If you're considering working for Wal-Mart, read a book called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. She worked as a sales clerk at a Minneapolis, Minnesota Wal-Mart in the process of researching this book about what it's like to try to survive on poverty-level wages. She documents oppressive, dehumanizing surveillance from management and fellow co-workers who were teetering on the edge of homelessness.

Many others have criticized Wal-Mart's treatment of its employees, particularly for its low pay, substandard benefits, and abuse of employment laws.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) reports that although Wal-Mart made $191 billion in 2002 in U.S. sales alone, its employees made $2 to $3 less per hour than union employees in equivalent positions at other retailers. Furthermore, Wal-Mart's health insurance is so expensive that less than 40% of their employees participate in the plan.

A 2004 study by UC Berkeley's Labor Center revealed that the State of California paid out $86 million in welfare and other public assistance to Wal-Mart workers in 2001.

The report says:

Wal-Mart workers' reliance on public assistance due to substandard wages and benefits has become a form of indirect public subsidy to the company.

Reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in California comes at a cost to the taxpayers of an estimated $86 million annually; this is comprised of $32 million in health-related expenses and $54 million in other assistance.

The National Organization for Women in 2002 called the company "a Merchant of Shame", accusing them of sex discrimination in their pay scales and promotions and for violating child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

States such as Texas and Washington have penalized the company for abuses such as underpaying and unfairly firing workers. Class-action lawsuits were recently filed in 23 states over Wal-Mart's bullying people into working overtime without pay. Other people have sued over the company refusing to pay medical bills for on-the-job injuries.

If you're considering shopping at Wal-Mart, be wary of their layaway plan. Turns out that they consider an item to have been purchased the day you make your first down payment, not the day you take your brand-new item home from the store.

Why is this a problem? Say you've had an expensive TV on layaway for six months. You take it home, and the next day the picture tube goes out. You take it back to the store, and try to exchange it. They won't take it back; according to store policy, the TV you took home the day before is 6 months old and no longer subject to their return policy.

In most cases your warranty is still intact, of course, but you're then facing a much longer turnaround time and possibly expensive shipping charges.