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"The company at this point isn’t just a key purveyor of lower labor standards and a globalized and concentrated supply chain, it is a key tell for policymakers."
November 4, 2012 3:48 AM   Subscribe

Wal-Mart legal troubles mount as Black Friday walkout looms

Walmart’s Black Friday ultimatum
Asked about the ongoing strike, Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman told Salon that every one of Walmart’s stores is “open for business” and “fully staffed,” that “Walmart has some of the best jobs in the retail industry,” and that internal surveys show that most employees are satisfied. Regarding the potential Black Friday action, Fogleman said he “couldn’t speculate on what might happen in the future, but what I can tell you is we continue to have dialogue with our associates.”
WalMart Strikes spread to more states
Both Thursday’s strike and today’s were spearheaded by OUR Walmart, a year-old organization of Walmart workers backed by UFCW. The group is calling for improved staffing and benefits as well as an end to alleged retaliation against its members. Though closely tied to the UFCW, OUR Walmart isn’t identifying itself as a union or calling for union recognition from the famously anti-labor company. UFCW; SEIU, the service employees union; and ACORN supported a different non-union Walmart workers association in 2005, so the concept isn’t new. But the strikes are.
A combination of legal actions and labor actions, including slowdowns and strikes, have affected the retailer's operations. Despite some statements to the contrary, Walmart, the Most Powerful Company in the World, Admits that Protests and Strikes Lead to Wage Increases
According to St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole, the last time there was significant labor unrest at Walmart, in 2006, the company raised wages at 700 stores. Poole, like many at the Fed, regularly spoke with Walmart executives, and they gave him unvarnished views about their business practices because they believed (as did Poole) that the information would be used solely for macro-economic forecasting. On March 27-28, 2006, Poole said that his Walmart contact told him the company would not raise wages, and was planning on moving their work force increasingly towards part-time employment. Poole was interested in this because of its bearing on inflation. “Wages,” he said, “and these are for hourly workers, are absolutely flat – no increases whatsoever in the last year and no increases planned going forward.” Poole continued, “About 20 percent of their associates are part time and that they are going to be increasing that share to 40 percent so they can staff at peak times and get more productivity out of their workforce.”

Just two months later, Poole offered some very different and shocking news, “My Wal-Mart contact also said that “Wal-Mart is in the process of raising starting wages in about 700 stores. This is the first time in eight years of talking with him that I’ve heard any comment like that. He said that some of the raises are part of the Wal-Mart, I’ll call it “Social/political” agenda because of all the controversy about Wal-Mart.”
Why Wal-Mart May Respond to Black Friday Strike Threats, Adjust Wage Structure, due to events like those in Texas, Massachusetts, Florida and California

A New Era For Wal-Mart Workers?
As Wal-Mart public relations officials are quick to point out, in a company workforce of 1.4 million in the U.S. alone, the membership of OUR Walmart is tiny, and fewer still are the handful who are willing to hold a picket sign or offer a public statement outside their own store. But it is also clear that for every company employee fearless enough to participate in one of the sidewalk rallies, there were dozens who kept their heads down, stayed on the job but who silently endorsed the protest.
Walmart Strike Memo Reveals Confidential Management Plans
The memo makes clear that Walmart, the world's largest private employer, views the labor protests as a serious attack, a message that runs contrary to the company's public comments that the strikes are mere "publicity stunts," as Walmart's vice president of communications David Tovar told The Huffington Post Tuesday.
Wal-Mart isn't the only company affected: Wal-Mart’s dirty partners
Take C.J.’s Seafood, which provided seafood sold at Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam’s Club. Last month, some C.J.’s workers in Louisiana – non-union temporary guest workers from Mexico – went on strike. They charged the company with violating wage laws and locking them inside the plant. The National Guestworker Alliance helped workers organize and bring a complaint to the Workers Rights Consortium, a labor-monitoring organization. The WRC found that employees worked up to 24 consecutive hours, were paid less than 60 percent of minimum wage and lived in vermin-infested trailers on company property.
Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle
In a confidential report to his superiors, Wal-Mart’s lead investigator, a former F.B.I. special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: “There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.”
The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation.
Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down.
Wal-Mart's Honest Graft

Wal-Mart is moving into new areas, both business-wise and geographic:
Wal-Mart and American Express are expanding their banking operation with prepaid cards.
Same-Day Holiday Delivery, after dropping Amazon's Kindles which soured relationships with the competitor/partner.
A new type of store called a Neighborhood Market for 'underserved areas.'
While politicians and citizens may rail against a 'new' Wal-Mart the battle is often won or lost in the zoning office.

The Walton family is one of the wealthiest in the United States, money that supports various causes.


many links via Naked Capitalism
posted by the man of twists and turns (98 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

 
Impressive post! But in all honesty, does anyone really expect WalMart to make serious, lasting changes? My money (which is not spent at WM) is on WM firing everyone and hiring all new staff, taking advantage of the current unemployment figures.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:58 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Interesting. I hadn't heard anything about this strike at all, most leftwing blogs I follow being obsessed with the presidential election.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:58 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hadn't heard anything about this either.

And I'm never impressed by "doing the right thing will change nothing" concern-trolling.
posted by DU at 4:18 AM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, you know, if it's a legitimate capitalism, then the workers have ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
posted by Blue_Villain at 4:24 AM on November 4, 2012 [66 favorites]


There Is Power In A Union

You Can't Scare Me...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:28 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


I almost wish I still lived where I could boycott Walmart. But goodness, they have nothing in Switzerland worth shopping anyway.

Make 'em hurt.
posted by Goofyy at 5:10 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


They'll just throw a couple of workers into each cargotainer in Shanghai, problem solved.
posted by tommasz at 5:19 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't get me I'm part of the union.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:19 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I think it's a pretty good tactical decision to walk out on Black Friday for purely strategic reasons, I have to say I'm worried these people would literally be beaten to death by an angry mob.
posted by odinsdream at 5:42 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hope not, odinsdream. If there are workers on strike where I am over the Thanksgiving weekend I plan on stopping by to visit them, handing out turkey sandwiches and apple cider.
posted by philotes at 5:47 AM on November 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


I have to say I'm worried these people would literally be beaten to death by an angry mob.

Walking out may be a way of preventing that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:50 AM on November 4, 2012 [26 favorites]


When I was sixteen years old my very first job was at Walmart. I worked there for a year and a half, part time during school and full time during the summer. Because I was under 18 I was protected by a whole plethora of laws that didnt apply to my colleagues, so I was never locked in the store overnight or forced to work overtime, but I always heard about the previous night's torment at work the next day.

It was a shitty job for shitty pay (even as a teenager) but I remember the comaraderie among the floor staff very fondly. I hope that's a common experience among Walmart "associates" and that they can leverage that into collective action.
posted by philotes at 5:55 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


How exactly could your colleagues have been locked in the store legally, philotes?
posted by Yowser at 5:59 AM on November 4, 2012


Interesting. I hadn't heard anything about this strike at all, most leftwing blogs I follow being obsessed with the presidential election.

You would have heard more about this if it were 1956.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:00 AM on November 4, 2012


How exactly could your colleagues have been locked in the store legally, philotes?

They just lock the doors and tell you that you're staying until some arbitrary goal is met, or you're fired.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:10 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


How exactly could your colleagues have been locked in the store legally, philotes?

like this:
'Wal-Mart secures these stores just as any other business does that has employees working overnight,'' Ms. Williams said. ''Doors are locked to protect associates and the store from intruders. Fire doors are always accessible for safety, and there will always be at least one manager in the store with a set of keys to unlock the doors.''

Ms. Williams said individual store managers, rather than headquarters, decided whether to lock workers in, depending on the crime rate in their area.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:13 AM on November 4, 2012


My understanding is that Wal-Mart closed stores in east Texas to prevent the butchers from unionizing. This couldn't happen to nicer sons of bitches.
posted by immlass at 6:25 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to say I'm worried these people would literally be beaten to death by an angry mob.
I think this is an indication of bigger problems than a mob.
posted by fullerine at 6:29 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't shop at Walmart because of their labour practices. I hope this forces better conditions for the workers.
posted by arcticseal at 6:29 AM on November 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


We loan each other money during non-paycheck weeks just to make it through to the next week when we get paid. Because we don’t have enough money after paying bills to even eat lunch.” Harris, who’s now on strike, said that after three years at Walmart, he makes $8.90 an hour in the produce department, and workers at his store have faced “constant retaliation” for speaking up.

Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman said the company “has some of the best jobs in the retail industry – good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement.”

Unreal
posted by gt2 at 6:35 AM on November 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


immlass is almost correct, but it was actually more interesting than that. When one store's butchers voted to unionize, Wal-Mart fired every butcher in the US and stopped having meat-cutting in stores. Historically they have not been kind to unionizing efforts.

After butchers at a Jacksonville, Texas, Wal-Mart voted to unionize in 2000, Wal-Mart eliminated all U.S. meat-cutting departments. When workers in Canada's Quebec province voted to unionize in 2005, Wal-Mart shut down the store. -- WSJ

What's fascinating about this to me is the idea that social media can provide a new venue for labor organizing. It seems likely to make it easier to communicate, which helps when you're dealing with a multi-national.
posted by Mad_Carew at 6:49 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hope that this they are able to get people to strike and picket at a larger number of stores than Wal-Mart can feasibly shut down. As people point out upthread, this company has never shown any reluctance to close individual stores when the workers there seem likely to organize a union.
posted by enn at 6:52 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well if they do strike the competition will be even busier - Macy's Annual Pain In My Ass Holiday Sales Event
posted by Lanark at 6:52 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sweet, the one year I contemplate doing Black Friday to get a deal, a walk out may happen. Clearly, cheap electronics and I were never meant to be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:02 AM on November 4, 2012


"some of the best jobs in the retail industry"

Part of the problem is that this is sort of like being the sleeper at an insomniac convention: The bar is set awfully low.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


philotes: "I hope not, odinsdream. If there are workers on strike where I am over the Thanksgiving weekend I plan on stopping by to visit them, handing out turkey sandwiches and apple cider."

That sounds like a wonderful idea. If it happens here in St. Screwy, I'll do the same.
posted by notsnot at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine works at a Wal-Mart down south and has written some stuff about their general shittiness and disgusting labor practices.
posted by elizardbits at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


*best sleeper
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 AM on November 4, 2012


The reason there's a low percentage of Walmart employees who belong to unions isn't because those employees object to unions: it's because Walmart has a long and well-documented history of damn near immediately firing almost anyone who does dare to belong, even though that is against US labor laws. The problems unions face go back to the Reagan era, when it didn't matter if employees were illegally locked out, the federal judiciary came down in favor of the employer pretty much every time (ask me how I know!).

As for the locked doors: they may say it's not corporate policy but rather at the choice of the individual store manager, for safety in crime-ridden areas, but I've talked to too many (current & former) Walmart employees who will tell you differently: they'll tell you it is corporate policy, it's to get 'mandatory' unpaid overtime out of people, and yes: all too often the emergency fire exits are also locked or chained --- you can't get out.

Thanks for the idea of taking food and drinks to the strikers on Black Friday!
posted by easily confused at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


> 'Wal-Mart secures these stores just as any other business does that has employees working overnight,'' Ms. Williams said. ''Doors are locked to protect associates and the store from intruders. Fire doors are always accessible for safety, and there will always be at least one manager in the store with a set of keys to unlock the doors.''

Which is weird, because I've worked - and lived! - in lots of places that could be locked in such a way that no one from outside could get in, but you didn't need a key in order to get out. Maybe I should let the Wal-Mart management know that there are locks that let you do that, since they don't seem to know about them.

When I worked at Whole Foods, the front and loading dock doors were locked at closing time. When your shift was over, you clocked out and left (after opening your bag so the security person or shift manager could see you weren't stealing anything), with no one needing to unlock anything so you could get out.
posted by rtha at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


If Wal-Mart at current wages and benefits is the best job you can get, how much will you benefit from Wal-Mart sharply raising wages and benefits? Wal-Mart not only can, but will have to do, defray that increase by upgrading its workforce to the quality it can now afford. Terrific for you if you work at Costco or Whole Foods and there's a Wal-Mart that's an easier commute or will offer you better hours, not so good for you if Wal-Mart was the best you could do and all of sudden all those people who are more appealing employees are willing to take your job.
posted by MattD at 7:28 AM on November 4, 2012


Ideally, Wal-Mart staff will simply leave the building on Black Friday. Open the doors and wase through the teeming, rabid masses. Leave the managers to run the store alone on Black Friday.

It would be a very good Friday.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:51 AM on November 4, 2012 [33 favorites]


One of the problems is the unemployment problem. People capable of a more demanding job better informed people are actually having to take these retail jobs either as a part time job or to squeeze through a dry period. I think Walmart is running into the problem of hiring college graduates who expect more and not so easily cozened into submission. Black Friday is a great strategy to threaten WalMart with not to mention other Fortean events that can add to the general chaos of that day. Once the American worker hits the bottom they tend to fight back. I think they 1% may be overreaching here. Pay the workers give them benefits problem solved. I mean the typical WalMart employee is also its customer.
posted by pdxpogo at 7:54 AM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Clearly, cheap electronics and I were never meant to be.

Trust me: We're all way underpaying for our electronics as it is. I dread when the real bill comes due.
posted by sourwookie at 7:59 AM on November 4, 2012 [22 favorites]


Ideally, Wal-Mart staff will simply leave the building on Black Friday. Open the doors and wase through the teeming, rabid masses. Leave the managers to run the store alone on Black Friday.

I love that image. It would make a great movie shot. Hundreds of people rushing in, and not one associate to prevent them from having their way with the store.
posted by sourwookie at 8:04 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Boy, every time I read about Wat-Mart's flagrant abuses of their workers, along with the fact that they basically do it without any consequences, I get depressed as hell. Sure hope there's a light at the end of this tunnel.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:38 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


See, we don't even need Terminators; totalitarian regimes of nonhuman actors uninterested in keeping individual humans alive are already here in the form of megacorporations. Most of the top search results for "corporate singularity" have to do with people answering the question "Will corporations prevent the singularity?" But I fear the rise of these human-enslaving corporations is the singularity. The hive mind of corporate culture serves to give these nonhuman entities sentience of a sort, all directed toward the preservation and propagation of the company at all costs. And the worst part is, we volunteer to surrender our minds and our energy to these entities. As my husband puts it, it's the voluntary Matrix.
posted by limeonaire at 8:41 AM on November 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


red friday....
posted by ennui.bz at 8:47 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


The idea of Wal-Mart locking their employees in at night always makes me shudder and think of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.

If Wal-Mart at current wages and benefits is the best job you can get, how much will you benefit from Wal-Mart sharply raising wages and benefits? Wal-Mart not only can, but will have to do, defray that increase by upgrading its workforce to the quality it can now afford. Terrific for you if you work at Costco or Whole Foods and there's a Wal-Mart that's an easier commute or will offer you better hours, not so good for you if Wal-Mart was the best you could do and all of sudden all those people who are more appealing employees are willing to take your job.

I had to read this comment several times, and I think it means that Wal-Mart employees only work at Wal-Mart because they weren't qualified for (or deserving of?) better jobs and that if Wal-Mart raises its wages and benefits it will be able to attract better qualified employees. Uh, what?

That assumes that Wal-Mart employees are next to unemployable and inferior to people employed by Costco and Whole Foods(!!!), and from what I've seen of them, they aren't. They are uniformly of at least average intelligence, able-bodied, presentable in appearance, and polite. I've known people with post-secondary educations who worked there simply because they had to make some money and for whatever reason a job at Wal-Mart was all they could get at the time. And what kind of qualifications does a Wal-Mart employee need? Looks to me like they just need basic literacy and numeracy skills and the physical agility to stock shelves and run a cash register, and that the people currently doing the work there are able to do it perfectly well. The idea that Wal-Mart would suddenly start hiring "more appealing employees" is absurd. They don't need people who look like models or people with a degree in retail management to run cash registers or stock their shelves.

Don't fall for the right-wing economic rhetoric that people make starvation wages because they aren't qualified for or deserving of making anything more. It's bullshit. Wal-Mart pays its employees so poorly because they are the biggest bullies on the block and due to a variety of factors and nasty tactics have so far managed to get away with it.
posted by orange swan at 8:50 AM on November 4, 2012 [63 favorites]


What's fascinating about this to me is the idea that social media can provide a new venue for labor organizing.

It's a natural extension of the political organizing we've seen using the same technologies here and overseas, but at present labor organization isn't nearly as mainstream a concept for most Americans (even American workers).

I remember working at Walmart. It sucked, even for a guy who was taking it as a temp summer job and knew he'd be gone in a few months. The people who had worked there for years and had to deal with all the shit...wow. It is definitely a corporation which has completely given up even trying to pretend that it does not depend upon desperation and deprivation to retain both its employees and its customers.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:51 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The idea that Wal-Mart would suddenly start hiring "more appealing employees" is absurd. They don't need people who look like models or people with a degree in retail management to run cash registers or stock their shelves.

Yeah, Walmart, like most companies I've worked for, doesn't really like the idea of hiring higher-educated/more skilled ("overqualified") folks if they don't have to. Think about it - the latter are going to disappear at the sign of a better job and/or press for even larger increases to wages and benefits than those Walmart might end up having to give to the folks working there now.

College-educated, upwardly mobile young people make really, really shit strikebreakers, is what I'm saying.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:54 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The closest big store to me is a Wal-Mart about 34 miles away. So some times we have to bite the bullet and shop there. But because this is an oil boom, Wal-Mart has had to make some consessions to get folks to work there. They're offering $17.50 an hour now because of the boom has pushed the wages so high and unemployment is so low. They even bring in workers from Wal-Hells in other states and house them in a building behind the store. Of course, they have also jacked up the prices to take advantage of the boom. If I drive a couple hundred miles away and check at another Wal-Fuck, the prices are a good 10-15% lower. It's insane.
posted by Ber at 9:04 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work for a non-Walmart retailer and while we do not have overnight shifts here, we do lock the doors for our early morning shifts, until the store is open. Unlike Walmart, we will let people go home and pay our early shift employees for their breaks/lunches even though they would normally be unpaid as a result. All emergency exits are accessible just in case.

Not to paint the world in rose colored glasses, but there is a massive gap between my current employer and a previous employer that locked me in a storage unit with no bathroom for 34 hours. Yes, locked as in padlock on the outside.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 9:10 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The closest big store to me is a Wal-Mart about 34 miles away. So some times we have to bite the bullet and shop there. But because this is an oil boom, Wal-Mart has had to make some consessions to get folks to work there. They're offering $17.50 an hour now because of the boom has pushed the wages so high and unemployment is so low. They even bring in workers from Wal-Hells in other states and house them in a building behind the store. Of course, they have also jacked up the prices to take advantage of the boom. If I drive a couple hundred miles away and check at another Wal-Fuck, the prices are a good 10-15% lower. It's insane.
posted by Ber at 11:04 AM on November 4 [+] [!]


According to my parents, the Dickinson, ND WalMart is bussing in people from as far as Bismarck just to restock shelves. I don't even want to think about what's going to happen to North Dakota's economy once the boom turns to bust. The entire state is operating in a boomtown mindset with a republican dominated state government barely at the helm, not saying much more than, "No sir, thank you sir, can I cut your taxes and regulations some more sir?"
posted by nathan_teske at 9:16 AM on November 4, 2012


The entire state is operating in a boomtown mindset with a republican dominated state government barely at the helm, not saying much more than, "No sir, thank you sir, can I cut your taxes and regulations some more sir?"

In some respects, this boom isn't going away any time soon. It will hit a drop once all the wells are drilled (5 years?) but these Bakken wells are good for at least 30 years; recent advancements might push that to 50. But yeah, the asshats in Bismarck and especially that goddamn Dalrymple, will bend over and lube up for any oil company demand, squander the money they get, and watch the western part of the state stagger under the demands of the boom.

And if your parents think the Dickinson WalMart is bad, they should see the hellhole that is the Williston WalMart. There's a reason I kiss the floor when I walk into a Costco.
posted by Ber at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't fall for the right-wing economic rhetoric that people make starvation wages because they aren't qualified for or deserving of making anything more. It's bullshit. Wal-Mart pays its employees so poorly because they are the biggest bullies on the block and due to a variety of factors and nasty tactics have so far managed to get away with it.

Relevant.
posted by Talez at 10:11 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't fall for the right-wing economic rhetoric that people make starvation wages because they aren't qualified for or deserving of making anything more. It's bullshit. Wal-Mart pays its employees so poorly because they are the biggest bullies on the block and due to a variety of factors and nasty tactics have so far managed to get away with it.

Well, it's kind of bullshitty to portray the situation in this light, as much as it resonates with the self righteous strain in us. The reason Walmart pays so poorly is because it can. Just like every minimum wage job I ever had, none of them being Walmart.

The most interesting development here is the potential for a massive disruption in Walmart's labor force for Black Friday. Walmart has been able to avoid worker demanded conditions simply because they could afford the privilege. Clearly, a much more massive worker coordination was needed. And we might be seeing that develop here.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:30 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd just like to paint an image here:

On Black Friday 2012, in the United States, where Obama has just been re-elected, up in the northwest corner of the union, where marijuana has been legalized and marriage equality has passed, we focus in on scenes of Wal Mart workers protesting unfair labor practices in droves and fomenting a worker's revolution...

That would be a beautiful sight.
posted by roboton666 at 10:56 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Walmart just built a new neighborhood grocery next to a running trail I sometimes use. I stopped at a picnic table outside to chat with the smokers on break. They were newly hired and stocking shelves for the grand opening. They were all enthusiastic and grateful for their new jobs, some commuting an hour each way for minimum wage. It is a desperate job market out there and people are relieved to have anything they can get.
posted by JackFlash at 10:58 AM on November 4, 2012


The reason Walmart pays so poorly is because it can. Just like every minimum wage job I ever had, none of them being Walmart.

Yeah, what's so special about Walmart?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"In 2011, 73.9 million American workers age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.1 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 1.7 million earned exactly the prevailing Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 2.2 million had wages below the minimum."

Well, I'll answer my own question. What's so special about Walmart? Walmart employes 1,2m people in the US which - if all receive minimum wage - would make Walmart responsible for 70% of the minimum wages jobs in America. Someone check my math. This seems unbelievable, but it would make Walmart very special indeed.
posted by three blind mice at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2012


I think your assumption that all make minimum wage is not correct.
posted by roboton666 at 11:13 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having been a member of several unions and guilds almost my entire working career, I think it's a grand idea to go show support and feed the strikers at my local Wallyworld. I'll have to contact the local here to verify the laws in this state but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to wear my union jacket and beanie and carry signs, as long as they don't indicate that my union is on strike/officially supporting the strike. Cos that's a wildcat strike and they're "against the law". I'm almost sinfully proud that I've never even set foot in a Walmart, the scumbag bastards.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:50 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Walmart employes 1,2m people in the US which - if all receive minimum wage - would make Walmart responsible for 70% of the minimum wages jobs in America.

From my experience, Wal-mart pays more than minimum wage quite regularly. In the article, notice that one of the demands was for a living wage of $14/hour. When I worked there about ten years ago, starting pay was at $10/per hour, $12 for overnights. Still not enough to support a family, but better than minimum wage.

What I gathered from about three years there was that the actual company policies seem benign on the surface, but the amount of power given to local managers left a lot of room for abuse. While the escalation procedures of going up the chain of command looked good on paper the good old boy system that usually existed from the regional manager on down made it nearly useless since the final resort was contacting corporate. Most people found it easier to leave than fight.

So a union would be good for Wal-Mart, if just to have a responsive chain for escalation. But lots of employees there are suspicious of outside unions as they see them as just being hungry for millions of new people to pay dues. The stories from people who worked at union shops with stories of things not being any better didn't help this suspicion.
posted by charred husk at 12:16 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Wal-Mart at current wages and benefits is the best job you can get, how much will you benefit from Wal-Mart sharply raising wages and benefits? Wal-Mart not only can, but will have to do, defray that increase by upgrading its workforce to the quality it can now afford.

There are so many things wrong with this line of thought that it is hard to know where to start. But for starters--

- Walmart is such a large part of the economy that in many situations the Walmart jobs isn't 'the best job you can get' but one of the few jobs available. If Walmart raises its wages and benefits some, it's more likely to be part of the 'rising tide that lifts all boats' (ie, the result will be better wages overall for low-income wage earners) than anything else. And that's one reason Walmart doesn't want to go there.

- Even the large wage increases proposed by workers are still fairly small and marginal in the grand scheme of things. Any 'upgrade to the workforce' will be small and marginal, too, and lessened by the 'rising tide lifts all boats' effect. Another reason Walmart doesn't want to go there.

- You're basically making the case for wage slavery. "If we raise the poor people's wages then RICH PEOPLE will along and take their jobs. And then the poor people won't even HAVE a job. So really we're doing them a favor by paying them the shittiest amount possible because this way at least they have a job!" That's a rationalization, not really a reason that makes sense . . .
posted by flug at 12:39 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why does everyone keep saying rich people are more capable than the working poor?
posted by fullerine at 12:55 PM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


If Wal-Mart employ that many people, they don't need to join a union. They can be a union. In the 60s and 70s, the British unions practically owned the country - and they were widely seen as a brake on progress. It's one of the main reasons that Thatcher had the power to break them; outside the movement, it was easy to buy into the story that all the strikes and restrictive practices were holding the country back and making it impossible to run a modern company.

I don't know how true this was; I was too young back then to be properly aware of what was actually happening. But the unions were broken, and are far less powerful now - with a couple of hold-outs. The rump, alas, seems mired in the past, in factional politics and outdated memories.

But I do know that the principle of trades unions is still sound: collective bargaining and organisation of the workforce to redress an unequal balance of power at work. That, the Wal-Mart employees (associates?) can do for themselves, and on a nationwide basis, with far more ease than ever before. With email and social media, you don't need to be at work to organise - and can, with a bit of care, not reveal that you're organising or on what sort of level until you're ready.

No need to join an existing organisation. Many reasons not to. The point is that you as a worker have the power to change things and the right to organise with others to do so.
posted by Devonian at 1:59 PM on November 4, 2012


"Why does everyone keep saying rich people are more capable than the working poor?"

relevant study - it seems that deprivation of resources by itself can actually impair decision making (which makes the cases against the guys you list even worse)
posted by idiopath at 2:28 PM on November 4, 2012


No need to join an existing organisation. Many reasons not to.

I strongly disagree with this sentiment. There are lots of valid reasons to join an existing union. They have organizing skills, they're set up with media connections, they have existing political connections and lobbyists, you're more likely to get other unions to support your strike efforts and refuse to cross your picket lines if your union is a known entity rather than some random start-up with no history of successful labor actions.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 2:32 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


you're more likely to get other unions to support your strike efforts and refuse to cross your picket lines if your union is a known entity rather than some random start-up with no history of successful labor actions.

I'm pro-union but I can't recall a recent example of unions supporting other unions with anything more than words. In my own limited union employment history the union I paid dues to didn't even bother to fight against the closure of the brewery I worked in because the union was huge and we were just a very small part of it.

So there is something to said for being your own union.
posted by srboisvert at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other strike news, in California: Raley's, Nob Hill grocery workers go out on strike
posted by homunculus at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wal-mart pays more than minimum wage quite regularly. In the article, notice that one of the demands was for a living wage of $14/hour. When I worked there about ten years ago, starting pay was at $10/per hour, $12 for overnights.

This totally depends on where you are. In western North Carolina, Wal Mart has never, ever paid more than $8 an hour and jobs there start right now at $7.25. Granted, 10 years ago retail wages were higher across the board (this is something that hardly ever gets brought up, the way retail wages have fallen and fallen or at the best, stayed the same, in the last decade) but still, making $10 an hour would be a fantastic wage for this area and people would flock to work there.

I get irritated when people seem to think that retail work is for idiots, see some comments above. Retail work isn't easy; it's demanding and complicated. I work retail now and I've done big box: I worked at Home Depot through the summer of 2011. These jobs are not for idiots. You try handling a Home Depot cash register and get back to me on how simple it is. It takes days of highly annoying video training before you even get your hands on one and then, my god, there is a LOT of stuff to memorize. That job, which I've written about before here, was utterly miserable, yes, and repetitive and physically taxing, but you know what? It was also actually difficult, as is my current job.

I would say that my various previous jobs being something respectable like, oh, the Family Programs Manager or the Communications and PR Manager, jobs that involved having my own office and so on, were in many ways vastly easier than the retail jobs I've held for the last 18 months since I got laid off and the unemployment ended. Back when I had an office job, I could look at Metafilter here and there. I could take a break whenever I wanted one and eat lunch at my own pace. I got paid for 40 hours a week whether I worked 20 or 60 and, of course, I had stuff like insurance and retirement and people thought I was middle class. Now I don't have any of those things and I work much harder and have to think much more quickly than I ever did in the office world. It is much tougher in many ways, while carrying a great and unlooked for bonus: by and large, the people are way nicer and generally a ton more fun to be around.

Anyway! It is long past time that retail workers had a union and if this country is ever going to get unionized again, that's where it's going to come from. Even the New York Times is talking about it - I saw that article and thought, oh god, I have finally made the Times lifestyle section, only not in the way I had always imagined. No, but here we are, and here you too might be, oh confident cubicle dweller, you too could end up here with us, so I'm sending all the hope I have to the Wal Mart union, long may it wave.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:35 PM on November 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


Great post. I wish the mainstream media would spend a bit more time on this story and less about which puppet we will be hearing lies from for the next 4 years.
posted by J.W. at 3:42 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


i've been counting on a "hi! welcome to wal-mart!" position against the day my present job becomes insufferable.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:32 PM on November 4, 2012


From Glassdoor:
Walmart "sales associate" $8.83/hr
Sam's Club "sales associate" $9.99/hr
Target "sales floor team member" $8.28/hr
Kmart "sales associate" $7.84/hr
Kohls "sales floor associate" $8.01/hr
Ralphs "general merchandise clerk" $9.31/hr
Costco "front end assistant" (lowest job title) $11.75/hr

So far I'm getting that Walmart isn't too far out of line with the rest of the retail industry. It's actually a little better than its biggest competitor, Target. And, if you're in retail, you should try to get a job at Costco.
posted by miyabo at 7:09 PM on November 4, 2012


So far I'm getting that Walmart isn't too far out of line with the rest of the retail industry.

This is because, as the industry leader, WalMart sets the standard for wages (amongst other things) that the rest of the industry can easily fall into. Costco has long been been noted for not following the WalMart model and setting higher standards, but as they're more of a niche retailer (warehouses) than Target or WalMart, they don't have as much power to change the industry. And of course WalMart already has the warehouse area covered with Sam's Club (which is similarly as shitty as WM in how it treats its employees). And it's not like people often have a choice when choosing to work at Costco or WalMart. Costco has 442 stores in the US. WalMart has 8,970.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:21 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway! It is long past time that retail workers had a union

This for truth.

Fuck Walmart.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:43 PM on November 4, 2012


- Walmart is such a large part of the economy that in many situations the Walmart jobs isn't 'the best job you can get' but one of the few jobs available. If Walmart raises its wages and benefits some, it's more likely to be part of the 'rising tide that lifts all boats' (ie, the result will be better wages overall for low-income wage earners) than anything else. And that's one reason Walmart doesn't want to go there.

Are you suggesting Walmart resists higher wages and benefits because it hates poor people? Why paint a nefarious picture about Walmart's evil intentions, when the more obvious reason would be that Walmart simply wants to keep operating costs as low as possible?

- You're basically making the case for wage slavery. "If we raise the poor people's wages then RICH PEOPLE will along and take their jobs. And then the poor people won't even HAVE a job. So really we're doing them a favor by paying them the shittiest amount possible because this way at least they have a job!" That's a rationalization, not really a reason that makes sense . . .

I don't know if that's a rationalization or not, but the effect will be the same. Well, not really "RICH PEOPLE will along and take their jobs", as you put it. More like higher skilled people will compete for those jobs, which I wouldn't conflate with rich people.

I don't think that's a good reason for Walmart to keep wages low. But I guess it might be something to consider for those concerned about the welfare of the lowest skilled workers out there.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:40 PM on November 4, 2012


This is because, as the industry leader, WalMart sets the standard for wages (amongst other things) that the rest of the industry can easily fall into.

Odd, because Walmart's standards are higher than Kmart, Target and Kohls. They set a standard, that their biggest competitors don't seem interested in following.

Interesting thing about Ralphs, they're unionized, at least here.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:49 PM on November 4, 2012


We loan each other money during non-paycheck weeks just to make it through to the next week when we get paid. Because we don’t have enough money after paying bills to even eat lunch.” Harris, who’s now on strike, said that after three years at Walmart, he makes $8.90 an hour in the produce department, and workers at his store have faced “constant retaliation” for speaking up.

Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman said the company “has some of the best jobs in the retail industry – good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement.”


I worked at Target and I can say it was pretty much just like that. They also don't want you to unionize (and at the orientation we were flat out told that if we spoke to Union reps, we would be fired.)

This isn't just a Walmart thing. Walmart is just the poster child for it. (I also worked at Walmart back in the very early 2000's, and was paid 6.10 an hour.)

FWIW, I have a family member who works full time for Wally World and swears they pay her well, and give her and her family insurance. So I guess this could be a store by store or case by case basis, even if it is widespread.
posted by Malice at 11:36 PM on November 4, 2012


As a labour organiser of course you are going to go after WalMart. If you manage to find a techique that works you could potentially roll up a lot of workers. Plus if you manage to scare WalMart into raising standards of pay/working conditions/whatever that will spread to other retail companies.
posted by Mitheral at 12:37 AM on November 5, 2012


Odd, because Walmart's standards are higher than Kmart, Target and Kohls. They set a standard, that their biggest competitors don't seem interested in following.

Huh? You're using a link to Glassdoor wages as your proof? Anonymous, self-selecting, self-reported wages? There have been lots of studies done on the Walmart effect not only on retail industry wages, but overall wages as a whole. Conclusion: Walmart depresses wages:

The study, ” A Downward Push: The Impact of Wal-Mart Stores on Retail Wages and Benefits,” begins by analyzing the effect of new Wal-Mart stores on local wage rates. It focuses on stores that opened between 1992 and 2000 and concludes, “Opening a single Wal-Mart store lowers the average retail wage in the surrounding county between 0.5 and 0.9 percent.”

Not only did Wal-Mart lower average wage rates, but “every new Wal-Mart in a county reduced the combined or aggregate earnings of retail workers by around 1.5 percent.” Because this number is higher than the reduction in average wages, it indicates that Wal-Mart not only lowered pay rates, but also reduced the total number of retail jobs.

posted by triggerfinger at 7:06 AM on November 5, 2012


A friend of mine works at a Wal-Mart down south and has written some stuff about their general shittiness and disgusting labor practices.
Walmart services the lowest common denominator of humanity—everyone goes there, there’s very high traffic, and some (most) of the people are fucking disgusting. The place is a cesspit. One of the department managers over me was just out with MRSA that she got at Walmart, and that’s not the first case. I try not to make eye contact in case one of the filthy warlock customers tries to curse me with airborne gonorrhea.

i just want someone to tell me is "People of Wal*Mart" cool or isn't it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:57 AM on November 5, 2012


HOWEVER, if you work over 34 hours a week for a couple of consecutive weeks, you’re considered full-time, and eligible for full-time benefits (“benefits”). Walmart doesn’t want that to happen, ever, so you’re lucky if you manage 32 hours a week. It’s so bad that I changed my schedule to be available only 4 days a week (32 hours, not full-time and certainly not more than they could afford to pay me), because they were giving me 25 hours spread out over five days. Now they’re giving me 25 hours spread out over four days.

The New York Times actually deigned to run a story about the part-time work crisis the other day. Very surfacey-while-sonorous in that way a lot of NYT articles are, but still, if it's reached even their nostrils, it's gotten to the point of red alert. The money quote in that article is the "retail consultant" who compares managing part-time workers at places like WalMart favorably to sharecropping.
posted by blucevalo at 8:15 AM on November 5, 2012


blucevalo:
"Walmart doesn’t want that to happen, ever, so you’re lucky if you manage 32 hours a week."
Of all the co-workers I talked to from other stores, this seems to be one of the constant "stupid store manager tricks" that occurs everywhere. I have to assume that it is something taught in their management classes, though since none of my friends made it that far I can't confirm it.
posted by charred husk at 9:16 AM on November 5, 2012


i've been counting on a "hi! welcome to wal-mart!" position against the day my present job becomes insufferable.

there's always "welcome to costco; i love you."
posted by entropicamericana at 11:49 AM on November 5, 2012


sourwookie: Ideally, Wal-Mart staff will simply leave the building on Black Friday. Open the doors and wase through the teeming, rabid masses. Leave the managers to run the store alone on Black Friday.

I love that image. It would make a great movie shot. Hundreds of people rushing in, and not one associate to prevent them from having their way with the store.
Oh, god, the chance to see 1200 sleep-deprived shoppers shoving their way into a nearly unstaffed Walmart is almost enough to make me want to get up & go wait in a Walmart parking lot on Black Friday. With binoculars, from a safe distance.

Every one of them needs to bring a black coat and black knit hat for the walkout (cheap & ubiquitous & hides their identity from video cams as they leave). "I only left when the madness began, out of self-preservation" will become a viable defense.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2012


Metafilter: I only left when the madness began, out of self-preservation
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:52 AM on November 6, 2012


Every one of them needs to bring a black coat and black knit hat for the walkout (cheap & ubiquitous & hides their identity from video cams as they leave). "I only left when the madness began, out of self-preservation" will become a viable defense.
Walmart will sack then sue every single one of them and burn the store to the ground before caving in to any demands for rights.
posted by fullerine at 2:44 AM on November 6, 2012


This is the advantage of truely organized labour. WalMart can selectively close down stores but they aren't going to want to say pull out of the California market. And even if they do decide to take that kind of scorched earth policy consumers will still need to purchase the stuff that WalMart sells. Once organized the workers who would service that demand are in a much better position to fight the abuses of capitalism.
posted by Mitheral at 6:49 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't shop at WalMart, because I despise their labor practices, but I too would give comfort and aid to any worker there who would participate in an organized strike. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could establish a fund to do this? Imagine if the workers knew that there was some stipend established to help them weather a strike. It may only take about $25-$50k per community to make such a thing possible. This is how giants get knocked over.
posted by dgran at 7:02 AM on November 6, 2012


Safeway's deal with union raises heat on Raley's
posted by homunculus at 9:27 PM on November 9, 2012


Black Friday solution in Japan
posted by growabrain at 1:33 PM on November 11, 2012


Target, Walmart, and Other Big-Box Stores Abolish Thanksgiving

Black Thursday?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:52 PM on November 15, 2012


Wal-Mart Worker's Black Friday Strike
Wal-Mart Files US Labor Charge Against Union
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:14 PM on November 17, 2012


It's interesting that Wal Mart can take a complaint to the NLRB against a union that doesn't represent any of it's workers and also the non union OUR Wal Mart. Or that they just wouldn't hire private security to escort protesters off their property.

At Will laws most places mean you can stop working for a company without notice. It sure would be funny if At-Will employment ends up helping the union movement in the states. The second article says Wal Mart has 37% turn over and that 20% of applicants each year have previously worked for Wal Mart. If Wal Mart blacklists everyone in a large up take union movement they might actually have trouble filling vacant positions.
posted by Mitheral at 2:11 PM on November 17, 2012


Walmart: What’s Good For Walmart Is Good For Country, The Children
posted by homunculus at 12:51 AM on November 20, 2012


Momentum Builds For Historic Wal-Mart Strike

Red Friday...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:39 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Worker Group Alleges Walmart 'Told Store-Level Management to Threaten Workers' About Strikes

Wal-Mart Accused of Threatening Workers With Retaliation Ahead of Black Friday Walkouts, Protests
posted by homunculus at 10:58 AM on November 21, 2012


Why Black Friday Is a Behavioral Economist’s Nightmare
posted by homunculus at 11:30 AM on November 21, 2012


It looks like the Black Friday Stupidity has become something serious in Canada this year. Lots of sales flyers, lots of BS.

I sure do hope Walmart workers succeed in causing maximum chaos and losses. I sincerely wish all Walmart emloyees would just walk out the door at opening time. It is their only chance to effect real change.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:02 PM on November 21, 2012


Robert Reich: Why You Shouldn’t Shop at Walmart on Friday
posted by homunculus at 11:54 PM on November 21, 2012


It looks like the Black Friday Stupidity has become something serious in Canada this year. Lots of sales flyers, lots of BS.

Canadian 'Black Friday' fights to keep shoppers from border crossing
posted by homunculus at 12:07 PM on November 22, 2012


It's Black Friday, Charlie Brown
posted by homunculus at 5:13 PM on November 22, 2012


Black Friday, Texas style: Mall shopper who pulled gun on line-cutter "within rights," say cops
posted by homunculus at 10:29 AM on November 24, 2012


You know you're in bizarro world when you get a store voucher for pulling a gun out in a crowded shop.
posted by arcticseal at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Inequality, Exhibit A: Walmart and the Wealth of American Families

Why Walmart, Why Now? - "OUR Walmart [Organization United for Respect at Walmart] is a kind of return to labor formations of the 1930s. It’s an association–they aren’t looking for legal certification, they don’t claim to represent everyone. They’re a minority that is willing to stick their necks out."

Local police disperse, arrest Black Friday protesters on behalf of Walmart

With Biggest Strike Against Biggest Employer, Wal-Mart Workers Make History, Again
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:07 AM on November 26, 2012


A Foreign Supply Chain Threat Opening On WalMart Labor Protests?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:32 PM on November 26, 2012


Improv Everywhere: Black Friday Dollar Store
posted by homunculus at 7:19 PM on November 26, 2012


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