Close To Home

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.

33 thoughts on “Close To Home

  1. That’s interesting you have supplies people want but not putting it on the shelves. Hmm. Rainy day hand sanitizer? This might be a good time to sell it. Hang in there buddy. Life will never be the same I hope. This would be a good time for positive change…but I know humans.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Maybe we have a faulty restocking system and it’s just a mistake, but I know some of our supplies haven’t moved in a long time. We did send quite a few pallets of hand sanitizer out last week but that’s a bit late for a response to this situation in my opinion. It will help, but why now and not weeks or months ago? We have pallets of gloves that haven’t moved in months. I know that for a fact. Why? Who knows? I know there’s a certain way we normally do things, but in abnormal times, we need to adapt.

      I agree with you about knowing humans. We have a very short attention span. Once things get better, we’re likely to go back to business as usual instead of making the changes necessary to prevent another outbreak like this one from happening.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I know hand sanitizer and a few other supplies were quite hard to get for a while, but we were always told here that supplies aren’t actually low. I think the problem is people are stockpiling too much at once, which then has a flow on effect. If people weren’t so greedy, this wouldn’t be an issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ben, I don’t think this is a rant at all. In fact, it is a reasonable, common sense concern. A serious concern given the FACT that COVID-19 is much more serious than Ebola, MERS, and SARS that scared the hell out of epidemiologists in their breakouts! And most American political officials, especially mega-corporate leaders, did not take seriously those three epidemics nor how to learn as much about them as possible. All government and private sector funding then for extensively studying those viruses/diseases to their safe, scientific end was cut-off WAY TOO PREMATURELY to be adequately prepared for the next epidemic/pandemic, e.g. COVID-19. Why? Money, revenues, economy, priorities for more lucrative short-term investments and funding.

    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.

    Such is the socioeconomic model built purely on Capitalism, that is… hyper-consumerism which primarily benefits softly regulated (or not at all) business moguls, titans of industry who do everything possible (legal? pseudo-legal? secretly illegal?) to either monopolize rent-seeking* and/or gaining ever higher market shares of their owned products/services in their industries. THIS has been American economics ever since the Industrial Revolution.

    I am unsure Ben what state of the Union you reside. I cannot remember if you’ve mentioned it before, however, 1) minimum wage across the U.S. is a good indicator of general well-being, particularly as 1/3rd of an equation to a nation’s index of basic-to-progressing happiness and well-being for all its citizens. The other two-thirds are 2) housing costs in conjunction with 3) the median household annual wage/income. Of course, there are other significant variables to measure for TRUE happiness and well-being, but these three are one good start.

    How much a business REINVESTS in its own family of employees, starting first with initial hiring wages appropriate to the above three basic factors, then how those wages/salaries, health benefits, pensions or retirement plans, etc, etc, is ALWAYS a sure fire indicator of just how the founding members/family really recognize the huge long-term value of its employees (family members?), especially their loyal exceptionally performing employees. In other words Ben, they proactively seek to reward their best employees with various opportunities to better yourself AND the company. Does the Walmart family and executives do that? Do they actively demonstrate a sincere CARE about your well-being, your future, and your health and your family’s health? Especially during a global pandemic?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I live in New Hampshire. Here in the Northeast, from what I’ve been told, Walmart sales are the strongest. We’re very busy most of the time.

      As far as the company caring about us is concerned, I’ve noticed a steady decline in my 24 years there. From healthcare to family outings and employee recognition, they seem to care less and less. There is no reward for going above and beyond. We all have production goals to make. When we exceed them, the goals are just raised. There’s no “Well done. You’ve made us proud.” There is only “Well, I guess we set the bar too low. Time to raise it higher.”

      The heirs to the Walmart fortune make $70,000 per minute. Each one is a billionaire several times over. If they each took just 1 billon and invested into their employees or the community, they could do a world of good…and they would never even miss it. But hey, it’s their money and they can do what they want with it.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Lack of information is infuriating. It’s critical, and not knowing if you’re in a hot spot (so to speak) only increases anxiety. Same thing is happening here: we get the numbers in our city, but not *where* in the city.

    As an aside, I think I actually have it, but i can’t get a test. The only symptom I have is diarrhoea, but it’s not explosive, or painful in the slightest. Nothing else. Reading up on it, and it seems that can be the one and only symptom for many. Anyway, it’s quarantine for me, which isn’t so bad.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Testing is a real problem. I can’t believe how far behind we actually are with this outbreak. Hell by the time we get test kits to the people that need them the virus will have evolved 1000 times.

      I am almost of the opinion that we as a species are just going to have to get this dreadful virus and survive it. Just to get it behind us. I am not going to go look for it though. It will have to find me.

      Hang in there JZ.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, JZ, do take care! I know of two people who have it (husband and wife, mid-50’s) and it’s the sickest they’ve ever been. .. but they are getting better.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh I’m fine. No problems at all, except for the diarrhoea, which isn’t that bad anyway. The biggest hassle is now not trying to hit anyone else with it (who might have more severe symptoms)… Of course, I’m just assuming I have it, but by the literature it appears I do.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I have a sneaky suspicion that I have it as well or at least had it. I’ve had symptoms (one of them just like yours) and they’ve gone away for the most part. It’s hard to say if I am at risk or not. I don’t have enough symptoms to get tested. No shortness of breath or fever. No fatigue. I could be a carrier and be fine, but be spreading it to others at risk. It’s a bit scary to think of that. I’d hate to be responsible for someone getting sick and dying and not even knowing I had it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That particular symptom lasted probably 3 days or so. It seemed to come out of the blue. Wasn’t feeling particularly unwell, but then found myself heading to the bathroom in a hurry. Other, milder cold-like symptoms have lasted a bit longer. A couple of weeks I’d guess. I do have seasonal allergies that hit me around this time each year so it’s hard to say if it’s a recurrence of those or something new…or both. Some of the symptoms are very similar.

        Like

      2. Me too, as the weather turns colder (southern hemisphere, remember) I seem to always get a cough at night, as the temp drops. As it’s not happening during the day I’m not too fussed about it.

        Guess I’ll just wait it out, see what happens.

        Thanks Ben.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, Ben, I think you are quite right in your worries. I have had an issue with Walmart for years – I taught a unit on multinational corporations a long time ago in a Political Science classroom. For years we would not shop at Walmart (it being unCanadian) because many people could see that it would eventually take over and force all other department stores out of business, which it did. Now one really has no choice but to go there as there are few other stores in our area. It is one of the things that I have vowed not to do after this is all over. .shop at a Walmart. That family is rich beyond belief and has been for some time. Unrestrained capitalism at its best. It makes me weep to see what’s going on in your country. So little regard for human life. And now Herr Orange Hair has cut off funding to the WHO — what next?? 😦

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Doing a review of the WHO and finding out what was done right and what was done wrong is perfectly fine. Cutting off funding during this time seems a bit too far and just wrong. People are dying. We need all the help we can get. Playing the blame game at this stage is not what we should be doing. The health and welfare of the global community should be top priority. If the WHO did something wrong, then a full investigation later will reveal that. The experts working for them know a bit more about pandemics than anyone in the white house.

      As far as Walmart is concerned, I have seen so many small businesses in my area go under while Walmart thrives. I’m in a tough spot. I hate the way they run their business, but I am grateful for a steady paycheck as well. I do my job well and the right way. Too bad those above me don’t do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand your position perfectly, Ben. THEIR position I don’t understand nor will I ever. I really do not understand the mindset of any person whose only goal in life is to make as much money as possible. It seems to me to be a mindless pursuit. I have had experience with someone in the family who is in this position and I’m telling you, it has done absolutely nothing positive. As our son has often said, “Many people can make a million dollars, but one must ask what one has to give up in order to pursue it” For most people, it’s just not worth it in terms of personal sacrifices. My husband (whose best friend is a multi-millionaire) thinks that it is addictive. ..that some people get high just looking at their bank accounts. Once they figure out what they have to do to see those figures rise, they keep inventing new ways to make more — it becomes an obsession. 😦

        Liked by 3 people

    2. The cutoff of the funding for WHO because of their “slow response” to the virus is nothing but psychological projection …

      Wikipedia: a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I sincerely hope you and your family can stay safe Ben. This whole situation has glaringly pointed out just how badly our governments, businesses and other institutions have failed us. Walmart and companies like it are just one symptom.

    A lot of people are angry right now. So angry that voters here in Wisconsin risked the virus to go out and vote when the GOP controlled legislature flatly refused to postpone the election or permit vote by mail. People were so angry they went out and voted anyway and the GOP’s hand picked, Trump supported state supreme court judge was voted out of office, replaced by a liberal candidate, and by a significant margin. I really hope that anger persists to the next election.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Unpleasant reality is we are all taking our chances every time we need a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. I live in what used to be a rural area, but it isn’t as rural as it used to be. Lot’s more people here now over the last 40 years. The hell of it is so many walk around asymptomatic, cheerfully and obliviously spreading the virus.

    We all have cause for concern, and having it show up in the building you work in has to be very unsettling. I think if I’m in your shoes Ben, it’s mask and gloves time.

    My youngest son works at our local Wal Mart. I consider him high risk. Which puts the rest of us in the same category.

    I can only hope we all get through this healthy.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Your situation sucks, Ben! And it’s made even worse when you consider who you work for. Bastards!
    Speaking of potentially having the virus — in February, both my other-half and I were sick. I got it first (mostly persistent and heavy coughing and totally wiped out), then he got sick. While he does have asthma, this episode was worse than any he’s ever had. He had to use a breathing machine several times/day, had night sweats, severe coughing spells, lost all sense of taste and smell, and could barely get around from room to room. The publicity of the virus was still fairly low-key so we really didn’t put two and two together until later. I suppose we won’t know for sure until testing becomes more widely available.
    Although “they” say masks are mostly to protect the “other guy,” I can’t help but think they offer the wearer protection as well. As far as gloves, I personally support frequent hand-washing or hand sanitizer since the virus droplets can cling to the gloves.
    In any case, DO take care of yourself!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I am an essential worker too, working in food safety testing. I would hate to think what would happen if somebody here got Covid19 though. Our current measures aren’t enough to stop the spread. Having said that, our country has been more fortunate relatively speaking, and we implemented some strict lockdown measures early on. Only ‘essential’ items can be ordered, you certainly cant get yourself a gaming console or swimming pool. Why are they still allowing that there? Of course, you might disagree with some of the measures we have taken, but until we can get a vaccine/cure then I dont see anything else working better right now. Stay safe and I hope you won’t end up losing your job like many others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Being an essential worker is good and bad. It’s good that we haven’t had a disruption in our income, but it’s bad because we have to be out and about where the spread of this virus is still going strong. The state I live in isn’t even forcing people to stay home. It’s basically a recommendation which most people are ignoring. The honor system is in play here and people don’t seem to see the danger. I am guilty of that myself, having done more shopping than I absolutely needed to for survival. It’s tough adjusting to anything new, especially shopping habits here in the U.S.

      You stay safe as well. Hopefully the worst is behind us.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It seems they don’t like to force anything on anyone in the US, but this is one time where it might be a good thing. When I drive around I have a piece of paper that shows I’m essential, otherwise I could be fined or arrested Yeah I hope the worst is behind us. Our government is talking about possibly lifting restrictions in a week from now, but who’s to say the virus doesn’t come back with a vengeance? Thank you 🙂.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Ben, Walmart Canada is now requiring all shoppers to wear masks in their stores. At the store closest to me, shoppers must observe the 6-ft distance requirement at all times, there are arrows on the floor to guide which direction shoppers move in (to make sure no shoppers are close to each other in the aisles) and you must move back from the cashier after placing items on the belt. (That’s according to my sister-in-law, who was there recently)

      I was working on masks for my family anyway (after making some for the local hospital) as it is looking like many stores are soon going to be requiring the protection.

      Liked by 1 person

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