Dr. E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women and a supporter of the Retail Justice Alliance, wrote about her recent trip to Bentonville, Ark., where she spoke at a rally in support of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Members of OUR Walmart are taking a stand today at Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting to protest the company’s practice of retaliating against workers who speak out for change. OUR Walmart members are also calling on the company to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per hour.
SUBSIDIZING SAM’S KIDS
Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
My recent visit to Bentonville, Arkansas confirmed several thoughts I’d held for a long time. First, Sam Walton is an extraordinary example of the American entrepreneurial spirit. He built a virtual empire in the heartland of America from scratch with the belief that, “There is only one boss – the customer. He can fire everyone in the store.” His philosophy of creating wealth for himself and those who worked for him is reflected in his active encouragement of his store managers to invest in their stores and share in the profits.
Second, he launched a determined effort to find manufacturers who could supply American-made merchandise for the entire Wal-Mart chain at a price low enough to meet foreign competition. In my distant memory, I can recall the proud declarations of “American-made” posted throughout Wal-Mart stores.
Sadly, the Walton heirs have departed from Sam’s founding principles to the detriment of the communities in which the stores are located, their employees and the image that Sam worked so hard to develop. Because of this deviation from old principles and Wal-Mart’s declining public image, many progressive consumers refuse to patronize or support Wal-Mart. This rejection of Wal-Mart patronage is, unfortunately, an effort in futility. Although many may not cross the threshold of a Wal-Mart store, most tax-paying Americans subsidize Wal-Mart by contributing to the public assistance received by Wal-Mart’s working poor.
Because so many Wal-Mart employees are paid at a rate below the poverty level, we, the taxpayers, are forced to pick-up the tab for Wal-Mart’s failure to pay a living-wage. It’s been estimated that each Wal-Mart employee may cost taxpayers up to $6000.00 per year. Some of those costs include: paying for free-and-reduced meals for public school students; Section 8 Housing Assistance; Earned Income Tax Credit; Medicaid; Low Income Home Energy Assistance; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Formerly the food stamp program).
While many Wal-Mart employees recognize the deficiency of their pay and would like to seek additional employment, a common complaint is of inconsistent work schedules. Willing workers are prevented from seeking added sources of income because they find themselves bound to the job they have rather than gambling on the possibility of other employment.
While we, the taxpayers, subsidize Wal-Mart’s working poor, the wealth of six of the Walton heirs rose from $73.3 to $89.5 billion! These six individuals own as much wealth as 41.5 % of all American families combined. Indisputably, Wal-Mart’s profits don’t translate into improvements in the wages or benefits of its employees. In November 2012, Wal-Mart ranked first among 12 companies paying Americans the least. It is obvious that Wal-Mart can do better by its employees.
Wal-Mart’s employee compensation stands in stark comparison to one of its main competitors, Costco, which has a reputation of paying its employees a living wage and providing ample benefits. The average hourly wage for a Costco employee is $21.96 per hour and 88% routinely work a sufficient number of hours to receive benefits associated with full-time employment. The $8.81 paid to the average Wal-Mart employee seems woefully insufficient in comparison. Factoring the large number of Wal-Mart employees who work less than fulltime schedules and receives no benefits, that $8.81 provides no financial security.
Sam Walton said, “Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community.” It is time that we stand to prevent those who now manage Wal-Mart from distorting his vision. We must not allow them to continue to use their financial power to subjugate those who seek a fair and living wage. We must remove their hands from the pockets of taxpayers and demand they pay their fair share. It’s up to you to determine how that objective will be best met.