To make it sound less problematic that its stores are opening at 6 pm on Thanksgiving, Walmart has been telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s giving “an extra day’s pay” to those working the holiday. Awesome! Now tell me what you mean by “day.”
No, silly, Walmart doesn’t mean everyone who works Thanksgiving gets eight hours of extra pay. They get the average of the hours they’ve worked over the previous two weeks. And that’s where some Walmart workers say the problems lie:
Gertz and other Wal-Mart workers say their hours are cut prior to the holidays, so their average daily wage also goes down.Last year, Gertz’s hours were cut by five hours a week before the holiday. Her hours were also cut in the weeks after the holiday, which bit into her paychecks further. She said some associates in her store had their hours slashed from 40 per week to 24 in the weeks after.
Raise your hand if this sounds like something Walmart wouldn’t do. [A handful of Walmart spokespeople raise their hands, alone.] Because that’s Walmart: consistently adding the insult of pretending they’re really generous to the injury of poverty wages and poor treatment. Not unlike pretending it’s a kind, caring thing to hold a food drive for their workers who can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner on Walmart pay.
Last month, Walmart CEO Bill Simon revealed rather cluelessly that the vast majority of Walmart workers, as many as 825,000 in the United States, earn less than $25,000 a year. The sum is so low the average worker for the country’s biggest employer is struggling to make ends meet. By matching its low prices with insultingly low wages, Walmart forces taxpayers to subsidize its workforce through social safety net programs.
Making Change at Walmart is running a new series that highlights how some of the retailer’s employees are scraping by on Walmart wages. Here are three of the stories they have shared so far:
Anthony Goytia: The 31-year-old father of three makes about $12,000 a year and relies upon MediCal and food stamps. Some of his teeth were removed because he couldn’t afford the dental work to save them. “I don’t need cable or a big house, but I shouldn’t have to resort to selling my plasma and participating in medical trials to be able to feed my kids,” Goytia said. “I have to live payday loan to payday loan.”
Patricia Locks: A 48-year-old single mother, who makes $19,000 a year, relies on low-income housing, food banks and food stamps to get by. She recently was forced to file for bankruptcy. “It’s depressing and scary. No one who works for one of the world’s largest and wealthiest companies should have to live like this,” said Locks. “I don’t think it’s asking too much to earn enough so I don’t have to rely on food banks and other assistance to survive. And that’s why I am going to keep fighting, because I want a better life for me and my daughter.”
John Paul Ashton: The 31-year-old father of two makes $20,000 a year and also relies upon food stamps and food banks. He walks 45 minutes to work with shoes that have holes in them. “When I first started at Walmart, I was told that it was a place where I could grow and have opportunities. I soon discovered that was not the case,” said Ashton. “People take being able to buy lunch for granted. I don’t need a fancy job, but what I do need is a job that allows me to provide for my family, speak up about working conditions and needing better wages without fear of retaliation, and hopefully have more than $2 in my bank account after I pay my bills.”’
More stories of Walmart workers scraping by on less than $25,000 per year are scheduled to be released every week at MakingChangeAtWalmart.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on November 1, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
The strike came after protests in 15 different cities in September against the country’s largest private employer. But while those included rallies and pickets in protest of alleged firings of striking workers, they did not include workers who were on strike. Friday’s action was the first work stoppage since June. While past actions were organized by OUR Walmart and supported by unions, this appeared to be independently organized.
A recent survey found that over half of Walmart locations are only hiring temporary workers, not full-time positions. Meanwhile, while the company claims full-time workers make $12.78 an hour on average, another report saysthe average worker makes $8.81, 28 percent of the pay at other large retailers. Its workers make so little that they have to rely on public benefits to get by, with workers at a single location consuming around $1 million worth in food stamps, Medicaid, and other programs. The company has also stood staunchly against living wage bills in multiple cities, with the latest victory in Washington, DC, where after it threatened to pull plans to open stores Mayor Vince Gray (D)vetoed a bill.
Perpetually low wages aren’t unique to the retail sector, and they have also sparked widespread protests and strikes in the fast food industry, which have spread to nearly 60 cities.
This article was originally printed in ThinkProgress on October 21, 2013. 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.
Would a higher minimum wage be good for business at Walmart? Many experts say so—after all, a higher minimum wage would give many Walmart customers a little more disposable incometo spend at the store:
David Cooper, an economic analyst with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, agrees with Demos’s Ruetschlin that the sluggish economic recovery means a boost in the minimum wage could push low-income workers to spend more, and in many cases they’d spend that money at low-priced outlets like Walmart.“If suddenly all these low-wage workers have more income, they are likely to spend that money right away,” Cooper said. “If these retailers want strong, stable sustainable growth in the U.S. economy, then they should also want strong, stable increases in wages to their employees.” [...]
The data linking an increase in wages to a rise in consumer spending — particularly at a specific retail outlet — is a bit thin, but there’s “very strong anecdotal evidence in support of that claim,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Walmart definitely knows that when its customers don’t have money, business suffers; the company’s chief financial officer recently said, to explain a drop in U.S. sales, that “The consumer doesn’t quite have the discretionary income, or they’re hesitant to spend what they do have.” And in fact, in the past, when the minimum wage has gotten too far below the poverty line, a Walmart CEO has explicitly said that was a problem: “The U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been raised in nearly a decade, and we believe it is out of date with the times … Our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks.”
A yacht store is unlikely to see much of a boost from an increase in the minimum wage, in other words, but Walmart, where people go for cheap, basic necessities, will do better. Walmart’s opposition to paying an actual living wage, one that doesn’t force workers to rely on food stamps and Medicaid, is well known. But if Congress doesn’t act and raise the minimum wage, we might get back to a point where Walmart admits it would benefit from an increase. Which would, more than anything, be a sign of how embarrassingly bad Congress is—can you imagine lagging behind Walmart on wage issues?
Beginning shortly after the early June strike by around 100 Walmart workers, 20 of the strikers were fired and another 50 were disciplined in retaliation; Walmart basically treated their absences as if they’d been playing hooky rather than engaging in legally protected concerted activity. Now, in a protest against that retaliation, 9 former and one current Walmart workers and two allies have been arrested in planned acts of civil disobedience outside a Washington, D.C., Walmart office Thursday afternoon. The workers are setting a deadline of Labor Day for Walmart to reinstate fired workers and raise wages or face an escalation of worker activism.
Walmart wants to turn this into an argument about labor law, claiming that the workers’ actions constitute “intermittent strikes” that aren’t protected by law. However, Josh Eidelson reports:
Asked in June about Walmart claims that workers were fired for threatening customer service by violating attendance rules, former Obama-appointed NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman said, “the case law doesn’t sustain that as a valid defense” against the charge of illegally punishing strikers. As for the lack of legal protection for “intermittent strikes,” Liebman told The Nation, “I think it would be hard on the facts so far to say that the conduct constitutes intermittent striking.”
By turning this into a dispute about the specifics of labor law, Walmart can both drag things out for months or years before potentially being forced to reinstate the workers and can try to shift the conversation from Walmart’s own rampant abuse of workers and damage to the economy. They’d like to shift the conversation from the workers’ voices, while letting workers who haven’t yet joined the protests and strikes know the cost of doing so:
Another of the fired workers arrested today, Brandon Garrett, yesterday told The Nationthat his termination had taken a toll in his Baker, Louisiana, store: “When we came back from striking and we wasn’t fired right away, even more associates wanted to join the organization. But I guess Walmart got a sense of that, and when they terminated me, they kind of scared a lot of them off.” Now, said Garrett, “they’re still behind us,” but “a lot of them are scared to be retaliated against. So that’s another reason I’m standing up like I am.”
These efforts to change the subject and silence workers are why it’s important to hear what the workers had to say at Thursday’s protest:
Jovani ‘Virtually impossible to go to school with #walmart schedules. We should all be able to pursue our dreams’ #walmartstrikers
Pam from CA ‘I am here taking a stand for every Associate too afraid to speak out.’ #walmartstrikers
Lucas, gay, out and proud, faced discrimination at #walmart and was fired for speaking out. ‘Today I take a stand.’
Whenever communities, lawmakers or activists question or criticize Walmart for the way it treats workers—the low-pay, the stores’ impact on the communities—the retail giant pulls out a well-worn script with a simple message, “Walmart creates jobs and if there’s one thing this economy needs, it’s more jobs.”
Setting aside the quality of the jobs for another day, is Walmart telling the truth? Sure doesn’t look like it, according to Salon’s Kathleen Geier, who matches Walmart’s claims against in-depth research from universities, economists, government studies and other sources. Here’s what she finds:
Contrary to Walmart’s self-glorifying mythology, the retailer is anything but a job creator—in fact, it is a huge job killer. Not only that, destroying jobs is an essential component of Walmart’s anti-worker business model.
Using data from more than 3,000 counties, [the] results show that when a Walmart store opens, it kills an average 150 retail jobs at the county level, with each Walmart worker replacing about 1.4 retail workers. These results are robust under a variety of models and tests.
A 2009 study by Loyola University found that the opening of a Chicago Walmart store was “a wash,” destroying as many jobs as it created. According to the report, “There is no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area.” Says Geier:
In short, when Walmart comes to town, it doesn’t “create” anything. All it does is put mom-and-pop stores out of business.
Walmart’s job-killing spree doesn’t stop at the city limits. The remains of once good jobs are scattered throughout Walmart’s entire supply chain. Its cut-throat drive for lower prices, writes Geier, squeezes suppliers to deliver goods at the lowest possible prices and that means cutting labor costs—aka jobs.
Walmart’s using that specious jobs argument in its fight to block a living wage law in Washington,D.C. Find out more here.
Article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW on August 6, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
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
Walmart, the country’s largest private employer and huge wielder of political influence, is taking on their greatest challenge yet: A college junior writing an op-ed in her student newspaper.
Georgetown University student Erin Riordan wrote a piece for The Hoya, the school’s student-run newspaper, in support of the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would raise the minimum wage for big-box retail employees to $12.50 an hour.
To deal with this threat, Walmart dispatched Steven Restivo, a senior director of communications at Walmart, to write a responding op-ed.
Erin’s piece on July 24 pointed out the reasons that many of us want the LRAA to become law: to establish a living wage for notoriously underpaid retail workers in one of the most expensive cities in the world. She also points to Walmart’s enormous revenue and their previous promises to pay $13 an hour. Perhaps, most importantly, she points to the LRAA’s ability to lift Washington, D.C., families out of poverty.
The current minimum wage creates a cycle of poverty where even full-time workers struggle to make a living, then transferring the burden of paying for necessities to the taxpayer.
In his July 29 response, Restivo, who we’ll mention again is a senior director of communications at Walmart responding to a student op-ed in a college newspaper, says LRAA is bad policy because it doesn’t apply to all residents.
Workers at places like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Exxon Mobil, Giant, Applebee’s, Safeway, Nike, Banana Republic, Five Guys and the Apple Store and hundreds more businesses like them aren’t covered by the LRAA. The legislation does not create a level playing field and imposes arbitrary costs on only a handful of businesses in D.C…that’s bad public policy.
Restivo is referring in part to the section of the LRAA that states, “employees are not barred from entering into a written valid collective bargaining agreement waiving provisions of this act if such waiver is set forth in clear and unambiguous terms.”He and other Walmart spokespeople have said this is a “discriminatory” exemption for unionized retail stores, when in fact it’s simply a bargaining chip workers can use in a collective bargaining negotiation, keeping $12.50 as the wage floor.(Not that we’re surprised a Walmart spokesman doesn’t fully understand unions or the process of management negotiating with workers.)
In addition, Restivo claims the full-time average wage for a Walmart associate in Virginia is $12.39 an hour, and yet he says a $12.50 living wage in Washington, D.C.—a more expensive place to live—is an “arbitrary cost.”
Refuting Restivo point by point could be the basis of a much longer post. But the fact remains that Walmart is so desperate, so insecure about their reputation and so prone to bullying behavior that when a college student writes an op-ed in a campus newspaper in support of a policy Walmart doesn’t like, they just can’t resist the urge to launch their PR machine at her.
This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW on July 31, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Doug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
James and Trina Vetato knew about the freedom riders from history books.
This week, the Paducah, Ky., couple expects to join a civil rights movement-style protest against the world’s largest retailer. The Vetatos are activists in the employees’ group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short. Trina currently works at a Walmart store and James is a former Walmart employee.
Called the “Ride for Respect,” the demonstration at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., will be modeled on civil rights volunteers who rode buses into the South in the 1960s to protest Jim Crow racial injustice, says James Vetato.
Busloads of OUR Walmart members will converge on Bentonville from across the country. They will be in town for the annual shareholders’ meeting June 7. Vetato says he expects 300 or more OUR Walmart members to begin arriving the week before the meeting. Most of the protesters—including Trina Vetato—will be taking part in an unfair labor practice strike, says her husband.
The protest will go on the whole week before the meeting. We especially want to draw national attention to Walmart management’s threats and retaliation against workers who speak up for better pay, more hours and respect on the job.
Vetato worked at his wife’s store in Paducah. When he stood up for his rights, he says:
I was threatened and intimidated by management who made my life so miserable I finally quit.
Our Walmart wants better pay, benefits and working conditions. “Like the freedom riders, we will be standing up for dignity and respect and justice and will be protesting peacefully,” Vetato says.
OUR Walmart isn’t a union, but the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is helping the group, says Vetato.
Some other unions are in OUR Walmart’s corner, too. The Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing its solidarity with the workers’ struggle at Walmart.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on June 2, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Berry Craig is the recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. He is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.
Walmart staves off unionization attempts in its stores by telling workers who ask about forming a union that they may lose benefits and vacation time, a potential violation of American labor law that could further inflame relations between the company and workers who picketed its stores on Black Friday and have been attempting to organize.
Walmart workers and labor advocates held protestsoutside the chain’s stores throughout Thanksgiving weekend, protesting the low wages it pays its workers. The company, which paid its chief executive $18.1 million and made $15 billion in profits last year, has fought off union attempts before, and now it tells its workers that unionization could lead to the loss of bonuses and vacation time, a spokesperson told Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
Walmart has been opposed to unions since Sam Walton opened his first store in Rogers, Ark., in 1962. These days, “we have human resources teams all over the country who are available to talk to associates, and we will get questions about joining a union,” says David Tovar, a spokesman for the company. “We would say: ‘Let us remind you of all that Walmart offers, and of what might go away. Quarterly bonuses might go away, vacation time might go away.’?”
Such tactics may not be illegal by themselves because they can be seen as predicting outcomes rather than threatening them, The Nation’s Josh Eidelson reported today. But the implication of such a “prediction” — that joining a union could be followed by actions resembling retaliation — is quite clear. Walmart’s anti-labor practices aren’t new: in 2008, the store’s workers spoke out about anti-union meetings they were forced to attend.
Though Walmart has long fought organization efforts in the United States, it sometimes letsworkers in other countries unionize — particularly when unionization is contingent on Walmart getting to enter a new country. In the U.S. though, it has responded to unionization efforts byshutting down departments, fighting legislative improvements to labor law, and now, telling workers that joining a union may cost them their bonus.
This post was originally posted on December 17, 2012 on ThinkProgress. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.
When I first read about the horrendous fire in Bangladesh, I immediately thought of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911 — more than 100 years ago. In many ways, nothing has changed. In some ways, some things have changed.
A Bangladeshi garment factory that was producing clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney, and other major Western companies had lost its fire safety certification in June, five months before a blaze in the facility killed 112 workers, a fire official told the Associated Press.
Separately, the owner of the Tazreen factory told AP that he had only received permission to build a three-story facility but had expanded it illegally to eight stories and was adding a ninth at the time of the blaze…
The factory didn’t have any fire exits for its 1,400 workers, many of whom became trapped by the blaze. Investigators have said the death toll would have been far lower if there had been even a single emergency exit. Fire extinguishers in the building were left unused, either because they didn’t work or workers didn’t know how to use them.
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.
The Triangle Fire tragically illustrated that fire inspections and precautions were woefully inadequate at the time. Workers recounted their helpless efforts to open the ninth floor doors to the Washington Place stairs. They and many others afterwards believed they were deliberately locked– owners had frequently locked the exit doors in the past, claiming that workers stole materials. For all practical purposes, the ninth floor fire escape in the Asch Building led nowhere, certainly not to safety, and it bent under the weight of the factory workers trying to escape the inferno. Others waited at the windows for the rescue workers only to discover that the firefighters’ ladders were several stories too short and the water from the hoses could not reach the top floors. Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than to burn alive.
Nothing has changed in 100 years — workers’ lives are thought of as expendable, corners are cut in the name of profit, whether the name is Triangle Waist Company or Wal-Mart.
What did change a bit in the wake of the 1911 fire was a renewed drive to unionize and strengthen health and safety laws. Out of the tragedy, workers mobilized.
Whether that will happen in Bangladesh is to be seen. It would be a great testament to those who died is, out of the ashes of the fire, workers organized to stop the survivors and others from being future victims of the greed of Wal-Mart and its global corporate ilk.
This post was originally posted on Working Life on December 7, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981). He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors. He has also written four books, including the Audacity of Greed.