Walmart workers arrested protesting low wages, lack of respect

Police in Washington DC on August 22 arrested 12 people participating in a sit-in at Walmart’s local headquarters. Most of those arrested were current or former Walmart workers like Brandon Garrett of Baker Louisiana, who recently was fired after participating in a legal unfair labor practices strike against the retail giant.

The non-violent action in Washington, organized by Making Change at Walmart and Organization United for Respect at Walmart, was a protest against Walmart’s firing and disciplining of 70 workers who have participated in legal unfair labor practices strikes. It was also a protest against the substandard wages paid by Walmart.

The two groups have demanded that by Labor Day Walmart reinstate the fired workers and start paying a living wage or face intensified non-violent actions.

Garrett and other Walmart workers went on strike in May and travelled to Walmart’s global headquarters in Arkansas to urge shareholders and executives to stop the intimidation and harassment of company workers speaking out for change on the job.

Because the workers struck over intimidation and harassment, it was an unfair labor practices strike. Those participating in unfair labor practices strike under law cannot be fired if they return to work unconditionally, which Garrett and the others did.

But when Garrett returned to work, Walmart fired him.

Garrett, who dropped out of college to support an ailing mother, in an email message to supporters said that after going to work for Walmart, he found that the store did not pay a living wage.

“We were constantly understaffed and stretched thin,” added Garrett. “Worst of all, we were treated with such a lack of respect they made you feel like you weren’t even a human being.”

Garrett like other Walmart workers is the victim of Walmart’s business strategy that continuously looks for ways to lower labor costs.

As a result of this strategy, Walmart wages are well below the retail industry average. The average hourly wage for a Walmart sales clerk is $8.23 an hour; the industry average is $10.35.

But the store’s workers aren’t the only ones affected by Walmart’s successful race to the bottom.

Walmart employs 1.2 million people, most of whom work in low paying jobs. As the New York Times recently reported, the low wages paid by Walmart and its competitors have become a major drag on the economy.

Low wages lead to under consumption, and under consumption leads to a stagnant economy.

Walmart’s low-wage strategy has even had an impact on the store’s recent performance.

For the second quarter in a row, Walmart reported a decline in same-store revenue, a key metric that analysts use to judge retail companies’ performances. Walmart same-store revenue in the second quarter declined 0.3 percent, forcing the company to lower its earnings per-share estimate.

Walmart wasn’t the only retailer to report bad numbers in the second quarter. The Times reports that retailers like Walmart and Kohls that cater to low-wage customers and pay low wages themselves reported across the board sluggish sales in the second quarter.

Ken Perkins, whose company Retail Metrics tracks the performance of retailers, blamed the sluggish sales on the fact that customers of these stores only have enough money to buy the bare essentials.

“There is a certain segment of the population that is faring well in this economy and have seen their net worth rise sharply with stock and housing market gains,” said  Perkins to the Times. “Then there is the much larger segment of Americans that are working in low-wage jobs, part-time jobs, that are struggling to make ends meet, and are living paycheck to paycheck. They are not spending beyond necessities.”

Walmart’s low wages and lack of benefits also mean that the public is picking up Walmart’s tab for health care and other human services.

A report released in June by the Democratic staff of the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce finds that a single 300-person Walmart supercenter in Wisconsin costs state and local taxpayers $905,542 a year in Medicaid expenses alone.

“While employers like Wal-Mart seek to reap significant profits through the depression of labor costs, the social costs of this low-wage strategy are externalized,” concludes the report entitled The Low-Wage Drag on Our Economy: Wal-Mart’s Low Wages and Their Effect on Taxpayers and Economic Growth. “Low wages not only harm workers and their families — they cost taxpayers.”

That’s why Garrett is urging Walmart employees, other low wage employees, and everyone else affected by Walmart’s low-wage strategy to take a stand for justice at Walmart.

“It’s time to draw a line in the sand,” said Garrett. “Let’s send Walmart a clear message: If you fail to act by Labor Day, actions will intensify around the country.”

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