January, 2014

President’s Focus on Income Inequality Is a Step forward for Retail Workers

rw-sliderPresident Obama’s decision to focus on income inequality during his State of the Union Address this week, along with his announcement that he intends to raise wages for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour, was a step in the right direction for retail workers who have been fighting for better wages and benefits for the past few years.  While income inequality is an issue that requires leadership from President Obama and Congress, leadership is also needed from big players in the business community. Walmart—the world’s largest retailer—is a good place to start.

Walmart’s low-wage, part-time business practices have helped to widen the gap between the rich and poor.  While most Walmart workers struggle to get by on less than $25,000 a year, Walmart’s owners, the Waltons, are the richest family in America with as much wealth as 42 percent of Americans combined.  A new report from Oxfam International titled Working for the Few found that the world’s 85 richest people, including four members of the Walton family, own the same amount as the bottom half of the entire global population.

That’s why, for the past few years, current and former Walmart workers who are members of OUR Walmart have banded together for a voice on the job.  Since its inception, members of OUR Walmart have called on the retail giant 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. OUR Walmart members have also asked the retailer to stop its practice of retaliating against workers who are simply exercising their right to speak out for a better life and improved working conditions. These brave men and women have influenced other workers in the fast-food industry and beyond to stand together for better wages and benefits—actions that prompted President Obama to raise hourly wages for federal contract workers.

Members of OUR Walmart have launched a petition to meet with President Obama regarding their effort to improve working conditions at Walmart.  To sign the petition, visit http://blackfridayprotests.org/.

Walmart Workers’ Open Letter to Walmart’s New CEO

Originally posted on Making Change

5-Things 1.30

The following is an open letter to Walmart’s new CEO Doug McMillon from members of OUR Walmart.

Dear Mr. McMillon:

Congratulations on your appointment as Chief Executive Officer at Walmart. As a long-time Walmart executive, we know that you are deeply familiar with the hard work and many challenges facing associates at Walmart. Thousands of OUR Walmart members in stores across the country stand ready to work with you to change Walmart for the better under your leadership.

Many industry observers and analysts – as well as shareholders – have noted that our company’s low wages, erratic scheduling and understaffing are at the root of the out-of-stock and operational problems that have contributed to disappointing sales figures and low customer satisfaction ratings.

The low pay, coupled with inadequate hours and unpredictable scheduling, means that far too many of us cannot adequately provide for our families or contribute to our communities. For example, OUR Walmart member Barbara Collins, who worked at Walmart for more than eight years, was sometimes scheduled for as few as eight hours a week. She had to visit three different local food banks one month just to feed her family. Last year, she was illegally fired by Walmart after speaking out.

Walmart’s aggressive, and in many cases illegal, treatment of associates who speak out for better working conditions has not only prompted legal and public concerns, the company’s actions have emboldened more associates to get involved in the calls for better jobs

The call for Walmart to pay associates more and end retaliation against those who speak out has never been greater. This Black Friday, for example, tens of thousands of associates and members of our communities held protests at nearly 1,500 Walmart stores. Feeling the urgent need for Walmart to improve jobs, more than 100 of us were arrested in civil disobedience actions calling on Walmart to pay associates more and stop retaliating against those who speak out.

Your appointment as CEO provides an opportunity to begin a new chapter at Walmart. We are hopeful that you will seize this moment and change direction at Walmart in a way that reinvests in associates and our communities.

Members of OUR Walmart are committed to being partners in this endeavor.  We hope you agree that the hourly associates of OUR Walmart have an important role to play in improving our company, and we would like to meet with you with you at your earliest convenience so that you may listen to our concerns and hear our ideas for the future of Walmart.

Sincerely,

Barbara Collins
OUR Walmart member, illegally fired by Walmart
Store #2418, Placerville, CA

Charmaine Givens-Thomas
OUR Walmart member
Store #5485, Evergreen Park, IL

Anthony Goytia
OUR Walmart member
Store #2401, Duarte, CA

Cindy Murray
OUR Walmart member
Store #1985, Laurel, MD

Majority of Americans See a Growing Chasm Between the Rich and Poor, New Survey Finds

A new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and USA Today shows that Americans in both political parties see a growing gap between the rich and poor, but have differing views on the causes and solutions regarding income inequality.

140123-85_WealthiestThe survey, which was conducted on Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 adults, shows that 68 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans believe income inequality has increased over the last decade.  However, the role of government in combating poverty was viewed along partisan lines, with more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans saying that the government can and should do a lot to reduce poverty.  The majority of those surveyed support raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to expand programs for the poor (54 percent); raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour (73 percent); and extending unemployment benefits (63 percent).

President Obama is expected to highlight income inequality in his State of the Union address next week.

WALMART ILLEGALLY RETALIATED AGAINST WORKERS, NLRB FINDS

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued the largest ever complaint against Walmart for breaking federal labor law by violating workers’ rights. The complaint alleges that Walmart illegally fired and disciplined nearly 70 workers, including those who went on strike last June to speak out for better jobs.

The NLRB asserts illegal activities in 14 states at 34 stores and shows that Walmart executives conceived and oversaw the implementation of an unlawful retaliation policy for store managers to execute. The complaint—the largest ever against Walmart in both size and scale—names 63 individual store managers and Vice President of Communication David Tovar.

Current and former Walmart workers who members of OUR Walmart have called on the retail giant to stop its practice of retaliating against workers who are speaking out for positive change,photo (7) and publicly commit to increasing access to full-time work and raising wages to at least $25,000 per year.  While the majority of Walmart associates are paid less than $25,000 a year, Walmart makes $17 billion in annual profits and the Waltons—the richest family in the country—has a combined wealth of $144.7 billion.

“Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” said Barbara Collins, a fired Walmart worker from Placerville, Calif., who is one of the workers named in the complaint. “But too much is at stake—the strength of our economy and the security of our families—to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs. Now the federal government is confirming what we already know: we have the right to speak out, and Walmart fired me and my co-workers illegally. With a new CEO taking over in a few weeks, we hope that Walmart will take a new direction in listening to associates and the country in the growing calls to improve jobs.”

The NLRB complaint will go before an administrative law judge. If Walmart is found liable, workers could be awarded back pay, reinstatement and the reversal of disciplinary actions through the decision; and Walmart could be required to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights. While historic, the complaint alone is not enough to stop the retail giant from violating the law. Since the start of the year, Walmart has continued to retaliate against workers who speak out for better jobs.

Members of OUR Walmart have launched a petition to meet with President Obama regarding their effort to improve working conditions at Walmart.  To sign the petition or to sponsor a fired worker, visit http://blackfridayprotests.org/.

New Report Sheds Light on Extent of Poverty in the U.S.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that while a small fraction of people live in poverty for more than a year, a large percentage of people experience poverty for shorter time periods.  According to the report, nearly one third of the U.S. population — 31.6 percent — fell below the official poverty line for at least two months between 2009 and 2011, while 3.5 percent of the U.S. population remained poor for that entire period.

It’s clear that more needs to be done to help Americans get back on their feet and the retail sector is a good place to start.  According to the Department of Labor, the retail sector continues to play a major role in the U.S. economy—adding 55,000 jobs in December and an average of 32,000 jobs per month in 2013—but most of these jobs are low-wage or part-time positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the retail industry typically make about $25,000 per year, which is a far cry from the nation’s average annual pay of $45,790.

As our country observes the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s anti-poverty campaign, the Retail Justice Alliance looks forward to another year of standing with retail workers across the country as they take the lead in the new war on poverty.

50 Years Later, Retail Workers Lead the New War on Poverty

2013-11-29_08-30-26_10On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” during his State of the Union address. Today—50 years later—the war on poverty continues, but this time it’s being led by workers in the retail industry.

Although the retail sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States and an important employer of minorities and women, too many retail workers are struggling to survive in low-wage jobs with inconsistent hours and little to no benefits.  As income inequality continues to grow, it’s critically important that leaders in the retail sector lead the way in making sure that retail jobs are good jobs with benefits so that workers in this growing industry can make enough to support their families and contribute to their local economies and communities.  Walmart—the world’s largest retailer—is a good place to start.

As the largest private employer in the country, Walmart’s low-wage, part-time business model has had an enormous impact on our country’s labor, business, and employment climate.  The retail giant’s drive to lower wages has influenced other retailers to do the same and lowered the standard of living for millions of retail workers across the country.

The Retail Justice Alliance looks forward to another year of standing with current and former Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) as they fight to change the way that the retail giant does business.  Members of OUR Walmart have launched a petition to meet with President Obama regarding their effort to improve working conditions at Walmart.  To sign the petition, visit http://blackfridayprotests.org/.