Huffington Post recently obtained an internal Walmart document detailing the company's official compensation policy. It was implemented in response to a lawsuit alleging that women were systemically discriminated against in pay and promotion opportunities. However, it's created another problem--many hourly employees are locked into wages that aren't nearly enough for them to live decently. It's a major reason why several employees are planning strikes and other protests on Black Friday.
The company website declares that "a job at Walmart opens the door to a better life" and "the chance to grow and build a career." But interviews with 31 hourly workers and one former store manager reveal lives beset by paychecks too small to handle the bills, difficult to manage part-time schedules with hours subject to constant change, and little reason to hope for career advancement. Citing fear of losing their jobs, most spoke on the condition of anonymity.The document, called the "Field Non-Exempt Associate Pay Plan," can be viewed as a PDF or at Docstoc. While it is addressed to Sam's Club, multiple sources confirmed that it applies to Walmart stores as well. It was implemented in 2004 in response to the Dukes case, which charged Walmart systemically held down salaries for female employees. Walmart contended that any discrimination was the result of managers playing favorites. While the new system eliminated this practice, it also makes it difficult for most hourly employees to earn enough to get above the poverty line, let alone earn middle-class salaries.
Low-level workers typically start near minimum wage, and have the potential to earn raises of 20 to 40 cents an hour through incremental promotions. Flawless performance merits a 60 cent raise per year under the policy, regardless of how much time an employee has worked for the company. As a result, a "solid performer" who starts at Walmart as a cart pusher making $8 an hour and receives one promotion, about the average rate, can expect to make $10.60 after working at the company for 6 years.
Some of the stories are absolute tear-jerkers. A deli worker at an Illinois Walmart earns only $9.10 an hour--not nearly enough to pay her bills and her student loans. She recently had to file for bankruptcy. Another worker in Mississippi is the sole wage-earner for his family of five, but only makes $8.65 an hour and is forced to use food stamps.
The problem is exacerbated by Walmart's longstanding practice of keeping most of its hourly employees part-time. For instance, a retired manager in the Midwest said that only 30 percent of his hourly employees were allowed to be full-time--and most of them started out at wages barely above minimum wage. He also said that soon after the new pay scale was implemented, many of his employees earning high wages were pushed out in favor of lower-paid ones.
What makes it even more obscene is that Walmart's stock recently hit an all-time high this year, and it recently reported a nine-percent jump in its profits. And yet, it doesn't have enough money to pay its workers enough to make a half-decent living? As much distaste as I had for Walmart, I continued to shop there only because there are certain items that you can't find anywhere else in Charlotte. But after this, in all likelihood I'm going to bite the bullet and go elsewhere for my groceries. I may be paying a few dollars more for food, but it's better than giving my money to a company that treats its employees this way.