To some, it appeared Walmart dodged a bullet a few weeks ago. An appeals court in Philadelphia upheld earlier rulings that the largest retailer in the solar system had not taken part in unfair labor practices nor encouraged illegal immigration when it locked janitors in its stores overnight and weekends.
The decision mostly seemed to hang on the fact that the workers were employees of various contactors, not employees of the Arkansas-based chain.
Walmart also came out on top in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that more than one million current and former female workers didn’t have a case for gender bias.
There are people who’ll cite these instances, as well as studies that contend opening one of the low-price stores in a community “kills” nearby smaller retailers, as among the reasons why they won’t set foot in a Walmart.
But a remarkable incident a few summers ago reminds me that things are rarely that simple.
I was about to start a job in Chicago, and my wife and I were on our way there to find a place to live. A sudden kerblam! reminded us of the perils of driving during highway construction season.
I replaced the now-flat rear tire with a “doughnut” from the trunk, but we could see it was almost as flat as the tire I’d removed. So we turned off the highway in search of help.
It was by now early Sunday evening, in the heart of Indiana. Things, as they say, didn’t look good.
The only open car-repair place we could find was a Walmart auto center. A mechanic there concluded our problem wasn’t the tire — that easily could be reinflated — but the metal rim.
When the car had slipped off the edge of the world, he noted, the back rim got mangled.
This Walmart, he added, didn’t sell rims.
“So we’re stuck?” I asked.
“Well,” he replied thoughtfully, “let’s ask Will.”
Now, it’s possible my memory has added a few embellishments. But as I recall, when Will sauntered into the garage he had his thumbs tucked into his front pockets and a matchstick dangling between teeth.
He had the air of the marshal being back in town.
As Will listened to our dilemma, I don’t recall that he uttered a word. Then he moseyed over to where our rim was mounted on a tire-changer.
Will squinted at the rim, then calmly bent over and picked up a hefty mallet. He looked down at the rim once more, as if to offer his apologies, and — whang — pounded on the bent edge with all his might.
Then again, and again.
He kept this up for a good several minutes. After a while, and still without a word, he handed off the mallet to the mechanic we’d spoken with earlier, who in turn proceeded to whack at the rim for several more minutes.
Then another mechanic took his turn. Then another.
Within a half-hour, the rim was practically as good as new and back on our car.
The charge? Not a cent.
I can’t speak to what decisions are brewed up in the corporate boardroom in Bentonville, Ark. But the fellows in Indiana that summer day did us an uncommonly good turn.