The pressure on Walmart is growing from within, as workers tell behind-the-scenes tales of overwork and underpayment at America's largest employer. But there's another, potentially more damaging source of growing criticism: the media, including the financial media that covers events from the investor's perspective.
The latest insider tell-all comes from a Walmart assistant manager, who told Salon.com he gets paid for a 40-hour week but routinely works 48 hours, and 60 hours during the holiday season, to fill in on tasks like cashiering and restocking. He blames the long hours on the company's determination to keep down the number of hours worked by other store personnel, who are paid by the hour.
The assistant manager is hoping that an expansion of federally-mandated overtime pay, recently proposed by President Barack Obama, will go through. He doesn't even want the overtime pay. He wants more time to spend with his family.
A 'Systemic Problem?'
Meanwhile, more Walmart employees are venting anonymously on a page at TheStreet.com with a url that reads, in part, "pictures-and-employee-emails-that-make-me-think-walmart-is-about-to-implode.html."
TheStreet.com is a site for active investors, founded by well-known stock picker James Cramer. The emails are in response to a story which included images inside a Walmart store that showed littered aisles and empty shelves next to overflowing heaps of merchandise.
TheStreet.com writer Rocco Pendola suggests that Walmart has "a "systemic problem" of overworked employees in understaffed stores.
The employee comments echo his view. "I really believe we're watching a failure unfold in front of our eyes," Pendola writes.
Not all of his colleagues at TheStreet.com agree. The site reiterated its "buy" rating for Walmart stock last week, after the company's latest quarterly earnings release.
The Money View
The story on TheStreet.com is only one example of the kind of coverage that Walmart is getting lately from the financial media -- hardly a breeding ground for radical thinking on matters of workers' rights.
Late last year these included:
Fortune magazine concluded that Walmart ought to give its workers a 50 percent raise, and says it could be done without harming its bottom line or disappointing its investors. It even argues that the move would be good for the company's bottom line, because its better-paid employees would have more money to spend at Walmart.
Bloomberg Businessweek was on hand at an investors' conference when Walmart CEO Bill Simon revealed that about 475,000 of the company's hourly workers are paid at least $25,000 a year. The business site pointed out that this means more than half of Walmart's hourly workers earn less than $25,000 a year.
The median household income in the U.S. was $51,017 in 2013, according to Census Bureau statistics. A family with an annual income of $23,492, or an individual making $11,720, is considered to be living in poverty.
CNN Money compared the low-salary strategy of Walmart and other companies to comparable companies like Costco. The no-frills warehouse store pays its employees an average salary of just over $20 an hour. The company's stock price has more than doubled since 2009.
A Beautiful Thing
Walmart is countering the bad vibes with a video campaign called "Work is a beautiful thing." The latest entry features an admirable young man who overcame his disabilities and found a job at the Little Tikes toy factory in Akron, Ohio.
Walmart has pledged to increase its purchases of American-made goods to $250 billion over the next 10 years. That announcement was a response to another criticism of the dominant retailer, that its dependence on foreign suppliers was depriving Americans of jobs.