Black Friday Walmart Protests: Why the World's Largest Employer's Wages Matter
What: Black Friday Strikes, Protests, and Boycott Against Walmart
Where: Across the USA (Find a Strike Near You)
When: Friday, November 29, 2013
Last year on Black Friday, the biggest sales day of the year for Walmart and most other US retailers, Walmart workers went on strike to demand fairer wages-– wages that would enable them to support themselves and their families without public assistance. Hundreds of Walmart employees participated, even though Walmart "unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests" according to a recent finding by the National Labor Relations Board.
Following the Black Friday and subsequent protests, many of those who participated later faced disciplinary action or were fired, including Susan Collins, a mother of three and full-time Walmart employee who needed public assistance to support her family because of her low wages.
This year's Black Friday strike, calling for "an end to retaliation against those who bravely speak out and a real wage of $25,000/yr," promises to be the biggest ever, according to lead organizer OUR Walmart, a non-union worker group closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union .
Despite earning $17 billion in net revenue last year, Walmart is among the bottom 10 companies in the United States when it comes to wages. Walmart's CEO makes over $20 million annually, while the retailer's sales associates earn $18, 617– near poverty for an individual in the USA, and below the poverty line for a single-parent family. Since Walmart is the largest private employer in the world with over 2 million employees, the standard it sets for treating its employees has global impact.
Recently an employee food drive for fellow Walmart employees made headlines. The action was in response to a individual down on his luck; however, the need for a Walmart employee to seek outside help to compensate for bad pay resonated with people angered about the way the company treats employees. OUR Walmart wasted no time in using the bad publicity to its advantage:
What do Walmart wages mean for the Average American?
A report by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce calculated that a single 300-employee Wal-Mart Supercenter in Wisconsin may cost taxpayers anywhere from $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee. Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, and as taxpayers are stepping in to fill the gap between the economic needs of Walmart employees and their compensation, it seems fair to ask whether a company that can afford to pay its employees a "living wage" should be obligated to do so.
As higher-earning manufacturing and other middle-income jobs have all but disappeared over the past three decades, the average American is ever more likely to be, according to several groups, a low- and minimum-wage worker. This group of earners is growing faster than any other, while profits at many of the corporations that employ the most minimum-wage workers have risen.
Would living wages would mean large price increases? Not necessarily, at least according to a University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education study. UC researchers determined that if Walmart passed along 100 percent of the increase associated with starting all its workers out at $12, it would increase the average shopping basket by 46 cents per trip or $12.49 a year for a consumer who spends $1,187 a year at Walmart. So Walmart would keep its competitive edge in pricing.
Walmart is not the only company being called out for its stinginess to employees. This summer fast food workers from several chains went on strike to demand living wages and the right to unionize. While it's often assumed that the fast food industry sector consists of teenagers working for extra pocket money, in fact a quarter of fast-food workers are raising a child, while forty percent are older than 25.
3.8 million hourly workers in the United States earn at or below the minimum wage, which is $7.25 at the federal level and higher in 28 states (the highest is $9.19 in Washington state). The Fair Minimum Wage Act, introduced by Tom Harkin in the Senate and Representative George Miller in the House (and supported by the President) would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. If the miminum wage had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would be $10.74/hour.
What You Can Do