On Labor Day, the Douglas family moved to Littleton, Colo., from Colorado Springs, to join their sister. They settled in nearby Thornton, Colo., which is home to one of the largest Walmart facilities in the country, a package center at a busy intersection of a highway and railroad tracks. Everything there is pretty much like anywhere: Wal-Mart. Drivers wait in long lines, waiting to pick up and put back certain packages. There are “White Box,” “Big Box,” and “Lump Box” trains that roll to and from the facility. At the beginning of June, when the Earth observed its first season of summer, a shift in the moon helped reduce temperatures to below 40 degrees for the first time in 11 years, but in Thornton, I strolled the parking lot with a thermometer. It read 63 degrees.
The shift in Walmart workers’ pay is due in part to a growing gulf between what a grocery worker makes and the cashiers at Target and other chain stores, which have been asked to compete with Walmart and other discount retailers by increasing their minimum wage for workers in the last year. The switch from $7.25 to $10 in December added $1.75 to a 24-hour shift that paid $11.50 a week before. (Walmart has since raised the minimum wage to $11.)
On a typical day at the Douglas family’s new home, Mario, 26, works the midnight shift, making ends meet while his wife, Allison, 23, completes her coursework. She lives off her part-time job at Walmart. Her mother was expected to help, but, out of financial desperation, she had not seen her daughter since December, when she found out she had test scores that came in too low to attend college.
Like many of the customers who frequent Walmart, Allison’s ex-husband, Michael Douglas, did not know the name of her school until he stopped by in January to pick up some household items.
“This is scary,” he said, walking around the store. “There’s no trash cans and no trash bags. There’s absolutely nowhere to put it. I have to decide whether to send my daughters home or pick them up, pick up my kids’ stuff and pick up his kids stuff, or get what I need and not bring it here because we have no place to put it.”
Soon after an employee complained about eating potholes on the floor at the warehouse, Walmart’s management lowered the paychecks for people who had complained. The manager of the warehouse declined to comment.
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The church Andrew Schofield attends in Estes Park, Colo., an hour’s drive from Thornton, sometimes feels like a fortress. “I tell them, ‘You guys have the same fear as this company,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a gunman walking on this street and taking people’s lives.’ … But there’s nothing stopping anybody.”
On a recent Sunday, about 25 congregants gathered around a fire pit to pray for the four Walmart workers shot and killed last October in Lakewood, Colo.