Skip to content

Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers…

3 August 2007

… now we know how they undersell local merchants. They stiff their bagboys.

In a country where nearly half of the population scrapes by on less than $4 a day, any income source is welcome in millions of households, even if it hinges on the goodwill of a tipping customer. And Wal-Mart did not invent the bagger program that, as a written statement from the company notes, pre-dates the firm’s arrival in Mexico, nor is it alone within the country’s retail sector in benefiting from the toil of unpaid adolescents. But in Mexico City, for example, the 4,300 teenagers who work in Wal-Mart’s retail stores free of charge dwarf similar numbers laboring unpaid for Mexican competitors like Comercial Mexicana (715) and Gigante (427). Although Wal-Mart’s worldwide code of ethics expressly forbids any “associate” from working without compensation, the company’s Mexican subsidiary asserts that the grocery baggers “cannot be considered workers.”

I won’t say it’s an organized “plot”, but there are comments in every posting to this story to the effect that “it gives the children a safe environment and an exposure to the working world that they wouldn’t get otherwise…” or a variation on the same, usually from someone who knows because “I live 3 months of the year in Puerto Vallerta and…”.

There are couple of problems with the happy rationales. Where you do have kids working for tips, it’s where the kid is part of the ownership circle — the son or nephew or cousin of the small merchant running an entrepreneural enterprise.

Usually, in neighborhood markets, that are owned by chains, the bagger is the check-out clerks kid, who gets the change, or at least a few pesos. Often the bagger is the checker’s kid, who is doing his homework or goofing off with the stock-boy when not bagging.

Secondly, if the kid is old enough to legally work, he or she is supposed to be paid. It doesn’t matter if they’re “associates” or not… if WalMart expects them to be at a certain place, they are at “asociados” under Mexican labor law, and have to receive the daily minimum (about 5 dollars), even if they only work an hour or two. I had a student who was the head of the law department of a major Mexican bank, who wanted me to come in and help out on some on-going translation, but we made other arrangements because of this regulation.

And, my observation is that WalMart does consider the baggers to be employees. They were always wearing the WalMart red vest and had a regular station within the store.

I think WalMart is bad in the long run for a lot of reasons (mom n’ pop stores clean the street every morning and act as the neighborhood watch — because they are part of the neighborhood; WalMarts don’t — they have employees, not people investing in the community), but this is just low.

WalMart and the rationalizers (must just be coincidence they all have the same story) are confusing baggers with beggars. And the bag boys I’ve seen in WalMart aren’t slugs… goofy teenagers, sure, but ones who know what a sindicato is… or have an uncle who is a labor lawyer, or an aunt whose comadre is active in the PRD, or….

BAGBOYS UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT — ah hell, if WalMart claims they’re not “associates” and doesn’t pay them squat now, they just have nothing to lose.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 August 2007 10:22 am

    I agree, but yet I disagree. There’s no difference between Wal-Mart and the other superstores except the numbers (and, after all, Wal-Mart is the biggest). Why aren’t you castigating Gigante, Ley, Comercial Mexicana, Soriana, and all the others?

    From what I’ve seen, after nearly 10 years here in México, those bagboys (and girls!) earn a hell of a lot more in tips than the minimum wage! That means they have a LOT to lose if there’s a huelga (strike) or their jobs go away. And their jobs WOULD go away, since most of them are below the age of legal employment.

    I don’t know this answer to this conundrum. It’s NOT “exploitation” by Wal-Mart, or if it is, then every superstore in México is equally guilty.

  2. 3 August 2007 11:58 am

    I’ve heard the same response from a ton of Mexicans. It is true that the same situation exists at all the other stores, and it is equally wrong at all of them too.

    One thing thing about which many Mexicans seem equally baffled is that among the truly great things in US history was the 1937 Labor Relations Act and the robust labor movement that followed. As much as I love Mexico, the PRI, in co-opting the Unions has left them, arguably, in even worse shape than the AFL-CIO.

  3. 3 August 2007 1:39 pm

    Shalom Y’all,

    As one of those rationalizers, long-time Wal-Mart opponent and founding blogger of The Writing On The Wal, I have a few questions:

    Were the baggers an issue before Wal-Mart?

    Have there been attempts to make the practice illegal?

    If so, why did it fail?

    Since Wal-Mart doesn’t hire baggers — here in the States the practice is for the cashiers to do the bagging, what do you think will be the outcome if the teenagers are run out of Dodge?

    I’m afraid my High School/Ensenada Spanish is not up to the task of reading Mexican newspapers; what are they saying on this issue?

    Do you think Mexican shoppers would be willing to instantly end the practice by not tipping?


    Jeff Hess

  4. 3 August 2007 1:47 pm

    Putting employees on the nomina (payroll) is a real pain that Mexican employers do their best to avoid. There’s need to be some acknowledgement that Mexico could use some labor flexibility as there’s every incentive for companies – big and small – not to hire people.

    Also, if the bagboys get official jobs, what about the guys washing cars in the parking lots?

    Another thing, I notice at all the Gigante stores in Guadalajara they bring in seniors to bag groceries for tips – not children. Sadly, that’s about the only work many of these ancianos can get.

  5. Margaret permalink
    3 August 2007 4:31 pm

    It really has nothing to do with Walmartism. The system was in place and worked the same way long before Walmart had any presence in Mexico. People who blame it on Walmart have no idea of the reality in Mexico. Neither do those who think the baggers’ situation would be improved if the companies weren’t allowed to “exploit” them.

    On another note, Richard, why didn’t you pay your student by honorarios instead of considering hiring him as an employee?

    HUH? Why would I pay students? I’m not the best teacher in the world, but not the worst either.

  6. 4 August 2007 7:53 pm

    Amen to Margaret and David for giving a sensible perspective to counter the anti-Walmart BS imported by the whining Liberal Left of the USA.

    One of my employees has a 12 year old daughter who bags groceries at HEB after school. On a good day she clears 40 pesos in tips, easily. HEB and Soriana both have waiting lists to get on to the bagboy/girl circuit.

    This is a perfect way to introduce kids to the adult concepts related to work and reward. It also brings in needed inmcome for an easy job in a safe indoor environment.

    Typically, the protest is coming from outside Mexico and is made by those with little or no understanding of the realities here.

  7. 6 August 2007 9:05 am

    Watch out, MF, don’t dare criticize how things are done in Mexico. You’ll get a face full of “That’s the way it’s always been done”, regardless of how exploitive or downright stupid the practice is.

    Any surprise that Mexico now boasts the world’s richest man, when cabrones like Chedraui get free slave labor?

  8. 12 December 2007 12:23 am

    Well here’s the kicker folks, the Ensenada Wal Mart is not doing a robust business, infact, most of the Mexicans think it is way overpriced, which it is – the prices at the Walmart in Ensenada are higher than the prices at the Wal Marts in San Diego. Just as the prices at Home Depot in TJ are higher than the Home Depots in the States. What kind of thinking , I mean economically is this? It doesn’t make sense. Still, yet another Wal Mart is under construction in Rosarito. And this is scary, it was just found out that this new construction was being done smack over pipelines to the gas lines from the holding tanks. Meanwhile, the Mexicans I know prefer to wait in the border lines for up to 2 hours to shop Wal Mart in Chula Vista…and they look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them, “No…no it’s bad, we need to boycott it.” They flock there as if it is a holy shrine, and there is nothing that can disuade them. Meanwhile, thanks to NAFTA, we have The Dollar Store and Waldo’s, two more very popular shopping sites. I noticed at The Dollar Store there were no baggars, but they did have Frijoles Charros.

    Still, this not paying the baggars by Wal Mart is just corporate greed, and shoot, the employees of Wal Mart in the States can’t even – or are to scared to form a union, so I guess Wal Mart figures it can ride roughshod over the kids down here.

    For those of you applauding this system, it simply keeps the status quo, the slave mentality, and it enables young people NOT to respect a work ethic in the longrun. Would you?

  9. jjoshuajj21 permalink
    26 May 2010 12:14 am

    Well hear this, there will be a shake-up in WalMart next year, and the employees have something to cheer about >>>> <<<<


  1. The Writing On The Wal » Blog Archive » “BAGBOYS UNITE!”

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: