Walmart Workers to Strike on Black Friday


Walmart-ViolenceIt is a day hyped as the biggest shopping day of the year, but Walmart workers are threatening to use that hype to their maximum leverage, as they plan to walk out from a job at American’s largest private-sector employer, whose workers make on average $8.81 per hour with one third of their employees working less than 28 hours per week – thus not qualifying for benefits.

Officials for the United Food and Commercial Workers have said this week that they expect thousands of workers to participate in the protest planned this week. The employees will ask the country’s largest employer to end what they call retaliation against speaking out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care.

They claim retaliation includes shuffling around shifts, cutting of hours and moving them around departments.

Walmart has countered that the protesters just make up a handful of its 1.3 million workforce, but belying that downplay, they have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that UFCW illegally “organized picket lines and other demonstrations in the past six months.” The retailer said the “actions have disrupted business, and that workers’ ongoing actions violate the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits picketing for any period over 30 days without filing a petition to form a union.”

ABC News reported, as of Wednesday, that the issues around allegations that UFCW is conducting illegal picketing is “complex.”  Walmart does not recognize an official workers’ union.

“The legal issues — including questions about what constitutes picketing and whether the activity was aimed at gaining recognition for the union — are complex,” the labor board said. “Also, there are many distinct factual circumstances at stores across the country to consider.”

The company argues that less than 0.0003 percent of its 1.3 million employees are expected to join in the strike on Friday.

“In fact, many of our associates have urged us to do something about the UFCW’s latest round of publicity stunts because they don’t think it’s right that a few associates that are being coerced by the UFCW are being portrayed by the media as representative of what it’s like to work at Walmart,” Walmart national media relations director Kory Lundberg said in a statement as reported by ABC News.

Mr. Lundberg noted that “most of the numbers of people the UFCW claims at their events aren’t even Walmart workers. They are union representatives and other union members.”

Colby Harris, OUR Walmart member from Lancaster, Texas, fired back.

“Walmart is doing everything in its power to attempt to silence our voice. But nothing — not even this baseless unfair labor practice charge — will stop us from speaking out,” he said in a statement.

“Walmart’s employees… have no union to represent them. So they’ve had no means of getting much of the corporation’s earnings,” Robert Reich, a Berkeley Professor of Economics who served as Labor Secretary in the first Clinton Administration.  “Walmart earned $16 billion last year (it just reported a 9 percent increase in earnings in the third quarter of 2012, to $3.6 billion), the lion’s share of which went instead to Walmart’s shareholders — including the family of its founder, Sam Walton, who earned on their Walmart stock more than the combined earnings of the bottom 40 percent of American workers.”

He asks whether this will change and writes, “At the very least, the action gives Walmart employees a chance to air their grievances in public — not only lousy wages (as low at $8 an hour) but also unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, excessive hours, and sexual harassment. The result is bad publicity for the company exactly when it wants the public to think of it as Santa Claus. And the threatened strike, the first in 50 years, is gaining steam.”

He adds, “What happens at Walmart will have consequences extending far beyond the company. Other big box retailers are watching carefully. Walmart is their major competitor. Its pay scale and working conditions set the standard.”

“More broadly, the widening inequality reflected in the gap between the pay of Walmart workers and the returns to Walmart investors, including the Walton family, haunts the American economy,” Mr. Reich writes.

The policies of Walmart, he argues, are self-defeating.

“Consumer spending is 70 percent of economic activity, but consumers are also workers. And as income and wealth continue to concentrate at the top, and the median wage continues to drop — it’s now 8 percent lower than it was in 2000 — a growing portion of the American workforce lacks the purchasing power to get the economy back to speed,” he writes. “Without a vibrant and growing middle class, Walmart itself won’t have the customers it needs.”

“But if retail workers got a raise, would consumers have to pay higher prices to make up for it? A new study by the think tank Demos reports that raising the salary of all full-time workers at large retailers to $25,000 per year would lift more than 700,000 people out of poverty, at a cost of only a 1 percent price increase for customers,” Robert Reich continues.  “And, in the end, retailers would benefit. According to the study, the cost of the wage increases to major retailers would be $20.8 billion — about one percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in total annual sales. But the study also estimates the increased purchasing power of lower-wage workers as a result of the pay raises would generate $4 billion to $5 billion in additional retail sales.”

What will happen on Friday?  Stay tuned.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “Walmart Workers to Strike on Black Friday”

  1. rusty49

    Stockholders are currently getting a 2.3% yearly dividend return on their investment. I don’t think that’s out of line at all. As far as the workers being kept under 30 hours work per week, that’s going to be more and more prevalent with the onslaught of Obamacare.

  2. K.Smith

    [quote]As far as the workers being kept under 30 hours work per week, that’s going to be more and more prevalent with the onslaught of Obamacare.[/quote]

    Long before the “onslaught of Obamacare,” major retailers held their employees to less than 30 hours per week as a general practice to skate on having to provide employees benefits.

  3. SouthofDavis

    My guess is that not much will happen on Friday and that many (if not all)of the Wal Mart “strikers” on Friday will actually be labor “activists” who got the jobs just so they could go on “strike”(and will have friends in the media ready to cover the “strike”.

    When I was a bagger/carry out boy in High School I was a member of the retail clerks union (and was happy the union got me extra pay when I worked on Sunday). I was recently talking to my former boss who after working in retail from 14 to 34 (going from bag boy to store manager) left retail 20 years ago to work in the HVAC repair field. He now makes more than twice as much as the highest paid grocery store manager.

    As former union members we were talking about how many current union members figured that since the union was able to get them higher pay and benefits in the past they would always be able to do it. The workers didn’t realize that the real reason they got higher pay and benefits was because the economy was expanding and (almost) everyone was getting higher pay and benefits.

    Today on Thanksgiving it is a good idea to remind people that they should be thankful for any job even at Wal Mart for $8/hr and let them know that there are a lot of jobs that pay more if they put their effort in to learning a new skill vs. walking a picket line (I paid a plumber $375 last week for less than an hours work).

  4. Rifkin

    [i]”A new study by the think tank Demos reports that raising the salary of all full-time workers at large retailers to $25,000 per year would lift more than 700,000 people out of poverty, at a cost of only a 1 percent price increase for customers,” Robert Reich continues.[/i]

    There is a giant hole in Mr. Reich’s logic: the internet.

    If labor costs at brick and mortar discounters force up wages, price-conscious customers will just shift away from big box to big e-commerce. The result will be less convenience for these shoppers; and no jobs for the people who now work in these stores.

  5. rusty49

    “Long before the “onslaught of Obamacare,” major retailers held their employees to less than 30 hours per week as a general practice to skate on having to provide employees benefits.”

    And just what do you think is going to happen when Obamacare becomes national policy? Many fulltime jobs in all sectors are going to be cut to less than 30/hrs/week to keep from having to pay for full healthcare. Thanks for helping to prove my point.

  6. medwoman

    “As far as the workers being kept under 30 hours work per week, that’s going to be more and more prevalent with the onslaught of Obamacare.”

    Which is a great argument for separating health care from employer provided insurance, or insurance at all for that matter, and adopting a single party payer system. I would be happy to abandone Obamacare in favor of this approach.

  7. Rifkin

    [i]” Many fulltime jobs in all sectors are going to be cut to less than 30/hrs/week to keep from having to pay for full healthcare.”[/i]

    I could be wrong, but I think you are wrong. I don’t think Obamacare gives companies any incentive to cut back the hours per week for any of its employees. Taking someone under 30 hours does not alleviate an employer, who is required to either insure his employee or pay a fine for not doing so, from that responsibility.

    The way I understand this works, for qualified employers (that is, those with 50 or more workers), is that if they have employees who work under 30 hours per week or under 120 hours per month, the employer’s fine is proportional. In other words, if the employer does not provide health coverage to two half-time workers, their hours are added up, as if they were one employee, and he pays the fine for that one. Because of that there is no incentive at all to reduce employee hours.

    There is, on the other hand, an incentive to not hire marginal workers, especially if they can be replaced by a machine*. Maybe over time the cost of the fines will be high enough to cause employers to do that sort of thing. But, at least for now, the fines for not giving health insurance coverage are quite small. They are (in most cases) $2,000 per full-time employee (or, as noted, $2,000 for two half-time employees). That is equal to just $1 per hour for a 40-hour, 50-week work year. That is probably not a deal breaker in most cases.

    Because a decent healthcare plan costs well more than $2,000 per year, I suspect that almost all companies which employ low-skilled workers (such as McDonald’s or Wal-Mart, etc.) will opt to pay the fine. This money then, as I understand it, goes into a larger insurance pool where the workers themselves will have to buy a healthcare plan.
    *There are a lot of ways that “machines” can replace people. Think, for example, of a restaurant. Instead of hiring someone at minimum wage to cut fresh fruits and vegetables on site to order, a restaurant could opt to buy its produce already processed in the way it wants that food before it is cooked. … Some low-end supermarkets may eliminate the few checkers they now have and replace them all with self-pay checkout stations. … Once we have reliable driverless Google cars (in 5 to 10 years), delivery services may stop hiring people.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Please explain that. The average worker works 28 hours at less than $10 an hour. So how does that raise the standard of anyone’s living?

    Also I’m amazed that conservatives don’t pay more attention to the fact that Walmart’s policies lead to the highest rate of Medicaid use, at the cost of $1000 a month to the taxpayers.

  9. Rifkin

    J.R.: [i]”Walmart is doing more to raise the standard of living of low income Americans than any union.”[/i]

    David: [i]”Please explain that.”[/i]

    What J.R. said is obviously and unambiguously true. For every one low-income Walmart worker, there are tens of thousands of low-income Americans who shop for low prices at Walmart.

    A comparable t-shirt sold at WalMart for $5 goes for $8 at Sears or $12 at Macy’s, for example. The real winners of that competition are Walmart’s low-income customers, who cannot afford the higher prices on clothes, appliances, food, drugs, etc. that less price-competitive retailers charge.

    From my limited experience at Walmart, they offer very little besides price. They offer no service and no expertise from their employees. They have ugly, non-descript stores. No one shops there for a pleasant experience. All the value they want is in the lowest price for merchandise. That is what low-income shoppers want most.

    A few years ago, I needed four new tires for my car. I compared the price at Walmart with that at Big-O in Davis and Bernard’s in Davis. For comparable quality tires, the price at Walmart was about $100 less than the price at Big-O and about $125 less than the price at Bernard’s for all four tires. That’s not that much on such a large purchase. But to anyone who needs that extra $100-$125 to pay the rent or pay the power bill, that is a huge deal. As J.R. said it, that raises the standard of living of low-income Americans.

    Another area where Walmart is hugely beneficial to poor people is with its prices on generic prescription drugs. People who were spending hundreds of dollars a month can get a 30-day supply at Walmart for $4 ([url][/url]) on a long list of generics. No other pharmacy before Walmart ever offered that sort of a deal. A family member of mine, who has a whole host of medical problems and needs a laundry list of drugs to stay alive, shops for her drugs at Walmart. She could not pay her rent if she had to pay the prices that other pharmacies traditionally charged before Walmart started its $4 plan.

    If the retail clerks union is ever successful at unionizing Walmart, a small number of workers for a short period of time* will be much better off. Walmart’s workers clearly are not making much money. But the real losers of that unionization will be Walmart’s low-income customers who will lose the retail outlet that raises their standard of living.
    *Unionization is a short-term win. Eventually, some other chain will rise up and take away all of the business of the unionized stores. Or if that does not happen, online sellers will. Once the store which gets unionized loses competitiveness, many of those workers will find themselves completely out of a job.

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