Garcia, 20, has worked in a warehouse since February 2012. Though she dreams of college, she struggles to get by on just $8 an hour, with no benefits. That means she has to take tough choices as she raises her two-year-old son, Christian. “Gas is so expensive. Sometimes I feel that I am only earning enough to pay for the gas that allows me to drive my car to my job,” she said. “I do not earn enough. I cannot survive like this.”
Garcia, whose warehouses packs goods for Walmart and other stores, has also been injured packing and unpacking goods. She was hit by two boxes—each containing three suitcases—and damaged her neck. “The pain was serious, but it was the end of the shift and no one offered to call an ambulance or to find out what had happened, so I drove myself to the hospital. I am supposed to go to therapy because there is still a lot of pain, but I can’t afford it and it’s not like the warehouse is going to pay for it,” she said.
Now she sometimes sees examples of the luggages that hit her on Walmart shelves. “I see the luggage that I move in the warehouse. They are selling it for a lot more than I get paid and treating me really bad,” she said.
Joe Carcello has a great job. The 59-year-old has an annual salary of $52,700, gets five weeks of vacation a year, and is looking forward to retiring on the sizable nest egg in his 401(k), which his employer augments with matching funds. After 26 years at his company, he’s not worried about layoffs. In 2009, as the recession deepened, his bosses handed out raises. “I’m just grateful to come here to work every day,” he says.
This wouldn’t be remarkable except that Carcello works in retail, one of the stingiest industries in America, with some of the most dissatisfied workers. On May 29, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) employees in Miami, Boston, and the San Francisco Bay Area began a weeklong strike. (A Walmart spokesman told MSNBC the strike was a “publicity stunt.”) Workers at an Amazon.com (AMZN) fulfillment center in Leipzig, Germany, also recently held strikes to demand higher pay and better benefits. (An Amazon spokesman says its employees earn more than the average warehouse worker.) In its 30-year history, Carcello’s employer, Costco, has never had significant labor troubles.