Shouts And Mallomars

Bonnie Bernstein

bonnie bernstein

bonnie bernstein
New York, New York,
November 02
Starving Writer
Quirky, Edgy Authoress, Phanatically Baseball Lite. Writing the great American smutty memoir. Bonnie's words can be found in places like TheFix, YourTango, Modern Love Rejects, Salon, Petside, Babble, Perils of Divorced Pauline, Newsday and NYResident. Lisa Belkin wrote about Bonnie in Motherlode and Anderson Cooper interviewed her. Follow Bonnie on Twitter: bonnieb_writer


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 23, 2011 12:08AM

The Walmart Carton Came Slamming Down On My Paycheck

Rate: 11 Flag

Fifteen minutes before I was to leave my sales job at Walmart’s electronics department, in upstate New York, for a job that would allow me the ability to afford something more for lunch than a 33 cent burrito, a 27 inch television still in its box fell on my left wrist. When multiple tvs were placed on the floor earlier that week by management, I never thought this would happen to me. The carton came slamming down on the tendons in my arm as a customer lifted it into the shopping cart I was holding in place for him. All I could think of was the stars that shot through my body. I closed my eyes. My left elbow stiffened. I held my injured bones with my right hand and screamed, “Oh my God!” This is how my short career of a couple of months at Wally’s World ended. I was supposed to go on to other work that involved heavy typing and a higher paycheck. I couldn’t because, in those few seconds, I got permanent nerve damage from the tips of my fingers to my neck on my left side.

Divorced for over three years, I was a forty something college educated mother living in New York’s Hudson Valley stringing together a slew of mostly off the books employment that included being a nanny, a tour guide, a barista to economically survive in a recession climate. I took the position at Walmart to rise above dinners of food pantry canned soup. Today, Walmart is teaming up with First Lady Michelle Obama to encourage wholesome eating. The CEO wants to make sure “no family has to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford.” But I found, like many of the employees, the choice for meals I had the means to purchase at nine dollars an hour to be either a daily diet of ramen noodle like food or samples at a nearby Sam’s, a mega store owned by Walmart. I didn’t have the few coins for the salty noodles, so in my blue shirt, beige pants uniform I opted for trips through the parking lot to eat the giveaways, used to lure customers, for lunch. I hid my work badge because I was humiliated that I had reached that point in order to have a meal. I had heard many of the employees received food stamps. Social Services, a 30 minute drive from my home, initially turned me down. I didn’t have enough money to buy the gas to make the repeated trips back that they required with the additional paperwork showing my financial decline. Walmart bosses found out how I ate and I was no longer allowed to go there. 

During my stint, at Walmart, I saw injured employees continue to work sometimes with blood dripping down their legs. I, myself, had to several times rip apart cardboard and put them through cutting machines that stood too tall for my five foot one inch tall body to reach. Sometimes, the contraption would get jammed. I would have to stand on a chair to fix and flatten the poster boards stuck in the machinery. I, also, rang up bullets from sporting goods although I had never been trained or cleared to do so. I was told the register in that department was broken. A coworker stood by to tell me how to bypass certain codes and requirements that would come up. After doing this twice and afraid I was assisting assassins, I complained to the managers. I was worried all weekend that I would be responsible for someone shooting up a crowd of people.

I loaded merchandise onto shelves, cleaned floors and helped customers, and at the same time, spied on them to make sure the laptops were not pilfered. At the beginning of every shift, I numerically categorized hundreds of printer cartridges that were out of place from the last few hours. Daily, I ran from the stereos to the stock room to customer service several times. When there were not enough cashiers up front, I was called to ring up the milk, bread and eggs. I had to roll out a mammoth television to someone’s car. This was a security breach because while working I was not supposed to leave the department. Back on the floor, one night, I was all by myself amongst the cameras and the woofers. When it was time to go home at 11 pm, the parking lot was dark and deserted. I ran to my car.

Although I worked hard and enjoyed helping the public, it became increasingly difficult for me to remain at Walmart. I was called in to see the head honchos because the store cameras caught me checking the time on my cell phone. No electronic devices were allowed on the floor by any employee. But I needed to know when to clock out because if I was five minutes late doing so I would be reported. One coworker, who had an ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit against the company was transferred from the bakery to electronics. She proceeded to become my best friend, asking me how I felt about working there. A longtime stockwoman, knowing I was Jewish, proselytized about Jesus. I couldn’t bond with them, they became a part of the problem for me.

I decided to wait until Easter Sunday to be my last day, to give someone else the opportunity to spend time with his or her family. I was relieved as the last hour approached, never realizing what would happen. Moments after the accident, management got together to caucus about what to do with me as I waited for someone to bring me ice. I, being always lacking in patience, considered calling an ambulance. They drove me to the emergency room. I could not return to work the next day because I was in pain. I could not move my body, my arm was bandaged. Walmart fired me. I went to Workers Compensation to regain lost wages. Several weeks after the accident, I saw a 27 inch television box on the side of the road waiting to be picked up. It was garbage day. I had a panic attack remembering how one such carton fell on my left wrist. Today I don’t get upset anymore when I see a big carton, but I do routinely rest my arm on a warm microwave to take the pain away.

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Refrigerator cartons freak me out.
Your story confirms all the awful things I've read about Walmart. At least your nerve damage hasn't precluded you from writing. Rated!
Nope, we don't need unions anymore!

This is horrible. Hopefully, you got some assistance from Workers Comp.
Several years ago, I made a commitment to myself never to buy from Walmart again. My roommate, who is a dear friend, knows my feelings about Walmart; but being an apolitical person who struggles to make a living, he shops there all the time.

A few weeks ago, we had to replace our old microwave. We tried Kmart and Don Quijote, but couldn't find anything suitable within our budget. Eventually, we went to Walmart and made a purchase.

I didn't object to Walmart because we really needed a microwave (you know what I mean) and after all, it was his money. And I kept telling myself that maybe I was being a little too serious, too pretentious, too impractical, too self-righteous. I remember a skit that Jon Stewart did last year on the Daily Show, poking fun at people who wanted to boycot Whole Foods during the health care reform craziness. Smart satire can be persuasive, even when it is not totally right.

Next time I need to replace something or I just want to treat myself, I will pay the extra money or go to the less convenient store, or just wait.

Walmart is run by greedy bastards and no amount of good PR will change my mind until they make fundamental and obvious changes in the way Walmart is run.

Bonnie, I hope you have found some way to make Walmart accountable for your injury and loss of income.
What a godawful horror story. At a minimum you should get Comp but I know that won't go far if it's gear to Walmart wages. Since that was (last?) Easter, I hope you'll give us a what-else-happened-next post.
seer -- i was actually thinking what would sam walton have thought if he knew what was going on these days -- thanks everyone for posting