Home for the Holidays? Not for Walmart Workers

Wanted: Store Associates who will work for low pay, poor working conditions, erratic schedules -- including working on Thanksgiving Day -- and not enough hours to qualify for health care.
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Wanted: Store Associates who will work for low pay, poor working conditions, erratic schedules -- including working on Thanksgiving Day -- and not enough hours to qualify for health care. Associates must be willing to live on public subsidies at taxpayer expense in order to survive. Those who try to speak out or unite as a group to address workplace issues will be silenced and possibly terminated. Please apply within your local Walmart store.

As the six members of the billionaire Walton Family -- heirs to the Walmart superchain -- prepare to sit down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner with their families, the holiday will be very different for the 1.4 million Walmart associates who work for them. For the second year, Walmart is planning to put profits before its workers by beginning its Black Friday sales at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and forcing its workers -- many of whom are part-time -- to abandon quality time with their own families during a cherished American holiday.

This latest move by the biggest retail employer in our country is the most recent blow to Walmart associates, who are already struggling to survive on an average hourly wage of $8.81, and are punished or fired for sticking together to address the erratic work schedules that do not provide enough hours to support a family or qualify for benefits. The retail sector is the largest industry by employment in the United States, and Walmart's sheer scale in size means that its practices have an enormous impact on our country's labor, business, and employment climate. The retail giant's drive to put profits ahead of its workers has influenced other retailers to do the same, and this low-wage business strategy has, in turn, led to depressed wages across the retail and manufacturing sectors and forced more and more workers to rely on public subsidies at tax payer expense.

It doesn't have to be this way. A recent study by Catherine Ruetschlin, a policy analyst at Demos, titled "Retails Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, the Industry and the Overall Economy," shows that raising wages to $25,000 per year for full-time retail workers at the nation's largest retail companies (or those employing at least 1,000 workers) would result in improving the lives of more than 1.5 million retail workers and their families who are currently living in or hovering above poverty. A higher wage increase would create more purchasing power for retail workers, which would generate $4 to $5 billion in additional annual sales for the industry, keep prices low for shoppers, and create more than 100,000 jobs.

Walmart -- which paid its top six executives $59 million in compensation in the last fiscal year -- can afford to pay its workers more. But instead of investing in their workers, the Walton family -- whose combined family fortune is estimated to be over $100 billion -- has chosen to engage in elaborate stock buybacks that take earned corporate profits and put them back into the hands of shareholders. For Walmart, stock buybacks have been the reason the Walton family's interest in the company has risen to 51 percent -- shifting the control of a so-called public company into the hands of a private family.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is more than familiar with Walmart's tactics of silencing workers who want to unite as a group to address work-related problems. But as so often happens in our resilient American workforce, employees are taking the lead in changing the Walmart culture themselves.

Last fall, the new employee association, the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), was formed by and for hourly associates in Walmart stores to help change the way Walmart does business. In just one year, OUR Walmart has grown from a group of 100 Walmart associates to an army of thousands in hundreds of stores across 43 states. Last month, members of OUR Walmart participated in first-ever strikes and protests in cities across the country -- including Chicago, Dallas, the Washington, D.C. area, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, and from Southern California to Sacramento and the Bay area.

It's time to restore some balance between the wealthy few and the rest of America, and we can start by making sure that our country's biggest retail employer lets its workers have a voice and a seat at the table. On Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, these brave men and women will take a stand against the retail giant to protest Walmart's attempt to silence workers who speak out for change. Will you join us?

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