My favorite past times include watching cold war inspired science fiction movies on Saturday mornings, ice cream and listening to WBUR. This column was inspired by a WBUR segment, “When Wal-Mart Comes to Town, What Does It Mean For Workers?” The topic was Wal-Mart’s arrival in urban areas like DC.
I must admit I didn’t hear the full segment, but it got me thinking. For years, friends and acquaintances have tried to make me a Wal-Mart groupie, but with no success. My politics keeps me away from the chain. I have a hard time justifying bargains vis-à-vis employee rights and quality of life issues faced by workers.
Many folks associate the Wal-Mart name with low prices and employment opportunities. In fact, the WBUR story included an interview with a very satisfied worker. He was a baby boomer who spoke enthusiastically about his benefits package, hours and salary. And it seemed that many city officials viewed Wal-Mart’s arrival as a means to revitalize the local economy. I appreciated the thoughtful observations offered by Reverend Graylan Hagler. He addressed the changes and accommodations/preparations aka investments made by his city to welcome the new store (s) i.e. parking accessibility that favored the Wal-Mart store over long time neighborhood businesses.
The plight of workers was presented by a young mother and Wal-Mart employee. Technically she was a Wal-Mart employee, but her schedule and the amount of wages earned seemed to contradict her employment status. Her schedule was unpredictable and her hours were frequently reduced. Unpredictable hours created problems for arranging day care for her children. The reduced hours also made it difficult to pay bills, buy food and other necessities. She was forced to seek government assistance food stamps etc. I admired this young mother’s eloquence in describing her situation.
Then I realize the joke is on us. Her story presents us with an interesting scenario which challenges the fantasy in which Wal-Mart has been cast in the roll as THE JOB CREATOR. This young mom’s comments give rise to a critical questions not yet addressed.
I wanted to call the station and yell, “But does Wal-Mart really create jobs that allow workers to move beyond survival mode?” What we are seeing and hearing contradicts the hype in another way. On the big screen we would see underemployed employees receiving minimum wages calculated according to unpredictable work schedules which result in reduced available work hours and reduced income. The income would then be further reduced by such factors as bottom line numbers, stock holders and management salaries.
The irony is that WE THE PEOPLE and our government provide the props that preserve and serve Wal-Mart’s reputation as THE JOB CREATOR. The workers are belittled because they must seek government assistance to make ends meet while Wal-Mart continues to be praised for its job creating powers. Irony oh sweet irony.
We are helping perpetuate the myth. We’ve been punked! The workers are pawns. They are not the takers. They are doing the right thing. They are believers who have become victims. They are also our teachers. They are showing us the truth. Now what do we do?
I must ask, am I the only one in the room wearing glasses?
Janet Cormier is a painter, writes prose and poetry, and performs comedy. JC prefers different and original over pretty. She loves collecting stuff, but cleaning not so much. Janet also talks to strangers… a lot. Her column appears regularly in Oddball Magazine.