S4L Book Club – Cheap

I’ve failed to extract quotes for the book bits I’m going to talk about today. I may get some things wrong. So be it. You’ve been warned.

Henry Ford wanted to retain employees. They were trained in their jobs, committed to the company, and he wanted to keep them that way. He also wanted his employees to be customers, able to afford the cars they made.

His method for keeping employees was to offer a bonus for “good” employees. This included not only being good in one’s job but good in the family and community as well. Ford hired…well, essentially stalkers and spies to follow employees around town to ensure they didn’t drink and gamble, that their wives didn’t work outside the home, and so on. The employees, it seems, didn’t mind, and “good” employees were rewarded.

Okay, I’m not keen on the employer-as-Big-Brother. I think Ford was overstepping his bounds. But I do appreciate his commitment to retaining and supporting employees. This kind of employee support and appreciation exists today, too. The reason I continue to be involved off and on with Alaska Wildland Adventures and will forever recommend the company to people visiting Alaska is because the owner values employees in a similar—though not Big Brother-ish—way. The experience is spectacular because the service is spectacular because the employees are spectacular because the owner is spectacular.

On the other hand, in creating his discount stores, Woolworth was committed to lower-wage employees. When a worker got so good she could earn more elsewhere, managers were encouraged to let her go and hire someone less skilled.

Today, though WalMart pays it’s high-level employees and investors very well, the low-level employees are disposable. WalMart doesn’t consider itself a company for long-term, advancement-seeking entry-level employees.

I realize no company has to care about its employees. Low service is one way discounters cut costs. But I sure wouldn’t want to work at a place that regarded me as disposable, and when I hear stories of WalMart employees being treated badly, it makes me want to not shop there. I don’t want to give my money to a company that treats employees badly. We raise a stink over child labor and horrible work conditions overseas, which I’m pretty sure are worse than those at WalMart, but what is the minimum level of employee care and support that is acceptable?

What do you think? Do you think about these things when you decide where to shop?

I sometimes shop at WalMart, but not often. More and more, I deliberately avoid it. I wonder, too, if going to Fred Meyer or Carr’s/Safeway is really all that much better. I truly don’t know.

Ultimately, I feel as though my best option is to simply re-use, recycle, or do without. As a consumer, this is where I’m most comfortable.

Categories: Reading