People stepped forward this week to give much of the credit to store manager Jose Salas — who was abruptly fired recently, to the shock of his supporters in the community and at the store.
What stuns his friends, colleagues and others is the reason Salas thinks he was fired: That he violated store policy by raising extra money via in-store employee bake sales and potlucks and — perhaps the last straw — selling to Walmart workers, at a discount, damaged merchandise that would otherwise be thrown away.
Five months into Walmart’s fiscal year, local employees had already raised about $18,000, according to Dianne Timan, who retired from the store after 15 years and still has contacts and close friends inside the store.
Over the years, money was given to a virtual who’s who of charities and groups in town, such as the McHenry House Family Shelter, the Tracy Women’s Forum, Tracy Interfaith Ministries, local schools, the chamber of commerce and many others.
After Salas was let go, the slightly more than $10,000 left in the charity
kitty was given in one lump sum to Irene Rose of the Tracy Police Department, organizer of Shop with a Cop, an event at Walmart in which developmentally disabled kids are given gift cards and sent on a shopping spree in the store with police officers.
With Salas’ departure, however, friends fear all the extra money once doled out to local groups will evaporate.
“As far as what Jose did for the community, of all the other store managers, Jose was the one that did the most for the community,” said Virginia Taylor, 64, an employee with the Tracy store since it opened in 1993. “If somebody called, whether it be a church or an individual, he was always there trying to do what he could, no matter what the cause was.”
Salas declined to discuss with the Press why he was told he was fired, and phone calls to a Walmart spokesman went unreturned by press time.
But Salas has told Timan and others that he was let go immediately after he admitted to selling damaged merchandise at a discount to employees, despite the fact that much of the resulting money was donated to charity. Some was also saved for an employee Christmas party, Timan said.
Salas told friends that the company gave him no verbal warning and no written reprimand or other sanction before he was fired.
“He should have the same rights and privileges that we have, and that wasn’t given to him,” Taylor said. “As an employee, you have certain lines you go through before you’re terminated. He was never given that.”
Timan and others also say the discounted sale of damaged goods to employees for fundraising was a common practice at other stores. While she worked there, Timan said, district managers and other Walmart higher-ups visited the store and saw what was going on — and sometimes bought goods themselves — but never said anything was wrong with the practice.
“What he was doing was being done in every other store,” Taylor said. “I know this for a fact. And what he was doing was to raise funds for charity.”
Employee morale has sunk to lows Taylor has never seen since the local store opened, and she said raising money has come to a screeching halt since Salas left.
“We’re not doing any of that any more,” Taylor said. “He’s going to be a big, big loss for the community. The next store manager is going to be very hesitant to do anything.”
Salas, a married father of three who grew up in Lodi and now lives in French Camp, says he has made phone calls to managers in the days since he was let go in an effort to get his job back, without success.
On Tuesday, he said he has a phone call scheduled with one high-level executive, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of hope left.
“The company’s always been good to me,” Salas said, “’till now. I just don’t think they’re being fair, or consistent.”