Walmart worker tells WW: Conditions are ‘very frustrating’

Angelita lives and works in a large city in the Southwest. She is the sole supporter of her two children and is pregnant with a third. She agreed to do the following interview with Workers World correspondent, Donna Alonzo.

WW: Angelita, how long have you been working at Walmart?

Almost four years.

Are you a part-time or a full-time ‘associate’? How much do you earn an hour? How many hours a week do you work?

I’m a full-time associate. I work 40 hours a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They don’t pay us for lunch. I make $9.20 an hour, but right now I have a problem that the U.S. Department of Education got a judge to take a certain amount of money from my paycheck for a student loan from when I was studying to be a dental assistant. So my paycheck is very depleted!

Have you thought of becoming an assistant manager? That would pay a little more, wouldn’t it?

It wouldn’t be worth it because the assistant managers (they’re really just workers like the rest of us) are locked into inflexible schedules and have no choice but to come in when Walmart says to come in. What if my children needed me and I couldn’t make it in? What if I had car problems? That happens.

How often do you work overtime?

Walmart does not allow any overtime except if they’re doing inventory and everything has to be counted, or maybe on holidays if they need you. If they find you went an hour or two over your 40 hours, they’ll send you home early.

What benefits does Walmart give you? Health insurance? Dental? Pension?

If you qualify for benefits as a full-time associate you have to pay for them — life insurance, health insurance, dental and vision. And then you’ll still have to pay a co-pay! Bad enough, I pay into a 401K plan.

When a worker in our store died, we all took up a collection for her funeral because she had no family.

How do you manage, Angelita? Do you have food stamps?

My EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer] benefits are $371 a month. My boyfriend contributes his as well, and I get WIC [Women, Infants and Children]. That’s good because baby formula is $23 a can. Naturally, I’ll be nursing as long as I can!

Do you have Medicaid for yourself and your children?

Now there are three different Medicaid programs. My children have full Medicaid and I have pregnancy Medicaid. The government is helping out Walmart in this way, by not obliging the U.S. biggest employer to provide benefits to its workers.

Will you have paid maternity leave when your baby is born?

What?! I’ll be using my few sick days and two weeks paid vacation. Not much!

Can you afford to pay rent, bills, car insurance, gas and car repairs out of your Walmart pay?

What do you think? Sometimes I wonder how many Walmart workers have car insurance! Somebody’s family members always have to help out.

Do you think you should earn more after almost 4 years there?

I started at $7 an hour, and my first raise was a full raise. Now they give me partial raises, so I don’t bust myself working anymore. Every time I go for an evaluation they find some reason not to give me a full raise, like, “You don’t know how to do these things on the computer,” but nobody ever showed me how to do those things. Now I ask them to show me how to find out what the other stores have, for instance. I’ve had to learn everything on my own — the bar codes, the sizes, how many we have of each size, etc. Now it’s easier. But you have to do it fast. It’s pretty hard, but I do it.

You have children and you’re a single mom. What does Walmart say when you arrive late as any single mom would have to sometimes?

The assistant manager will give you a “verbal coaching” (a warning), a second one would be put on your work record and you have to sign a paper, the third time would be your “decision day” to stay or leave. I’ve only had verbal coachings.

How do they evaluate you for a raise?

Performance, knowledge, attendance. The supervisors’ favorites get shown everything and get their raises.

Does Walmart ever threaten you?

No, but if they did, I’d say, “Fire me!” I used to be on time, stay late, work extra days — whatever they wanted, but you get no appreciation for the effort.

What gets a worker fired from Walmart? Can they collect unemployment ­insurance?

A lot of absences. Walmart is not currently fighting unemployment insurance, but they were! You can’t quit and collect, no matter what your circumstances. A friend of mine quit three years ago and collected unemployment for a year. Now she has to pay back $6,000. How can a worker do that?

How would you describe the general working conditions at Walmart?

Very frustrating! Sometimes we don’t have the supplies we need. And Walmart is careless about sending back nonworking equipment, and people take the broken equipment that is still around and are injured. One woman had a broken cart that fell on her head, and she was bleeding.

Is Walmart helpful if you have a problem like your car being stolen?

No, they are not helpful. If my mom, who lives in another state, were to die, they might give me an advance on my paycheck to travel to her funeral.

How would you improve your working conditions?

The managers should listen to the workers, but they talk down to us. They say, “You can go work at Jack-in-the-Box!” When I’m on the phones and try to connect a customer to a manager, they refuse to pick up! The workers decorate the store for holidays and the managers get the credit! They don’t do any work, just stay in their offices or walk around on their Blackberries.

I understand that part-time workers from Iraq have been hired. Are they in a special government program?

There are temporary workers from Nepal and Iraq who fold up clothes and put things away. And they do maintenance work. It’s cheap labor. And maybe the government sends them to Walmart, but they don’t know enough English to tell me. Sometimes they are transferred to another Walmart in a different state.

What happened to your end-of-year bonus?

We didn’t get it because our store’s sales were down because another Super Center Walmart opened nearby and another Walmart became a Neighborhood Market (a Walmart grocery store), so our customers were going to the other Walmarts! You can see that Walmart made profits from three stores in our area and we got nothing!

Have you heard about clothes being sold in Walmart that are produced by very low-paid workers in Bangladesh, where a recent fire at a factory killed 112 garment workers who were trapped because of no safety concerns for them?

Yes, I cried when I heard that but you know that it isn’t only Walmart. It’s also JC Penney, Target, K-Mart and other stores that sell clothes made in Bangladesh factories. They also make clothes for stores in Europe.

Do you think Walmart workers should organize and have a union?

Yes, if the union will fight for the workers’ jobs! Not like the union at Hostess Twinkies.

Thank you, Angelita! I know you have more to say about the mismanagement of merchandise at Walmart, but you have given us a good picture of the life of a Walmart worker. We know that Walmart will be unionized and conditions will change!