Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘walmart’

The Grocery Store That Competes With Walmart Prices And Is Beloved By Employees

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Bryce CovertThis week, Wegmans, a family-owned grocery store chain, announced it would open its first location in New York City.

The announcement prompted an outpouring of devotion for the company. The New York Times noted it can actually claim a “cult following.” Part of the devotion to the store is not just that it manages to have a huge selection while offering prices that can compete with Walmart, but that it does it while treating its employees well.

The perks start with pay, which for hourly store employees is a little more than $33,000 a year on average. By contrast, Walmart has admitted that more than half of its employees make less than $25,000 a year, although it recently announced a wage increase, and retail sales workers make a median $21,410 annual salary. Anonymous pay sites like Glassdoor and Payscale also show that a Wegmans cashier can expect to make more than $9 an hour, on average.

But that’s not what makes the company famous for employee satisfaction, landing it on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since the list began. It also offers generous benefits. It pays about 85 percent of the costs of health care coverage, including dental, for its full-time employees and offers insurance to part-time workers who put in 30 hours a week. It offers 401(k) plans with a salary match of up to 3 percent of an employee’s contribution.

And it has a scholarship program that awards tuition assistance to employees, which has paid out $100 million to 32,000 employees since it began in 1984. The program gives part-time employees up to $1,500 a year and full-time employees up to $2,200 a year to study at any college in any field. Starbucks’s lauded scholarship program, by contrast, used to only be for studying careers that directly prepared employees for working at Starbucks and now is only applicable for studying at Arizona State University. The share of companies offering employees college assistance has been trending downward.

Wegmans also offers more work/life balance than most retail jobs. It gives employees 11 days of paid vacation and holidays and three extra days of paid time off. It’s known for flexible scheduling, a perk that regularly tops surveys of its own workforce as the most important benefit offered. Managers have the power to craft their own schedules and work with employees’ needs, and many workers use an online system to lay out their availability around their own schedules. In retail at large, on the other hand, more than a quarter of workers report irregular and unpredictable scheduling like being made to be on call or working two shifts in one day. Nearly 40 percent of retail workers in New York City say they don’t have a set minimum of hours week to week.

These benefits aren’t just altruistic. The company generates $7.1 billion in revenue and is profitable. “When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better,” the company’s vice-president for human resources has said. The company boasts a 5 percent turnover rate among full-time employees, compared to a 27 percent rate for the industry. That comes with a cost, as it often eats up about 20 percent of a worker’s salary to replace him.

“What some companies believe is that you can’t grow and treat your people well,” says a senior vice president. “We’ve proven that you can grow and treat your people well.”

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

The High Cost of Fighting for $15

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Leo GerardThis is no plea for pity for corporate kingpins like Walmart and McDonald’s inundated by workers’ demands for living wages.

Raises would, of course, cost these billion-dollar corporations something. More costly, though, is the price paid by minimum-wage workers who have not received a raise in six years.  Even more dear is what these workers have paid for their campaign to get raises. Managers have harassed, threatened and fired them.

Despite all that, low-wage workers will return to picket lines and demonstrations Wednesday in a National Day of Action in the fight for $15 an hour. The date is 4 – 15. These are workers who live paycheck to paycheck, barely able to pay their bills, and certainly unable to cope with an emergency. They know the risk they’re taking by participating in strikes for pay hikes. They’ve seen bosses punish co-workers for demonstrating for raises. To lose a job, even one that pays poverty wages, during a time of high unemployment is terrifying. Still, thousands will participate Wednesday. That is valor.

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Kip Hedges exhibited that courage. He’s a 61-year-old with 26 years of service as a baggage handler for Delta at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. He wanted better wages for young workers and a union. He said so in a video, noting that “probably close to half make under $15 an hour.”

Delta fired him. The airline said he’d disparaged the company. Apparently Delta believes it has been disparaged if the flying public learns the truth about the way Delta treats workers.

Clearly, Delta planned to shut Hedges up and intimidate other workers. The message to his co-workers was clear: “You wanna talk about the paltry wages you get? Well, let’s talk about this pink slip.”

But when Delta messed with Hedges, it messed up big time. The firing failed to silence him. Hecontinued to protest low wages. His co-workers rallied round him. The media covered his firing and his appeal. He looked like a low-wage worker hero. Delta looked like a vindictive heel.

Unlike Hedges, Shanna Tippen was no activist before she got fired from her minimum-wage job in Pine Bluff, Ark. She was just trying to get by, and falling short by about $200 a month. Her boss at the Days Inn where she worked as a night shift jack-of-all-trades asked her to talk to a Washington Post reporter who had dropped by the hotel to discuss the state’s newly instituted 25-cent increase to the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Tippen told the reporter, Chico Harlan, that she hoped the little bit of extra money would help her pay for her grandson’s diapers.

After the Post published the story, the manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel, telephoned Harlan to complain about being quoted in it. Then he fired Tippen. She recounted it to Harlan:

“He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post].”  Even though, of course, Patel had told Tippen to talk to the reporter. Tippen continued: “He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’”

Patel told Harlan that Arkansas voters, who approved the pay increase in a referendum by 66 percent, should not have done it. “Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff,” Harlan quoted him as saying.

Patel apparently did not understand that Tippen performed work that kept the hotel running every night, which means she earned the money. The truth is that Patel, like so many other employers, believes that employees should work for free.

The Post and other papers wrote about Tippen’s firing, making her an icon for ill-treated, low-wage workers and Patel the personification of miserly bosses.

Worker-exploiting employers like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Walmart have shown themselves to be craven in the face of courageous workers’ wage protests as well.

Over the past few months, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed charges against McDonald’s and Walmart alleging they violated workers’ rights, including threatening retribution against those who participated in strikes.

In December, the NLRB in California ruled that Walmart illegally punished workers for striking and seeking to unionize. The judge determined that Walmart managers illegally intimidated workers by, for example, telling one, who had tied a rope around his waist to pull a heavy load, “If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck.”

In the Chipotle case, the NLRB ruled that a manager in St. Louis illegally fired worker Patrick Leeper for participating in Fight for $15 demonstrations and for talking about wages at work. After the decision, a company spokesperson told the news website Think Progress: “Generally speaking, it is always a top priority for us to remain compliant with all local and federal labor laws.”

“Generally,” Chipotle tries. Generally. Not in this particular case involving low-wage workers demonstrating for better pay. But, you know, generally Chipotle tries to obey the law.

In the original Washington Post story about the tiny increase in the minimum wage in Arkansas, Dominic Flis, whose company owns 18 Burger Kings in central Arkansas, said raising the minimum wage pushes up pay for other workers too. Here’s what he said:

“If somebody was already making $7.50, and minimum wage goes to $7.50, they’ll have some expectation of a raise as well,” Flis said. “And I have to maintain my workforce.”

The Brookings Institute calls this the ripple effect. The pay increase at the bottom ripples all the way up the pay scale.

Hedges, the fired Delta worker, put it another way: “a lot of the better paid workers also understand that the bottom has to be raised otherwise the top is going to fall as well.”

If for no other reason than self-interest, join the gutsy minimum-wage workers at a Fight for $15 event Wednesday.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Workers Sue Walmart For Manipulating Employee Classification To Deny Them Overtime Pay

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Bryce CovertWalmart is facing a potential class action lawsuit over alleged wage theft in Alameda County Superior Court from an employee who claims the company illegally denied managers overtime pay.

Bonnie Cardoza, who worked at the company as an assistant manager for about five years, says she and other assistant mangers were made to do the same tasks as hourly workers for more than eight hours a day. The extra duties included greeting customers, operating checkout areas, and taking inventory.

But because they are labeled managers, they are exempt from federal overtime laws that require employers to pay workers time and a half for more than 40 hours of work a week. The lawsuit alleges that they “were ‘managers’ in name only because they did not have the managerial duties or authority,” but that Walmart purposefully classified them as managers to avoid overtime pay and cut costs. The suit claims they should have been paid that extra wage for more than eight hours of work a day.

The lawsuit also says the company deprived Cardoza and other assistant managers of rest and meal breaks.

She is suing for back wages to make up for the lack of overtime pay and compensation for the missed breaks on behalf of any Walmart assistant manager who has worked there since January 2011, although her lawyers say it’s too early to know whether it will achieve class action status.

In response, a Walmart spokesperson said, “It is our policy to pay associates according to federal and state laws. We take this matter seriously. We are investigating the allegations and will respond appropriately with the court.”

It’s not the first time the company has been accused of denying its workers pay. At the end of last year, the company was ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to pay $151 million in back wages to 187,000 current and former employees who accused it of making them work off the clock during their breaks.

A big Walmart supplier also had to pay out over wage theft in 2013 over allegations that it forced workers to forgo meal breaks. While Walmart doesn’t own the operations, it effectively runs facilities for the company and the company has been accused of squeezing its suppliers so hard that they have to crack down on labor costs.

Wage theft is rampant beyond Walmart, however. In 2012, nearly $1 billion was recovered in back wages for the victims of wage theft, but even that undercounts the breadth of the problem since most workers don’t report the problem. It’s estimated that employers deny workers $50 billion that they’re owed every year by making them work off the clock, shave hours off of their paychecks, pay for work-related expenses out of their own paychecks, or other practices that dock wages. That figure dwarfs the $14 billion taken from all victims of robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts together.

The problem is particularly rampant in fast food, where recent suits have been filed against TGI Friday’s, McDonald’s, Subway, and Chipotle.

The issue of overtime misclassification has also gotten attention recently. Last year, President Obama issued an executive order that would update overtime laws so that fewer employees could be classified as managers and therefore exempted from time and a half. It would also raise the salary cutoff for getting overtime pay, which currently means anyone who makes more than $23,660 is exempt, a threshold that hasn’t been significantly updated since 1975. These changes could also aid employees like Cardoza, who would likely qualify for overtime pay even if they are assistant managers.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Shadowy Corporate Group Fighting to Gut Workers' Compensation Laws

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallNearly two dozen major corporations have joined together in recent years in an effort to gut workers’ compensation laws in the states. Walmart, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sysco Food Services and others formed the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC) in 2013, and the organization already has had success in Tennessee. Mother Jones takes a look at ARAWC’s methods:

Now, ARAWC wants to take the Texas and Oklahoma model nationwide. Tennessee, where Lowe’s, Walmart and Kohl’s each have about 20 locations, is the only state where the group has pushed legislation so far. But ARAWC is already considering its next targets. “ARAWC hopes to see some neighboring states take up legislation this year and we’re ready to assist those legislatures as well,” [Richard] Evans, the group’s executive director, writes in an email.

Conservative Southern states where ARAWC’s corporate funders have major operations—including Florida, Georgia and Alabama—are on the group’s short list. And ARAWC already has hired lobbyistsin North and South Carolina. The group has written model legislation, but ARAWC intends to work closely with lawmakers to adapt its model for individual states.

When ARAWC targets a state, it moves aggressively. In Tennessee, the group has spent more than $50,000 deploying lobbyists to push its legislation. Evans says that state Sen. Mark Green, who introduced the opt-out bill, was already working on the legislation before ARAWC started pushing for it. But a February blog post written by an executive at Sedgwick, an insurance company that helped found ARAWC, suggests the group played a more active role. In the post, the executive boasts that ARAWC “secured a highly respected bill sponsor”—presumably Green—to introduce the bill, which the group “assisted in drafting.”…

Green’s proposal, which supporters are calling the Tennessee Option, bears many of the hallmarks of the Texas and Oklahoma system: It allows businesses to place strict spending caps on each injured worker and to pick and choose which medical expenses to cover. “We took the best of both and put it together to make it work for Tennessee businesses,” Green told an insurance trade magazine.

The bill as introduced does not require employers to pay for artificial limbs, hearing aids, home care, funeral expenses or disability modifications to a home or a car for injured workers. All of these benefits, notes Gary Moore, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, are mandated under the state’s current workers’ comp system.

“This piece of legislation is designed as a cost-saving measure for the employer,” Moore says. “Anywhere they save a dollar, it costs the employees a dollar. It’s just a shift in costs.”

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on March 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Walmart Will Raise Its Minimum Wage To $10 An Hour

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Bryce CovertOn Thursday, Walmart announced that it will raise all of its full-time and part-time employees’ pay to at least $9 an hour starting in April. The lowest wage will rise to $10 an hour by February of next year.

In a press release, it said it is also raising pay for the compensation range for each position, and all told says that about 500,000 employees will see a raise from the changes. It also says the raises will mean its average hourly wage for full-time workers will increase from $12.85 to $13 an hour and the average for part-time workers will increase from $9.48 to $10 an hour.

It also promised that workers “will have more control over their schedules.” The wage increases will cost more than $1 billion this fiscal year.

In announcing the changes, CEO Doug McMillon acknowledged some of the criticism that the company has sacrificed customer loyalty because of its pay practices. “We have work to do to grow the business. We know what customers want from a shopping experience, and we’re investing strategically to exceed their expectations and better position Walmart for the future,” he said. “We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences.”

The company, which is the nation’s largest employer, has long come under fire for its low pay. While the company has said that it pays most workers above the minimum wage, it has also admitted in the past that the majority of its employees make under $25,000 a year. One study from 2013 of a single store in Wisconsin found that its pay was so low that workers consumed about $1 million in public benefits to get by.

Workers have repeatedly gone on strike over the past three years to demand higher pay, better scheduling, and the right to unionize. They have called for the store’s wage floor to rise to at least $15 an hour. Thursday’s announcement also comes after so many states raised their minimum wages above the federal $7.25 level that a third of Walmart stores had to raise their base wages anyway.

In an emailed statement, Emily Wells, a leader of the worker organizing group Our Walmart, said, “We are so proud that by standing together we won raises for 500,000 Walmart workers, whose families desperately need better pay and regular hours from the company we make billions for. We know that this wouldn’t have happen without our work to stand together with hundreds of thousands of supporters to change the country’s largest employer. The company is addressing the very issues that we have been raising about the low pay and erratic scheduling, and acknowledging how many of us are being paid less than $10 an hour, and many workers like me, are not getting the hours we need.” But she added, “Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need – and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on February 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

 

Big retail chains like Walmart fight being held accountable for injuries to workers

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Laura ClawsonThe federal government is trying to do a better job tracking workplace injuries, which would make it easier for workers to show that they were injured on the job and get some compensation. But—of course—industry lobby groups are fighting hard to prevent accountability.

Currently, manufacturing companies are required to tell the government about injuries workers suffer on the job. But employers in other industries don’t have to report those injuries, which makes it easier for them to claim they’re not responsible. If workers can’t show that there’s a pattern of, say, tendinitis in a specific workplace, they’re more likely to lose injury claims against the boss. After all, any one person can get tendinitis for all sorts of reasons. But if there’s information on how many people have injuries in that workplace, workers might be able to point to patterns that would show that their own injuries aren’t random chance or due to something they did outside working hours.

Under a planned rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, companies with more than 250 workers and smaller companies in particularly dangerous industries:

“… would be required to submit data including the job title of the employee, the type of injury, where it occurred, what the worker was doing before the incident, and the number of workdays the employee had to miss as a result. With the information, OSHA and employers ‘will be better able to … abate workplace hazards,’ an OSHA spokeswoman said in an email.”

It’s information employers are already required to keep records of. All that would change would be that they would submit it to the government four times a year. Not a huge expense or effort, you’d think. But:

“The National Retail Federation—a group that represents Walmart, McDonald’s, and The Container Store—spent $2.4 million lobbying on this measure and other issues between January and September of last year. In a letter to OSHA last March, the group complained that the rule would require disclosure of confidential information, lay blame on employers for non-work-related injuries, be too costly, and empower unions. Last year, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which counts Walmart, Target, and Home Depot among its more than 200 members, also urged the agency to kill the rule. The US Chamber of Commerce spent more than $28 million between July and September of last year on lobbying—including on this regulation, which the Chamber says is more burdensome on industry than OSHA will admit. And the Coalition for Workplace Safety, an association of trade groups that includes the Chamber, the NRF, and NILA, has asked OSHA to scrap the rule.”

“Require disclosure of confidential information”—that’s the same information that the manufacturing industry has long been required to disclose—”lay blame on employers for non-work-related injuries”—or, you know, keep employers from being able to lawyer their way out of being held responsible for work-related injuries—”be too costly”—sure, if the company had been escaping responsibility for a lot of work-related injuries that it’s suddenly held accountable for—”and empower unions”—by providing information about whether the employer is harming its workers. In other words, “it’s convenient and cheap for us to avoid accountability for workplace injuries, and we would like that to continue.” And to be fair, they probably do have something to fear. Even without this reporting requirement, for example, Walmart has faced serious fines for workplace safety violations. Imagine if that information was all in one place for the government, workers, and reporters to see.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Striking Walmart Workers Stage L.A. Sit-Downs at Stores and in the Street

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Image: Mike HallIn Los Angeles yesterday, Walmart workers participated in their boldest action to date: the first-ever sit-down strike at a Walmart store. They were protesting an end to retaliation when they speak out for $15 an hour, full-time hours and respect at work.

The striking workers entered the Crenshaw Walmart shortly before 10 a.m. PST and refused to move, holding a sit-in near cash registers and racks at the store. The workers chanted, “Stand Up, Live Better! Sit Down, Live Better!” before placing tape over their mouths signifying the company’s attempts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs.

After several hours, they left peacefully and headed to another Los Angeles-area store, where they held a rally. Then workers and their supporters took over the intersection near the Pico Rivera Walmart, refusing to leave until they were arrested and removed from the intersection. A total of 28 people were arrested, including clergy, community members and strikers.

Paramount Walmart worker Martha Sellers said:

“I’m striking today for workers like Evelin, Victoria, Rosa, Maria Elena and Graciela who Walmart retaliated against for standing up for change. Walmart and the Waltons need to know that they can’t silence us all.”

Sellers was referring to the owners of Walmart, the Walton family, the richest family in America who own nearly $150 billion in wealth while most Walmart workers make less than $25,000 a year. Kiana Howard, a mother and Walmart striker, said she took part in the sit-down “to protest Walmart’s illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can’t continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work.”  She added:

“Walmart and the Waltons are making billions of dollars from our work while paying most of us less than $25,000 a year. We know that Walmart and the Waltons can afford fair pay, and we know that we have the right to speak out about it without the company threatening the little that we do have.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on November 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Striking-Walmart-Workers-Stage-L.A.-Sit-Downs-at-Stores-and-in-the-Street.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Hey, Walmart, Want to Fix Those Sales Problems? Why Not Invest in Workers?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

An internal memo, recently leaked by a Walmart manager, urged store managers to improve lagging sales, primarily through addressing problems with understocked shelves and with keeping fresh meat, dairy and produce stocked and aging or expired items off the shelves. Such complaints are widespread at Walmart stores and are likely a significant factor in the company’s sales, which have lagged for 18 months. While the memo catalogs problems the company faces, it ignores the two most obvious solutions—giving workers adequate hours and paying those workers the $15 living wage they’ve been calling for.

Janet Sparks, a member of the OUR Walmart campaign seeking to improve wages and working conditions, said that substantial staffing cuts that began in 2010 are a big part of the problem: “Understaffing, from the sales floor to the front end, has greatly affected the store.”

Retail consultant Burt P. Flickinger III echoed Sparks’ comments:

“Labor hours have been cut so thin, that they don’t have the people to do many activities. The fact that they don’t do some of these things every day, every shift, shows what a complete breakdown Walmart has in staffing and training.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on November 13, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Hey-Walmart-Want-to-Fix-Those-Sales-Problems-Why-Not-Invest-in-Workers

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Walmart Wouldn't Make a Dime Without Its Workers

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Jackie TortoraA group of Walmart associates marched today from the AFL-CIO to the Washington, D.C., Walton Family Foundation’s offices to deliver more than 15,000 signatures from workers asking Walmart to pay $15 an hour and provide full-time hours.

Shouts of “We’re fired up! Can’t take it no more!” rang out as the workers and hundreds of supporters and allies marched down I Street and made their way to the foundation offices. Before the workers attempted to deliver the petitions, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reminded everyone that Walmart, which rakes in billions every year, wouldn’t make a dime without its workers, yet pays wages so low that many of its workers need to rely on public assistance and food stamps to get by.

One Walmart associate, Isaiah, shared heartbreaking stories of seeing co-workers cry in the Walmart break room when they found out their hours had been cut, making it impossible to provide for their families.

When the workers got inside the office, the building manager claimed no one from the Walton Family Foundation was working today (um, OK) and said they couldn’t call the office because they didn’t know the number. “We’ll be back,” shouted the determined workers, including Bene’t Holmes who was leading some of the chants. Holmes said they weren’t going to leave the petition with the front desk and promised this is not the last time they would attempt to hand deliver those signatures.

Following the demonstration outside the office, 15 Walmart strikers and supporters sat down in a cross section of the street in front of Walmart heir Alice Walton’s condo and took arrest. See some aerial views from the action below:

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The associates were accompanied by union members and allies from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), AFSCME, AFT, Jobs with Justice, UNITE HERE, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), UAW, United Steelworkers (USW), the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and many others.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 16, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/Walmart-Wouldn-t-Make-a-Dime-Without-Its-Workers.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Walmart Moms’ Walkout Starts Friday

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

sarah jaffeIn 2008, political commentators made a lot of fuss about “Walmart Moms,” a demographic that was supposedly key to the election. The Walmart Mom was an updated, service-economy version of the blue-collar worker: Someone without a college degree, working and raising a family, usually white, possibly religious. She was courted heavily by both parties and perceived, at least in recent decades, to be swinging right.

Six years later, the real-life Walmart Moms are going on strike. According to a Thursday conference call hosted by theOrganization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), hundreds of mothers who work at Walmart stores throughout the country will begin walking off the job on Friday, a week before the company’s shareholders meet in Bentonville, Arkansas. The action will culminate in a nationwide strike on Wednesday, June 4.

Linda Haluska and Lashanda Myrick are two of those mothers, both tired of struggling to support their children on what Walmart pays. “We are Walmart moms; we’re not some political category,” said Haluska, who’s worked at the Glenwood, Illinois store for 8 years, on the call. “We’re real people who are struggling to create happy stable homes for our kids.” Walmart moms, in other words, want politicians and pundits to listen to what they really need, not pander to their perceived political biases.

Bethany Moreton, author of To Serve God and Wal-Mart, noted in a 2010 piece that Walmart itself worked to create and maintain the “Walmart Mom” identity. In her book, Moreton points out that the company’s supposed commitment to “family values,” which it expresses in both its marketing and its internal messaging, came directly from its early employees, many of them wives and mothers who’d never worked outside the home before. These early “Walmart Moms” accepted low wages for service work that they understood as part of a Christian service ethic. Caring for customers, caring for coworkers, and caring for one’s family all went together. Yet in 2014 America, the company’s faced repeated charges that it discriminates against the women it employs and retaliates against workers who dare to speak out about their treatment on the job.

Myrick, who plans on striking in addition to traveling from her home in Denver, Colorado to Bentonville to deliver her message at the shareholders’ meeting, has had enough of the company’s pretense of caring. She has two children—an 18-year-old son who graduates from high school next Tuesday, and a 12-year-old daughter—and, she tells In These Times, her meager paycheck forces her to make impossible decisions about priorities.

“A parent shouldn’t have to make a choice of who’s going to be able to get shoes this week and who’s not going to be able to get shoes this week,” she says. “I teach my kids to stand up for what they believe in, so I don’t want to show them that I’m a hypocrite by not standing up for something that I believe in. [I’m] showing them that I believe in this and I’m not worried about retaliation, I’m not worried about anything to come my way.”

The tipping point for her came this November, when one of her coworkers sent her an email showing pictures of the food drive at a Canton, Ohio Walmart. Bins were set out at the store asking for workers to “Please donate food … so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.” Myrick says, “My thought was, ‘Why would we hold a food drive for our employees when clearly [Walmart has] enough money to make sure all its employees will have a decent Thanksgiving?’ That right there really touched my heart and made me say, ‘I need to stand up, because this doesn’t make sense for us to be working for a billion-dollar company and we can’t even feed our families.'”

Liza Featherstone, author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart, noted to me in a recent interview that Walmart’s caring culture has, in the past, helped to insulate its workers from its low-wage regime, as they helped to support each other when money became tight. In recent years, however, that protection has slowly eroded. When the company began, after all, many of its workers were married to someone working full-time; the old norms of gendered work meant that women were not expected to be breadwinners, and jobs that were done by women paid less overall. Those jobs also tend to require skills, emotional and interpersonal, which women are usually socialized to possess but are not considered “hard skills” warranting better wages. Now, though, the company is not only the nation’s largest employer of women but its largest private employer, period. That means a whole lot more people are depending on those low-wage jobs to support their families—while, Ellen Bravo of Family Values at Work noted on Thursday’s call, our work-family policies are still “set in a Mad Men era.”

That means more and more workers are starting to doubt that Walmart shares their values, after all. Featherstone said that during interviews for her book, which documents the Dukes v. Wal-Mart sex discrimination suit, plaintiff Edith Arana told her that “Walmart is like a bad boyfriend. They tell you exactly what you want to hear and that’s how you get caught up, and you just keep coming back.” Just the willingness of women to file a lawsuit against the company for sex discrimination, Featherstone said, was a huge step forward—and the strikes, which began in 2012, surprised the country.

The company made a few changes in the past year, as strikes and protests have continued to buffet it. After worker-shareholders introduced a proposal to change the company’s policy toward pregnant workers, Walmart issued a new one this March, saying that pregnant employees “may be eligible for reasonable accommodation” if they have a temporary disability caused by their pregnancy. Women’s groups and workers said that the company’s earlier policy, which did not allow for such accommodation, violated federal law. The corporation also recently determined that workers can search for available shifts in order to pick up more hours.

But, Haluska says, those changes aren’t enough. She and the other members of OUR Walmart are demanding that the company pay its workers at least $25,000 a year, create full-time jobs and stop its retaliation against employees who go on strike or speak up at work. In addition, activists are building a campaign asking shareholders to vote against Rob Walton, scion of the billionaire family that founded the company, as chairman of the board. Instead, their resolution, which will be introduced and backed by union funds, calls for an independent chair.

It’s going to take a lot of people standing up to fight, but Myrick does believe that Walmart will eventually change when they realize OUR Walmart is not going to back down.

When asked what she would say if, on her trip to Bentonville, she got a chance to sit down with new Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, famously a former hourly associate himself, Myrick responds, “I would ask him where his morals are.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on May 29, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television.

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