I work at Walmart #4609 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it feels like running on a treadmill. I'm constantly giving an effort, expending energy, yet I stay in the same position. For two years I've been jogging on this treadmill trying to materialize all the effort and energy I've been giving into some kind of tangible reward.
Simple things, like the chance to someday have my own home and car, would be nice. Maybe a raise, or a promotion into a full time position, would help attain my goal, but I haven't had any luck. So I'm still on this treadmill hoping my wind doesn't expire before I reach my goal.
This is how I and many of my co-workers feel on an everyday basis. The plight of the Walmart workers is a microcosm of the situation America finds itself in today.
All across America, people like me have to work harder than they ever had before in order to preserve the few things that they already have. However, corporate profits and CEO pay are the highest they have been in history. At the same time, our coworkers representing the management receive bonuses and incentives for keeping our wages and hours as low as possible, even at the cost of productivity -- an unfair trade off from the worker's point of view, since we carry the brunt of the daily operations of the business.
This is the America of the 21st century, a country divided along lines of morality, where wealth equates to power and the gap between those who have and those who don't is increasing.
It doesn't have to be this way. There is enough wealth to spread around in America. Last year Walmart made $16 billion in profits -- so there is no excuse for not giving associates, like me, a living wage; for not giving associates who want it, 40 hours a week, and overtime whenever needed, and full-time benefits. Walmart doesn't seem to understand or doesn't care to understand that while it is profiting from the current "low-wage" business model, the company can still profit and improve the current situation of its workers if the company would implement a business model suited more to the needs of the individual rather than the profits of the company. Until this change takes place, workers like me will continue to struggle. The struggle is very real. Trust me, I know. I work at Walmart.
Instead of me showing up for my shifts at Walmart refreshed and ready to perform at a peak level, I usually come into work slightly exhausted. This is because I walk from my house to my job, a three-mile, hour-long trek. I inquire into finding a car all the time, but when I go to dealerships and tell them how much I make and how many hours I work, they tell me that I don't make enough to get financed for a car and I don't have enough in my savings account to pay for a used car in full (because I'm constantly having to dip into it to pay for things I really need, like food).
I'm caught in the neverending cycle of the working poor: I work because I need to support myself but the work I do at Walmart doesn't provide enough means in order for me to support myself, nor does it offer any relief from my plight nor any progression from it.
I'm not an underachieving worker either. I am a cashier and I'm really good at it too. In my first six months, my scans per hour were the highest in my entire district and I even won a cashier rodeo, beating out the best cashiers in the district, winning $100 for a store-wide pizza party -- but we never had the party. There was a point in time when I was training to become the customer service manager as well. However, after close to six months of "training" -- often doing this job all by myself -- I wasn't offered the position yet I was still scheduled to work as the customer service supervisor, and I wasn't compensated for the work I did.
I wish I could find another job to complement my salary at Walmart, but between helping take care of my elderly grandfather and taking classes at the local community college, I don't have enough time for another job. Most of my coworkers are in the same boat as well. Either they work multiple jobs or they have to support family members -- kids, grandchildren, etc. Some even find themselves in both situations, so when management scales back our hours it feels like a punch to the gut. I have had plenty of discussions with my managers explaining my personal struggles. I've requested full-time hours and have expressed my interest in better paying positions within the company, but to no avail. I'm still stuck on the treadmill.
So how do we escape the treadmill? Some of us might give up and for some the treadmill is just fine. For me, I believe in standing up for the right thing and I knew that Walmart wasn't doing the right thing for its workers. So I educated myself and I discovered that many Walmart workers all over the country feel the same as I do. I also discovered "OUR Walmart," a group of current and former Walmart associates organized to bring change to Walmart. OUR Walmart has even been instrumental in changing some of Walmart's policies, like access to more hours and better treatment for pregnant women.
My association with OUR Walmart was met with intimidation by my managers at first, but they quickly changed their attention to my coworkers when since I've been educating them about worker's rights. Many of my coworkers are afraid that management will retaliate against them for speaking out against bad treatment. However, when even a few workers come together and speak up for themselves, change happens.
I feel that an American establishment such as Walmart should reward its workers' ambition, motivation, and productivity and should be more democratic in its approach to the workers. Instead, workers are often used like fuel by a machine, and concern and issues brought to the attention of managers are often treated like the dissension of a traitor. But I will continue to speak up for myself and others who are willing to speak up for themselves, and also for those who aren't able to speak up for themselves.
Jamaad's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.
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