Retail Workers and the Summer of Discontent

DSC_6674For retail workers across the country, this has been the summer of discontent.  Although the retail sector is the largest industry by employment in the United States and has added over 350,000 jobs to the economy over the past 12 months, many of these jobs are low-wage and part-time positions.  This summer, retail workers have spoken out about their struggle to survive in low-wage jobs with inconsistent hours and are calling on their employers for decent wages and benefits.

In June, members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) sent civil rights movement–style caravans of workers from around the country to Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Bentonville, Ark., to protest the retail giant’s  practice of retaliating against workers who speak out for change.  Citing Walmart’s $16 billion in profits every year, OUR Walmart members called 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 year.

In the past few weeks, OUR Walmart members and community allies throughout the country have continued to call on Walmart to stop violating employees’ labor rights and freedom of speech and reinstate the Walmart employees who were illegally fired for participating in a legally protected unfair labor practice strike in Bentonville. Retail food workers are also standing together for better wages and benefits, and the recent strikes in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and other cities have given a voice to workers who can’t make ends meet on $9 or $10 per hour, let alone the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Retail jobs are here to stay, and more and more workers in this industry are taking a stand for better wages and benefits.  It’s time for leaders in the retail sector to listen to their workers and lead the way in making sure that retail jobs are good jobs with benefits so that workers in this growing industry have a pathway to the middle class.

For more information about OUR Walmart, visit http://makingchangeatwalmart.org/.