Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich writes here about “Freedom Summer II,” an organizing effort nationwide to demonstrate for better pay, benefits and working conditions for Walmart workers.
Although Walmart is no Bull Connor, it’s the poster child for keeping low-wage workers down. America’s largest employer, with 1.4 million workers, refuses to provide most of them with an income they can live on. The vast majority earns under $25,000 a year, with an average hourly wage of about $8.80.
You and I and other taxpayers shell out for these workers’ Medicaid and food stamps because they and their families can’t stay afloat on what Walmart pays. (I’ve often thought Walmart and other big employers should have to pay a tax equal to the public assistance their workers receive because the companies don’t pay them enough to stay out of poverty.)
Walmart won’t even allow workers to organize for better jobs and wages. In January, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint accusing it of unlawfully threatening or retaliating against workers who have taken part in strikes and protests.
The firm says it can’t afford to give its workers a raise or better hours and working conditions. Baloney. Walmart is America’s biggest retailer. Its policies are pulling every other major retailer into the same race to the bottom. If Walmart halted the race, the race would stop.
Don’t worry about its investors. Its largest is the Walton family, whose combined wealth is greater than the combined wealth of the bottom 42 percent of the entire American population.
This week, Walmart employees will go on strike in dozens of cities. A group of “Walmart Moms” is also marching for better hours and better treatment of pregnant women employees. And an employee group has sent a letter and voting guide to shareholders asking that they vote against Rob Walton’s re-election as chair.
Nobody will outvote the Waltons at a Walmart shareholder meeting. But publicity is important to changing policies.