In an exclusive interview with Salon’s Josh Eidelson, an assistant store manager at Walmart has come forward to expose a litany of abuses facing employees at the world’s largest retailer. The manager detailed problems ranging from chronic understaffing and inadequate hours to lack of overtime pay for managers working more than 40 hours per week.
The story comes on the heels of President Obama’s recent announcement recommending the reversal of the “white-collar exemption,” which would extend overtime pay to cover salaried managers making over $23,660 a year.
Asked if he thought Walmart used managers to do associate-level work in order to avoid paying overtime, the manager Eidelson interviewed responded unequivocally:
“Absolutely … What the average customer sees in the store is forcing the manager to step out of that manager role, and into that hourly associate role. So you’ll have managers that are cashiering, stocking shelves … We’re trying to take care of our managerial duties too … [Managers are] not getting proper lunches or getting breaks. There’s no way for Wal-Mart to ensure that we’re getting breaks, because we don’t punch a clock, of course – we don’t track our time.”
He also attributed Walmart’s poor customer service and empty shelves to chronic understaffing:
“If you have a manager that’s running a cash register, you know that manager is not on the sales floor ensuring that product is on the shelves. You know that manager is not able to respond to customer calls as quickly … The individual attention is just not there in the stores right now, because … they’re understaffing.”
Along with a lack of staffing, he identified erratic scheduling as a huge issue facing Walmart workers, especially workers who want to work full-time hours and can’t.
“It’s kind of sad that, you know, you have associates that are struggling right now — especially struggle this time of year — to get 24 hours a week … They didn’t ask to be part-time. A lot of them would love to be full-time …”
The interview echoes concerns raised repeatedly by members of OUR Walmart, an organization of current and former Walmart associates demanding better wages, adequate hours and respect on the job. And it offers additional evidence of the abuse described in a recent email published by Gawker. In that e-mail, another Walmart store manager detailed two decades of systematic cuts to employee benefits. Both managers spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from the corporate giant. As documented in our 2013 report, many employees that have spoken out for better working conditions at Walmart have faced retaliation, including being outright fired.
So what’s the solution for workers stuck in dead end jobs at Walmart? Walmart’s new CEO Bill Simon has encouraged disgruntled employees to simply “go to another company and another job,” but the reality is that higher-paying opportunities remain a myth for low-wage workers. By standing up and speaking out against the world’s largest employer, workers continue to hope that the company may actually listen. And despite well-grounded fears of retaliation, the manager encouraged associates to keep that hope alive:
“I think that the associates that are out there voicing their concerns — especially through their organization — I think that they should continue to do so … I think the only way that things are going to change is for the public to start understanding what we’re going through.”