JournalismLife

Rowe Claims Walmart Ad Led to Death Threats

The man known as the host of ‘Dirty Jobs’ says narrating a Walmart ad has earned him death threats and decided to take on some of his critics on his Facebook page.

When Walmart, the behemoth everyone loves to hate, was ready to advertise its plan to spend $250 billion over the next 10 years to create new U.S. manufacturing jobs, it turned to Mike Rowe, a commercial pitchman and host of A&E’s Dirty Jobs for narration duties. The spot, titled, “I am Factory,” begins with shots of various factories and manufacturing centers that are completely deserted, presumably the result of the slowed economy, jobs lost to overseas facilities, or a combination of the two. Towards the end of the spot, we see those factories come to life again. Rowe’s narration balances the images into an inspirational message of a bright outcome Walmart hopes to convey.

Have a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OQcoDQq3-o

Rowe says that since narrating the Walmart ad, he’s received a few death threats.

That claim came in a Facebook post:

Three days of press, five hours of sleep, four bottles of wine, a speech, a job offer, 5,000 form letters, and a couple of good-natured death threats. All because of a commercial that I narrated about American manufacturing paid for by Walmart.

Walmart, I need hardly mention, is at the center of a controversy over how its own workers are treated. The company recently abandoned plans to build new stores in the Washington, DC, area — which would have put more people to work — because local lawmakers there were waving the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) at them. This measure would have forced Walmart to pay an hourly wage 51% higher than the area’s existing legal minimum wage.

People have argued that by not paying employees enough to make ends meet, they are “forcing” their employees to be on government assistance. But they’re not “forcing” their employees to continue working there, nor are Walmart’s critics able to explain how it’s better for taxpayers for Walmart employees to have no job and be on full government assistance.

I was in a local Walmart just the other night. As I approached the register, I was greeted by a female cashier who seemed nice enough and may well have taken the opportunity to actually speak to me had it not been for a fellow employee, another cashier, who spent the entire time standing in front of my shopping cart telling my cashier how much she hated the store, how strongly she intended to transfer to a different location across town, and how sure she was she’d have already quit if one of her managers — the only one she said understood anything — hadn’t taken her outside and “calmed her down.” The only time this complainer spoke to me at all was to warn me to make a photocopy of my receipt for the $7 warranty plan I purchased with a toaster oven, reminding me that Walmart’s receipts “fade” over time.

I don’t resent this woman for her feelings. I do resent her lack of professionalism that had her dumping her aggravation in my space at a time when her co-worker should have been giving me and my purchase her undivided attention.

My first job was at a Kmart store. I’ve done her job. And if I’d had done it the way she did, the question of how much frustration I could take wouldn’t have been a question: I’d have been released immediately from further obligation to the company.

But folks like this are never held to blame for anything. They’re just “victims” and we’re supposed to tolerate their bad attitudes and lousy service and focus all of our blame on the company. It’s that kind of thinking that would lead someone to make a death threat against a performer hired for a spot about bringing more American jobs to the table.

Rowe, in the same Facebook post, goes on to lash out at reports that he is a “spokesman” for Walmart or that he’s a “lightning rod” for the company. The “spokesman” thing is somewhat obscure; there’s a general connotation of that word that implies you’re empowered to speak for the company, at least within the limits of the script they give you, without having to be an authorized media relations professional for them. But his point is well taken.

It’s certainly not the first time Rowe has taken on his critics head-on. Back in October, he posted a very effective response to an angry fan who’d criticized him for appearing on Glenn Beck’s program to discuss the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, focused on “promoting hard work and supporting the skilled trades in a variety of areas” through scholarships.

Rowe’s biggest target in the current Facebook post is the head of an organization called “Jobs with Justice,” which Rowe claims is in a “labor dispute” with the retailer and has encouraged people to send more than 5,000 form letters to Rowe’s office designed to encourage him to “sit down with ‘real Walmart employees’ and listen to stories about how unfairly they have been treated.”

He first tackles the “carpet bombing” issue:

“It’s a little ironic, don’t you think? On the one hand, Jobs with Justice is concerned that everyday people are being overwhelmed by heavy workloads. But you don’t think twice about flooding an unsuspecting non-profit foundation with an endless stream of form letters.”

But then he comes to an even bigger, more important point about his foundation:

“Let me really spell this out though, so there’s no confusion at all. I care about the people you represent. That’s precisely why I set up a foundation and some scholarship funds. I’m trying to encourage hardworking people who are unhappy in their jobs to make a meaningful change in their life. A lasting change. And I believe this change is most likely to occur when people are willing to learn a skill that’s in demand. Happily, worthwhile opportunities are everywhere. Our country has a massive skills gap, and the chance to retool and retrain has never been better.

We’re not enemies, Ori. We’re just fighting different battles. You’re trying to wring out a modest increase for people who feel unappreciated by their employer and unhappy in their work. I’m trying to get those same people excited about possibilities and opportunities that go beyond their current positions.”

See the full response here. It’s definitely worth your time.

It’s common sense that the obnoxious cashier who was so angry about working conditions at one Walmart is probably going to find at least somewhat similar conditions at another Walmart. But that — based on what she said in her extended tirade — was her primary life goal. Her effort was focused in moving to one location of a company she clearly hates to another location within the same company. She is a co-author in her own misery.

A performer hired to voice an ad shouldn’t be to blame for the company’s business strategy.

But a performer who also heads a foundation designed to help people develop more valuable skills and therefore earn higher wages, should be the last person subject to such criticism.

3 Comments

  1. demirstrub  Demi, I think the biggest criticism of Rowe is his complete change of attitude where Wal-Mart was concerned. Overall, though, I agree with patricksplace, Wal-Mart has a reputation as being a terrible employer. I certainly would go elsewhere if I were looking for a job.

  2. demirstrub  Good point. I definitely feel for employees who work hard for low pay, but at the same time, if you continue to do so expecting a sudden change in pay from a company you already believe doesn’t care, at some point, one should wonder why you’re still doing so!

  3. It is really funny that i should come onto this blog right in the middle of a Dirty Jobs marathon.  I totally agree though that Mike should not be the one being battered by these unsatisfied employees and or other people and organizations.  He is simply trying to make a living and may not even agree with what Walmart is doing.  He is just doing a job that he was paid to do like all the employees at Walmart.  I have not heard about the foundation or scholarships that Mike has started but those just emphasize the point that he should not be the target of all this abuse.  If people really want to make a difference they should aim at the source of the problem, not the people who are working for them.  If you want to do that you might as well blame the Walmart employees for continuing to work there.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.