July, 2014

As Walmart Workers Struggle, U.S. CEO Bill Simon Steps Down with $9 Million Retirement Package

10557532_857764227584809_361373269439561759_oLast week, Walmart’s U.S. CEO Bill Simon stepped down after five consecutive quarters of slumping sales and declining brand value. During Simon’s tenure, Walmart stores have been plagued with chronic understaffing due to the company’s low-wage, part-time business strategy, which has led to empty shelves, long lines, and—according to a new poll by Lake Research Partners—lower customer satisfaction.  Despite these failings, The Wall Street Journal reports that Simon will leave with a retirement package that is estimated to be worth around $9 million. Simon will be replaced by Greg Foran, Walmart’s current president and CEO in Asia.

As Simon leaves with a retirement package worth millions, current and former Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) continue to speak out about their struggle to support their families and contribute to their local economies because of low wages and insufficient hours.  Members of OUR Walmart are calling 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.

“It was Bill Simon who revealed the majority of us are paid less than $25,000 a year. Sadly, workers at Walmart face the same reality today of poverty wages and unpredictable schedules that have put the entire economy out of balance,” said OUR Walmart member Anthony Goytia, a father of three who works at a Walmart store in Duarte, Calif. “Mr. Foran should work with OUR Walmart to improve jobs at our company so we have the opportunity to join the middle class, strengthen our company’s bottom line and improve our nation’s economy. That means Walmart should publicly commit to pay us a minimum of $25,000 a year, provide full-time work and end retaliation against those of us who speak out for better jobs.”

Retail Justice Alliance Supports Schedules That Work Act

10475677_856160454411853_1524949812110337541_nAlthough the retail sector—which is an important employer of minorities and women—has added an average of 26,000 jobs per month over the past 12 months, too many retail workers are struggling to survive in low-wage wage jobs with unpredictable scheduling practices that stand in the way of competing life demands and threaten their economic security.

The Schedules That Work Act would provide retail workers with modest safeguards and begin to curb the most abusive scheduling practices. This legislation includes a presumption that retail workers who need a schedule change due to child care, school, a second job, or medical needs will receive that change unless there is a bona fide business reason not to. The legislation also provides retail workers advance notice of their schedules and guarantees minimum pay when they are sent home from work before completing their entire shift.

Fair, flexible, and reliable scheduling is a simple way to ensure that retail workers are treated with dignity and respect, and the Retail Justice Alliance urges Congress to pass the Schedules That Work Act as soon as possible.

Fighting for Family Values at Walmart

This post was originally featured on WhiteHouse.gov. Read more about Champions of Change here.

benet_holmesIt took a tragedy to make me a Champion of Change.

I work at a Walmart store in Chicago, and like many Walmart workers, I work hard to provide for my child. But it hasn’t been easy. I make $8.75 an hour, which is about $15,000 a year. My five-year-old son and I live with my parents because I can’t afford a place of my own. Almost half of my pay goes toward day care for my son, and—like many Walmart workers—I recently applied for food stamps just to make ends meet. While it’s always been a struggle to work at Walmart, I never spoke up until I suffered through one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life.

Last February, I was four months pregnant with my second child, and asked my manager for an assignment that required limited lifting because I knew that the work I was performing was putting excessive strain on my body. My manager refused my request, and the next day I had a miscarriage at work. When I asked for a leave of absence after my miscarriage, I was denied that request as well. I took time off anyway to recover from my miscarriage, and my manager attempted to discipline me for my absence.

Besides feeling betrayed by Walmart, I questioned how a company that champions family values could be so cold and heartless toward an employee that was dealing with the loss of a child. I knew I had to act because I didn’t want other women at Walmart to go through the same experience. That’s why I became a member of the associate-led Organization United for Respect Walmart (OUR Walmart). Working with OUR Walmart and women’s groups, I became involved with the “Respect the Bump” campaign to ensure that all pregnant women at Walmart are able to get light duty when they need it.

A few months ago, we achieved our goal when Walmart announced a major policy shift that will ensure that women with pregnancy-related complications are given some basic accommodations that will help them keep their jobs and provide for their families. While this policy does not go far enough to provide reasonable accommodations regarding physical demands for all pregnant women, it’s a step forward in protecting the jobs and the health of women and their babies. OUR Walmart members are also calling on Walmart to publicly commit to paying its workers a minimum of $25,000 a year, providing full-time work, and ending the company’s illegal retaliation against workers who are speaking out for better jobs.

I’m proud to be part of a movement that’s leading the fight to change the way Walmart does business, and hope my story will inspire others to take a stand for better workplace conditions even in the face of tragedy.

Bene’t Holmes works at a Walmart store in Chicago and is a member of OUR Walmart.

New Poverty Report Underscores Need for Minimum Wage Increase

tavis talksA new report from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that one in four people in the U.S. live in areas with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent. The report, titled Changes in Areas With Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010, shows that the number of people living in poverty areas increased from 49.5 million (18.0 percent) in 2000 to 77.4 million (25.7 percent) in 2008 to 2012. Although minorities and households headed by single mothers were at the greatest risk of living in poverty, this report shows that the entire country was affected by the spike in poverty, regardless of race.

Clearly, more needs to be done to help the many Americans living in poverty and raising the minimum wage from the current federal rate of $7.25 to the proposed $10.10 per hour is a good place to start. According to Associate Professor of Economics at UMass Amherst Arin Dube, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would reduce the number of people living in poverty by 4.6 million.

Despite the numerous reports about the increase of poverty in the U.S. and academic research that shows that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty, Senate Republicans have failed to advance legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and index it to inflation.  This is simply wrong, and 18 states from California to New Jersey have refused to sit by, raising their own minimum wage to levels higher than the federal rate.  But that’s not enough.  All Americans deserve a living wage, and this problem calls for a federal solution.  This is an election year, and the Retail Justice Alliance urges Senate Republicans to think about the many voters in their districts who are living in poverty and raise the minimum wage.

Online, Workers Reveal the Truth About Working at Walmart

Originally posted on Making Change at Walmart

10380479_910933025590421_8801443623780142795_oWorking at the world’s largest private employer is no easy task. On top of receiving low-wages and inconsistent scheduling, many Walmart workers and managers alike continue to come forward  online to share their horror stories, documenting the lack of respect they experience.

As one manager recently told Gawker:

“Along with the ‘productivity’ issue used to terminate people and deny them unemployment rights, management seems to have a new weapon in their arsenal in the form of ‘Gross Misconduct/Ethics’. They pull this out like a cheap pistol and use it for any reason you can imagine to circumvent federal labor laws. Once a statement is written and approved by store management, you are terminated with no recourse.”

The former department manager goes on to warn Walmart workers to document everything, so management can’t easily dismiss them without reason.

While many of the recent terminations have been illegally retaliatory against workers who are standing up for their right to speak out for change at Walmart, workers report that everyone is vulnerable to seemingly arbitrary termination. In the same report to Gawker, a Walmart stocker of ten years reflects on the unrealistic work quotas the company assigns and the discipline that follows when someone fails to reach an unachievable goal.

“The truth of the matter is Walmart is a horrible place to work. These experiences happen to everyone who work for this company on a store level. It doesn’t matter if you are management or an associate you are always going to have to deal with these types of situations because life like this is the true Walmart culture.”

As workers continue to raise these questions, online forums and sites like Gawker have provided an easy and anonymous place for them to voice their dissent. You can read an extensive list of these stories on a previous Gawker post.

Retail Sector Continues to Add Jobs in June, But Many are Low-wage or Part-time

good jobsWhile the retail sector continues to play a major role in adding jobs to the economy, many of these jobs are low-wage or part-time positions.  According to the Department of Labor, U.S. employers added 288,000 jobs in June as the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent, and 40,000 of those jobs were in the retail sector.

Although the retail sector—which is an important employer of minorities and women—has added an average of 26,000 jobs per month over the past 12 months, too many retail workers are struggling to survive in minimum wage jobs with inconsistent hours and few benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the retail industry typically make about $10.29 per hour or $21,410 per year—which is below the federal poverty level of $23,850 for a family of four.

Academic studies show that giving retail workers access to full-time schedules, better pay and benefits could pay off for employers. Zeynep Ton, an adjunct associate professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and author of The Good Jobs Strategy, maintains that retailers such as Costco that invest in their employees—including higher pay, better benefits and schedules, and more training—have seen positive results, including healthy sales and profit growth, higher labor productivity, lower turnover and higher customer satisfaction.

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.


A Bad Week for Workers and the Middle Class

This was a bad week for workers everywhere. This week started with the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn ruling, which was brought by the right-wing, anti-worker National Right to Work Foundation and other corporate interests with the end goal of silencing workers’ voices on the job and weakening the middle class. And while this decision primarily affects home health care workers, it sets a terrible precedent for other workers seeking a voice on the job.

This week, labor unions also marked the one-year anniversary of the Senate’s passage of comprehensive immigration reform—legislation that created a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans and strengthened protections for immigrant workers. And one year later, in spite of the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the border, it remains the only meaningful step taken toward fixing our broken immigration system.

The Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn ruling and the refusal of House Republicans to fix our immigration system is bad news for workers everywhere. It’s up to all of us to take a stand and redouble our efforts to fight for workers’ rights with the end goal of leveling the playing field, bringing workers out of the shadows, and restoring America’s middle class.