Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wal-Mart touches my life, again

I thought I was through with Wal-Mart, except for an occasional shopping venture, because, damn it, their prices are lower. Some of the ways they keep their prices lower piss me off. Wal-Mart is a leader in the reduce-American-workers-to-serfdom movement. They brag about the jobs they create and now employ one and a half million workers, excuse me, "associates," in this country. Studies show for every job they create, however, 1 1/2 jobs are lost. Thus, Wal-Mart has caused 750,000 people to lose their jobs.

When my parents moved to Arkansas, I told them they wouldn't see much of me, because I didn't care much for the place. I was true to my word and could count on one hand the number of times I visited them over the next 20 years. Yes, I know I was a bad son. Taking a sabbatical from the crowding and pollution of southern California, I headed out to tour the country, in 1998, and included a visit with my parents.

On a previous visit, my Pop, then in his mid 70s, was building fence. He was building fence from scratch, cutting down trees, sawing them to length, splitting them into posts, digging the holes, planting the posts and stretching the barbed wire. He was unhappy he couldn't do it as fast as he once did.

This time, he was approaching hip replacement surgery with some apprehension. I'll never forget him, afterwards, in that hospital bed, looking like a scrawny bird in a nest of cables and tubes.

Mom outweighed me by nearly 100 pounds and did not leave her recliner except to go to bed, eat her meals and visit the restroom, in spite of the constant entreaties from doctors to exercise some. It would have taken a cattle prod to get her moving, and I didn't have the toughness to use one. She later would slide to the point of being late to the restroom, if you catch my drift.

What does this have to do with Wal-Mart? I stayed, in Arkansas, to nurse my parents for the next eight years, and Wal-Mart was the only game in town for employment. They were constantly hiring, because their annual turnover ran above 60%. Don't be intimidated. I'm not going to detail all the crap I experienced over those years, or the many times management lied. I would like to give a warning. If a boss tells you a business is run like a big, happy family, he has incest in mind and you are going to get fucked.

To be fair, the insurance was not bad, and I signed up to have the cost withheld from my meager wages. It paid $70,000 for a hospital stay in 2005, when I learned about abdominal adhesions and how painful they can be. After Pop died the following May (Mom was already gone in 2002), I dithered about continuing to work for Wal-Mart in order to keep the insurance coverage. A month later, I walked.

I received two paychecks the month I walked, insurance was withheld from both, and my insurance should have been paid through the end of the month. I saw a doctor that month, and my insurance paid. This month, I received an invoice for that office visit, because last month Wal-Mart took their money back, saying my insurance had been terminated. Two years later, they decided I wasn't covered, even though they took fees for the coverage.

Writing is good therapy. When I started this, I was cussing a blue streak and ready to rip someone's head off. Transcribing events makes them a little more palatable. It also makes me realize I have a lot more to say about Wal-Mart. I'm sure I have enough material for an article, and I'm wondering about a book.

Next month, University Press of Mississippi is publishing a book entitled Covering for the Bosses: Labor and Southern Press, by Joseph B. Atkins. Joe sent an email saying I am quoted "at some length" in the chapter on Wal-Mart. Not wanting to repeat myself, I need to read that book before I say more about the world's largest retailer. I may have to wait a while, due to the $45 price tag on the book.

I have to say a little more, now. The first year I worked at Wally World, the Tire, Lube, Express department, in the course of a standard oil change, forgot to replace the oil. The omission considerably diminished the quality of service, as the engine seized up within a short time. It didn't make the news, but I heard a rumor and asked a TLE associate for confirmation. Not only was it true, but he admitted the same thing happened twice the year before. At that point, I began to collect articles about the company I worked for and continued to do so for the full eight years. Maybe, I could write a book.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great story. Julia and I have talked about what it would be like to go "under cover" working at WalMart and write about it, but neither of us could every actually do it, I don't think. Not without some big fat advance from a willing publisher. Sounds like you already have the hard part wrapped up!