Here’s another piece of the Wal-Mart paradox. Fortune magazine polls executives and Wall St. shakers annually, and ranks Wal-Mart Numero Uno as the “Most Admired” company for 2003. Yet the same magazine also releases a list of the “100 Best Places to Work”, but Wal-Mart can’t be found anywhere on the list! Not even in the top 100 firms. Most Admired — yet not a great place to work? Does this seem like a contradiction? Not at all. It would be nearly impossible — even for Fortune magazine, the scribes of slobbering capitalism — to ignore the headlines about Wal-Mart’s treatment of its own “associates.” The hiring of illegals to clean and build its stores; the ‘off the clock’ forced unpaid work; the use of Chinese sweatshop labor; the sexual discrimination lawsuits; the virulent anti-unionism; the 50% turnover rate yearly; the low particpation rate for health insurance; the company owned life insurance. No, all these stories have made Wal-Mart the darling of Wall Street executives, but the most reviled company in America for its labor practices. Wal-Mart as a profit-making machine is admired by investors, but you will never see a Wal-Mart ad extolling it’s everyday high wages. It is not at all surprising that trying to get off cheaply on labor costs would be admired on Wall Street, and admonished on Main Street. Wal-Mart is one of the greatest threats to the value of all labor in America. Not a very admirable trait, if you happen to wear one of their vests — or even if you don’t.
I receive letters and emails from Wal-Mart workers all the time. This week a postcard arrived from the heartland with the following note handwritten on it: “Please send any info. I work for Wal-Mart as People Greeter. New supercenter almost 2 yrs old now. We have had over 450 people turnover. They yell at employees, call them stupid, don’t give breaks, fire employees over nothing.” Are you getting this down, Fortune magazine?