- Claim: Walmart Pays Low Wages
- Claim: Walmart Mistreats Employees
- Claim: Walmart Drives Out Small Businesses
- Claim: Walmart Supports/Runs/Profits From Sweatshops
- Claim: Walmart is Anti-Union
After I cover these claims, I will also explain why I actually love working at Walmart and why I think it is the best retail employer around.
Disclaimer: I am writing this article of my own volition, and the opinions expressed herein are my own opinions. This article does not necessarily represent the views of the company, and Walmart has neither been contacted about nor endorsed the content of this article.
Claim: Walmart Pays Low Wages
This is an easy one: no, they don't. If you get a job at Walmart, right now, you will start at a rate of at least $11 an hour. That's the rate for the absolute lowest-paying positions (i.e. cashiers and cart pushers), assuming that your local Walmart doesn't have an even higher minimum rate (mine does, for example, due to job market pressure). Other positions are above this minimum rate. Not only that, we also get a semi-annual bonus, called "MyShare", based on how well our individual store is turning a profit.
Yes, $11 an hour is nothing to get crazy excited about. But it's also well above the federal minimum wage, and well above many state minimum wages. Yes, I know, you want Walmart workers to get paid more anyway. But you have to understand that this is a capitalist system we live in. Every time Walmart raises its wages, prices go up, too. And if your competitors pay minimum wage, while you pay well above minimum wage, it's going to be very difficult to compete with the minimum wage competitors. In fact, for this reason, Walmart would stand to benefit from a minimum wage increase, since that would force competitors to raise their wages, too.
Sometimes people will point to the wage of the CEO as an indication of a problem with Walmart, or as proof that Walmart should pay its workers more. I would counter that claim by pointing out that other companies make their CEOs just as rich as if not richer than Walmart's CEO. If you consider this to be a problem (which I don't), then this is a capitalism problem, not a Walmart problem. CEOs get paid more in a capitalist system because they have very important, difficult jobs that not many people are qualified to do.
Claim: Walmart Mistreats Employees
People attribute all kinds of mistreatment to Walmart. But my experience has been the exact opposite: Walmart, unlike literally every other company I've ever worked for, actually has effective systems in place designed to protect its workers from mistreatment.
The first, and most basic, protection from mistreatment is Walmart's "open door" policy. This is, simply put, a policy of always giving all workers the chance to complain about any coworker by contacting someone above them. If all else fails, a company-level hotline for open door cases is available. Company policy expressly prohibits any retaliation for any open door case. If someone retaliates against you, you report that to the hotline, too.
But that's not all. One of my favorite protections from mistreatment that Walmart offers is actually something that some people have criticized: the points or "occurrences" system. It works like this: any time you miss work, arrive more than ten minutes late, or leave more than ten minutes early, you get points: half a point if you work at least half of your shift, or one point otherwise. Get five points, and you're "eligible for termination", which in practice means that you're fired (but exceptions can be made). Points are removed from your record six months after they are obtained.
I think those who criticize the points system frequently misunderstand it. First of all, you don't automatically gain points; the manager has the capability to spare you the point, and my managers have done this for me multiple times; for example, I got spared a point when I failed to show up for work because of a thunderstorm (I get around by bicycle, so traveling in those conditions would have been dangerous), then I got spared another point when I had to go home very early because I got sick. In fact, it's quite commonplace for my managers to waive points; it happens every Christmas Eve, for instance, and it also tends to happen when people can't make it because of a bad snowstorm.
But more importantly, critics fail to understand that the points system isn't something that guarantees that you're fired if you're absent too much; rather, it's something that guarantees you get to call off work or leave early a certain number of times every six months and not be retaliated against for it. This has never happened to me, but I've heard plenty of stories of bad bosses at other workplaces insisting that a worker come to work because they don't like their reason for not showing up, then threatening to fire the worker if they don't arrive. This cannot happen at Walmart without company policy being violated; if you have two points and call off, the absolute worst your boss can possibly do to you is give you one point. The system ensures that only a large number of call-offs can get you fired, and you always know where you stand on that because you have access to a page showing exactly how many occurrences you have.
And that's not all anymore. Starting in 2019, "Protected PTO" has been introduced, which allows associates to take paid time off for unexpected events (in Walmart's words, "when you’re out sick, need to care for family, or something else comes up that keeps you away, from car trouble to alien abduction") without accumulating points. You accumulate Protected PTO over the course of the year and any extra Protected PTO rolls over to the next year indefinitely, so you never lose it.
Walmart also offers other, more minor protections from mistreatment:
- You have to be given breaks and lunches, scheduled at roughly 2-hour intervals; breaks last 15 minutes and are paid, while lunches last an hour and are unpaid.
- The registers and other equipment start systematically locking you out if you remain clocked in for more than a certain amount of time; you are then required by the system to take at least a 30 minute lunch break before you can use the equipment again. This is a failsafe to ensure you don't go all day without your scheduled lunch. Managers, even the store manager, cannot override this.
- Company policy expressly forbids doing any work off the clock. When you get locked out, as previously mentioned, the notification that you have been locked out reminds you of this.
But what about stories you hear of mistreatment at a Walmart? Surely that's a Walmart problem, right? Actually, no. Walmart has thousands of stores all across the world, and each Walmart is run by different people. Every company has this problem: bad managers exist. They always have, and they always will. If a bad manager violates company policy and the law by making you work off the clock, that's that manager's fault, not Walmart's fault, and it can happen at any other store. That's what the open door policy is for: so you can get problems addressed and solved. And as a company, Walmart has an incentive to get these problems resolved, because more turnover means more cost hiring and training new people.
And by the way, I'd just like to note that as far as I can tell, the management in the store I work at is phenomenally kind and accommodating. I have never had any major problems working here; quite the contrary, it's the best work environment I've ever been in, and it was this fantastic work environment that convinced me to quit commercial game development and work at Walmart full-time.
Claim: Walmart Drives Out Small Businesses
Yes, absolutely true. Walmart does indeed drive out small businesses. But that's because Walmart offers a better range of products at a better price than the small businesses do. This is simply capitalism working as it's supposed to.
I know it's popular to romanticize small businesses, but let's be real here: a business is a business, big or small. Small businesses are not inherently better, nicer, or more ethical than their big business competitors. In fact, I would argue that there's more pressure for small businesses to behave unethically to try to stay competitive, whereas big businesses have more pressure to keep their ethics in line to avoid a PR disaster. But the point is, regardless of what small business owners would like you to think, they're only trying to turn a profit, just like Walmart is.
Small businesses are also no better for their local communities than big businesses. Regardless of where the corporate office is located, a local Walmart benefits your community by offering goods, services... and jobs. Yes, who do you think works at that local Walmart that drove away the little marketplace down the street? If you guessed "hundreds of middle-class and lower-class locals", you'd be right.
I once saw a sign displayed in the window of a small business, and it made me cringe. It said something to effect of, "By supporting a small business such as this one, you're not lining the pockets of rich CEOs. You're supporting mothers, fathers, and families." The actual wording used was more flowery than that, but that was the general idea. It made me cringe on two counts. Firstly, supporting that small business absolutely does mean you're "lining the pockets" of the owner of that business, because it's not a charity. Secondly, just because the CEO of Walmart, for example, is rich doesn't mean big business supports only, or even mainly, rich people. In the case of Walmart, you're mostly supporting the workforce of that big business, which amount to about 2.3 million employees as of 2018; most of them, as Walmart critics will gladly tell you, are not rich. And yes, those employees include mothers and fathers. Thirdly, that small business you're supporting: where do you think they get their stuff from? That's right: big businesses. That computer they use? Yeah, that's supporting big businesses like Intel, AMD, or IBM. Those soft drinks they sell? Probably straight from Coca-Cola or PepsiCo. Got dairy? Probably from Dean Foods, the largest dairy company in the United States.
Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not against the existence of small businesses. Far from it; every business, including Walmart, starts as a small business, and the existence of small business competition is what keeps bigger businesses like Walmart innovating to stay on top. But to portray small businesses as good while portraying big businesses as evil is inaccurate.
Claim: Walmart Supports/Runs/Profits From Sweatshops
This sort of sentiment is wrong on several levels.
Firstly, if you actually look at Walmart brand products, chances are you'll find that it's largely or even entirely produced in the United States. Making goods in the United States is actually something that the company puts effort into.
Secondly, Walmart is not unique in the sense that it stocks products that were made in sweatshops. Whether the store selling them is Walmart, Target, Kroger, or your local mom-and-pop grocery store, Oreos all come from the same place. The actual reason behind the existence of sweatshops isn't some single company like Walmart; it's market forces. Sweatshops exist because people in areas that are not very wealthy are willing to work for low wages, and companies not only want to, but have to do whatever they can to turn the best possible profit. So of course, they're going to buy from the cheapest suppliers, and of course, those cheapest suppliers are going to be factories that pay a pittance by Western standards.
Thirdly, and most importantly, sweatshops are not actually something to bemoan. I'm sure those of you who complain about products coming from sweatshops have heard this a million times and this time probably isn't going to convince you, but there's a reason they crop up: they offer better wages and safer working conditions than the alternatives. Yes, I know it doesn't feel right to say that, but in China, people chose to leave their old back-breaking rural lifestyle to work at factories instead. Is it the best job in the world? Of course not. Is it better than what they had before? Probably. And China has since started to see the same effects we in the United States did from our sweatshops early on in the industrial revolution: people are becoming better and better off as time goes on.
Ah, yes, that's something people tend to forget when arguing that sweatshops are such a horrible thing. If you go back to the 1800s, United States factories would be horrible workplaces by modern standards. But by the standards of the time, they were absolutely fine, and in fact preferable to the alternatives; this is why so many people took these jobs. And it was these jobs that led to the birth of the middle class, which became more and more well off over time. Now, the same thing is happening in countries like China, and this is something that should be celebrated, not bemoaned.
But if, as I suspect, you still disagree, I will remind you again: Walmart does not run the sweatshops, is not responsible for the operation of the sweatshops, is not uniquely a customer of the sweatshops, and in fact goes to efforts to source from American suppliers.
Claim: Walmart is Anti-Union
Walmart's official position is not against all unions. However, the company is indeed against unions in the context of Walmart stores. So this particular claim is not exactly untrue.
However, I think many people who complain about this have an overly romanticized view of unions that is not in line with reality. The fact of the matter is that unions have both advantages and disadvantages, and you will find a lot of people who agree with Walmart that, for retail, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
I have worked in one unionized job before (also retail), and it was easily the worst job I ever had. There were factors at play other than the union, but from my perspective, the union was very effective at two jobs: keeping terrible workers (including terrible managers) employed, and stagnating everyone's wages. The former is simply because union rules make it much harder for the company to fire people. The latter is because the union rules prevent rewarding anyone for anything other than seniority, which any retail worker can tell you is a completely meaningless metric in this field. It's very easy to be a disinterested, unproductive employee for ten years, and yet under the rules of a union, such an employee will enjoy much better hours, pay, and chance of getting promoted than a highly motivated, very productive employee who has only been around for one year.
Certainly, unions do have their place. But it's not retail.
But isn't Walmart violating the rights of its workers by not allowing them to join unions? Actually, no. Walmart doesn't restrict its employees' right to join unions; that would be illegal. All Walmart does is proactively urge employees not to join unions. This is actually quite commonplace for non-unionized companies; Walmart is just such a large company that it gets noticed for it more than others. At any rate, Walmart doesn't have that hard of a job to do stopping unions from forming, because so many of us, especially the hard workers among us, have already been burned by unions in the past.
Love to Balance the Hate
Now that I've responded to all the negativity surrounding Walmart, I would like to take a moment to explain why I actually love my job and consider Walmart to be a great company to work for. I'll be talking about two main areas: benefits, and work environment
Let's start with the benefits, since that's something that's concrete and objective. I briefly mentioned PTO above, but let's go into that in greater detail. At Walmart, you accumulate PTO every year based on the number of hours you work. You also accumulate more PTO at a faster rate the longer you work for Walmart. I can't go into specifics as it's considered confidential, but suffice to say that full-time associates who have been here for decades (which, yes, does happen quite often) get a lot of PTO. As mentioned before, we also get a steady stream of "protected PTO" as of 2019, which is used for paid sick days and other unexpected absences.
If you're full-time, you also have the option to enroll in several additional benefits. These include health insurance, vision, accident insurance, 401k, and a couple others.
I should also mention the break room. Put simply, we have a very nice break room. It's nice and spacious, and it has tables, desks, charging ports for your electronics, a TV, couches, magazines, refrigerators, a freezer, microwave ovens, a coffee machine, a filtered water dispenser, and plenty of plastic utensils. There are even playing cards and a few board games here, though I haven't seen anyone take interest in those. Basically, the break room is set up to accommodate any needs you might have for your break or lunch; you can eat, watch the TV, sleep on the couch, play games, work on schoolwork, do stuff on your laptop, whatever.
But there's a deeper reason that I love working at Walmart, and unfortunately I can't describe it precisely: the work environment. Suffice it to say, this is simply the greatest work environment I have ever been in. Great people, great management, policies that are designed to work with us instead of screwing us over, etc. Let me be clear: the store I work at isn't perfect. It's made up of people, and people are not perfect. But the way Walmart functions, it's like a well-oiled machine that's designed to make the best work environment it can.
Quite frankly, applying for Walmart was easily the second best decision I ever made (second only to transitioning). It's easily the best employer I've ever had, probably the best employer in the industry. When I walk into work, I'm not dreading my day. I'm not even apathetic about it. I'm happy, looking forward to the day, and eager to help the company thrive in whatever way I can. Perhaps, if you come through my check lane one day, you will see me smiling. Now you know that my smile is genuine, and you know why.