Tag Archive | Black Friday

Walmart’s Big Bottle Blowup

Walmart Tom Smith rally 11-27-15Bright and early on Black Friday, I was outside the Walmart in East Greenbush soaking up sunshine, but I wasn’t there to shop. No, I was at a rally in support of Thomas Smith, who lost his job for turning in empty soda bottles for refunds. The Times Union’s Paul Grondahl broke the story on November 19th, and the Washington Post ran a follow-up article two days later. Now it’s gone viral—I’ve even found articles in the British and German press.

Walmart Tom Smith rally Alice green & Walmart execs 11-28-15Smith’s take for the empty bottles? A grand total of $2.10, according to the store’s managers, but they later upped the total to—horror of horrors—over $5.00. He had served over 13 years in prison for an attempted bank robbery in 2002 and was on parole when he was hired by Walmart at the end of August. He made $9.00 per hour rounding up shopping carts and picking up trash in the parking lot. On the Sunday of the great bottle heist, he walked two hours from the halfway house in Albany where he lived to get to the store for a shift starting at 8:00am. (The managers had refused to change the start time although he told him no buses were available that time on Sundays.)

Walmart later claimed they could not reinstate Smith because he had failed to disclose his prior felony conviction during the job application process, a fact he denies. “We believe he has told the truth from the beginning,” activist Alice Green was quoted as saying in Saturday’s Times Union. “His story has never changed. Only Walmart’s story keeps changing. In all our discussions with Walmart, they never raised the issue of not disclosing his conviction before. We will continue to support and fight for him.”

About 50 demonstrators showed up on Friday morning, including people from labor and religious groups and the NAACP. I learned of the rally through an e-mail from Emily McNeill, a staff member of the Labor-Religion Coalition, who said the protest was not only about Thomas Smith but about Walmart’s mistreatment of low-wage workers in general. I’ve participated in many demonstrations over the years, but this one struck a particular chord because of Thomas Smith’s personal story.

Although I hung in as a creative arts therapist at a psychiatric center long enough to earn a New York State pension and ran a licensed home care agency for nearly a decade, I’ve been fired from a few jobs, generally because of behavior related to bipolar disorder, both before and after I was diagnosed. (As a clerical temp at Regeneron, the pharmaceutical company in East Greenbush, I went from designing Power Point presentations to deciding I should run the company, which didn’t go over too well.)

So I know how much being fired hurts. Whether there’s justification or not, it wreaks havoc with your self-esteem. Deep down, I always knew I could land another job, and now that I’m on Social Security and Medicare, I’ll never have to again, so I can be as flaky as I please. In cases like Thomas Smith’s, it may not be so easy. Because of all the publicity and the people standing up for him, as well as the personable, articulate personality he displayed on Black Friday morning, he’ll probably find work—I’m sure Target would love to have him. But there are millions of others who won’t be so lucky.

I was one of the more than 2,000 people who signed a petition demanding that Walmart pay Smith’s back wages, rehire him and apologize by Monday, November 30th. Otherwise, local groups are calling for a national boycott of Walmart stores.

I can’t promise to swear off Walmart forever, but at least for this holiday season, I can take my business to Target and other stores that treat their employees with respect and dignity—if I can find out which ones they are.

Where do you stand on this issue? I’d love to hear from you.

Christmas shopping-frenzy checkout



Gratitude for the things money can’t buy

My refrigerator’s looking pretty bare, but I can’t shop for groceries, because my checking account’s practically zeroed out. Fortunately my predicament’s temporary, because tomorrow’s the fourth Tuesday of the month, and that means my Social Security payment will magically appear in my account, followed on the last day of the month by my New York State retirement check.

Actually my situation’s not as grim as this suggests, because my significant other can make up the shortfall and then some. If I were forced to live on my retirement income alone, I’d be in dire straits, like so many millions of single women in this country. This time of year especially, I’m enormously grateful for my good fortune. I’m thankful, too, that Obama won the election; if the Republicans had their way, the safety net that helps sustain our society might well have been destroyed, plunging countless millions into ever deepening poverty while the privileged one percent continue raking in the big bucks.

As always, this Thanksgiving brought lots of talk about gratitude, and it’s almost mandatory to maintain an attitude of good cheer through the coming weeks. Well before Thanksgiving, my favorite oldies station began playing nonstop Christmas music, and I’ll admit I enjoy it up to a point, but I can’t agree with Andy Williams when he sings “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” (He died this year, but his rendition of this saccharine song endures.)

Van Gogh

According to a recent poll, 45% of Americans are so financially stressed this time of year that they wish Christmas would simply disappear. The findings are dubious, though, because the survey was sponsored by a company that focuses on risky financial instruments designed for people already living perilously close to their personal financial cliffs.

In recent years, I’ve been doing my best to live within my means, modest as they may be. I paid off and then cancelled all but one of my credit cards, and I haven’t used that one in years. I haven’t even activated it when they send me a new one, but I’m still paying off the balance. I’ll admit I’m tempted to resurrect it to add to my family’s holiday cheer this Christmas, but if I do, I swear I’ll be ultra-cautious with it.

I’m grateful that as I age, I crave less and less in the way of material possessions. I’ve already got more than I need, and I had no problem boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially since I didn’t have the wherewithal to pay in cash. My house is already overflowing with stuff I can’t bear to part with, so why add to the clutter?

As part of a spiritual deepening program in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, I’ve begun making a daily list of the things I’m grateful for. The trick is to select a number and stick to it each day. I’ve chosen the number seven, and it’s surprisingly easy to come up with that many. Right now, for example, I’m grateful for:

  1. My cat Lunesta, dozing and purring between my legs
  2. My husband, reading in the recliner across from mine
  3. My dog Sirius, lying on guard next to the front door
  4. My house – be it ever so humble, it’s warm and dry, and we own it
  5. The wonderful group of women writers I met with this afternoon
  6. Their laughter and enthusiasm when I read a scene from my novel
  7. National Novel Writing Month ends this Friday, and I’m going to meet my quota of 50,000 words

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned my daughter and granddaughters – but you get the idea. Family, friends, pets, creativity – simple things, and except for our modest mortgage, they don’t cost a cent.

Are you feeling grateful this time of year? Do you love the holidays, or are you more like those folks in the survey who wish they’d go away?