A letter this week responding to last week’s print edition on Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart jobs. I’ve obscured her actual employer for obvious reasons.
I always enjoy reading your column and this particular column hit too close to home. I am 57 years old. I have been working for [retail chain] for the past two years and the similarities between Wal-Mart and [retail chain] are chilling. If it were not for wonderful people in my life who provide a roof over my head and everything under it, I would be sleeping in my car behind the store.
I worked in the IT field since the early 80′s and was paid a decent salary. I was laid off 5 1/2 years ago, divorced and ever since then I have not been able to secure a job with a livable wage. In December 2011, I started at $7.25 an hour with [retail chain], two years later, I am earning $7.60 an hour; I went to college for God sakes! I still have $34,000 in student loans to pay. Well OK, technically, I did not finish the last five courses needed to get my B.S. degree; so I am responsible for some poor choices along the way. However, I have a good working history and am a very hard worker, do not miss days and this is the best [retail chain] can do for me and every other hourly employee who works there?
Just about everyone there, except for the “kids” who run the place are on public assistance. I have never gone on the dole, and I simply cannot apply for food stamps or public assistance of any kind. Just cannot do it. I have been pounding the pavement for two years, week in and week out. Every day at work, I get tips from customers; apply on every job website there is; went through courses available at Career Link. The only conclusion I can come to is my age is against me. I am strong, healthy and intelligent. I have finally realized there are no opportunities available for me or any of the people my age at [retail chain]. We are being exploited and more than once I have been told, “I have a bad attitude”, when I refuse to work “off the clock.”
The last interview I went to for the position of a computer operator, the interviewer was honest and told me, he wanted someone with more “recent” experience. So now, as more and more time goes by since I worked in a computer room, my chances are slim to none I will ever get a position in a field of work I enjoyed. Gotta tell you, I am terrified most of the time as I see myself getting older and – what? Be grateful for the few crumbs [retail chain] decides to give me?
The customers are the bread and butter for the retail establishments, but when the workers are being treated as sub-human, the resentment toward the company spills over in our customer service. The only people at [retail chain] who are earning a decent income are the store managers, and assistant store managers. The rest have “titles” of manager, but are hovering around $8 an hour; lest no forget the departure of the CEO [of retail chain] is entitled to a severance package that pays him more than $5 million and provides other benefits.
I have made a call to a union, just to ask some questions. They told me a least half the people at this store would have to sign up. Most of the people who work for [retail chain] are uneducated, misinformed and do not want to “cause trouble.” Well, this country’s institutions were changed for the better by troublemakers, at least back in the 60′s and 70′s. Maybe it is time for the unions to re-emerge. I don’t know what the answer is, but what I DO know, what is happening in this country by the big employers is just plain wrong the whole way around … period!
I have heard this, about pressure to “work off the clock,” several times over the past few weeks. It’s obviously not a new thing, but – in keeping with the overall theme of this letter – doesn’t it stand to reason that in this labor market, where there’s such a surplus of people desperate for a job, that unscrupulous employers can ask, or insinuate, that maybe you should be willing to “work off the clock?”
Because if you aren’t, guarantee there’s someone who will.
But this letter is it, in a nutshell. People with jobs on public assistance. Long-term unemployment as a recipe for more of the same.
On the show “Seinfeld,” they used the term “hand” – as in, who had “hand” in a particular relationship. Well, in this economy, employers have **all** the hand, and employees will get the back of it.
That either creates a downtrodden, despondent working class – or an angry, militant one. You can look in the history books to see how that played out in the past. I just can’t see it playing out any differently this time around.