11/23/2013

Black Friday protest targets Walmart

Do you shop on Black Friday?  If so, you're supporting a lot more than you think.  Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving where retailers hold sales designed to increase their holiday revenue.  It's the biggest shopping day of the year for most of these businesses.

Over the past many years, Black Friday has started earlier and earlier until it has merged and morphed into "Shop-on-Thanksgiving-after-your-meal-Thursday".  Where traditionally Thanksgiving was a day off to be with family and be thankful, it has increasingly become the day when those with low-wage jobs are forced to work while others are allowed to be home enjoying a wonderful meal with their loved ones.

Many would say, well, they're getting paid to be there, right?  In some retail cases, this is true.  Holiday pay is usually considered overtime or time and a half.  Hospital employees get extra pay for working on holidays as hospitals never close.  Someone has to be there.  But in the case of retail, shopping isn't life or death.  And sadly, in some cases, the retailers find ways to short their employees out of the extra pay that would normally take the edge off of the fact that they have to work on that holiday.  Walmart says it will be offering their employees holiday pay (after a great deal of protest the previous year when they began their Black Friday at 8 p.m. Thursday), a catered Thanksgiving dinner, and a 25% off one item discount.  Is it worth it when the rest of the year is paid out at minimum wage? 

In the news a lot lately, Walmart has been the target of activists seeking to both unionize for the employees and for those who are just fed up with seeing the retail giant collect billions in profit while their employees make so little that many of them require government assistance just to make ends meet.  In a rather stupid move from a publicity standpoint, Walmart even began holding a food drive for their own employees so they would be able to have a Thanksgiving meal.  Unbelievable!  First, they sell food.  Why not just provide their employees with a gift card for groceries?  Second, when will these employees have time to eat this meal given by good Samaritans and tax payers since Walmart will be open for business on Thanksgiving Day?  Meanwhile, Walmart CEOs will be home enjoying an extravagant meal with their families.  Honestly, it's enough to put folks off their food.

Reported in an article dated November 2012, VeracityStew.com cited "America’s low-wage economy is marked by two extremes. On the one hand, workers earning at or near the minimum wage are seeing the real value of their paychecks diminish steadily over time, as the cost of living increases while their wages remain stagnant. After nearly half a century of neglect, today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is decades out of date. In terms of purchasing power, its value is 30 percent lower today than it was in 1968.
 
On the other hand, many corporations are posting record-breaking profits. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that, after sinking from 2007 to 2009, corporate profits had successfully caught up to their pre-recession peak by the beginning of 2010 – and that by the third quarter of 2011, total profits for U.S. corporations reached a new record high of $1.97 trillion.

The rich are getting richer which would be fine if not for the fact that the middle class are becoming poor, and the poor are getting poorer.  With this in mind, OccupyWallSt.org has awakened from its slumber to organize a Black Friday protest at all Walmart locations across the nation.

In their email press release, they state:  "Walmart workers are mobilizing to take action on Black Friday in your area and they need you to support them directly, in the streets.

Even Ashton Kutcher gets it.  Companies throughout the world have followed Walmart’s example, creating low-pay, low-security jobs.

We have all seen our friends, family and neighbors struggle as they are forced to take jobs they know can’t cover their bills. We’re all paying the price for the Walmart economy.

But there is hope for change. All around the country, Walmart workers are standing up. They have gone on strike in Dallas, Cincinatti, and Southern California to protest Walmart’s attempts to silence them by firing and disciplining those who stand up for their coworkers’ rights. They’re tired of looking their children in the eyes and having to explain why there’s no food in the cabinets while they work for one of the most profitable companies in the world.  Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year, they’ll be holding protests to call  on Walmart pay a real wage of $25,000/yr for fulltime work and to end the retaliation against those who speak out. Workers in YOUR CITY are planning to act. Making Change at Walmart is holding a quick course in how you can support them and mobilize for action.

Can you attend a protest training this week to learn how you can get more involved? If you’re interested in supporting Walmart workers as they let companies know that Walmart-style jobs aren’t good enough for our country, RSVP and get more information.

On OccupyWallSt.org:
Show Your Solidarity While Supporting the #WalmartStrikers
#BlackFriday Practical Protest Techniques: Using Your Body and a Few Simple Tools

Indeed, even Ashton Kutcher, who is widely known for playing the "dumb" guy, is actually quite smart, and is growing into a major player in the world of activism.  Reported in the news recently is Kutcher's ongoing Twitter war with Walmart where he has challenged the retailer to explain why they can't pay their employees a living wage.  The battle of words is still going on with some piping in that unskilled labor shouldn't be paid much.  That's actually offensive as NO job is unskilled.  Every position requires learning how to do something.  Walmart employees must learn how to operate registers.  How to use credit card machines.  How to provide good customer service.  In addition, they are required to be on their feet for many long hours a day with only short breaks, if any, in between.  To argue that working at Walmart is a job a monkey can do is absurd because if that were true, Walmart would probably hire monkeys and pay them in bananas.

To further argue that since it's mostly physical, these employees shouldn't be paid a living wage is even more ridiculous.  Digging trenches, plumbing, construction work, janitorial, collecting trash, cleaning sewers, and more are all non-degree jobs that are essential and physically demanding, and they all pay better than Walmart.  If every employee in a Walmart suddenly walked out the door, who would help customers?  Who would check them out?  Who would stock the shelves, make the orders, clean the store?

Now Walmart does have some redeeming qualities.  They do hire the elderly.  They have also made a push to hire military veterans.  These are good things, but Walmart can do much better, and they won't do it unless the people demand it.  Consumers have the power to demand change.

To make a good point, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek says he pays his employees a starting wage of $11.50 an hour in every state where they do business.  He says it makes good sense for business to pay employees a living wage and they still manage to keep their overhead costs low.  That's what is called setting the example.

As stated in a Huffington Post article written by Bonnie Kavoussi, the average pay for a Costco employee in 2011 was $45,000 annually -- above market rate, while the average cost comparitively for a Walmart Sam's Club employee (full-time) was $17,486.00 per Glassdoor.com.   On top of that, Costco also provides health insurance coverage to a higher percentage of its employees than Walmart as reported by the Harvard Business Review in 2006.

Numbers don't lie, and are most revealing.  So when you finish polishing off that turkey leg next week, and decide that a little early Christmas shopping is in order, remember that where you shop matters.  Your purchases support a business so understand just what you're supporting.  Did that employee who just checked you out get to be home with their family?  What compensation is being offered to these employees for working on a national holiday?

Maybe instead of doing some early shopping on items marked up 40% just to be advertised as on sale for 20% off, you might consider staying home, watching movies with loved ones, and going for a second slice of pumpkin pie.  If you feel the need to get out and wander around, try joining a Black Friday protest.  Advocating for others treated unfairly is a stellar way to give thanks.