The day after Thanksgiving is widely known as one of the biggest shopping days of the year. This year, thousands of Walmart employees decided to go on strike in order to get the retail giant's attention and protest what they see as unfair wages and unfair labor practices.
Although most Walmart shoppers across the country didn't see any picketers and weren't aware of any sort of disruption, this was the first time that Walmart employees across the country have worked together toward a common goal of better wages and better working conditions. The company, who is outspoken on their dislike for unions and their heavy discouragement of the unionization of their employees, took a firm stance against the strike and tried to prevent employees from walking out.
Whether you are pro- or anti-Union, I think that it's important to take a look at the Walmart employees complaints:
Retail workers say that they are underpaid. Walmart is one of our nation's largest employers. Unfortunately they are also among the lowest paying employers as well. Walmart employees generally start out making about $8.81 per hour, which is a little more than Target or Khols, but still isn't enough for a person to live on. In addition, the employees are upset because most of them aren't being given the opportunity for full-time employment. Instead of being asked to work 40 hours per week, many have to settle for 25-35 hours a week. Because their shifts vary from week to week, they aren't able to work a second job, and instead, they end up struggling to make ends meet. A large majority of parents who work at Walmart are dependent on some type of government assistance like Food Stamps.
They want the company to offer benefits. Another problem with the lack of full-time employment is the lack of benefits. In order to prevent employees from being eligible to receive benefits, management keeps their work schedules just barely under full-time. The majority of Walmart employees have to rely on government programs like Medicaid or other medical assistance programs in order to provide health insurance for their children. For the employees who are fortunate enough to be covered through a company provided insurance program, they can look forward to spending more of their paycheck covering premiums as the company recently announced an eight to thirty-five percent insurance cost hike.
So why does this matter? If the employees are unhappy working for Walmart, why don't they find other jobs?
It matters because Walmart is the country's largest private sector employer. They employ 1.4 million people. The company is highly profitable and rakes in record amounts of money each year. In fact, the Walton family is one of the richest in the world and are worth a combined $102.7 billion. The strike, even though it wasn't visible, shed light on the severe income disparity between the founders and 49% owners of the company and the people who work there.
Although unions have gotten a bad rap in recent decades, the debate about the plight of Walmart workers is sure to be one that will bring renewed energy into the idea that workers need to protect their rights in order to avoid being taken advantage of by their employers.
As a company, Walmart has been fiercely anti-union and has worked hard over the years to prevent unions from getting even a toehold in their stores. Their deals with unions in other countries were signed because they weren't given a choice. In fact, the company has even closed down stores that have decided to unionize rather than work with the unions in order to create a better workplace.
It wouldn't be difficult for the company to offer their employees a living wage. UC-Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education suggested that if the company were to begin paying employees $12 an hour and pass the cost along to customers, it would cost an average of $12.49 a year per family. Personally, I'd be happy to pay a little extra and know that the people who work at my local Walmart were able to actually feed their families.
What impact do you think this strike will have on working conditions, both at Walmart and in retail stores across the board? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Image Source: Walmart