The battleship grey warehouse building in Macon, Georgia has a huge yellow Mr. Smiley face on it, and the words: “Wal-Mart Return Center #9194. Our People Make the Difference.” But the Wal-Mart Return Center in Macon is shutting down, and taking with it about 400 jobs that will not return. The people there didn’t seem to make a difference to Wal-Mart. The Macon plant has operated for 14 years — but will soon be history. Wal-Mart has six return centers in the country. The Macon facility processes products from around the Southeast that may be defective, or recalled, or overstocked. Some of this merchandise is returned to the supplier, while others are donated to charity. Macon’s loss will be a gain for Spartanburg, South Carolina. According to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, the new Wal-Mart Return Center is expected to bring up to 500 jobs to Spartanburg County. The new Return Center will be located at North Blackstock Road. A Wal-Mart Return Center is a facility that processes returned items that customers did not want. Workers in Macon apparently only found out about the closing on February 12th. The media reports say the Macon plant will shut down in September. Workers will have nine months to find new jobs. These workers have been let go in the middle of a deepening recession, and they join the 800 Wal-Mart workers who were laid off this week at the retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “The building there [in Macon] isn’t able to operate at the level of capacity that we need,” a Wal-Mart spokesman explained. He said Wal-Mart returns are just too much for the Macon building, so the company felt its best option was to leave its 400 employees behind, and vacate Bibb County, Georgia. “That, combined with the fact that our lease expires in October… We decided that this is the business decision that makes the most sense.” The Spartanburg return center will not be run by Wal-Mart, but by a contractor. The building in Spartanburg that will house the relocated facility is owned by the Johnson Development Corporation, so its only a matter of time before Wal-Mart dumps the Spartanburg site too, when that lease runs out. The displaced Macon workers will be given a chance to apply for jobs at Wal-Mart of Sam’s Club — but they will have to apply for a job like anyone else. The company has suggested that it might set up a “career fair” for the workers losing their jobs. Wal-Mart said the Macon closure had nothing to do with the state of the economy, and all other options were considered before the decision to close the center was made. It was just a business decision based on a lease.
The workers in Macon have more time to re-enter the workforce than the 800 workers who were notified this week to clean out their desks at Wal-Mart headquarters. According to press reports, Wal-Mart said that as it slows down the growth in new stores (a good thing) that they don’t need as many people in their real estate department. But they also cuts jobs in apparel and Health & Wellness departments. The retailer said even though these jobs at headquarters were being lost, Wal-Mart was going to add “thousands of jobs” at existing and new stores across America. Most of these thousands of “new” jobs will, in fact, just be existing jobs lost at local merchants. Wal-Mart “only” opened 166 stores in the past year — and the number could drop to as low as 125 this coming year — a far cry from its plans for 280 new supercenters in 2006. “Obviously, we don’t need as many people to do the work to site a new store, to build a new store,” a company spokesman told the Associated Press. Wal-Mart “added” 33,800 jobs last year from new stores — but that’s a gross number, not a net. “We expect growth in the tens of thousands this year as well,” the spokesman said. The lost apparel jobs are just being moved from Bentonville, Arkansas to New York city. The workers at the Return Center in Macon will have months to find new jobs. The ‘associates’ at Wal-Mart headquarters are being given two months pay and health coverage. As a concession to these suddenly unemployed workers, Wal-Mart said it might suspend its normal policy and allow these workers to immediately go to work for Wal-Mart vendors. Wal-Mart says in its hiring promotions that its workers have “the chance to be a part of a company unlike any other in the world. It’s more than a job; it’s a place to develop your skills and build a career with competitive pay and health benefits for you and your family. To work for Wal-Mart is to be welcomed into a diverse family, where the individual contributions of every associate are respected and valued. Above all, it’s an opportunity to join a team 1.9 million strong who is helping the world live better every day.” Readers are urged to email Wal-Mart corporate headquarters at: http://walmartstores.com/contactus/feedback.aspx with the following message: “How can a worker at Wal-Mart ‘build a career’ when you pull the building out from under them? You not only let go 800 workers this week from your Headquarters in Bentonville, but then you turned the Wal-Mart world upside down for 400 more of your workers at the Macon Return Center. Now their jobs will not return. If every associate is respected and valued — how could you move the Macon operation without protecting the workers who were loyal to you? It seems like the building became more important to you than the people in it. Anyone in Macon who thought they were building a career at Wal-Mart, found out the hard way this week that their career was tied to a building — and when that building was dumped, so was the career they were building. I hope you will find every one of those Return Center workers an equal or better job at Wal-Mart. The decision to put a building ahead of the workers in it was a coporate decision. Now its up to the corporation to help these workers re-build their lives.”