Walmart workers across the U.S. have begun walkouts and are trying to organize protests on the busiest shopping day of the year. The company responded with a Romney-esque lie, and a commenter replied with an all-too-common myth. (More)

Walmart, Strikes, Lies, and ‘Freeloaders’

With over two million employees worldwide, Walmart is the world’s third-largest employer, behind only the U.S. and Chinese militaries. Forbes magazine lists the Walton family as the richest in the world, and the company is now taking on major banks by offering prepaid cash cards:

It’s unclear how much money Walmart makes off its financial offerings. Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Walmart U.S would not detail exactly how it will benefit financially from the new Bluebird accounts.

Bank analyst Dick Bove speculates that it could be receiving a commission from American Express every time cash is loaded on to the card or that it might be sharing in the return on the float.

American Express would not disclose terms of the economic agreement with Walmart.

The article notes that Walmart will probably save money on bank swipe fees, which are roughly 21 cents per transaction. Walmart claims their cash cards will save customers money over bank accounts and debit cards, but the FDIC and Consumer Reports warn that cash cards are not federally protected in the same way as bank accounts, nor do they the same legal safeguards against fraud or predatory financial practices.

Regardless, the stock market’s response to the announcement of the new cash cards made each Walton heir $1.67 billion richer yesterday.

Walmart walkout spreads

That background seems relevant to the news that a Walmart workers’ walkout in Los Angeles is spreading across the country:

One of the many things the company is known for is being aggressively anti-union. None of its American employees have officially unionized, and all attempts to do so to date have been crushed.

So it may come as a surprise that in the same week that Walmart (WMT) shares hit an all-time high, its workers across the country appear to be trying to organize and walk out for the first time in the company’s history in demand of better wages, benefits and work hours.

Organizers say walkouts and protests have now targeted 28 stores in twelve states, and they hope for a nationwide protest on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year:

[Protest spokesperson Dan] Schlademan said Wal-Mart employees had walked off the job in Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Sacramento and Orlando, Fla., and in the Chicago and Washington areas. Tuesday’s job actions were sponsored by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, a group of several thousand Walmart employees that is closely affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

“These leaders of OUR Walmart have engaged in a strike to protest Wal-Mart’s retaliation and to send a message to Wal-Mart and their co-workers that they have a right to speak out,” Mr. Schlademan said. “The idea that this is just a publicity stunt is inaccurate.”

He said this week’s events were aimed at pressing Wal-Mart to increase wages, stop cutting workers’ hours and treat employees with respect.

Among the protesters’ charges is that Walmart retaliates against workers who try to organize labor unions, including by cutting their hours, which violates federal law.

“Our full-time average wage….”

Walmart spokespersons dismissed the walkouts a “union publicity stunt,” noting that all of their 4400 stores have so far remained open. The New York Times quotes David Tovar saying “Our full-time average wage is $12.54 an hour, which is $5 above the federal minimum wage,” and CBS quotes Dan Fogelman saying “the average full-time associate in California makes $12.82 an hour.”

What the spokespersons leave out, readers reply, is that $12-per-hour figure applies to assistant store managers. Most Walmart workers are employed only part-time and make little more than minimum wage. Citing the full-time average wage as if it applied to part-time employees is a Romney-esque lie.

Worse, part-time employees in most retail businesses are expected to be available even when they’re not on the schedule. Managers expect to call off-duty employees to fill in for those who are scheduled but get sick or have other emergencies. Off-duty workers who can’t come in – say, because they’re working another part-time job to make ends meet – typically find their hours cut because they’re not “reliable.”

“Something for nothing”

So a typical part-time Walmart worker making $8.50 per hour for 25 hours a week brings home less than $200 a week. That’s below the federal poverty guideline. Yet, again, that part-time worker is likely expected to be available anytime the store is open or be tagged as “unreliable.” All so shoppers can save a few cents on consumer goods … and so the Walmart heirs can remain the world’s richest family.

And when workers complain about that, enter the holier-than-thou commenter:

No one says you have to work there. These idiots act like they’re working in a Chinese sweatshop for $2 a day. They are lucky to have jobs and they clearly have no idea how society functions. If you want more, then work harder and smarter than the next guy. I have no sympathy for these coddled masses.

He goes on in response to another comment:

Who forced you to work there? Did someone put a gun to your head? The great thing about America is that you’re free to work for anyone who values your skills. Grow up and quit expecting something for nothing.

Another aptly-screen-named commenter calls Walmart a “stepping stone job,” echoing the common conservative myth that anyone who wants to earn more – say, enough to escape poverty – should find a better job.

Well, here’s the thing. When that commenter goes into Walmart, he expects someone to have unloaded the delivery truck and stocked the shelves. He expects someone to have mopped the floors and cleaned the bathrooms. He expects someone to be ready to check him out. And he expects someone to gather up the shopping cart he leaves in the parking lot and bring it back into the store.

All of those someones need food, homes, clothes, transportation to work, and health care. Many also have families who need those same things. They can’t afford all of that on what they’re paid to do a job … that we expect someone to do.

Yet they’re the “coddled masses” who expect “something for nothing?”

The only way that makes sense is revealed by this comment:

I would gladly sacrifice a million workers for one Jesus Christ, Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, even the inventors like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, etc those that made Tv [sic], radio, airplanes and the founder of Walmart were men and women that created with their own minds and bodies. Communism and unions seek to change our system of government so that the workers lead us and decide how much men can do and if Obama is reelected the foul stench of socialism will grow it’s evil vine of death.

The “something for nothing” myth is not that the “coddled masses” of Walmart workers do “nothing” … but that they are “nothing.”

As you phone bank and canvass and do your other GOTV work over the coming weeks, take a moment to remember who and what we Democrats stand for … and who and what we stand against.


Happy Thursday!