On Monday morning, the Reddit user bdonvr wrote a post bidding his fellow users on the Walmart subreddit farewell. “Well /r/Walmart, it’s been great. But HO caught up with me,” he wrote. “Not something I wanted. Entirely my fault though.” Bdonvr had, by his own account, been fired for sharing Walmart corporate documents with the subreddit.
“I was terminated because of a post I made here detailing a confidential pilot program. At the time I was terminated I agreed to remove all confidential information and I will not be providing it now, so that’s all I’ll say about the post that got me terminated,” bdonvr said in a direct message on Reddit. We don’t have to guess about the contents of the document he shared, because we have a copy. Mirrored on Imgur by someone else, the document outlines a new version of Walmart’s Great Workplace (GWP) program, which sorts employees into different pay tiers. The new program condenses the four current GWP classifications into two, among other pay-scale adjustments.
The firing of bdonvr has set off a small firestorm on the subreddit, where Walmart associates go to complain about various workplace problems. Browse posts and you’ll come across plenty of acronyms and Walmartese. “They like to use acronyms,” one former employee and subreddit user, zigaliciousone, said. APA: asset protection associate. MHRM: market human-resource manager. By far, the most repeated shorthand is HO, which stands for “home office.”
The recent firing, for sharing confidential info on Reddit, reiterated the fact that Walmart’s corporate employees keep tabs on associates, and monitor their online communications for anything that might reflect poorly on the company. “What draws people to that subreddit is that there’s an expectation of privacy,” zigaliciousone said. “You can’t go on Facebook and be critical about your store.”
In response, knowing that they are being watched, the forum’s users have retaliated by posting pro-unionization memes sure to make the suits at corporate a little squeamish. It also helps that it’s illegal to fire someone for organizing, making the memes less risky than, say, posting other corporate documents.
“I’ve personally been in situations, when I was management, where someone was being critical of another person on a Facebook post,” he recalled. “That person would be brought in and [management would] print out an actual screen capture of what they said.” In many cases, the people who get in trouble for posting derisive comments online are often ratted out by their fellow employees, rather than being the victim of an intense HO surveillance effort.
The subreddit has been attracting a significant wave of attention since then, and since users are encouraged to be cautious about sharing anything that might identify them — zigaliciousone posted a guide to this effect earlier this week — it’s tough to know currently how many of these memes are being made by actual Walmart workers and how many are supportive trolls from the outside. Industrial Workers of the World has taken notice.
“It’s hard to tell if there’s actual organizing going on or not,” zigaliciousone said. “Right now it’s novel, I think. If people embrace that, it could make it easier to organize, but the anonymity would make it difficult. I’d have to give it time to say if this has any meaningful impact.”
Whether it will last is up in the air right now. “I think the whole thing just brought up other discussions about various injustices and suddenly the subreddit’s opinion on unionization seems to have flipped, suddenly,” bdonvr said in his message. “Used to be that a post about unions would be like 80 percent negative anecdotes as responses.”