Screw the staff, it's the customers we care about...
June 20, 2005 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Wal-Mart Institutes "availability requirement" Imagine your boss (a guy named 'Knuckles') comes to you and tells you you need to be available to work anytime between 7:00am and 11:00pm, 7 days a week. Oh, and if you can't be available, you'll be fired. This should be expected in a slave labour camp, but couldn't exist in the pride of Corporate America, could it? Updated during preview: Whoops, perhaps the bad press caused a flip-flop.
posted by gwenzel (79 comments total)
 
Just because they realized what a fucking retarded idea this was shouldn't dismiss the fact that they tried to force their employees to be available to them even if they weren't going to put them to work.

How utterly ridiculous unless they were planning on paying the people if they worked or not. I know when my brother in law's on call, he gets paid something for it. Otherwise he'd be allowed to do as he pleases.
posted by fenriq at 1:10 PM on June 20, 2005


I believe the future is open to anything happening. However, I personally feel that unless we all guard carefully against it, there's a better-than-not chance we'll be serfs again in the not-too-distant future (50 years?). History just has to repeat itself, doesn't it? Can't it ever be original?
posted by PigAlien at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2005


Obviously now that this has hit the media they have to back off. This is a violation of numerous labor laws since I assume they aren't getting paid for the time they're supposed to be available. Every labor lawyer that read this article is thinking class action suit for back wages for the entire time they were on call. Suits in nearly the exact same circumstances have succeeded in the past, and it would cost wal-mart a fortune.
posted by cameldrv at 1:19 PM on June 20, 2005


This is a violation of numerous labor laws

OK, but they sell their shit real cheap and they're, like, bigger than the Federal Government or something -- that's what counts!
posted by matteo at 1:22 PM on June 20, 2005


I had a job like this once way ago working in a warehouse. It was a pure survival strategy and not a stepping stone to anything better. You never had quite enough hours to qualify for benefits. You never knew from one day to the next when you'd be working so you couldn't do anything like go to school or ever try to reliably start any form of self-employment at the same time.

They'd tell you by end of day whether to return in the morning. On your 'days off' if you weren't by the phone when they called, they just stopped calling.

WalMart is importing 'developing nation' labor practices along with their goods.
posted by scheptech at 1:23 PM on June 20, 2005


I didn't get the impression from the article that the policy necessarily requires employees to be 'on-call,' e.g., your boss can call at 1pm and tell you to be at work by 2pm. It sounds like employees needed to commit to being available for any shift, and then they would be scheduled for shifts without regard to their own scheduling preferences but well in advance of the actual shift. I had jobs like this when I was younger.

It's an unwise policy that make life hard for many workers, and it's alarming that the company or at least a manager considered firing people over it, but it's a far cry from serfdom. (Unless it really is an on-call arrangement, in which case I am as outraged as everyone else.)
posted by brain_drain at 1:25 PM on June 20, 2005


This is a violation of numerous labor laws since I assume they aren't getting paid for the time they're supposed to be available.

Sorry, that's not accurate. At the very least, we don't have enough data to make that claim. The Fair Labor Standards Act speaks to the circumstances under which employees who are "on call" are entitled to compensation. Generally, the answer turns on the degree to which the employee's freedom is restricted. Here's what the U.S. Department of Labor says:

On-Call Time: An employee who is required to remain on call on the employer's premises is working while "on call." An employee who is required to remain on call at home, or who is allowed to leave a message where he/she can be reached, is not working (in most cases) while on call. Additional constraints on the employee's freedom could require this time to be compensated.

And on preview, I think brain_drain is right: This isn't: "sit by your phone" -- it's: "we're going to schedule you during these times, even if you used to only work 9 to 5"
posted by pardonyou? at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2005


Since both links are to an anti-Walmart ad, I don't believe any part of this post. How about something a bit more objective?

Sounds to me like someone somewhere misinterpreted something.
posted by mischief at 1:34 PM on June 20, 2005


“It shouldn’t cause any problem, if they [store employees] are concerned about their customers”

I think Mr. Knuckles has eaten too many of his own sandwiches. Aren't most workers most concerned with cashing their check at the end of the month to support themselves and their families? Is Wal-Mart not primarily concerned with profit margins?

If the customer is king, should he be concerned with his kingdom?
posted by pwedza at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2005


It sounds like employees needed to commit to being available for any shift, and then they would be scheduled for shifts without regard to their own scheduling preferences but well in advance of the actual shift. I had jobs like this when I was younger.

The public library I just got finished working at, had this as a policy, but their hours were more like 6 am to 10 pm every day but Sunday. It's not "on call" it's just their expectation that the job you have with them is your only job and they can schedule you whenever the heck they want to. Once they got the union in there, the same hours applied, but management had to get schedules to the librarians & staff eight weeks in advance. In reality, most of the time, the management was completely excellent about being flexible if you said "oh, you scheduled me for Saturday and I'm out of town" and I was part time so they couldn't easily expect me to not have another job obligation. However, if they had a grudge with someone -- as I watched once with the loudmouth janitor -- they could just say "this is your new schedule, eight weeks in advance, suck it up"

It's unusual to find this sort of thing in professional level jobs, but it's definitely stilll a management mindset that this sort of way to treat your workers is completely appropriate.
posted by jessamyn at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2005


I can't believe the boss is actually called "Knuckles".
posted by nickyskye at 1:36 PM on June 20, 2005


I had to be "on call" when I worked at Godfather's Pizza in college, back in the late 80s. I could have been fired if I didn't happen to be by the phone if they called, and I did not get paid unless I was called in. These were the days before ubiquitous pagers and cell phones, too, so pretty much I had to stay home and wait.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:37 PM on June 20, 2005


I agree with brain_drain (and on preview, jessamyn). Far be it from me to defend Walmart, but if the availability requirement is just agreeing to flexible scheduling that's pre-planned, the policy's not only legal, but commonplace even for union workers (e.g. Teamsters).
posted by estelahe at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2005



wakeupwalmart.com
Registrant:
Change Wal-Mart Association
1775 K Street, NW
Ste. 320
Washington, District of Columbia 20006
United States


Nice of you to do the lobbyists' work for them.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2005


Since both links are to an anti-Walmart ad, I don't believe any part of this post. How about something a bit more objective?

How about the local paper?
posted by brain_drain at 1:45 PM on June 20, 2005


mischief -

Here is the same article on the Charleston Gazette page it was taken from. (Posting it via Wake-Up Wal-Mart was a bit much, and I say that as somebody who's on that campaign's mailing list.) (On preview, what brain_drain said.) You can follow Wal-Mart news on LabourStart, a web portal that collects both mainstream press and activist press information about unions and labor struggles.
posted by graymouser at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2005


I had to be "on call" when I worked at Godfather's Pizza in college

fail to show up for work and you slept with the anchovies...
posted by jonson at 1:49 PM on June 20, 2005


In high school, I was frequently scheduled as 'on call' on Saturdays and Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the ice cream shop. The one day I decide to ignore it and go to the library to work on a project, the stupid manager calls. Taking advantage of teen workers is a time honored tradition, it seems.
posted by gsh at 1:51 PM on June 20, 2005


I just love all the armchair lawyers here who come in and blithely proclaim this sort of management practice as illegal. When in facts it's common. Just more evidence that you elitist pontificators have very little knowledge or understanding of how America works. Especially the part of America that can't afford to surf the web from work all day.

Your assumption that this is illegal would be laughed at by the majority of people making less than $8 per hour.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2005


While it's probably not illegal, you've gotta wonder how such a policy could work in practice. It'd mean that you couldn't hire anybody with kids, any students, anybody with a second job - basically anybody with a life outside of the job. If the store had put the policy into effect and stuck to it, they'd lose almost all their staff.
posted by gwenzel at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2005


So if you are a practicing Jew/Christian/Muslim and go to services at your Temple/Church/Mosque, that is inconsistent with working at WalMart?
posted by grateful at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2005


I worked at a moving company that did just this sort of thing. "Maybe we need you. If your not at the phone when we call, your fired."
Nice way to life hand to mouth for a while. I enjoyed not knowing if I would eat or pay rent that week.
If it isn't illegal it should be.

Metafilter: Fuck you, elitist prick.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:07 PM on June 20, 2005


gwenzel, such a policy would not work in practice for a store the size of a local WalMart, and from the Gazette article, that was not the national policy to begin with.

The local manager most likely misinterpreted the policy. One of the hazards of promoting from within. ;-P
posted by mischief at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2005


Metafilter: Fuck you, elitist prick.

And the above line is taken from where?

If you're gonna do the dead-horse 'Metafilter: *' meme joke, at least be accurate about it.
posted by item at 2:16 PM on June 20, 2005


As someone who use to be in charge of writing employee schedules which include having people wait at home on-call, I can assure you it works quite well. Many people can't commit to that sort of availability, so they aren't scheduled on-call. It's that easy. And while many employees object to such scheduling, enough don't that it's not problematic to make it part of your staffing strategy. It's common, and lots of people like it as a way to pick up extra hours.

If workers want to rise up and organize against common labor practices like this, then I wish them all the luck in the world. I know I personally I will never work in that sort of environment again. But what I find really depressing about this topic is how clueless people here are about how the service industry is run. The fact is, a significant percentage of the population works on-call, and is glad to do so.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:21 PM on June 20, 2005


item writes "Metafilter: Fuck you, elitist prick. And the above line is taken from where? "

y6y6y6 writes "I just love all the armchair lawyers here who come in and blithely proclaim this sort of management practice as illegal. When in facts it's common. Just more evidence that you elitist pontificators have very little knowledge or understanding of how America works. Especially the part of America that can't afford to surf the web from work all day."
posted by orthogonality at 2:21 PM on June 20, 2005


I worked at Wal-Mart a few years ago in a supervisory position, and this was definitely the case then. We were told that as supervisors, there always needed to be someone present, and that if no one else was available that we needed to have 'open availability' officially filed on our paperwork so that they could call us in. I was told that if I didn't file as having 'open availability' that I would not be able to remain in that position and would be demoted. I can't remember for sure, but I believe that this wasn't just 7am to 11pm, but anytime. It meant if the overnight supervisor suddenly walked out that one of us on the daytime/evening shift would have to suddenly flip our sleep pattern and start working nights.

However, this wasn't-except perhaps in extreme cases like that above-a system where you're on call. Schedules are always posted approx. a week in advance, and you're only expected to work the hours you're scheduled. Those hours could literally be 6am to 3pm one day, 3pm to 12am the next day, and 6am to 3pm the day after that. That would sometimes happen when the computer made the schedule, and good luck getting your manager to approve a shift change.

I was demoted from this position anyway when a girl that I had called over from another area to cashier had complained to me that she wouldn't be able to finish her area for the evening. I told her, "Well then you're probably screwed." She complained that I had sexually harassed her (by telling her she was screwed? wtf!!), and despite my appealing all the way up to the district manager, they busted me down. Despite my having worked my ass off for them, working their shitty schedule, being chronically under-staffed and regularly reprimanded for not being able to provide 'an adequate level of service' with my inadequate staff.

I could go on and on about how when we were sent to a training workshop, all that we got was anti-union propaganda and ‘Signs to Alert You that You’re Employees Are Organizing a Union” and all sorts of other bullshit in every aspect of the whole stupid Wal-Mart culture (Did you know that there’s a Wal-Mart cheer that everyone has to do at every meeting?) Wal-Mart is just a pretty weird place. I just remembered a month ago there was some interview on CNBC with H. Lee Scott (president and C.E.O.) and I scared the cat when I yelled at the TV, “That fucker deserves to have his face beat in!”

On preview: Unfortunately, y6y6y6 nails it. This is perfectly legal, believe me I checked. And $8 an hour would be a big step up from what I and the people I worked with made.

Gwendzel: People do work their with kids, school, etc. Just probably not very long until they get fired or quit, the annual turnover rate was around 85% at our store, and I believe that was pretty typical.
posted by meditative_zebra at 2:25 PM on June 20, 2005


I resisted the temptation to copy 'n' paste a large portion of the WVa Gazette article. You're welcome.

The manager Knuckles (yep, it's his name) claims that the home office announced it during a conference call, but now the home office denies this, characterizing it as "a poor decision that our store manager made." IOW, somebody's lying like hell here.

I'm more than cynical enough to believe that the good folks in Bentonville would be capable of dreaming this up and then lying about it and hanging their store manager out to dry -- something along the lines of "John, you gotta eat this, and if you breathe a word about it you're very, very fired." I understand from a former WalMart employee that store manager is a highly coveted position, so he'd probably want to roll with whatever punches.
posted by alumshubby at 2:34 PM on June 20, 2005


Reading through all the articles, I don't see a single thing that indicates that we're talking about being "on-call". It just says that everyone has to be willing to work any day, any shift.

For example, that's how my work is. I have to be able to work nights or days, holidays or weekdays. My schedule for any month is made by the 15th of the month before. I never have to be by a phone, there are no calls to "come in tomorrow", there's absolutely nothing illegal or even immoral about it.

Working non-business hours is not the same thing as being on-call, and I can't see where everyone is getting the impression that these folks are going to be on-call.

On preview: meditative_zebra makes it clear that there is on-call-ness involved. What I'm wondering now is: all y'all got upset about the on-call-ness without it being mentioned anywhere. Are you all psychic, or former Wal-Mart workers?
posted by Bugbread at 2:36 PM on June 20, 2005


Hate to play devils advocate for Wal-mart, since I find much of what they do distasteful, but speaking as an employer, I personally need people to work when we're open (I manage a cafe). The more a person is theoretically available, the more hours they'll get. Pure and simple. Asking someone to be more openly available for scheduling is not evil.

But the on-call stuff is pure bullshit.
posted by geekhorde at 2:41 PM on June 20, 2005


Yet another case of trying to generate outrage over something not worth of outrage.
posted by dios at 2:49 PM on June 20, 2005


My boss once told me "when you're on salary, you're on call 24 hours a day." He was serious, too. No, this wasn't at Wal-Mart, it was a small, privately owned company.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:58 PM on June 20, 2005


geekhorde: You're totally right, and what you suggest is exactly what most employers do (employees who are more available get scheduled more often), but what this store was proposing goes a step further - they weren't just going to give people reduced hours if their availability was reduced, they were going to fire the employees that couldn't work anytime.


dios: If the policy was put into place, it definitely should have generated outrage. Of course, you're probably right, because the policy never was put into effect...


posted by gwenzel at 2:58 PM on June 20, 2005


A friend of mine works these hours. She lived near work and had to be on call 24-48 hour stretches, once or twice a week(including weekends). She talks about not being able to sleep for hours on end and barely getting a 1-hour shut-eye in the car, or if lucky get to go home real quick and shower before being called back. This on top the of the normal 50+ work week.

She is notified of the schedule a week or two ahead. If lucky 4 weeks. Someone always has to fill in the gaps.

During those 24-48 hours she gets compensation for every hour, and figures in over time and extended overtime (the rarely heard of over 80 hours/week pay).

You know what? She's an orthopedic PA at Kaiser. I don't think these wal-mart people are on some sort of emergency saving lives and trying to put back in a femur to save people's legs.

I really don't think wal-mart should be firing people because they aren't available at their beck and call 16 hours a day-7 days week. What's at stake?
posted by countzen at 3:03 PM on June 20, 2005


Whether or not this incident is valid or worthy of outrage, it's indicative of a growing problem in today's workforce. Admittedly, if one is seeking work it is helpful if they make it clear they'll work any time, even the 'graveyard shift' on weekends, if it's required. That's common sense. It's also helpful if you're willing to work above and beyond your competition - that being other potential employees. This means that sometimes things you find outrageous can be required of you, if that employer can get enough of your peers to adhere to the practice. If you have other commitments and can't work certain hours because of them, you're naturally going to be less appealing to an employer than one with no such limitations. Well, that depends on the job, of course. If you don't want to sit by the phone but others seeking work do, then they'll probably get that kind of job before you will, because they'll say yes when you say no. If you really need a job, you'll say yes to just about anything, and they still may not hire you for reasons you don't understand. Believe me, I know.

As stated repeatedly in this thread, the 'on call' idea is bullshit, but not unheard of: notice that many previous examples of 'on call' work are from individuals remembering their teenage years or young adulthood. This is why we have child labor laws. If employers treat young adults in such an inhospitable and callous manner, imagine what they'd expect of children too young to understand their rights.

Employers can get away with this sort of practice because their potential employees are often not properly educated in regards to their rights. They're also often desperate for a wage of some sort, and will agree with most anything in order to get paid. Even some who are educated to their rights may choose to forego those rights if they're hungry enough. Employers are often looking for excuses to be able to fire anyone they want, under decisions that would adhere to applicable law. They don't want to get sued for firing someone just cuz, but they still want to be able to hire or fire at their own whim, without government intervention.

This isn't limited to WalMart. This is an ongoing argument, that gave rise to unions in the first place. In a "right to work state" such as Texas, where the powers of unions are lessened or nonexistent, the problem is sometimes even more complicated. Ideally, a corporation wants its people to put their employ first, forsaking all else. This can unfortunately work in practice, but its the general sentiment in "civilized" countries that its absurd. I imagine many in China or Japan see Americans absurd, for precisely the opposing reason.

Outside a handful of "civilized" countries, this is the expected norm. If you don't put your employer first, you're out of a job. It's as simple as that. We've become complacent, and we take far too much for granted. This complacency is constantly being challenged, and we may soon find employment standards change drastically in the years to come, and not for the better of employees. Indeed, it's already happening.

There are many in America who can't understand how a company that claims to be American would then get children in a foreign land to work hard for pennies a day. Isn't that illegal? Well, not in countries where it's not. America is helplessly watching countless jobs go overseas, because as consumers we want to pay less than something might be worth, so we feel like we got a deal. Yet as employees we want "fair" wages with benefits and bonuses, so we can "keep up with the Joneses" as it were. Corporations have little choice do they? They have to rob from Peter in order to afford to sell to Paul. Then when they try to sell to Peter, they're suprised to learn Peter can't afford it. Vicious circle.

Meanwhile, owners of corporate interests demand a constanly higher profit margin per quarter. The person who feels the squeeze is often not the employee or employer, but the manager who's being pulled by these constraints. Then the manager comes to work to find that over half his staff scheduled that day is either late or absent, and the people on call aren't answering.

WWWD?
posted by ZachsMind at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2005


y6y6y6 is dead right ... and what kills me about this is when walmart does this ... and they've been doing it for years ... it hits the paper and everyone screams about it ... while there's thousands of businesses, obscure and well-known who do the same thing and don't get anything in the paper about it ...

this is common practice in countless places ... how does it work in real life? ... certain people suck up to the manager and get the hours they really want ... and the others have to suck it up or quit ...

and it's not really that much better in a union shop ... if you have good seniority, you can work whatever shift you want ... if you don't ... you can be "bumped" from shift to shift and you either put up with it or quit

this is how the lower half lives, folks ... so you can go to some place whenever you want to, even at 3 am, and buy something ... there was a time 40 years ago when one couldn't do that in much of the country ... hell, try finding an open gas station in grand rapids on sunday in 1965!

but seeing as it was convenient for the middle class and up to be served when they needed to ... things changed ... and i guess the rest of us, inconvenienced as we may be, just have to suck it up

it's revealing to me how many people here seemed to think this was a unique, unusual and outrageous thing for walmart to do ... it shows me that some are woefully out of touch with how some of us live
posted by pyramid termite at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2005


I had a job at a notoriously bad McDonald's as a 16yo. The managers (of which there were many) made up each week's schedule at the beginning of that week; we peons were expected to call in to find out what our hours were. I learned this when I received a call from a manager who asked "where are you?" (this was years before cellphones, mind you). Not quite as bad as 24-hour on-call, but not much better.

I didn't last long there.
posted by adamrice at 3:24 PM on June 20, 2005


I've worked there for like 3 years, and from day one I've had to have open availability open to close monday thru sunday
posted by edmcbride at 3:24 PM on June 20, 2005


The local manager most likely misinterpreted the policy. One of the hazards of promoting from within. ;-P

"This is something that is done throughout Wal-Mart stores," Fogelman said. "The reality of retail is that our busiest times are evenings and weekends, so it only makes sense that we have higher staffing levels at those times."


No, silly. He's a flack, it's his job to be a liar. Yesterday he supported it, today is was the manager's fault. Complete whitewash and the Charleston Gazette fell for it. F-ing lazy reporters, just takes the press release and prints it.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2005


Ok, I'm out of touch with the other half of this equation.

I understand what's wrong with the on-call part, but what's wrong with requiring employees in a place open longer than 9 to 5 to work hours outside of 9 to 5? What am I not seeing?

Restaurants are open till midnight or later. Their employees are required to work those hours. Same with convenience stores, same with 24 hour network support, same with any and every other type of company that doesn't close at 6. What am I missing that is so outrageous and horrible about it?

Switching in the middle (i.e. you've been working day shifts at Wal-Mart for 10 years, and then they say "starting next month, you have to work some nights and weekends too", I can understand as bad. Being on call, I can understand as bad. But it seems everyone here is up in arms about having employees available to work outside of M-F 9-5. I'm sure I'm misinterpreting something, but I'm not sure what)
posted by Bugbread at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2005


Milton: did you consider the possibility that the corporate dweeb did not realize the local manager had misunderstood the policy? Miscommunication is not at all unusual in a widespread corporation, and it is a two-way street.
posted by mischief at 3:35 PM on June 20, 2005


I don't think the problem is requiring employees to work non-standard hours - that's a given in any place that is open late. The problem is requiring employees to be available on any day at any time, regardless of any outside committments. You're going to school and can't work during the day? You're fired! You take a night class and can't work Thursday evenings? You're fired! etc etc... The underlying concern was that the employees most affected by such a policy would be long-term (read: higher paid) employees that have been working regular shifts for a long time, but now have to work any time that suits the manager's whimsy.
posted by gwenzel at 3:38 PM on June 20, 2005


When I worked in retail, we "had to be available" for the hours the store was open. In practice, this meant that the staff said what hours we would like to work and the managers worked it out so most people were happy. I worked in a three-store group and I worked a lot of nights . . . out of preference. We're probably talking about 21-30 employees total here, and I doubt that the Wally could be that nice to *everyone* but taking people's needs into account isn't that hard, particularly on a store level. Wal-Mart just doesn't have to because their workers mean less than nothing to them.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:43 PM on June 20, 2005


Gwenzel, thanks, I can see where you're all coming from now. My own blind spot is that I've worked in a situation just like Medieval Maven describes for the last 6 years or so. I have to be available 24/7 365 a year, but basically we put in all our holiday requests every month, and the managers work it out so we're all happy. It means I end out with at least 2 if not 3 3-day weekends a month, occasional 5 day weekends, I can take my holidays off-kilter and avoid weekend crushes and rate hikes, and if I feel like crunching my days together, I can take a few 2 week breaks every year. I realize that isn't the situation with WalMart (or, rather, most likely wouldn't have been the situation), but the antipathy about the 24/7 in general (i.e. not related to WalMart) caught me offguard. I guess the good points of this work have blinded me to the possibility of situations like not being able to go to nightschool, etc.
posted by Bugbread at 4:01 PM on June 20, 2005


the evil empire....
posted by Thayer-P at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2005


Yet another case of trying to generate outrage over something not worth of outrage.
posted by dios at 2:49 PM PST on June 20
'

Is there anything a corporation would do that would outrage you? Seriously. Like, if they employed child slaves, would that bother you at all? How about if instead of firing people, they just shot them in the head and dumped their bodies in a dumpster? I'm just trying to get a feel for your ethical boundaries here.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2005


You're going to school and can't work during the day? You're fired! You take a night class and can't work Thursday evenings? You're fired! So? There's 20 other people just like you who are more than willing to commit to working those particular hours. Yes, it may suck - stop shopping after 5pm or on weekends.
posted by muddgirl at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2005


Walmart has records of sales at their stores and should be able to accurately predict staffing needs. A 20%+/- leeway is useful, so good managers let employees know that if they want extra hours, they should make themselves available. There may be people calling in sick, no shows, etc. If extra hours are available, there will almost always be takers. If not, employees may have to be available to be called in. Not every employee needs ot be available every day. You could make 1/7 of the employees liable for callin on any given day of the week, and this can be scheduled.

Walmart treats their employees as a disposable commodity. Employees can't get enough hours to get benefits, and women generally get lower paid jobs and less chance for advancement. Walmart is extremely aggressive about blocking unions.

If employees don't want to be treated as a disposable commodity, they should form a union. Sadly, unions are often imperfect. But they are absolutely the best way to combat crappy pay and crappy treatment. And they're democratic (small d). Don't like your union representation? Vote 'em out. Run for Union Rep. It will be a great day when the union barrier is broken at Walmart.
posted by theora55 at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2005


For years, I've assumed that the third world nations would equalize up to our "level".

Now I'm thinking that such is not going to happen.

We're going to see incomes drop, workloads rise, employee rights destroyed, child labour (don't laugh: it's happening in BC), an end to labour standards, and loss of health & safety regulations. By 2050, we'll be back to 1850.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:48 PM on June 20, 2005


one use to ask : is there a life before dead ?
someone reading this thread could say : is there a life out of job ?

A lot of people are talking about good scheduling, bizness necessity and so on.

but at the bottom line, it's a real case of dignity. do we could behalf free on our side of a contract, or not ?

Is there only something lasting on our side ?

How could we socialize, self-develop, take care of our beloved ones ?

work force is more and more considered for nothing. just like grunts in economic warfare. But if we are at war, perhaps we need to know on which objective, to achieve which peace ?

You know, I'm from old Europa. This silly place where people have 4 or 5 weeks off + some days off, universal health care, public funded retirement, free high school...

Earing those stories bring me strength to don't give up..
posted by BastilleWanderer at 5:18 PM on June 20, 2005


If employees don't want to be treated as a disposable commodity, they should form a union.

that just makes it a little harder ... they still treat you that way ...

Sadly, unions are often imperfect.

what happens these days is the suck-ups to management end up being the union officers and the in-clique get special exceptions made to union rules while others just have to follow them ... at least, that's my experience
posted by pyramid termite at 5:54 PM on June 20, 2005


muddgirl nails it:

"There's 20 other people just like you who are more than willing to commit to working those particular hours."

Yes. The consequences of the world's population explosion are really starting to become noticeable in all of our everyday lives, slowly and creepingly, but very, very surely. It's taken quite a while for them to start being evident in prosperous America, but the effects are wiggling into little cracks all over the place.

It's not the Malthusian Apocalypse you need to worry about, it's the little changes year after year that take little bites out of everyone's lives.

I know that seems a bit abstract, but it's exactly what's happening.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:08 PM on June 20, 2005


what happens these days is the suck-ups to management end up being the union officers and the in-clique get special exceptions made to union rules while others just have to follow them ... at least, that's my experience

The problem is, trade unions are especially vulnerable to such things because they more or less don't trust the rank and file. All the unions need democratic reform, when that's the last thing on their actual agenda.

Still, a Wal-Mart with a UFCW union would be better than the current model.
posted by graymouser at 6:18 PM on June 20, 2005


Optimus Chyme: Straw man much?
posted by alumshubby at 6:34 PM on June 20, 2005


My boss once told me "when you're on salary, you're on call 24 hours a day." He was serious, too. No, this wasn't at Wal-Mart, it was a small, privately owned company.
Me too - at a couple of small companies - the advent of mobile phones (which both companies required me to provide and pay for myself) meant that I was, quite literally, required to be available 24/7/365, at least to sort out issues by phone if not to come into the office. For a period of around 12 years, I was at the beck and call at all times of whoever needed help - nights (including securty-related calls at all hours of the night), weekends, holidays, overseas business trips etc. Welcome to the real world, people.

Now I work for the government - 37.25 hour weeks, better pay, better conditions. I love it.
posted by dg at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2005


Seriously, Meijer does this, and they're unionized. So it's not only legal, but also not all that unusual. Although, people at Wal-Mart tend to have a peculiar breed of idiocy in their scheduling. When I was in high school, a classmate of mine got a job at Wal-Mart, which he had to quit when they kept scheduling him to come in at noon. On weekdays. During the school year.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:53 PM on June 20, 2005


The bigger issue here is labour conditions in the service industry in general. I used to work in a fast food restaurant (Wendy's), and while I was never threatened with getting fired if I was not available, it was clear my hours would be cut, and there would no promotion. The demands there on everyone to constantly work faster and better, while getting paid near minimum and being treated with no respect, was just insane. It truly was dehumanizing for everyone involved. It didn't help that this particular restaurant had one of those tyrant owner/managers that you sometime see in a tv show. To be fair, managers don't really have much choice either because they have so many conflicting demands on them as well, but there is still no need to treat staff as if they were a lesser species. What it comes down to is a version of modern day serfdom. The corporations (evil empires) will sell their souls, and everyones else's, for quick profit.
posted by blue shadows at 7:16 PM on June 20, 2005


My stepfather made his fortune as a labor lawyer on overtime cases somewhat similar to this. The difference? The Federal cops and firefighters he represented had a union. A lot of places would expect these guys to show up for work 45 minutes early to check and clean their gear, vehicles, etc., and had no idea that they should have been _paid_ while they were at their place of employment. I used to think this was a bit morally shady on his part (he got 30-40 percent of the unpaid time), but then again, the guys he worked for were getting money that they never would have had otherwise.

And dios, once you get back from Mosul fighting this awesome war for democracy, my next request is for you to work as a stocker at Wal-Mart to demonstrate your love for corporate America. Hell, write a blog about it.
posted by bardic at 7:23 PM on June 20, 2005


I just love all the armchair lawyers here who come in and blithely proclaim this sort of management practice as illegal. When in facts it's common. Just more evidence that you elitist pontificators have very little knowledge or understanding of how America works. Especially the part of America that can't afford to surf the web from work all day.

Well, IAAL (I Am A Lawyer) and "legal" has nothing to do with "common", but keep on telling yourself you know the law. Everyone does, it seems, until they get in front of a judge.
posted by dreamsign at 8:33 PM on June 20, 2005



For years, I've assumed that the third world nations would equalize up to our "level".

Now I'm thinking that such is not going to happen.


Right, Wal-Mart is China's retail operation and Wal-Mart-China would like to operate here like they do there. Their driving vision is not to bring American working conditions to China but to bring Chinese standards to America in terms of both low product pricing and, to support that, low employee compensation. Wal-Mart is all about low prices, it's the only thing they have going for them, it's their whole reason for being.

Meanwhile, they're running scared. They know they're just a retailer and can be replaced. They're response is to become experts at squeezing cost out of the business of retailing in America. They see this is a primary corporate skill, something that will keep them in place. To do this of course they need to be the number one experts at squeezing cost out of employees. If there's a legal way within the American system for a retailer to pay employees less you better believe they will find it and exploit it.

They have less than no interest in supporting employees as fellow citizens with lives and ambitions who, for example, may be taking night courses or doing something else to improve themselves because that would cost them something in terms of efficiency.
posted by scheptech at 8:42 PM on June 20, 2005


As someone who works in retail (not for Wal-Mart, but for one of their competitors), this isn't surprising to me at all. During hiring seasons at my workplace, we do not schedule interviews with people who are not "completely available" (i.e. they are able to come in to work all day, every day of the week). We are only allowed to change our availability something like once a year (unless there are extrenuating circumstances). I have plenty of horror stories involving the numbers of hours we work, and the incentives to have as few people working as possible (every store is given a set number of hours per year per store area to schedule workers in; if they can schedule less than the allotted number of hours, they get a bonus), but I'll spare you. And even with all this, everyone I work with is thankful that at least we aren't working at Wal-Mart.
posted by scarymonsterrrr at 8:47 PM on June 20, 2005


Just probably not very long until they get fired or quit, the annual turnover rate was around 85% at our store, and I believe that was pretty typical.
posted by meditative_zebra at 4:25 PM CST on June 20 [!]


How can this be economically sound for them? Replacing workers gets expensive. Especially when you consider HR time and training time, and the lower efficiency of new employees, they would most likely be better off giving their workers a tiny bit of dignity and a reasonable wage.

85%. That's almost breathtaking.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:53 PM on June 20, 2005


That's nothing - most employers in the hospitality industry here expect around 100% annual turnover in staff. When you have a big enough turnover, it becomes more economical to streamline your training and induction to get them productive super fast than to put the effort in to keep them happy.
posted by dg at 9:13 PM on June 20, 2005


Thank you orthogonality.

Metafilter: because it's about posting, not reading or that other thing.

pyramid termite is right about y6y6y6 being right - welcome to the 'service' economy (in the STNG "Borg" sense - you will service us). Ever wonder why you see elderly folks as door greeters? Bagging? Etc. Oh, Mr. President, I hope we can all work three jobs!

I'm lucky I have an excellent career now. But I've been on that shit end of the stick. Form a union, bump up labor costs, eat into their profit margin and they pull up stakes and find someone else who will work for dirt wages. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it's not in any sense of the word free trade. Nor is it smart to run machines (Wal-Mart in the sense that it is a machine) like that.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:33 PM on June 20, 2005


Reading all these posts, I realize now that I'm incredibly lucky to have found a technical-writing job even though it forced me to move four states away from home -- where I'd been living, the best i could've hoped for was to get one of these jobs at a big-box store.
posted by alumshubby at 3:33 AM on June 21, 2005


Ynoxas -- bottom-tier employers can't really do anything about turnover, because it's a factor of who the bottom-tier workers are, not what the wages are.

The bottom-tier workers are either teenagers or students, who are inherently subject to moving up and out or just getting bored, or adults who are either in transition between much better jobs, or underclass members who are gravely deficient in work skills and/or beset by all kinds of family/social problems which impact reliability.

The only way to reduce turnover is to raise your pay, benefits and work conditions so much that you buy into the next higher tier of workers. It's not a dollar or two an hour, it's five dollars or more. For a Wal-Mart or a McDonalds, it means completely discarding your business model and making yourself into a Costco or a Starbucks, respectively. Not only is it very hard to do, if you do it, it simply creates a vacancy for someone else to start to serve the low-price, low-margin customers you left behind with the same bottom-tier employees you let go in order to upscale your workforce.

And while we "elitists" may see Wal-Mart as the bottom feeder of all retailers, there is a thriving and fast expanding universe of dollar stores and other deep discounters who are as to Wal-Mart as Wal-Mart was to Sears 20 years ago -- they'll gladly, and ruthlessly, pick up any slack which Wal-Mart allows in the market.
posted by MattD at 6:06 AM on June 21, 2005


Walmart is extremely aggressive about blocking unions.
That's the understatement of the year. In Jonquiere, Quebec (Canada), workers managed to form a union (the first WalMart to achieve this), and WalMart quickly announced the closure of the store.
posted by raedyn at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2005


Optimus Chyme: Straw man much?
posted by alumshubby at 6:34 PM PST on June 20


I think it's a valid question. I've never heard him say anything bad about any corporation ever, so I'm wondering what it would take to outrage him.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2005


Well, once more the Wal-haters have failed to convince me to stop shopping at WalMart.
posted by mischief at 12:07 PM on June 21, 2005


If it is a case of as low as the market will go, does that mean sweatshops are justified? It is not just a case of paying slightly higher wages either, but of how employees are treated in general. I have heard that at the local Walmart, if employees are not back from their break one minute early, they are threatened with firing. Most people working in the service industry are not "gravely deficient in work skills and/or beset by all kinds of family/social problems." They may have had some bad luck, but that does not mean that they are somehow inferior. The worst part of it all is that corporations on average spend as much money on their top ten executives as they do on the entire rest of the workforce, so if they are going to cut wages, maybe, just maybe, they should start at the top.
posted by blue shadows at 12:57 PM on June 21, 2005


And how proud you must be of that, mischief.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:45 PM on June 21, 2005


Milton: did you consider the possibility that the corporate dweeb did not realize the local manager had misunderstood the policy?

No, I think the PR flack's statement I posted shows him clearly defending the policy of being available during unscheduled hours. Maybe the manager might have gotten it confused but the reporter asked him about this policy and PR didn't chime in with a, "No that's not what we do. Let's clarify..." or "We'll have to look into it, I'll get back to you." He justified and defended the policy one day and condemned it the next when the heat was turned up. Can't assume the reporter and the manager got it wrong with HQ. As we can see from the posters on the blue who chimed in with their teen job angst, it's common (if not semi-legal) practice in low-paying retail jobs. They tried to roll over their employees and the poor bastards balked, and Walmart backed down and covered their asses.

I've worked for flacks, stay on message no matter what that message is, and if that requires hanging the local manager to take the fall for bad corporate policy, so be it. They are professional sophists.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:20 PM on June 21, 2005


Man, it's totally unfair that people have to work when their company needs them. Nobody should have to work more than 1 hour per day, and the minimum wage should be $1 million per hour. Then we'd all be rich!
posted by b_thinky at 2:59 PM on June 21, 2005


Wal-mart for the most part is deadend work. Someone who wants to go to school and better themselves would be denied this with this kind of scheduling. My husband used to manage a restaurant, and it is really easy to predict when one's busy times are and when the schedule should have more people on it. Which means it should be ridiculously simple to schedule regular working hours on that basis. Even Waffle House allows its workers to pick a particular shift-day, evening or night-and work that instead of rotating. It ain't rocket science.

This kind of shift work is bad for family life, religious observance, etc. PERIOD. Any company that cannot be at least partially humane to its employees is one I do not wish to patronize.
posted by konolia at 5:06 PM on June 21, 2005


And that is what it comes down to: does the company treat its employees fairly, respectfully, honestly, and equally?

If not, then it's in your own best interest to vote with your dollar: take it elsewhere, lest such lowdown business practices become an acceptable standard. What hurts your neighbour will eventually come around to hurt you.

Be active in choosing what your dollar goes toward supporting.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:36 PM on June 21, 2005


Man, it's totally unfair that people have to work when their company needs them. Nobody should have to work more than 1 hour per day, and the minimum wage should be $1 million per hour. Then we'd all be rich!

A good way to tell if some things are silly is to try reversing the situation. If it's just as ridiculous, it can mean that the two situations are at the far end of the spectrum, equidistantly far from the logical and acceptable center. I'd say this is one of those cases.
posted by Bugbread at 7:40 PM on June 21, 2005


bugbread writes "I understand what's wrong with the on-call part, but what's wrong with requiring employees in a place open longer than 9 to 5 to work hours outside of 9 to 5? What am I not seeing?"

Not knowing week to week when your working. I have no problem working graveyards for example but I can't schedule daycare if I'm working graveyards this week, swing shift next, a graveyard split for part of the third with the slack being made up by day shifts.

theora55 writes "Run for Union Rep. It will be a great day when the union barrier is broken at Walmart."

raedyn writes "workers managed to form a union (the first WalMart to achieve this), and WalMart quickly announced the closure of the store."

This of course is the best way to out wal marts from your community. Let them come in then get all the opposers to hire up and form a union and Wal Mart will be out for years (depending on the certification.)

b_thinky writes "Man, it's totally unfair that people have to work when their company needs them."

What do you know, the guy who works from home has no sympathy for the lowly retail worker.
posted by Mitheral at 7:12 AM on June 22, 2005


bugbread : 'I understand what's wrong with the on-call part, but what's wrong with requiring employees in a place open longer than 9 to 5 to work hours outside of 9 to 5? What am I not seeing?'

Mitheral : "Not knowing week to week when your working."

Well, that's what's wrong with one type of being available outside of business hours, but it's not intrinsic. My workplace, for example, produces each month's schedule by the middle of the previous month. Working outside of 9 to 5 hours does not in itself mean not knowing week to week when you're working, though that may be more likely (and is probably the case in this specific case).

But other folks have pointed out some of the automatically bad stuff (not being able to go to night school/day school/side jobs/etc), so my question has been pretty much answered.
posted by Bugbread at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2005


elitist pontificators

LOL
posted by joedharma at 11:40 PM on June 27, 2005


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