Charlene Mull is Walmart’s unlikely, frowning, scowling model, posing for the Maryland store’s Facebook feed with various sale items and the kind of deadpan face that loads of cheap plastic from China and Walmart wages deserve.
The electronics department manager sits in a cart full of cabbages — with a cabbage leaf cap on her head — and a look that lets you know she will ream your face with every one of the leafy orbs if you come between her and her grandbaby.
She poses with on-sale cheese and has zero hoots to give.
She reclines on a mountain of birdseed sacks as if they were the dunes of Rehoboth Beach, and her cold eyes dare you to tell her to get back to work.
Malgorzata Baker, who also works at the store and is a professional photographer on the side (check out her Facebook page so you can hire her wapo.st/Malgorzata), sets up and makes all the photos, which have received thousands of likes and swarms of followers.
Her eye for staging is divine, putting a showercap on the scowling granny, having her flop down on a yoga mat or nap in a crib. Baker features other employees, too, paying homage to Mr. Gilbert in the auto care department or Mr. Glen in the Crafts/Hardware departments.
They all smile earnestly. But none of them bring the I-really-have-no-patience-for-you je ne sais quoi that Charlene so deliciously exudes.
Her fans are many.
“I always said I would never work for Walmart again,” Jamie Hopkins wrote on their Facebook page. “(Mr. Walton would roll in his grave if he knew how bad they treat their employees) but I would work at this Walmart with Charlene!”
“Miss Charlene is the only reason I follow this Walmart page,” wrote Tiffenii Mumphrey, who identifies as a “Charlene fan from Texas.”
“It’s a new goal to road trip to this Maryland Walmart from California just to go and visit Charlene. #GiveCharleneARaise,” wrote Kayla Marie Engh.
I gotcha, Kayla, so I pointed my car north as soon as I finished with my kids’ carpool.
When I finally found Charlene at Walmart No. 5450, I got the signature scowl. But for a change, it’s not meant for me.
She’s mad that her corporate bosses won’t let her or the women who do the photo shoots — Baker and Danielle Davis and Hope Tome Poore — talk to any media.
Charlene stuck to the gag order from her overlords in Arkansas and didn’t go on the record. Y’all hear that? Don’t punish her. She obeyed.
But here’s the secret I cracked when I stalked her in her native habitat interacting with customers and fellow workers somewhere between a thicket of Nintendo games and a stand of phone parts — she is nothing like her scowl. In fact, she’s smiley, joking, sweet, a little pragmatic and totally generous.
And I wish she could share that side of her with the world.
I called the Walmart bosses as I headed to the store — about an hour and a half from Washington. They were excited to let their grammy shine in the national media. Even “Good Morning America” picked up the story of Charlene’s booming popularity.
But the local bosses said I had to call the corporate offices in Arkansas to make my case, because those folks put a gag order on their beloved employees.
“We won’t be working with The Washington Post,” the corporate woman told me.
They didn’t let Charlene work with Fox, “Good Morning America” or anyone else who contacted them and wanted to feature her. Those organizations just grabbed the Facebook feed and left it at that.
As of Thursday morning, nearly 14,000 people have signed a petition urging Ellen DeGeneres to bring Charlene on her show. Think Walmart will let that fly?
I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let Charlene have her moment. What are they afraid she’ll say?
Maybe they looked at her social media and found a salty granny — a big President Trump supporter — who is raising her 8-year-old grandson on her own and loves the heck out of him?
Or that she has a delightfully bawdy — not filthy — sense of humor? Because she and my teen boys are right there on the scatological and penis jokes.
Or are they afraid she’d speak her mind about Walmart’s infamous reputation for treating employees poorly?
The corporate gatekeeper said they won’t work with The Washington Post because of a story we did earlier in the week.
Probably not. The story that probably irked Walmart the most was Abha Bhattarai’s deep dive into their corporate culture and growing competition with Amazon (familiar disclosure: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).
“Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is telling employees that it is doing away with certain positions — including hourly supervisors and assistant store managers — and replacing them with a smaller set of roles that carry more responsibilities, often for the same pay, according to interviews with current and former store employees, and internal documents obtained by The Washington Post.”
In that story, The Post reported on troubles that may await employees like Charlene:
“Terminations are part of the plan,” said Bianca Agustin, research director for United for Respect, an employee group that advocates for workers’ rights. “It’s clear that mid-level management positions are being eliminated. These are valuable employees who have been there a long time and have worked their way up the corporate ladder.”
Is that what they’re afraid Charlene would talk about, after her 10 years as a loyal employee?
Are they worried we would find out that Charlene sometimes has a hard time keeping a straight face during the photo shoots?
Don’t worry, corporate gatekeepers.
Your faithful employees Charlene and Malgorzata did not go on the record, even after they handed you a fortune’s worth of good press and extra eyeballs by being genuine, smart assets in their community.
Kind of like all the small stores in small towns that didn’t have corporate owners thousands of miles away used to do.
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