I’ve had mixed feelings about writing this post. With so many others having already written about Covid-19 (myself included…see here) I was hesitant to share this. However, with so many different people out there experiencing this pandemic in different ways, I thought I’d share a little bit about my own experience.
I have written very little about my job in the past. What I have shared is that I am a warehouse worker and have been for a long time. What I haven’t shared is that I work for the largest company (by revenue) in the world. It was started back in 1962 by Sam Walton. You may have heard of it. Yes, I work for Walmart. Love them or hate them (I won’t share all of my feelings here), they are here to stay.
I began my career with Walmart back in 1996 when I was 18 years old. I was a month out of high school when they offered me a job at their newest distribution center that opened up in my own hometown. They started me off making $3/hour more than I was making at my other job and offered me a three day work week with benefits. It seemed too good to be true. I accepted and I have been there ever since. My 24th anniversary with the company is coming up in July. Hard to believe so many years have gone by so quickly, but that’s life.
I won’t speak to all of the negative things that have been said about my employer. There have been many…and I agree with most of them. I’d rather discuss the current state of affairs in the world of retail from my perspective. I do not, and never have, worked in the stores. I have always been behind the scenes, supplying the goods from the distribution side of things. Because of all the things we offer, we have been deemed an essential business and have remained open during this difficult time. I have not missed a paycheck and have not gotten sick…at least not yet.
On Sunday, during the second half of my 12 hour shift, the General Manager and Human Resources manager were seen walking around our 1 million+ square foot facility. Neither of them are seen outside of their offices very often. We knew something was up. When they came around to the group of people I was working with, we got the news. Someone in our building had tested positive for Covid-19. We were not overly surprised, but it was still a bit unsettling. We were given very little information. We were told that the person has been out of work for a while and they were from a different shift so the risk of contact for us was very low. However…
My wife also works in the same warehouse….on the opposite shift. I asked the General Manager if there was any risk for her. The GM was hesitant to say anything at all. They had claimed to be sharing the information with us out of “full transparency” but wouldn’t tell us what department they worked in, and exactly what shift, so we could make an informed decision about whether or not we wanted to go to work right now and possibly become exposed. None of us know the extent of the risk we each face as we go about our business.
A week prior to this incident, the building I work in started checking temperatures at the door and turning away anyone 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or anyone who answered “yes” to any of the three questions we were asked. Masks were offered to anyone who wished to wear one, but they were not mandatory. Now, after a confirmed case was revealed to be in our own building, something happened that I was shocked by. Nothing. Nothing happened. Our building was not shut down for cleaning. We were not sent home. We were not told that masks were now mandatory. We were only told to stay safe and to “keep up the good work.”
I’m not sure how to feel about all of this. I know that there is a panic going on in the world right now. I myself have not felt a sense of panic and don’t have much fear about getting sick. I am still relatively young and healthy. But now, the virus that seemed so far away when watching or reading the news, is now at work with me. It’s there with my wife as well. We could possibly get it and bring it home to our four children. And my employer is focusing solely on pushing out more merchandise to keep that cash flow coming in. I guess that wouldn’t bother me so much if we switched gears to only shipping out the essential items that our essential business is offering to customers who are told to only go out shopping for the essentials. But we aren’t. We move swimming pools, video game systems, 75 inch tvs, and so much more that is so not needed right now. The store shelves are bare for so many things like toilet paper, masks, soap, hand sanitizer and gloves. I drive my power equipment up and down the huge aisles of freight that sits on enormous racking systems and I can’t begin to convey my disgust at how much of that stuff is still in our building. We have pallets upon pallets of nitrile exam gloves that people are searching for just sitting in our warehouse collecting dust. We have hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap as well. I personally don’t use gloves or hand sanitizer. I wash thoroughly all the time when I leave the house now. But many people are desperately searching for these items and we are not getting them out to those in need. I don’t do the ordering of these items and I certainly don’t run the building, but I am not blind or deaf. I hear what people are looking for and I see it not moving. Some of it makes it to the stores, but the shortages people read about and experience firsthand should not be happening.
What I have seen in the last few months at work, is that we haven’t adapted to the current state of the world and the needs of the people. We are acting, for the most part, as if nothing out of the ordinary is going on. We are not focused on saving lives, but rather saving the profit margin from going in the wrong direction. Every Walmart in the region where I live is now a “Super Center.” They are both a grocery store and a general merchandise department store. People who go in for a loaf of bread and some water are bombarded with deals on tvs, toys and lawnmowers. Yes, people still have lives and yes lawns still need to get mowed. I get that. But we should be putting more focus on the things that people really need as they are told to stay home rather than the things people might want.
Most importantly, in my opinion, we should be taking care of the people who still have to go to work every day in a facility that is now home to Covid-19. We should all be wearing masks and gloves as we drive and walk through the building. I sneeze all the time already due to the dust and dirt kicked up in there. If someone is sick, that will travel and come into contact with a lot of people. I know that the business world is more about money and not people, but these are not ordinary times we are living in right now. We are living in a time that is eerily similar to the Spanish flu era of a hundred years ago. There is absolutely no need to panic right now, but there is a need for preparedness and precaution. Doing simple things like protecting yourself and others by wearing a mask and gloves is a good start if they are handled properly and changed often. Doing nothing? Well, now that would create a situation where panic would be justified.
This may seem like a rant, and I suppose it is. I have never felt like anything more than just a number to my employer. After a little while, you get used to it and accept that it’s a paycheck and nothing more. I do my three-12 hour shifts and go home to try my best to enjoy my 4 days off each week. But I can’t help but get angry at the disregard for basic safety measures and basic decency by not doing more in these times when we, as a company, are in a position to do so. With an annual revenue of 524 billion dollars, we certainly could be doing more. We could be helping supply the hospitals and low-income areas with much needed supplies and money. If you really want to get disgusted by the greed, read this here about the wealth of the Walton family heirs and how quickly their fortune goes up. How much of that income is being donated to fight this crisis or to fund employee healthcare? Hmm, let’s just say that I’m not impressed. In fact, I’m a bit outraged at the disconnect between them and the rest of humanity.
Anyway, enough of my rant. Take care. Be safe out there.