Again, no singing involved.
Came across this story in The New York Times a few weeks ago about Wal-Mart “University.” Made me sad for some reason.
Look, I realize that I and a lot of my friends, associates, colleagues, etc., live in large metropolitan areas so maybe our experiences are a bit skewed. And even though I grew up in relative deprivation as a member of the lower-middle class, I still had expectations of being able to go to college and have that “better life” parents want for their kids. It’s something you don’t usually dwell on as a younger person; I think that kind of self-awareness comes only in middle age, perhaps when you have children of your own (although some people — especially those who grow up in the “one percent” probably never get it). So when I read how some people don’t have the same opportunities, or that adverse circumstances or poor choices have made that college degree and all that it “promises,” I get a little philosophical.
Then I get angry.
I get angry that some companies like this take advantage of their employees, knowing that in many cases they call all the shots; that these people have few options. It almost seems like we’re back in the time of working in the mines or mills as the only source of income for generations of families.
Let’s be gracious and give them the benefit of the doubt and say companies like Wal-Mart may actually have their corporate hearts in the right place when they offer such programs, but really, who are these things for, worker or employer? As Michael Corkery’s article drives home, the skills the student/employee learn are meant to make them better at their present jobs, not necessarily improve their lives down the road (although he does point out that those who complete the course get a raise of $1 an hour).
I’ve reached the point where I have to wonder about the way in which companies cut back their work force because they want to save money on salaries or benefits, but I’ve always been cynical when it comes to corporate motivation. Newspapers like the Times, magazines like Sports Illustrated, and media companies like FOX News and ESPN have laid off hundreds of workers at a time, resulting in skimpier publications and shows, with a consequent cost of diminished information and entertainment. It’s a vicious cycle brought on by the “new” paradigm of technologies, offering different ways for people to get their news. Yes, they’re in business to make money, but can’t that come with some kind of balance to treat the people who make that money for them with a modicum of care and respect? Can they make it so their employee doesn’t have to agonize over missing a day’s pay because of illness when there time allotted for being sick or taking care of a family situation?
Several months ago I applied for a job at Wegmans and wrote about that experience. I didn’t mention the store by name at the time, but screw that. Mind you, Wegmans is listed as one of the best companies in America to work for while Wal-Mart has its share of detractors. And they certain go a long way to impress you when you arrive at their corporate office for the interview, with artfully crafted displays and well-produced videos about the history and credo of the family-owned corporation. Didn’t get that job and in retrospect I’m glad. I think I’m in a better situation now (although I’m still not ready to discuss that in depth here). But fortunately I had a choice. Others don’t. So when these companies pat themselves on the back, saying that they go beyond normal expectations, I’m not among the first to offer words of praise and thanks.