My whole family lived in Europe for a while when I was a child. One of my most potent memories of coming back to this side of the sea is of going to a supermarket with my mom. Wandering away from her, I got stuck in an aisle of canned goods. There were endless rows of red and white Campbell's Soup cans. Hundreds of them. Thousands. I was dazed, and overwhelmed. There was so much of everything.
I've never fully recovered from that shock, and I still don't like big stores. The barrage of noise and the fluorescent lighting, and the so-muchness make me feel a little frantic. I use stores like Walmart very very sparingly, and only when there is no alternative. In a big city, that was easy. Now that I live in a small town that used to have a vibrant shopping district, but no longer does, it's harder.
So, I was in a Walmart store a few days ago. I had found the impossible-to-find-anywhere thing I was looking for, and was dashing through aisles to get through the checkout to the holy grail of The Exit. But in one of those aisles, I noticed a group of about ten people all wearing orange tee shirts, who seemed to be doing inventory and stocking shelves. Curiosity engaged, I turned and walked toward them. As I drew closer, I could read the shirts: Altruistic Staffing.
One of the people, wearing a supervisor's badge, smiled when I approached, so I asked, "What is Altruistic Staffing?"
"We get hired by the store to do some tasks so that they don't have to pull their own employees away from their usual work."
Curiouser and curiouser. Walmart is known for its low prices and low wages and a certain low standard of consideration for employees, so it was difficult to imagine what they would want to save their employees from doing. But a penny was slowly making its way down in my head.
"Please don't answer if you feel uncomfortable doing so, but can you tell me if you're paid what the employees here make?"
The response came with intense eye contact. "No."
"Are you paid more?"
"No. Less. Between a dollar and two dollars less." Again, the deep gaze.
I said "Thank you," and left the store, disturbed. At home, I went online. Altruistic Staffing is a real company, headquartered in Florida, and they do supply workers for various jobs. Store remodeling is the job that came up the most often on the site. I guess that they're contracted a lot for the big box, for there is a page on their site for employees, listing rules and procedures, and even the wage, $7.67/hour. That's 42¢/hour above minimum wage. And that's not much.
Most of the jobs, seem to be temp work, and part-time. The employee's page says workers are not to be allocated more than 40 hours a week. Benefits? Probably not.
I wish I had asked more questions, but I was dazed. Days later, here is my real question: is Walmart, already infamous for its low wages, outsourcing some jobs to workers who are paid even less?
Why ever would they do that?
Photo from Macomb Daily