The Most Expensive Steak I Ever Ate…
WALMART. Those seven letters come together to form the name of one of the worlds largest and most successful companies. Many people see this company as the gleaming pride of American capitalism; the feel good story of a nobody businessman from Arkansas who opened a store and through hard work and determination, created an unfathomable wealth for many people.
What most people don’t realize is the manner in which Walmart has amassed their powerhouse empire and global fortune. A few weeks ago I watched a documentary entitled, “The High Cost of Low Prices”. The theme of the documentary was to highlight many of the ways big business like this is simply bad for many Americans. It discussed their effect on small local businesses, their lack of environmental consciousness, anti-union ways, and general lack of care for their employees via discrimination, health care, and many other issues.
Now, I am not writing to give everyone a summary of the documentary or to highlight all of Walmart’s unsavory and at times illegal business practices, if you want that you can just watch the documentary or do a little independent research.
Today I am writing about my own personal experience. For a short period of time, when I was a younger man, I in fact worked for the Walmart Corporation. I worked at Sam’s Club. I still feel dirty.
One of Walmart’s biggest tools is their employment force. More than almost any other company Walmart has developed and refined a system to find, train, and ultimately indoctrinate an employee into their way in order to get that employee to not only work, but work very hard and efficiently for the company, usually for fairly low pay. They are the masters of social and group dynamics. If they weren’t such creeps I would probably congratulate them for it.
When I worked at Sam’s Club, there were many different tools used by management to encourage the group mentality of the workers in order to get them to buy into the agenda of the store. Like most other places of employment there were group meetings in the morning and at the start of each shift, there were incentive programs for employee of the week or month, they also had negative reinforcement programs like mandatory extra meetings for people who didn’t sell enough memberships. This was all in an effort to refine employee productiveness and evoke the sense that we were all a team and somehow “in this together”.
Aside from the usual employee incentive programs, Walmart and Sam’s Club have implemented programs concerning employee accidents on the job. Obviously big corporations want to reduce accidents and injuries by their employees because of course they care about their employees, but also for a much larger fiscal reason. When there are fewer accidents, their insurance costs go down dramatically, plus they don’t have to deal with pesky lawsuits, nor do they have to waste time training someone new to replace the guy who can’t work anymore; fuck that, that’s labor and fiscally intensive. Their plan is to dramatically decrease the number of workplace injuries. A noble goal of course, as long as it’s done properly with employee training on safety and security procedures and providing safe equipment and supervision of the employees. Now, I am sure Walmart implements some of these practices in various forms, but to a large extent these are also cost incurring, so Walmart found a “better” way.
You know what they did? They implemented a program where each store keeps track of the number of accidents that occur and the stores compete against each other to see who can compile the longest streak with no accidents. When I started at Sam’s Club, the store I worked at had one of the longest streaks in the whole country; they had amassed a streak of over two years and counting without an accident. At my store, every fiscal quarter the “team” went without an accident one of the managers would cook the whole store steaks out back and we would have a barbeque. By the time I started there, the streak was so long that people took great pride in the streak, it got to the point where people cared more about the streak, and the possibility of a free Walmart steak than they did about their own health or the health of their “team members”.
The end game for a program like this isn’t that people aren’t getting injured; it’s that they don’t report their injuries, in the end it doesn’t matter because the money is saved either way. For the first few months there were rumors that this person cut themselves slicing meat or that person dropped a box on their foot and wouldn’t fill out an incident report. With this program, Walmart attacked one of the basic needs of human beings, the need to belong, and exploited it for financial gain. No one wanted to be the person who had an accident and ended the streak, so people didn’t report their injuries. I didn’t realize the real effects of this program until I saw it for myself.
In an effort to reduce shrinkage, Sam’s Club mandated that all cashiers move every item from the cart that the customer brings to the register into a separate empty cart. This meant much heavy lifting at times since Sam’s Club was a bulk retailer. One day a fellow cashier was moving a deceptively heavy item from one cart to the next and had hurt her back. She was apprehensive about reporting her injury to the manager because of the aforementioned group ideals, but I convinced her that health was more important and even went as far as to bring the manager over to see her. Once the employee explained that she had hurt herself the manager pulled her to the side and had her sit down and got her a drink, as if she was just not feeling well. Then when the employee explained that she would like to fill out an incident report, the manager gave her an evasive laugh and told her that there was no injury and walked away.
I didn’t work for that company for too much longer after that. Looking back on it, it irritates me to no end what some people will do just to make a few extra bucks. Walmart already was the largest company in the country and making billions and billions of dollars. Would it really hurt Walmart to treat their employees with dignity and respect? Walmart probably saved a billion dollars in insurance costs and litigation by reducing the reported accidents in their stores. For Walmart and Sam’s Club the steaks probably cost a couple hundred dollars each time they had a barbeque. For the employees, those steaks probably cost a whole lot more in future pain and suffering, greater health issues, and lost chances for financial justice in a courtroom, the extent of which we will probably never know.