Nel's New Day

November 20, 2012

Boycott Walmart This Weekend

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:02 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away, complete with the variety of emotional responses that it brings every year. Some people are depressed because they have lost loved ones; others try to figure out how they can eat non-stop. I have a wonderful vegan friend who mourns the turkey holocaust at Thanksgiving.

To many people, however, Thanksgiving means a shopping glut. Black Friday, named for the day that takes businesses out of the red, has now moved into Thursday, as early as 8:00 am that day for some retailers. This year, however, it might mean a continuing strike for thousands of Walmart employees who are fed up with low wages, erratic hours, lack of health benefits, and disrespect in the workplace while the multi-billionaire Walton Family enjoys tax breaks and praise for “job creation.”

Walmart workers in factories and warehouses and retail stores plan a massive walkout on Friday, November 23, hoping to affect at least 1000 retail stores.   Beginning with just 70 people walking out, protests earlier this fall from Florida to California showcased the mistreatment of the majority of the over 2 million Walmart workers in more than 5000 stores across the nation. Demonstrators are asking for better wages, stable and improved working conditions, and less retaliation from management when speaking out. Not only are wages stagnant, but Walmart often refuses to honor overtime pay. With its massive presence in the country’s retail world, Walmart comprises 2 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Shoppers looking for the cheap prices at these stores are unaware of how much the Walton family costs them personally: employees in each store receive an annual average of $420,000 for food stamps and other taxpayer help just to survive. That’s $2.66 billion a year that Walmart costs the taxpayers, not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll tax deductions for federal, state, and local taxes because of the low wages. Walmart’s low wages cost taxpayers $1.02 billion a year in healthcare costs because of the low wages; they cost taxpayers at least $225 million in free and reduced-price school lunches for children.

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s $18.1 million compensation makes him the second highest paid executive in the Fortune 500.  The protesters are asking for a minimum hourly wage of $13, more full time positions, and affordable health care. Currently the average employee gets $22,100 a year, just below the federal poverty level for a family of four ($23,050). The increase would take them up to $27,000, less than 18 percent above poverty level. The raise that they want would still keep them at a level allowing them to get Medicaid in many states.

In the coming year, Walmart employees’ portion of health care premiums is expected to go up to 36 percent, yet they will have  no increase in wages. Although Walmart indicated that the increase would be only 4.4 percent, the company plans to increase the cost of high-premium plans. Deductible for the health plans is $1,750 before employees receive the 80 percent for doctor visits, test, and some other services. Making $10 per hour, employees work 175 hours for that deductible, an entire month’s salary each year if they are lucky enough to work full time.

Prevented from unionizing, Walmart employees have formed grassroots coalitions such as Making Change at Walmart and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart).  But even joining these has caused some employees to be fired or had their hours drastically reduced.

Walmart Stores has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, asking the National Labor Relations Board to halt what the retailer says are unlawful efforts to disrupt its business. “Walmart is grasping at straws,” said the union’s communications director, Jill Cashen. “There’s nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens.”

In the meantime, Walmart is working hard to minimize the protests. David Tovar called the protests just “a few people” speaking out. “It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Tovar. “The vast majority of our associates like working at Walmart.” [Below are some of Tovar’s “few people.”]

CNN anchor Carol Costella not only questioned why Walmart refused to negotiate with worker but also asked Tovar, “Is it Walmart’s responsibility to make sure that its employees can support a strong middle-class lifestyle?” Tovar answered, “We’re working hard every day to provide more opportunities for associates.” His answer didn’t explain how full-time Walmart workers can have a comfortable life on $15,000 a year, but Tovar said that their employees get a 10 percent discount card.

Although Walmart has not had a strike in its 50-year history, threats at 700 stores a few years ago led to better conditions. High-level leadership say that they are not concerned, but they have released a seven-page memo telling how to handle the situation in very benign but covertly-threatening language. Allegations include harassment, cut hours, and other discipline when workers joined a protest group.

A new study, Retail’s Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, finds that increasing wages to $25,000 a year for a full-time worker would raise prices by no more than 1 percent and perhaps not at all. Such an action would lift 1.5 million retail workers out of poverty or near-poverty, create 100,000 or more jobs, and generate over $4 billion in additional retail sales. It could be its own stimulus. The study also notes that major retailers spend billions more on repurchasing their own stock than it would cost them to implement the proposed wage floor. A wage increase would pay Walmart dividends in terms of greater consumer demand, increased productivity, and better worker retention.

Owners of Walmart, the Waltons, are the wealthiest family in the United States. They have amassed a fortune equivalent to that of the bottom 41.5 percent of the country in 2010, nearly 49.5 million families. That percentage is up 10 percent from 30.5 percentage just three years earlier. Six members of the Walton family appear on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans with a collective value of $102.7 billion.

No. 6:   Christy Walton (widow of John Walton), $25.3 billion

No. 9:   Jim Walton, $23.7 billion

No. 10: Alice Walton, $23.3 billion

No. 11:  S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam Walton, $23.1 billion

No. 103: Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion

No. 139: Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion

A common contrast to Walmart is Costco, a business that pays its workers at least 50 percent more than Walmart does. Higher wages for workers benefit everyone in the country. A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that consumer spending increases $2,800 a year for for every dollar increase to that worker’s wages. Another study in 2009 that examined minimum wage showed  that raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour would increase $30 billion in spending during just one year.

Higher wages also decrease employee turnover and improve productivity. Costco has less than half the employee turnover rate of Walmart, the lowest employee theft figures in the industry, and greater productivity among its employees. One of the most successful businessmen in the 20th century understood this principal. In 1914, a time of deep recession, Henry Ford doubled his employees’ hourly wages. He said, “If you cut wages, you just cut the number of your own customers. If an employer does not share prosperity with those who make him prosperous, then pretty soon there will be no prosperity to share. That is why we think it is good business always to raise wages and never to lower them. We like to have plenty of customers.”

The growth of Walmart has played a large part in shrinking the middle class in the United States and destroyed large numbers of small businesses, particularly in small towns. I can identify at least 32 businesses that disappeared after Walmart invaded my small town almost 20 years go. Politicians have inundated the airwaves with the term “small business” for the past election cycle while refusing to admit that the middle class, the foundation for a solid economy, comes from wages. Walmart workers, and others like them, can’t afford to purchase what their employees sell.

I wish the Walmart workers good fortune in their courageous endeavors and hope you will join me in not shopping at Walmart this Thanksgiving weekend.

2 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW and commented:
    Please Boycott Walmart Thanksgiving Weekend. Support the Walmart employees by showing Walmart you do not support the way they treat their employees! If your local Walmart is having a protest event support it!

    Like

    Comment by Central Oregon Coast NOW — November 22, 2012 @ 2:26 PM | Reply

  2. We actually boycott Walmart every day now that we have choices!

    Like

    Comment by lynchly — November 20, 2012 @ 11:13 PM | Reply


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