Saturday, my husband and I made our “oh-my-god-Thanksgiving-is-Thursday-and-the-cupboard-is-bare” Costco run.
As we were checking out (with more wine than two elderly citizens ought to be purchasing), the pleasant and chatty young man putting our purchases into the basket noted some purchase (I didn’t notice which one) and said “You are obviously smart shoppers.”
I laughed and responded that at least we were smart enough to shop at Costco, rather than Walmart or Sam’s Club.
At that, the cashier looked up and said, “You can say that again! I worked at Sam’s Club for 13 years, and it was terrible. I hated it. I’m so glad to be here. You can’t imagine the difference.”
I’ve read plenty of comparisons between Costco and Walmart, and their treatment of employees, but this was qualitatively different: heartfelt testimony volunteered by someone who clearly had a basis for comparison.
Later in the day, I came across this paragraph in a story about the widening gap between rich and poor in America:
Few companies are as emblematic of the New American System as is Walmart. The company that in 2011 generated more revenues than any other, the company that is now the largest food retailer in the world is the same company that recently encouraged donations of food to its own employees. It’s also a company that, putting aside any losses generated when it replaces smaller, local stores, causes a net loss to every community it enters in the form of increased tax revenues needed to support its underpaid employees. Walnart not only counts on taxpayer dollars to subsidize its “low cost” stores, it counts on those same taxpayer dollars to drive its business. Walmart employees not only need food stamps to get by, Walmart is the largest place where those food stamps are redeemed. It’s a cycle that grinds employees (and communities) relentlessly down, while driving Walmart revenues just as consistently up.
In principle, I don’t mind having my tax dollars used for welfare. But I do object–strenuously–to the use of my tax dollars to subsidize Walmart’s (outsized) profits. If Walmart insists on screwing over thousands of people like the cashier I met yesterday, the company needs to do so on its own dime, rather than on the back of taxpayers. (But of course, that wouldn’t work. Walmart needs public assistance in order to continue paying the below-living wages that generate its generous profit margins.)
Ironically, as I’ve previously noted, Costco’s profits per square foot exceed Walmart’s by a significant percentage, even though Costco pays its employees far more, treats them better and provides health insurance.
Costco will be closed on Thanksgiving, so that its employees can spend time with their families. Walmart–of course–will be open.