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Wal-Mart: Greedy Villain or a Shopper's Best Friend?


Salty Dog

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Salty Dog
What do you think about Walmart?

 

On another thread, several people recounted their experiences about shopping at Walmart. I myself am a Walmart shopper or was until I moved to the Philippines. I bought most of my groceries there and also purchased items from just about every department in the store. I had friends who worked the floor and registers and I knew some managers. Not one of them ever complained like I see those people on TV doing. They always told me they were treated well and they were happy that they had the job.

 

In the past few years, there has been a lot of press about Walmart. About how they don't pay a living wage, run local business out of business and on and on.

 

 NOTE: This article is 8 years old so pay and other things has changed since it was published.

 


Wal-Mart: Greedy Villain or a Shopper's Best Friend?

Nov. 11, 2005

By JOHN STOSSEL and PENNY FLEMING

 

In every one of Wal-Mart's thousands of stores they begin the day with a company cheer. It's supposed to inspire employees and remind them that the customer comes first.

 

We spoke with employees who say they like working for the retail chain, but others call the workers victims of "exploitation."

 

Critics say Wal-Mart is responsible for wrecking communities, discriminating against women, failing to provide good health benefits and underpaying its workers.

 

Robert Greenwald's new documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," depicts the retail giant as a greedy beast grabbing everything in its path.

 

Now, a big union-led campaign intends to force Wal-Mart to stop being "greedy." Paul Blank was hired by the Food and Commercial Workers Union to convince people not to shop at Wal-Mart until the company pays workers more.

 

"For a one-penny increase, they could provide their workers with $2 more in wages and benefits," Blank told "20/20." "The average associate at Wal-Mart makes $8.23 an hour … that's not a job that can support a family."

 

In response, Wal-Mart says the average wage is about $1 an hour more than that, but it's still not a lot.

 

"They have taken the values, the morals, the ethics, fairness that are the fabric of our society and put them aside and … put their profits before their people," said Blank.

 

Confusing Success With Greed

 

The children of Wal-Mart's founder, in contrast to its workers, are billionaires. Does that make them greedy?

 

They wouldn't talk to us about that. But three years ago, another billionaire, Ted Turner, did.

 

The media mogul called greed "ambition."

 

"America is about competition and rising above that competition. That's at the basis of what makes our … economy and our society tick," said Turner.

 

But in America capitalists are often vilified, as if one person's success means another's loss.

 

"That's really a child's view of -- of how the world works," said philosopher David Kelley, of The Objectivist Institute.

 

"It's like we're all children sitting around the dinner table and a pie comes," said Kelley. "If I get a bigger piece, you get a smaller piece. But in reality, there's no mom there putting a pie down on the table. We're producers, we create wealth."

 

Wal-Mart certainly created wealth. The chain started with just one discount store. Its owner, Sam Walton, invented new ways to streamline the supply chain and speed delivery to stores. He pushed suppliers to sell for less so he could sell for less.

 

That strategy was so popular, Wal-Mart now has more than 6,000 stores and sells more goods than any other chain.

 

As a result, Walton's heirs got rich. But does their having billions mean the rest of us have less? No.

 

"This is the fallacy that there is some pool of wealth there that's fixed, and if I take more you get less. That's not true," said Kelly. "Wealth is constantly being created."

 

Wal-Mart Boosts American Wages?

 

Walton's innovations created thousands of new jobs and allowed millions of Americans to save money with the low-priced goods.

 

Brink Lindsey, an economist with the Libertarian Cato Institute, said consumers may be saving as much as $100 billion a year because of Wal-Mart's success in keeping its prices low.

 

"This translates really into a wage increase that Wal-Mart is offering to all Americans that shop there," said Lindsey.

 

"Would it be nice if Wal-Mart workers all made $100,000 a year? Sure. It would also be nice if the rivers were filled with lemonade and every kid had a puppy dog and a lollipop," said Lindsey. "In reality, we have trade-offs … It's easy for people who have plenty to say 'oh, I'd be willing to pay a few cents more,' but for people who are struggling to make ends meet, Wal-Mart is their best friend."

 

Wal-Mart keeps costs down by hiring retired workers, part-time employees, students or people looking for a second income.

 

"None of them was forced to work at Wal-Mart. That means that if they're working there, presumably, that was the best job they could get," said Lindsey. "If Wal-Mart ceased to exist tomorrow, those people wouldn't be better off."

 

Take Sha-ron Reese. Before she was hired at Wal-Mart she was on welfare, had lost custody of her kids and was living out of her car.

 

She had no references, work experience or employment history.

 

"I was raw," said Reese.

 

Today she has two people working for her. She has regained custody of two of her kids, and has her own apartment .

 

"I've actually furnished it with Wal-Mart," said Reese.

 

Retail Growing Pains

 

Despite its success stories, protesters say Wal-Mart is evil. Similar accusations have been made whenever there are dramatic changes in the marketplace.

 

"Every single major advance in mass retailing has produced firestorms of protest," said Lindsey. "When Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward started the mail order business … rural retailers went crazy because of the unfair competition."

 

Capitalists have always been depicted as evil in caricatures, but the name-calling came from competing businessmen -- rarely from consumers.

 

Cornelius Vanderbilt was shown as someone who leeched off the poor. John D. Rockefeller was a snake. And the newspapers lapped it up, giving them the name "robber barons."

 

"But you could not find a more inaccurate term for these men than robber barons. They weren't barons. All of them started penniless," said Kelley. "And they weren't robbers, because they didn't take it from anyone else."

 

Vanderbilt got rich by pleasing lots of people, making travel and shipping cheaper.

 

Rockefeller got rich selling oil. Competitors and the government called him a monopolist. But no one was forced to buy his oil. Rockefeller had to persuade people by offering it to them for less. So much less, that poorer people, who used to go to bed when it got dark, could now afford fuel for their lanterns.

 

"The consumers were better off. The workers were better off," said Kelley. "And if that's called greed, then I say greed is good."

 

But the critics say Wal-Mart's greed is not good.

 

Activist Paul Blank's campaign against Wal-Mart has the retailer worried.

 

Some customers have stopped shopping at the chain because of the negative press, and Wal-Mart has set up its own war room, recruiting big name political talent like Michael Deaver, former adviser to President Reagan, to respond to critics like Blank.

 

Some on the political Left have begun to defend Wal-Mart, like President Clinton's labor secretary, Robert Reich, who says the hatred represents the "dark side" of business to a lot of people.

 

"They're fighting unions. They're doing everything they can to get their costs down. And that looks unfair. It looks awful. We don't like it," said Reich. "The citizen in us says 'That's not moral.' But the other side of the coin is that those same companies are providing rock bottom prices to consumers. And we as consumers say 'hurray!'"

Edited by Salty Dog
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Salty Dog
1. At Wal-Mart, shoppers spend $42,754,109 every hour of every day.

2. This works out to $41,400 profit every minute! 5.8% margin

3. Wal-Mart will sell more from January 1 to St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) than Target sells all year.

4. Wal-Mart is bigger than Home Depot + Kroger + Target + Sears + Costco + K-Mart combined.

5. Wal-Mart employs 2 million people and is the largest private employer in the world, And most can't speak English.

6. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the World.

7. Wal-Mart now sells more food than Kroger & Safeway combined, and keep in mind they did this in only 15 years.

8. During this same period, 31 Supermarket chains sought bankruptcy (including Winn-Dixie).

9. Wal-Mart now sells more food than any other store in the world.

10. Wal-Mart has approx 4,253 stores, 3,900 in the USA of which 2,610 are Super Centers; this is 1,000 more than it had 5 years ago.

11. This year, 7.2 billion different purchasing transactions will occur at a Wal-Mart store. (Earth's population is approximately 6.5 billion.)

12. 53% of all Americans live within 5 miles of a Wal-Mart, 90% within 15 miles and 97% within 25 miles
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Headshot

Well, like I said in the other thread, Wal-Mart changed the retail model. Other companies either figure out how to compete or they disappear. When Wal-Mart started in the US, American business was much different than it is today. No stores offered much in the way of selection, and they had little incentive to compete on price or customer service. They could easily reply to a customer complaint saying, "that's how we do it here" knowing full well that customers had few options as to where else they could shop (this will sound very familiar to anybody living in the Philippines). When Wal-Mart entered the scene, all of that changed, and many small retailers who thought they had the market cornered suddenly found out they didn't. They either adapted or...well...you get the picture. Prices of retail goods went down. Customer service improved. Product variety increased. In a lot of cases, even product quality improved. The reason Wal-Mart grew so big is that Sam Walton knew how to do business.

 

That said, it wasn't until after Sam died that Wal-Mart really started squeezing their employees to maximize profits. In Sam's day, employees would usually start in a part-time position or in a entry-level full-time position, and then they had the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder. Almost all employees had at least some benefits. Then, as the cost of benefits increased faster than the business could grow, management started trying to find ways to cut back on those expenses. The way they did that was to cut back on numbers of full-time employees by replacing them with more part-time employees (who didn't qualify for benefits). This wasn't Sam Walton who did this. It was his successors.

 

Certainly, the average Wal-Mart employee is worse off today than they were under Sam Walton, At the same time, there are a lot more of them; but since they can't live on the part-time wages, they must find other ways to make money (multiple jobs) in order to survive. People are working more for less money. That isn't good. It sounds a lot like the employment model businesses use in the Philippines, but here, employees seldom even get to stay past there initial six-month contract.

 

Hurting your employees to increase profits is short-sighted in my opinion. Any company that sacrifices long-term customer satisfaction and employee loyalty for short-term return on investment will become uncompetitive. Eventually, somebody will come along and out-compete you by doing business the way Sam Walton did, and then you lose both the long-term customers and the short-term returns.

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InternetTough

David Kelley, who is described as a "philosopher at the Objectivist Institute" is another Randian---like Alan Greenspan was, to an extent. It takes some chutzpah for someone like that to call those who are skeptical of the actions of people like John D. Rockefeller "childish"! Ida Tarbell and Teddy Roosevelt could tell both David Kelley and Ayn Rand (when she was not having some kind of meth-induced fit) a thing or two about the folly of reducing oneself into being a mindless cheerleader for big business. 

 

I haven't dedicated myself to poking holes in Walmart's particular reputation, Walmart not having bankrupted my father, as John D. Rockefeller did to Ida Tarbell's father, so I can't come up with a list of Walmart's wrongdoings, but I would be childish if I were surprised at finding any if I looked.

 

I do know that Sam Walton launched a brief "Buy American" campaign in the 1980s, passing out washcloths made in the USA at one point. After that, as everyone knows, the megabucks were to be found in selling very cheap Chinese products to American consumers, and Walmart went whole hog in that direction.

 

Interestingly, American corporations have gained recognition as legal persons with political rights, according to the Supreme Court. William Pfaff questioned that if they have political rights, do they then have political responsibilities? Apparently not, as many, when their CEOs are asked, will deny that they are American corporations at all, but are global companies. 

 

It seems indisputable to me that Walmart was an important part of the process of moving American manufacturing abroad, and that its loyalty was very narrowly confined to its shareholders and customers---unlike many corporations in the past, which publicly defined their loyalties as being to their shareholders, their customers, their employees, and the community-at-large.

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i like walmart they have everything from TV to sunflower seeds if the place offends someone dont go there , 

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I do know that Sam Walton launched a brief "Buy American" campaign in the 1980s, passing out washcloths made in the USA at one point. After that, as everyone knows, the megabucks were to be found in selling very cheap Chinese products to American consumers, and Walmart went whole hog in that direction.

 

That's exactly right----They built an Empire on the MADE IN AMERICA --------- Then they sold America down the shitter

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Britishandproud

I work at Walmart but the UK version called ASDA, I get payed £8.40 a hour from 5am - 6am then it goes down to £6.40 a hour 6am - 10am.

 

Ive been at my department Home Shopping for a month and still they haven't sorted out a contract for me but I do 5 days a week or 6 days.

 

A lot of the times we finish before 10am, That means some of us get less than 5 hours work in a day. We can ask other departments if they need help so that we can get our hours in. If they don't then we have to go home, Which is often.

 

Since I have been on that department the latest I have finished is 10.20am helping the others. (My actual job latest is 9.45am) The earliest we have finished is 8.30am.

 

Once I finished mine at 9.30am and then asked another department if they needed help, They said yes an I stayed till 4.30pm.

 

Most people on my department have 2 jobs because 5 hours or less isn't enough.

 

I did work a month on bringing the bread an cakes out on the shop floor, I was contracted to 13 hours a week. I ended up doing 161 hours in that month. The only thing I didn't like is, They were only putting one person (me) on a shift and expected it to be finished by 9.30pm. I was finishing at 10pm, 10.30pm and once even finished at 11.30pm.

 

I did not mind the hours and didn't mind staying extra to finish the job, The manager moved me to other department. A lot of the workers said its physically impossible to finish it all in that time.

 

The new person they replaced me with has also been finishing around 10pm 10.30pm etc. Now he's been moved to mornings. The manager don't like putting 2 people on in the evenings (probably because its more wages)

 

They are very strict on customer service and have rules we all have to do, such as if a customer asks where something is we have to stop what we doing and take them to the product. Then we have to say "Can I help you with anything else?" There are mystery shoppers and if we don't say that sentence we have points knocked off.

 

But saying all that, I'm glad I work. It took me 7 months to get the job and have been there 2 months so far. They took me on as seasonal which is only 8-10 weeks but I'm confident enough to say they will keep me on at least till December is over.

 

I worked in the same department last year for 2 months at Christmas in a different store and saved the money from that to visit Davao city. So if it wasn't for ASDA (Walmart) I wouldn't of got to visit Philippines.

 

I have read on the net from other people who work at asda how they don't get treated good etc.

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Britishandproud

Also I shop there for weekly food shopping as its got everything I need.

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I haven't set foot in a Walmart for over 10 years.

Guess what?

 

Walmart employees are happy employees? WTF?

I guess you also believe those late night TV adds that say you can have the body of Adonis for 19.95 plus shipping and handling? Cloud Cuckoo Land is a place in America with the highest concentration of Walmart shoppers.

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Knowdafish

Walmart is the perfect example of what people will put up with to get cheap priced stuff. It kind of reminds me of the Philippine experience.  B)

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Dragonladies.org

So, which other big box retail stores treat employees better, and pay them more?

 

I pretty much doubt there is much difference.

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InternetTough

So, which other big box retail stores treat employees better, and pay them more?

 

I pretty much doubt there is much difference.

Probably there isn't much difference in how they treat their employees. In the past, a lot of Walmart employees bought stock in Walmart and got rich. Some of them might even have received shares from the company. 

 

When I was hired at Kmart in the early 1990s, I was shown a training film in which some employees said they "...sometimes even work off the clock. The feeling it gives you is worth it!"  I think that Kmart's lawyers got them to remove that film.

 

The fact is, though, that Walmart could probably have raised the wage floor, as the strongest company, but it didn't. Ford, back a century ago  in 1913 did with its $5 day (which was considered "revolutionary" at the time). That would be $117.98 per day today---according to this calculator:http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

 

 

It more than doubled its wages to its employees.

 

The problem is, I think, that too many people at heart believe in the Iron Law of Wages and have given up on higher wages.

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So, which other big box retail stores treat employees better, and pay them more?

 

I pretty much doubt there is much difference.

that's the thing really.. walmart takes it on the nose but other companies who see what walmart does and copies them get a pass pretty much

 

i'm no lover of walmart but all the companies are moving in the same direction as them

 

 

several years ago walmart wanted their own bank .. and it was pretty big news everyone was up in arms making sure it wouldn't happen and it didn't.. but all these other companies have the same kind of bank walmart wanted and no one said a word

 

 

i wish all places would treat their employees better not just walmart

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Like I said.

You do have a choice.

Don't go there to shop.

Please don't tell me you HAVE too.

Because you don't.

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Davaoeno

 

I haven't set foot in a Walmart for over 10 years.

 

 

 

Somehow I doubt that they even missed you !!!    If you dont like Walmart- then just dont shop there. If enough people do that then of course Walmart will be no more, and the thousands of people who work their can just go get a job at some other store  [ or go on welfare/dole]

 

 

So you are telling us you have the body of Adonis ? somehow I dont believe that one either .  Maybe you should consider buying one of the $19.95 exercise items .

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