Wal-Mart employees are infuriated by the company’s decision to implement a new dress code.
The company says the new requirements, which take effect Sept. 29, are meant to make it easier for customers to identify employees in the stores. The dress code includes white or navy collared shirts with khaki or black pants, closed-toe shoes and an updated royal blue Wal-Mart-branded vest. Wal-Mart is covering the cost of only the vest.
Dozens of employees told Business Insider that they can’t afford to buy clothes that fit the requirements. They also complained that the change doesn’t address the myriad of problems they say are plaguing their stores, such as “severe” understaffing, empty shelves, lack of air conditioning, and broken equipment.
Current employees spoke to Business Insider only on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
“More than half of the associates are on food stamps, can’t afford to buy a vehicle to get to work so they have to bum rides from other employees,” said one associate who works at a Texas Wal-Mart.
A customer service manager at an Idaho store said, “I have been an employee of Wal-Mart for the past three years and have gone through more required dress code changes than I can count. It is completely ridiculous. Wal-Mart has the most employees with government subsidized wages than any other company in the United States, yet they continue to put financial strains on their employees.”
Wal-Mart’s workers cost taxpayers roughly $US6.2 billion in public assistance annually, according to a study by the progressive group Americans For Tax fairness. Wal-Mart disputes the study.
Wal-Mart associates — including full and part-time workers — make an average wage of $US11.83 an hour, or nearly $US25,000 annually assuming a 40-hour work week, according to the company. OUR Wal-Mart, a group that’s fighting for higher wages at Wal-Mart, claims that most workers make under $US9, based on data from IBISWorld and Glassdoor.com. The minimum wage in the U.S. is $US7.25 an hour.
“Customers don’t want a pretty worker, they want products on the shelf”
“In the time I have been at Wal-Mart I have gone through four to five dress code changes. This one is by far the weakest and most pathetic attempt to gain customers back,” one employee said. “Customers don’t want a pretty worker, they want products on the shelf (not damaged or expired), they want low prices and they want to help when they need it.”
A few customers said they support the dress code, however.
“I am very much in favour of this dress code, as long as it is enforced and each and every employee of Wal-Mart complies, every day of the week,” said Connie Marchetto, who said she shops at Wal-Mart frequently. “I have, on numerous occasions, tried to find assistance in a department and have not been able to locate one of [Wal-Mart’s] associates. If every employee is outfitted in a like manner, we, the consumer, could easily identify the the employee.”
More than a dozen employees complained that stores are understaffed and one or two associates will often have to cover four or five different departments at once.
“I usually end up covering half or the whole sales floor and no extra pay, bonuses or recognition,” said a 12-year associate at a Wal-Mart in Redwood Falls, Minn.
An employee of the store in Athens, Ala., said, “All the lines at the register get backed up because of lack of cashiers. The customers all get mad because they have to stand in line so long. We are told to tell them to call 1-800-WALMART.”
Former Wal-Mart employee of seven years Michelle Gerteisen said, “The entire time I worked customer service, we were understaffed. A job that should have had five people, never had more than two.”
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the company is unaware of any understaffing problems.
“If there is some kind of concern that an associate feels that they want to raise, they should, because our number one goal is to serve our customers and if they think we could do better, we want to know about it,” Buchanan told Business Insider.
“It’s always hot and humid”
More than half a dozen employees also complained of oppressive heat inside the stores.
“The temperature is ridiculous, it’s always hot and humid, many of us are sweating within the first hour of our shifts, and halfway through many of us feel sick,” said a 10-year associate at a Wal-Mart supercenter in Maine. “After making a complaint you can be sure there will be retaliation from the managers, and contacting corporate HR is a joke, they usually give an automated response saying they will look into it, and within a week, you get an automated reply saying that based on their findings nothing was wrong, and that I should use the open door policy.”
Several workers claimed the air conditioning at their stores is turned off during night shifts, and that the addition of vests to the dress code will make them even warmer.
“Temps can reach 90 degrees in some parts of the store,” said an associate who works an overnight shift at a Wal-Mart store in Texas.
Another associate at a Wal-Mart in Houma, La. described “hot and unbearable” temperatures.
“Now they want us to wear thick heavy woven polo shirts as well as the vests?” he said. “This will not help matters any. This company has gotten so out of touch with their own stores it’s a shame. Our equipment doesn’t work properly, it takes months for the company to send contractors to come out to stores to repair broken equipment, only for it to breakdown again a few months later.”
Employees complained about the air conditioning during the day, as well.
“The biggest problem with vests is being uncomfortable and hot,” said a 30-year associate. “Most supercenters are scaling back on the air conditioning, attempting to eke out extra profit with tighter expenses. The newer Wal-Mart supercenters are even worse, due to their large light panels in the roof. They might be saving with lighting expense, but the customers and employees are complaining of the heat from the panels.”
Buchanan denied that the air conditioning is ever turned off in open stores. Wal-Mart controls the temperature of all the stores from its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., she said.
“Store managers don’t have the opportunity or ability to change [the temperature] so any kind of inference that we’re turning the air off is just false,” she said. “There have been no changes to our heating and cooling system and temperature regulations across the country.”
Buchanan said employees should talk to their managers if they have any issues.
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