Friday, May 24, 2019

I should be so lucky!

It's not very often I get a rock star's mail!



I tried using it at a gas pump, but it wouldn't acknowledge it. I guess that gas pump was broken.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Walmart Myths #5

(This is another in a series of articles in which I will discuss certain aspects of working at Walmart, which is the subject of so much hatred on the internet. I should point out that these are not attempts to debunk or disprove any claims made against the retail chain. I will simply relay my experience working with the company. Some of the things I state reflect the period of time from 2001 - 2006 and working in two locations in California. Some of what I say may no longer be true, may be different in other locations, or policies may have changed.)

The Walton Family Foundation is a facade non-profit that doesn't contribute anything

Every Walmart store has someone in charge of community distributions. People from various local charities can approach their local Walmarts to ask for donations. There's a rather complex process in which forms need to be filled out and it can take at least a month before any funds are approved and released.

The recipients of these distributions typically come to the store during the daily staff meetings and are presented with a giant novelty check for a photo op, along with an actual check in the amount of the contribution. Every novelty check that I've seen read "Walton Family Foundation," but had the Walmart/Sam's Club logo on them.

The only real problem with this charitable giving is that we would often get people from local organizations coming in the store and demanding the contribution right then and there. That never happened.

Walmart gets its products from less than reputable providers

This is something I can't really argue with. There's enough evidence to indicate that a lot of the merchandise comes from overseas locations where they allegedly have sweatshops staff with people working for very low wages. But not everything is manufactured under those conditions.

However, I got to have fun with this once. A woman was in the Sporting Goods department. She asked me how we were able to sell flashlights for a dollar each. I immediately responded, "Child labor in third-world countries." Her jaw hit the floor. That was probably what she thought, but she likely never expected anyone from Walmart to say that out loud. I followed up by saying, "Well, I don't know that for a fact, but you hear stories." She then went and bought a $5 flashlight.

Right now, these are all of the Walmart Myths I'm able to come up with. If I think of more that I can respond to, I'll be posting them in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Walmart Myths #4

(This is another in a series of articles in which I will discuss certain aspects of working at Walmart, which is the subject of so much hatred on the internet. I should point out that these are not attempts to debunk or disprove any claims made against the retail chain. I will simply relay my experience working with the company. Some of the things I state reflect the period of time from 2001 - 2006 and working in two locations in California. Some of what I say may no longer be true, may be different in other locations, or policies may have changed.)

Walmart is anti-union

As I discussed during the Orientation, Walmart claims that it is pro-associate, not anti-union. During the video presentation, it showed that labor unions constituted 70% of America's workforce during the 1930s. But in 2001, that number had dropped to 30%. It didn't offer any explanation why that happened, but they did indicate that the main objective for unions was to collect dues and if they could get every Walmart employee into a union, that would amount to a LOT of dues.

So, yeah, this was propaganda on Walmart's part. Personally, I didn't care one way or the other. The only thing I didn't like about unions was when they went on strike. They block the entrances and insult people who try to patronize their employer while they're on strike. But if a deal is reached and they're back at work the next day, they try to act like nothing happened. I didn't want to be part of that mentality.

When I became a Customer Service Manager in San Jose, I was serving in a supervisory position and had to go through this special training. New supervisors from all over the Bay Area were at this one location to watch videos about what was expected of us in the event that employees started talking about unionizing. The videos showed a number of scenarios, starting from mild discussions and leading up to things going to a vote as to whether to allow a union to organize the workers. They would show two versions of the same situation, one in which the supervisor takes no real action, and another one in which the supervisor states Walmart's position to the employees and ends with the supervisor thinking, "I need to report this to the Store Manager."

During the presentation, one brave woman at the training shouted, "BUT YOU'RE NOT SHOWING WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WE GO TO THE STORE MANAGER!" Yeah, she had likely heard the stories of goons descending on the store to shake some sense into the employees. One of the people in charge of the training said, "Oh, nothing happens. The Store Manager just takes it under advisement." That brave woman didn't add anything, but I knew I was thinking that was only the beginning. I was certain the Store Manager would immediately get on the phone to the corporate office and the next day, our store would be visited by the union-busters.

In fact, my brother Loyd had once heard a rumor there was an 800 number that stores could call whenever there was union talk going around. I think he was hoping I would give him that number so he could start troubles at a Walmart near him. Actually, at the time I worked at Walmart, there wouldn't have been an 800 number. We had a 700 system that connected all the stores. I'm certain that the Store Manager was the only person with access to that 700 number and there was likely a verification process that had to be endured before any action would take place.

The leadership at the training also told a few stories involving unions. One was that if a ladder was blocking an emergency exit, it couldn't be moved out of the way by just anybody. No, a union member had to move it. In other words, something was creating a safety hazard and the union didn't care if customers and employees got injured as a result. The work had to be done by a union member. AND it had to be a union member who worked in that department. Someone couldn't come from the other side of the store to move it. If anybody but a member from that department moved the ladder, even upper level management, the store would be subject to a fine.

They also showed a video of what life is like in a department store with a union. They would show a woman walking into a department and asking an employee to help with something in the next aisle. The employee says, "I can't, ma'am. That's not my department." The woman huffs off, asking, "Whatever happened to customer service?" The video also showed a supervisor asking an employee to give a hand in another department. The employee says, "I can't. The union shop steward is right over there and I'll get in trouble."

At this point, I knew this was all pretty much propaganda. I mean, the unions probably used to be like this 50 - 70 years ago. If you went into a store and an employee said that it wasn't their department, you didn't throw a fit about it. Chances were you were also in a union and you knew exactly what the employee was talking about. However, I've been in union grocery stores and I've seen employees from one department helping out in another. It looks like the unions finally got around to admitting that the customers need to come first. Otherwise, there won't be any jobs for members to pay dues on. While there are probably union shop stewards who are there primarily to keep employees from doing work they're not supposed to, I doubt they're going to stand in the way of customer safety and satisfaction.

When I was a supervisor, I would overhear conversations in the breakroom about having a union. But I didn't report these. One of the things that was made clear during the training is that supervisors would not get a vote as to whether the union could come in. The unions were not supposed to approach anyone who was a supervisor. I did have one person come up to me and ask how our benefits were. I thought he was interested in working for Walmart. I said they were pretty good. He said something to the effect that they would be better if we had a union. I told him he needed to do his research because I was a supervisor. The conversation stopped after that. He probably could have gotten into trouble.

In the end, I don't think my experience with Walmart would have improved with a union. It would have just meant more money getting pulled out of my (already low) paycheck.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Walmart Myths #3

(This is another in a series of articles in which I will discuss certain aspects of working at Walmart, which is the subject of so much hatred on the internet. I should point out that these are not attempts to debunk or disprove any claims made against the retail chain. I will simply relay my experience working with the company. Some of the things I state reflect the period of time from 2001 - 2006 and working in two locations in California. Some of what I say may no longer be true, may be different in other locations, or policies may have changed.)

Walmart doesn't have enough women or minorities in managerial positions.

At the two Walmart stores I worked at in California, almost every Store Manager, Assistant Store Manager, Assistant Manager and Department Manager was a female and/or minority. But this is probably more of an issue in the Midwest and Southeast parts of the country (where Walmart is KING).

Personally, I saw several efforts by Walmart to promote women and minorities into positions of authority within the company. When I first started working there, they had a program called "First in Line." Since the stores had a lot of women and minorities who were going to college, Walmart offered those who were about to graduate a chance to go into their Assistant Manager training program so that they would start making substantial money once they got out of school. (And I once saw an Assistant Manager's paycheck. It was considerably HIGHER than mine. I would have needed about 20 years' worth of raises to start making that much.)

(The bad thing about "First in Line" is that they had nothing in place for employees who came into Walmart who already had degrees. For me, it would have been great if they had a "Next in Line" program. It could have worked like this: Spend one year as an associate. After that, you would qualify to enter the training to become an Assistant Manager.)

The next thing I saw them try was to put up notices asking associates who were interested in becoming Assistant Managers apply online. If someone had been working for Walmart for at least six months in the same position, they would qualify to be interviewed for the training program. Flyers would be posted once every three months. I applied every single time, but never got called for an interview. However, everybody I know who got selected for the training was a female or a minority.

I doubt a lot of people outside Walmart complaining of the discrepancy involving women and minorities know much about the attitudes of the associates. You can go up to any employee and find out if they want to become an Assistant Manager. A lot of them will tell you they have no interest. Some employees don't want all that responsibility and consider themselves lucky to just have a job that allows them to provide for their families.

I knew one woman who had the skills. She was the Head CSM in San Jose. I asked her if she ever planned to become an Assistant Manager. She said, "No. Assistant Managers have to work 50 hours a week with 10-hour days. I don't want to do that. I want to spend more time with my family." People outside Walmart make a lot of assumptions about what the employees want.

From my experience, Walmart appeared to go out of its way to promote females and minorities. The real issue is that a lot of employees aren't looking to lead and don't see themselves as suitable for those positions.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Walmart Myths #2

(This is another in a series of articles in which I will discuss certain aspects of working at Walmart, which is the subject of so much hatred on the internet. I should point out that these are not attempts to debunk or disprove any claims made against the retail chain. I will simply relay my experience working with the company. Some of the things I state reflect the period of time from 2001 - 2006 and working in two locations in California. Some of what I say may no longer be true, may be different in other locations, or policies may have changed.)

Walmart employees take advantage of government programs like Medicaid, Medi-Cal and Food Stamps because they don't get paid enough.

I can tell you right away that Walmart offers medical and dental benefits. The premiums get taken out of your pay, but it was around maybe $30 a paycheck (and I may not be remembering the amount correctly). There was no minimum number of hours you needed to work to qualify for medical insurance. But for dental insurance, you needed to be working at least 32 hours a week. (Toward the end of my employment, I told my Store Manager I was cutting my number of hours per week to 12. He told me that I would lose all my benefits. I told him I had already talked to HR and they said I could keep my medical, but would lose my dental. He admitted that was correct. What was he trying to pull?)

During my first month of employment, I noticed that the store's HR department had posted notices asking specific employees to come into the office to sign up for benefits. I thought these were employees who had started just a couple of months prior and that they needed to come in before they hit the three-month deadline. I was expecting a similar notice for me and the others who started at the same time within a couple of months. I knew that I just needed to keep my eyes open and I would get a reminder.

A couple of months later, I never saw a notice with my name on it. In fact, I hadn't seen any notices since before the end of the previous year. My three-month anniversary was coming up. I went into the HR office and asked what I needed to do to sign up for benefits. The HR person said, "I'm glad you came in today. If you had come in tomorrow, it would have been too late for you to get benefits!" WHAT? "Uh, I was expecting to see a notice asking me to come in like I saw in December." "Oh, that was for Open Enrollment! We're required by law to get all our employees to state whether or not they want to sign up for benefits during that time." "But what about new employees?" "Oh, we're not required by law to get new hires to sign up for benefits. If they miss it, they have to wait for Open Enrollment at the end of the year."

I didn't think to ask what would have happened if I needed benefits but didn't get them. I assume that if someone asked, the HR person would have pointed them toward contacting Medi-Cal (or Medicaid outside California) because at our wage levels, we would have qualified for coverage. But I don't know that for a fact. It would seem like employees who did get Medi-Cal would decide that they didn't need to have money removed from their paychecks to cover insurance since they already had it, so they would just continue to decline the benefits when Open Enrollment came around.

I do know that the benefits offered by Walmart weren't very good. I had to pay a lot more money than I expected for appointments. Later, I found out that I had to pay $30 and $40 amounts for labs. When it was determined that I had a number of health issues related to my high blood pressure, the labs cost me hundreds of dollars. But who knows how much I would have had to pay if I didn't have insurance?

As for Food Stamps, I can tell you that in the four years that I worked the registers, I never once had an employee come through my line with an EBT card. Some people I've told this to have countered by saying that maybe they were too embarrassed to let their co-workers know they were on Food Stamps. But that didn't make sense. We got a 10% discount on non-perishable food items. That discount would still apply regardless of how the customer was paying for the food. And Walmart already had the lowest prices on that food. I don't see how being embarrassed about Food Stamps would have kept anyone from stretching those funds as far as they could by buying food at Walmart.

I will tell you this much: I never felt the need to go onto Food Stamps. I know I would have qualified, but what I earned at Walmart was enough to pay my rent, pay my bills (including my car loan and insurance) and have enough left over for pizza from time to time (and there were PLENTY of those times). But I have to admit I didn't have anybody else to take care of.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Things that are hard to stomach

There were a lot of things about myself that took a big chunk of my life to figure out. For example, I was in my 40s when I determined that I possibly have Asperger Syndrome. Things like that make you realize you don't know yourself as well as you think. I'm pretty lucky in that I'm able to discover my own problems without having other people point them out to me (most of the time).

Something that affects me every day is what I eat. There are some foods that I have to be careful not to consume, or at least, not overindulge. These can cause me to get sick to my stomach. Some of these food issues are common with other people and others seem to only be exclusive to me. Here they are:

1. Lactose Intolerance

I was in my late 30s before I came to this conclusion. My entire life, I'd always had a problem drinking milk. It wasn't something I noticed right away. I could drink one glass of chocolate milk and have no problem. But if I drank two glasses of chocolate milk, my stomach wouldn't feel right. And if I tried to go to sleep after that second glass, it wouldn't be long before I experienced re-flux. That was never fun.

This caused a problem in my childhood. As teachers, my parents only got paid once a month, on the 15th. That was the day we went grocery shopping and they would allow me and Loyd to each buy a box of pre-sweetened cereal. (We always tried to choose the ones with the best prizes inside.) When we got home, we were allowed to eat that cereal for dinner. We would probably eat about three bowls that night.

And once a month, every month (for a few years), I would wake up in the middle of the night because I was vomiting. I'd jump out of bed, scream to Mom and Dad that I was throwing up and run to the bathroom, leaving about five puddles on the floor along the way. (I remember one night, they were yelling at me to go to the bathroom. Loyd got up and tried to pee in the toilet while I was throwing up because he thought Mom and Dad were telling him to go to the bathroom.) I don't recall for certain if this monthly event took place right after the payday cereal feast. But looking back, I think it did, and I'm surprised that we never made that connection.

I should add that I don't have a problem eating cheese. It seems like I can eat all the cheese I want and it doesn't affect me. However, if I eat ice cream before bedtime, I will wind up with re-flux. If I eat sherbet, I don't have that issue.

2. Orange Juice with Pulp

When I'm feeling okay, I can drink any kind of orange juice. It doesn't matter if it has pulp or not. However, when I've got a cold or just feel sick overall, my stomach cannot handle pulp. And there's only one way to get that stuff out of my body. I wind up vomiting and all that comes up is this orange glop that looks like the pulp my stomach couldn't properly digest. Before, I wondered why some orange juice brands state whether or not they have pulp. There are probably people out there who cannot digest it all and they need to know before they make that purchase.

3. Sunny Delight/Sunny D

In my 30s, I thought I found a cheap alternative to orange juice. Sunny Delight came in gallon containers and were a lot less expensive. I can drink some Sunny D, but if I drink a lot of it in a short period of time, it all comes back up. I guess there's something in the chemicals my stomach cannot handle. After having this happen to me a couple of times in one year, I swore to never drink it again, unless I was in a situation in which there was nothing else to drink. And even then, I'll only drink one serving.

4. Beef Brisket

What the heck? I LOVE beef! And brisket tastes very good. And again, I can eat a couple of slices and be just fine. But if I gorge myself, it won't properly break down in my system. Even worse is that it can take several hours before it decides to come back up. The last major incident was at my Grandma Ogolon's funeral. I helped myself to as much free meat as I could handle. My brother drove me from Broadview, NM to Espanola. We had planned a big spaghetti dinner when we got home. We bought the ingredients and rented a movie to watch. After we started to boil the pasta, I wound up in the bathroom. I sure didn't feel like eating spaghetti after that (nor did I want to watch the movie). I went straight to bed because I was going to have to catch a flight the next day to go home.

5. Ham at Denny's

I don't know why it is, but if I order something with ham in it at Denny's, I wind up losing it later. I figured this out after eating a ham omelet one time and a Moons Over My Hammy sandwich another. I haven't ordered ham at Denny's in about 30 years and I've never gotten sick from that restaurant chain since. There's plenty of other stuff on the menu.

I should point out that these are all foods that I enjoy consuming. I just don't like how they make me feel later. I almost understand people who consume alcohol until they get sick to their stomachs. The only difference is that I know when to hold off on these items. They want to keep partying until they puke.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Walmart Myths #1

(This is the first of a series of articles in which I will discuss certain aspects of working at Walmart, which is the subject of so much hatred on the internet. I should point out that these are not attempts to debunk or disprove any claims made against the retail chain. I will simply relay my experience working with the company. Some of the things I state reflect the period of time from 2001 - 2006 and working in two locations in California. Some of what I say may no longer be true, may be different in other locations, or policies may have changed.)

Walmart only pays its employees minimum wage.

This is a claim that a lot of memes make that people don't put a lot of thought into. I have been amazed by the number of people I have talked to who are surprised at the amount of money I was making as a floor associate at the time that I left Walmart (which was around $10 an hour in 2006). "What? I thought Walmart only paid minimum wage!" To be fair, there are some positions that do start at minimum wage (like Door Greeter). But if you start as a cashier, you get paid 25 cents an hour more. If you work in Electronics or Sporting Goods, you also get an extra 25 cents. If you work overnight stocking, you get about $1 more. If you work at a SuperCenter, you get $1 an hour more than working at a regular Walmart (and overnights there would get $2 an hour more).

Also, there are merit increases every year. Everybody gets a review and can get a recommendation for an hourly increase. When I first started working there, the increase was 2% for "Meets Expectations" and 3% for "Exceeds Expectations." By the time I left, they made it a solid 40 cents for Meets and 55 cents for Exceeds. So if everyone does the job they're supposed to do, there's no way they're going to stay at minimum wage after working for Walmart for years.

However, there was an issue with Exceeding Expectations. If you're a cashier, your performance can be tracked by the number of Items Per Hour scanned, number of errors reported and accuracy in your till at the end of the day. You can measurably demonstrate that you are exceeding expectations. But for any other position, it's completely subjective by the department manager. I knew one overnight stocker who was furious that he was busting his butt every night making sure he cleared his pallets in terms of getting product on the shelves. He got a "Meets Expectations." He was aware that other stockers weren't accomplishing their tasks, but they also got "Meets." He said it almost made him not want to work so hard if he wasn't going to be properly recognized. It looked like the managers thought they were going to get yelled at if they handed out too many Exceeds.

And I had that happen to me, too. When I worked as a Front End cashier, I was always exceeding expectations and got the big raise my first two years. But when I worked as a cashier in Electronics, the manager couldn't track my performance, and even though he thought I exceeded expectations in the area of Customer Service, he still gave me a "Meets." When I was a Customer Service Manager, even though the powers that be wanted to make me the Head CSM (which never happened), I still got a "Meets" from my Assistant Manager.

The only time I didn't have a problem with getting a "Meets Expectations" was when I worked in Sporting Goods following my time as a CSM. I had a written warning on my record, so that meant I didn't qualify for "Exceeds." But this was at the tail end of my employment with Walmart, so it really didn't matter whether I got a raise or not. I knew I wasn't going to be around much longer.

When I was a CSM, I actually got the opportunity to do an employee review for a Door Greeter. I gave that guy an "Exceeds." He was so happy. And I never suffered any repercussions for doing that. Either the Assistant Manager agreed with my assessment, or she didn't notice that an "Exceeds" slipped by. Unfortunately, that was the only review I ever got to do. If I'd handed out more "Exceeds," I probably would have gotten into real trouble.

So, a new employee may start at or above minimum wage when they begin working, but if they stay with Walmart and do their job to the best of their abilities, they don't stay at that level forever.

I should point out that I knew someone who started working at Walmart about the same time that her friends started working at Target about ten years prior. She was still getting annual raises, but her friends had reached the wage gap years before and were not getting raises unless there was a cost of living adjustment. And those were few and far between.