When I was on break today, I went to the Wal-Mart across the street, hoping to score a sandwich from the Subway located therein, and perhaps enjoy the company of one of several of my friends who work there. Subway, however, was packed, and I didn't see anyone I know, so I opted instead to grab a few things from the deli near a row of checkout registers. Whilst I stood in line, I looked over at the first '20 items or less' line (Packed with people with 19 items paying with checks... fuckers...) and I couldn't help but feel like I knew the cashier, 'Lee' as per his nametag, from somewhere. He looked oddly familiar, however, I don't know anyone with that name. I ordered my food and got in line, wrestling with various possibilities of where I might know him from. When I put my food down on the counter, he greeted me, and upon hearing his voice, I knew instantly where I knew him from.

He was a janitor from my high school. I'd talked to him a couple of times at school, usually after getting ready to leave late, or returning early for a choir concert, and he was a pretty nice guy (I don't know that for certain, but he was freindly and complimentary, thus I feel it necessary to give him the benefit of the doubt), although I didn't know him that well. What the hell was he doing at Wal-Mart? Either he had 2 jobs or got fired. That was the thought that manifested immediately (Our school pays the janitors pretty well, I had a friend whose father used to be one), and in either case, I felt sorry for the guy. Especially because he was stuck working a customer service job, and as I stated to one of my managers while I was at work only a few minutes before, "The customer is only right while they are in your general vicinity, and the moment they leave, they are a dirty bitch".

I gave him 10 dollars for my food, and he gave me my change. As sort of a gesture of 'don't let assholes ruin your day', I peeled a dollar from my huge, fat, I-make-federal-minimum-wage billfold and set it on the counter, smiled and said "For you. Take it easy, man."

He looked at the bill for a second before he picked it up and handed it back to me, as he stuttered "I... I can't. I mean, I'm not allowed."

I didn't know quite what to say to him. People who know me know that I tip well; typically, I like to tip between 60 and 100 percent, sometimes more (Occasionally less if I'm broke or my server/casheir is a filthy wench, both of which often happen). Thinking back, the same thing happened to me about a year ago at that exact same register when I told the casheir to 'keep the change' (Which was all of 3 cents). I had totally forgotten. I frowned as I slowly returned the bill to my pocket and said "Oh. That sucks. Well, have a good one."

As I made the trek back to my place of employment, gnawing on my tasty chicken tenders, I couldn't help but think how much Wal-Mart sucks. They pay their 'associates' deplorable below-poverty-line wages while 5 members of the Walton family have each individually surpassed Bill Gates' level of wealth, but these employees are not allowed to take a fucking dollar from a customer. The typical Wal-Mart employee's hourly wage works out to be right around $8.23, which is a lot more than I make, but then again, I don't have to support a spouse or a family or anything. Also keep in mind that this is the average wage for all employees combined, so the starting wage is significantly lower.

By the way, I just found out the other day that Sam Walton died in a plane crash a few months ago. He was the guy who started Wal-Mart. I don't think this fact has any real pertinence, I just thought I'd mention it. I digress.

At any rate, in spite of the fact that they make more than most of my Managers, you also have to keep in mind who you're paying; of all our floor employees, of which there are about 35, only 4 are over the age of 18, and only 1 is over the age of 21. Out of our 8 managers, 4 are college students, 2 are high school students, 1 is between jobs, and 1 actually makes a pretty decent salary (Our general manager, who also is also a sub-district manager).

We pay floor employees from $5.15 up to $5.70, which is just sick (Again, only 3 people on our floor staff have ever gotten a raise) In some states, there are people who can make more per hour claiming tip credit. But then again, about half of our employees get a ride home from their mommies and daddies after their shift.

You see, I work for a little company based out of southern Georgia called Carmike Cinemas. This company is a perfect model of the horrors of American Capitalism. A typical business (This is straight from a 100-level business textbook, written in 1999) operates with a payroll of 15 to 25 percent (Meaning that if it were 25, for example, hourly income would have to be roughly 4 times what every employee on the clock made during that time). Our district manager, acting on behalf of the division manager in Columbus, dictates that payroll cannot exceed 8 percent on a weekday, and cannot exceed 3-4 percent on Fri-Sun; Payroll is broken down into shifts, because evening and matinee grosses are usually different, which one is higher and by how much depends on the day.

For example, Friday mornings are as dead as any other morning, so we revert to the 8 percent for the morning. Friday nights are swamped, as new films always open then, so we move to 3 percent. Saturday mornings are pretty busy, so we move to 4 percent. Saturday nights are the worst, so we go back to 3 percent. We do 4 percent for Sunday mornings, and then treat Sundays like a weeknight, and go back to 8.

One of our former assistant managers was well-aquainted with our district manager, and would frequently reguile to me the horrors of the "Corporate Charge Card" (Well, that and how his wife does all the corporate reports, and he treats her like shit). The two of them, along with our general manager, spent 2 months in another city overseeing a managment transfer in another facility. Home office paid for 3 hotel rooms for the entire tenure, as well as the 3 of them going to upscale resteraunts and bars 2-3 times each day, and some 'other' expenses (Turns out our district manager is a strip-club junkie... I'm told that theatre was frequently short on 1 dollar bills during that time). I can only imagine how much money funneled into this, instead of into my pocket, so I can fill up my gas tank all the way, and pick up milk AND bread on the way home from my 14-hour shift.

I also feel the need to mention the most horrific day ever. December 26th of last year, the dreaded 'Kwanzaa Rush', as I like to call it. Half our staff walked out the week before because we have this company policy that you have to work either thanksgiving or christmas (I did both. Both days, by the way, were really slow.). Even though everyone was making overtime (We get time-and-a-half for overtime, and no holiday pay), we were so understaffed and so swamped, that payroll was, get this, .093 percent. Less than a tenth of a percent. For every 10 dollars the company made via our labors, the entire staff had to split 9 cents. Merry fucking christmas.

By the way, I had to stay 6 hours late that day and skipped lunch. Why? Because every place within a reasonable distance that there was to eat was closed. Even Wal-Mart.

Back to Wal-Mart. You hardly ever see a teenager working there... In fact, I think you have to be 18 to do so (Probably because something in the store qualifies as 'heavy equipment'). As a result, you get single mothers, married mothers, bachelors (the people who can actually afford to live on Wal-Mart wages), and the occasional high-school janitor (Sorry, Lee). So, the Wal-Mart Sales Associate job tends to fill more of a 'career' role, if you will.

No doubt, you've heard about people losing their family businesses, and thus their jobs, to a Wal-Mart takeover. A friend's father, who used to be a contractor in Wyoming, once spoke of a small town of largely senior citizens that got dominated by Wally World, stamping out all local business. The locals, seeing a Grocery/convenience store/gas station/pharmacy (Again, seniors here) in a convenient, open-24-hours package. The Wal-Mart there, being in a town of only a few thousand people, quickly became everyone's one-stop, and the town's cheif employer. Then, one day, the folks in Bentonville decided to close the store. More than 200 young people lost their jobs, and people suddenly had to drive more than 100 miles to get groceries and perscriptions.

I don't know if the local business ever did recover, but there is undoubtedly a moral here: dependancy is bad. Very bad. Wal-Mart does not serve the customer so much as they serve the dead presidents (And other high-ranking state officials) in their back pocket.

To most people, especially if you live in a state that hasn't raised their minimum wage above the federal limit, $8.23 an hour doesn't sound half bad. But imagine that you're raising 2 kids on your own, and are trying to pay off a college loan. How does it sound now?

"Welcome to Wal-Mart. I can't afford lunch, my Parkinson's medication, or a a birthday present for my 6-year-old grandson. Please kill me."

"Wha... What did you say?"

"I said 'Have a cart'"

Here's the kicker, though: Even if you don't work at Wal-Mart, have never been to Wal-Mart, or don't even live in a town where there is a Wal-Mart (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that there are a few somewhere), the Corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas is still sucking your tax dollars.

How, you ask?

Remember that the vast majority of Wal-Mart employees fall below the poverty line. They are poor, which means that they quallify for an abhorrent number of government programs: Medicaid, low-income tax credits, low-income housing and energy assistance, food stamps, CHIP, the list goes on in on. According to Harper's Index, the grand total of bling that Wal-Mart employees are entitled to from Uncle Sam: $2.5 Billion each year.

Holy fucking shit.

They also go on to report that the average 200-Employee Wal-Mart store costs US Taxpayers roughly $420,750 each year. This figure, by the way, does not include the more than $1 Billion in subsidies given to the corporation each year by federal and state governments.

Think you'll be saving that money by shopping at the store that keeps on "Rollin' back prices"? Think again.

Wal-Mart's business thrives on the fact that they regularly lower their prices. The thing that most people don't realize is this: While Wal-Mart parades around a paltry 1 percent cut on an item with sales that are in the tube like we just trumped the Soviets, they jack up the prices on a score of other things in other departments. It's the law of supply and demand, and every store does it. Always low prices my ass. They charge 58 cents for 2 liters of their generic soda, whereas Albertson's charges 79. I would pay the extra 21 cents to not have to put up with that shit though, wouldn't you? (For the record I have a friend who is a manager at Albertson's... they're not the Red Cross or anything, but they're not Wal-Mart either)

Besides, the wages they pay their sales associates only apply to the US. In 2004, the National Labor Comittee issued a report showing that workers in China's Guangdong province regularly worked 130-hour weeks at an average of 16.5 cents an hour, which violates even the Chinese minimum wage law. You know you're doing something wrong when the Butchers of Tienamen Square tell you to chill out (No offense to the Chinese people, just the government). There were also regular deductions from these paltry wages to pay for company housing and rations from the company store... Sound familiar? We reformed Carnegie Steel a century ago, so why is this still happening?

Even the folks in Bentonville are sick of this shit. Arkansas Business called Wal-Mart the state's most aggressive challenger of Worker's Compensation Claims. While they do sponsor both Profit-Sharing and 401k plans, it is estimated that even though they enjoy annual profits of more than $10 Billion, it is estimated that they end up giving roughly $300 a year to employees who depend on these plans. Wal-Mart also has a Union-Free policy, and issues their managers a list entitled "A Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union Free," which lists warning signs that workers may be organizing a strike. My favorite one of these was this: "Associates who are never seen together start talking or associating with each other." What the fuck? Then why do they call them "Associates"?

The Bureau of Business Practice News reports that between 1995 and 1998, there were close to 1,500 child labor law violations committed by Wal-Mart stores in the state of Maine alone. That just makes me want to punch a goat. I'm going to stop talking about child labor violations, because goats don't deserve to be punched. And the whole 'Illegal Mexican Immigrant' thing? We won't even get in to that right now, because that's a whole other can of Huevos Rancheros... But trust me, Wal-Mart is a prime violator here, too.

That's all I've got for statistics and annecdotes for now, but I'll tell you what: I'm going to do a follow-up to this. I'm going to go to my local Wal-Mart Supercenter (Which, by the way, is on a plot of land next to the busiest bridge in town, which goes over a dead river, and is between a rendering plant and a waste water treatment facility. The parking lot smells like roses.) and pick the head manager's brain about these things. Maybe I'll ask John Bolton to submit a Human Rights report about Wal-Mart to the General Assembly...

...Or maybe not. John Bolton is a fucker. He looks like a "Got Milk?" ad gone wrong, too. So I guess I'll just stick to grilling a Wal-Mart manager. I'll make a note here when I've done that, too. I'll bet it'll be tons of fun.