In preparation for Walmart's annual stockholder meeting, which is to be held June 6, a group of Walmart employees went on strikelast Friday, demanding better pay and working conditions.
The overall story “Walmart employees allege various forms of mistreatment” has been ongoing for years. As early as 2004, for example, the New York Times reported that night-shift employees were locked in the store overnight and forbidden to leave on pain of firing, even in case of medical emergencies.
The latest chapter in the story unfolded when the sporadic walk-outs started last week. The workers' group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, also known as “OUR Walmart,” is behind the strike.
OUR Walmart's complaints can be broken down into three basic categories: workers' pay is inherently too low; working conditions are often poor; and employee scheduling tends to be erratic and last-minute, making it impossible to try holding a second job or any other activities, since you never know in advance when or if Walmart expects you at work.
Sales slipping, profits off
Walmart for its part takes the position that it cannot afford to offer pay as high as OUR Walmart wants, and that its various workplace conditions — such as its pregnancy policies — meet or exceed legal requirements.
When Masslive.com reported the May 30 protest at a Walmart in Chicopee, Massachusetts, it said: “The company has denied that workers are underpaid or mistreated, and blamed much of the furor on the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has tried to unionize the company’s workers.”
It's not only Walmart that says times are tough. Investors are complaining too.
Last month, John Schwinghamer, a Montreal portfolio manager, said he sold all of his shares of Wal-Mart after a key measure of the company’s profitability fell in consecutive quarters for the first time in at least 20 years.
“This is a game changer and a warning sign to investors that Wal-Mart is facing challenges in the competitive environment that they may not easily overcome this time,” said Schwinghamer, according to the Wall Street Journal's Moneybeat blog.
Wal-Mart’s earnings per share dropped by 3.5% in the quarter ended April 30, following a 20% drop in the previous quarter, according to S&P Capital IQ.
On June 2, the Christian Science Monitor ran a guest column by Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, discussing the issue. Reich, who compared the Walmart strikers with civil rights protestors from 50 years ago, summarized the issue as follows:
Although Walmart is no Bull Connor, it’s the poster child for keeping low-wage workers down. America’s largest employer, with 1.4 million workers, refuses to provide most of them with an income they can live on. The vast majority earns under $25,000 a year, with an average hourly wage of about $8.80.
You and I and other taxpayers shell out for these workers’ Medicaid and food stamps because they and their families can’t stay afloat on what Walmart pays. (I’ve often thought Walmart and other big employers should have to pay a tax equal to the public assistance their workers receive because the companies don’t pay them enough to stay out of poverty.)
Reich went on to discuss various lawsuits against the company. Last January, the National Labor Relations Board filed a consolidated complaint against Walmart, citing allegations that in at least 13 states, the company violated the rights of its employes who were engaged in legal acts of employee protest.
An NLRB press release dated January 15 listed the following violations allegedly committed by Walmart:
During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests.
At stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington, Walmart unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.
At stores in California, Florida, and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened, surveilled, disciplined, and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees’ other protected concerted activities.
Not all the protests are taking place at Walmart stores. On June 2, OUR Walmart held another protest and posted photos on its Facebook page under the caption “#Walmartstrikers & #Walmartmoms from around the country march to Walmart Chairman Rob Walton's house in Phoenix, calling for an end to retaliation & bullying.”
In preparation for Walmart's annual stockholder meeting, which is to be held June 6, a group of Walmart employees went on strike last Friday, demanding bet...