Black Friday 2014 will mark the third annual Walmart Associate work rights protests, starting with $15 per hour, full-time salaries. OUR Walmart predicts as 1,6000 store protest and strike while Walmart works on creating a 5-day sale meant to undermine the protest's impact.
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Like the previous strikes in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 strike focuses on the lack of living wages and fair working schedules. Protestors demand a $15 an hour wage and full-times schedule, which offers basic benefits to employees. Previous complaints concerning the Arkansas-based business included the fact employees were only offered part-time work in order circumvent the company from paying for benefits, retirement, and medical insurance costs.
Strike leaders claim that protestors gathered around 1,200 stores last year and expect 1,600 stores this year. However, Walmart disagrees and argues the 2013 numbers were inflated. Additionally, OUR Walmart, the protest organization backed by United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, says previous organizers faced retaliatory dismissal. Yet Brooke Buchanan, spokesperson for Walmart, denies the claim. "There's nothing further from the truth.”
The National Labor Relation Board supports the workers’ demands and alleging that at least 19 workers were fired for protesting while another 40 were reprimanded or threatened for participating. In the current economy, employment and right-to-work laws threaten the stability of many homes. Since President Reagan’s union-busting administration, union participation and representation has fallen. In a previous report on Whole Foods Market, data shows that unions only represent 2% of the American workforce.
After a June hearing on the 2013 retaliatory allegations, Walmart says the company and locations are following legal procedures under legal rights. Currently no decision has been made or registered on dockets for the June hearing.
And the protests are not limited to just Black Friday. OUR Walmart says that on Thursday, November 13, 26 demonstrators staged a sit-in at a Los Angeles location and were later arrested after moving to a second location. The charge was civil disobedience, a protesting tactic that has increased as U.S. citizens begin to openly criticize the state of the union for the poor- and middle-class socioeconomic classes.
But employees aren’t the only ones looking to make a statement, either.
Teachers and community members are expected to join the protest and bolster the workers’ demands. The International Business Times does not foresee a win for the workers, though. Even if the majority of the workers unite and demand the increased wages, the 1.3 million employees would still not have the power to win against the corporations—thanks to profitability. Many customers return to Walmart based on convenience and economic need.
Colorado-based Walmart associate Barbara Gertz says “There have been many times when my family couldn’t afford gas to get me to work.” While gas prices have steadily fallen, for those without full-time hours the cost of gas and automotive upkeep makes the struggle very real for many employees.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg finds the events to be a non-issue for the retail giant. “This same union group has been making similar claims for the last two years and we’ve had very successful Black Friday events each of the last two years and that’s our goal again this year.”
And to compensate for the possible disruption, Walmart will hold a five day sales event starting Thanksgiving. OUR Walmart notes that in one Wall Street Journal article, the company “is promising to staff each of its cash registers from the day after Thanksgiving through the days just before Christmas during peak shopping times.” Complaints for long lines and not enough open registers has forced an increase in holiday positions. Perhaps in the employer standpoint, the extra hours may alleviate concerns for the workers intending to protest based on a low-income.
In addition, Lundberg dismisses the union’s attempts, saying employees receive “unparalleled advancement opportunities, cash bonuses, a 401k plan and many other benefits.” He also notes that the company’s Open Shifts programs allows workers “to take charge of their schedules and put together shifts that work best with their busy lives, including access to full-time hours.”
IBT notes the “U.S. economy hasn’t delivered any significant income growth since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, and wages among the lowest-paid workers haven’t kept up with the country’s rising cost of living for decades.” And the lack of growth greatly affects the consumer base while effecting the profit margin—even Walmart cites the “changes in the level of public assistance payments,” such as the end of extended unemployment benefits earlier this year.
Greg Foran, President and CEO of Walmart, said profits and market portfolio “were negatively impacted by SNAP-related headwinds.” SNAP, or the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, is a rebranded term for food stamps. In 2013, the company guesstimated 18% of nation’s SNAP spending was dispersed at their retail locations.
OUR Walmart told the press that even though Walmart earns $16 billion in annual profits and the owners Waltons are worth $150 billion, “the majority of Walmart workers are paid less than $25,000 a year.” According to the Huffington Post, the median household barely moved from $51,759 to $51,939 in 2013. The number is significant because data points continuously show that stagnant income and a lack of growth in the blue-collar jobs impacts customer service and retail positions.
And even if the hourly federal minimum wage ($7.25) were to be inflated, pay would have to be adjusted to $9.66 in order to match 1974’s $2 hourly minimum wage. In other words, corporations have more to lose than gain from full-time employees requiring benefits and representation…at least concerning profits. Human empathy, a slowly resurging concept in public and corporate policy, demands answers for the widening socioeconomic class lines.
BlackFridayProtests.org shows 2,152 Walmart stores standing for $15 an hour wage and full-time benefits with protest clusters around metropolitan areas (New York/New Jersey, California, and Chicago). Of the 2,152 stores, most seem to be centered in the eastern and Midwestern states.
Huffington Post offers more statistics. “The annual income threshold for being counted as living in poverty was $11,490 last year for a person and $23,550 for a family of four.” If employees only receive part-time work without benefits, a growing discontentment boils to surface when the employers are making many, many times over than those performing menial but necessary tasks.
Charmaine Given-Thomas, an Illinois-based associate, believes economic decisions should not be dire. “I'm standing up to Walmart because I believe that we shouldn’t have to decide between going to the doctor and paying our bills.”
Buchanan told Reuters, "The reality is that few Walmart associates participate in these labor-organized protests.” However, if the association’s numbers are correct, retaliation would cause many employees to hold off from active participation. That fear is the why numbers of associates willing to vocally argue for rights remains contentious on both sides.
And the legal system seems to be equivocating on how the representatives should proceed. The OUR Walmart site states:
UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Walmart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Walmart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Walmart publicly commit to adhere to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of its employees. Courts have enjoined non-Associate UFCW and OUR Walmart agents from entering any Walmart property, except to shop, in Arkansas (read order), Florida (read order), Texas (read order), Colorado (read order), and Maryland (read order); and in California from entering inside stores (read order).
Legal recourse is available if “employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away." That protection includes improving pay, working conditions, or job-related problem. Unions are not a requirement in National Labor Relations Act coverage.
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Reagan’s legacy seems to be thriving in the current political climate when employees seek some compensation for work conditions.