This week, thousands of Walmart associates are in Bentonville, Ark., to celebrate the annual shareholders' meeting. So are hundreds of Walmart protesters, some employees, most organizers, all demanding better wages and working conditions. The protesters have so far grabbed much of the media coverage; but what about the Walmart associates who aren't joining the walkouts and protests?
Walmart connected us with one of them, 21-year-old Derek Fouts, an hourly associate at Walmart's first store in Rogers, Ark., who says that he loves his job. He spoke with us before rushing off to an Elton John concert, sponsored by Walmart.
By Derek Fouts (as told to Claire Gordon)
I decided to work at Walmart because one of my best friends had worked there for five years, and she always talked about how much she loved it. And I've always been around Walmart; it's a touchstone in my neighborhood. I'm there every day, even if I'm not working. I see people I go to church with. There's a connection there to my emotions, to memories growing up.
The Wages Aren't A Problem
I earn $9.05 an hour, work 32 to 36 hours a week, and I've never had a problem getting by, even when I was working as a cashier. After 90 days, I got my 90-day raise, and every year I'm up for another raise. If I do a good job, Walmart rewards me.
Lots Of Great Perks
I love that I can purchase stocks, and my discount card gives me 10 percent off. Every bit helps, especially in this economy. Plus, for $7 a paycheck I can use the Walmart fitness center, which has a track, exercise equipment, a swimming pool, classes -- anything you can imagine. I am eligible for Walmart health insurance, but I'm 21 so I'm still under my mother's plan.
I Get The Hours I Need
The worst misconception people have about working at Walmart is that the store won't give you the hours you need. That's never been a problem for me. I just took a semester off school, but before that they would work with my schedule so I had time to go to class and study.
Unions Could Only Make It Worse
I don't think a union would make anything better, as I love working there as it is. There's a lot of pride and morale at my store, as Walmart Store No. 1. Why fix something if it's not broken? -- as the old saying goes. I really can't explain why there are all these protests going on. I can't fathom why. I've never heard a complaint about unfair treatment.
Opportunities To Advance
The best thing about working at Walmart is definitely the ability to advance. I started out as a cashier in December 2011. After six months I was asked if I'd be interested in becoming a customer service manager. The manager also asked if I'd ever been interested in the assistant manager program. The store manager personally told me that she'd support me if I wanted to pursue that.
I'll Be At Walmart Until Graduation
I plan on working at Walmart until I graduate college. After that, I hope to become a high school English teacher.
Worst Retail Chains To Work For
Walmart Worker: Why I Love My Job And Can't Fathom The Protests
Average hourly wage for sales associates: $10.41
CEO William Dillard II's total compensation last year: $4.01 million
Working sales at Dillard's can be a dramatic affair, complain several employees on Glassdoor.com. The clerks can be territorial, as they compete for sales numbers. There's little training, many say, and high turnover. Employees labor under the constant threat of termination, and with dizzyingly impossible-to-meet sales goals. The result: dismal morale.
Average hourly wage for sales associates: $7.51
CEO David Perdue Jr's total compensation last year: $1.94 million
The benefits and pay are low and there's a ton of work, especially because many of the stores run with a skeleton staff, employees gripe on Glassdoor.com. "They are not very understanding about family emergencies, your health, and love loading you with way more than you can handle," says one manager, even though Dollar General saw its profits last quarter soar 36 percent from the same time last year. The discount chain gets an average employee rating of 2.4 out of 5.
Average hourly wage for sales associates: $8.31
CEO Do Won Chang and his wife and CMO Jin Sook don't have publicly available salaries, because Forever 21 is a private company, but Forbes estimates their net worth at $3.6 billion.
Do Won Chang is no stranger to grueling work, having held three jobs at once -- as a janitor, gas station attendant and coffee shop barista -- when he first immigrated to America in 1981. But now as the co-founder, along with his wife, of retailer Forever 21, Chang doesn't have to mop a floor again. He's worth almost $4 billion.
But employees at his cheap chic chain aren't saved from the menial grind. While Forever 21 wasn't on the 100 biggest retail list, its lowly employee rating of 2.3 earns it an honorary spot. On Glassdoor.com, sales associates bemoan the long hours, which sometimes keep them in the store to the early hours of the morning. In January, a handful of Forever 21 employees filed a class action lawsuit against the chain, alleging that the company routinely failed to pay for time worked, and forced employees to labor through breaks and stay after they clocked out -- so that supervisors could check their bags for stolen goods.
Average hourly wage for sales associates: $7.92
CEO James Gooch's total compensation last year: $5.6 million
You have to work hard at RadioShack, say employees on Glassdoor.com, who complain about intense pressure from above to make sales goals, while managers lament about the time spent away from home with their 50- to 60-hour-a-week schedules. They give the company an average of 2.4 out of 5.
"Minimum wage unless you annoy people into buying a wireless phone," said a sales associate. And because of the high sales targets, "managers will always be on your back about absolutely everything," said one sales rep in Arlington, Texas. "Almost to the point where your whole life revolves around RadioShack and would seem as if you have lost your personal life."
Average hourly wage for sales associates: $7.58
CEO Michael Balmuth's total compensation last year: $12.5 million
The company doesn't have enough managers, so sales associates complain they don't get properly trained. And while employees have very nice things to say about each other, many of them agree that Ross Stores somehow manages to attract the rudest, most demoralizing customers. Then there's also the part about low pay, few raises, being understaffed and overworked. Employees on Glassdoor.com give the department chain a 2.4 out of 5.
Average hourly wage for grocery clerks: $15.45
Average hourly wage for baggers: $8.68
CEO Bob Piccinini's salary isn't available, because Super Mart is a private company. But as the majority shareholder of a chain with an annual revenue of around $5 billion, you can bet it's more than a bagger.
Employees are dissatisfied with Save Mart, according to Glassdoor.com, giving the 60-year-old supermarket chain an average rating of 2.4 out of 5. Many complain about a lack of promotion opportunities, and general disrespect from upper management.