Worker Correspondents: Sam’s Club and Walmart Push Workers to Chronic Pain

By Michael Nolan

Sam’s Club and Walmart routinely disregard the physical well-being of workers, leaving some workers with potentially life-long impairments, particularly those involved in filling online orders, who the company refers to as ‘fulfillment associates.’ One worker who experienced both companies’ indifference towards her health told Tribune, “Walmart and Sam’s Club are dangerous places to work.”

When the worker contracted COVID-19 while working at Sam’s Club, she was told to return to work after the government mandated two weeks of leave though she was still severely ill. Having only worked at the company a short time, she had not accrued any paid time off. Needing the income to pay her rent, she pushed herself to return to work, but she was still so unwell that she was sent home.

For two more weeks, the worker continued to have severe symptoms and general weakness, but the company resisted paying her for this additional sick time for 5 months. When they finally compensated her, she only received $228 for those two weeks. This treatment contrasts sharply with Sam’s Club’s public-facing statement in their COVID-19 emergency leave policy that they “give associates the flexibility and support they need to stay home if they’re sick or just uncomfortable coming to work.”

Sam’s Club and Walmart are owned by the Walton family, whose collective net worth is $215 billion, which makes them the richest family in the US. Their fortune is built on the backs of workers, partly through constant understaffing at their businesses in order to minimize labor costs.

The understaffing increases the amount of heavy lifting the each fulfillment associate must perform. Workers repeatedly lift 45 pound cases of water to their shoulders and push carts weighing more than 800 pounds. The managers at the companies also enforce strict time limits on filling online orders, requiring workers to run quickly across hard concrete floors.

The worker said that within one year she saw one coworker leave after she could no longer carry more than 25 pounds and a doctor told her she needed to stop; another woman developed a limp.

“Look at all the associates working. They can barely walk from all the walking that they do, all the pushing, all the carrying,” she said, “Their bodies are falling apart. […] For the company, the managers, the owners, it doesn’t matter to them whatever happens to our bodies. We’re not more than mules to them. That’s it.”

The worker said towards the end of her employment she started feeling pinched nerves in her back, and her hands were not “working right.” When she brought this up with her manager, the manager suggested that she start taking pain killers in order to be able to continue working. It was this reckless disregard for her physical health that caused her to quit.

“[T]hat’s when I decided that this was it,” the worker told Tribune. “I’m not going to continue working for this company, because physically I was falling apart and I was worried about becoming handicapped. Because I knew when I got sick with Corona they did not take care of me, so if I break my back, nobody’s gonna care, and I’m gonna end up on the street.”


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