Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wal-Mart walkouts: New ballgame for labor?

Wal-Mart doesn't seem to have a lot of friends as lightning strikes and walkouts spread throughout the country in the past few weeks. The Naked Capitalist yesterday ticked off the actions (overlooked as usual by the mainstream media) taken in support of the workers. She commented,
...nobody in the press seems to be quite sure how big this thing is.
Here are some clues:
  • The opening of a Walmart Neightborhood Market in San Ramon last month is one of the reasons some Walmart workers went on strike at five Bay Area stores on Tuesday, union organizers said.
  • ...there have been protests in Dartmouth, Raynham and Fall River the past few months over Walmart's labor practices. 
  • About 75 South Florida Walmart employees on Thursday joined the hundreds nationwide that have staged protests outside Walmart stores and corporate headquarters over the past few days.
  • About 90 workers walked off their jobs from 12 cities on Wednesday including Dallas, Miami, Orlando, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles. Others walked off their shifts in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Raw Story explains how the Wal-Mart walkouts show why conservatives should support unions: They allow workers to bargain for living wages so they don't have to depend on the government.
One of the problems striking workers cite is the lack of access to full-time working hours, which prevents them from obtaining even the meager health benefits the company offers. The National Consumer’s League (NCL) told Raw Story that Walmart’s refusal to provide those benefits by exploiting part-time labor leads to a number of spillover costs that taxpayers ultimately pick up. 
“Many Walmart workers are dependent on public assistance programs due to their low wages and not having access to full time jobs and being denied benefits because they’re not working the number of hours required to get access to those benefits, or the benefits are just so expensive that on their low wages they just can’t afford them,” NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg said in an exclusive interview. “Walmart has a record of even working with employees to sign them up for public assistance programs, which we think is really atrocious.” 
She added that Walmart’s position of keeping wages low in order to pass the savings along to consumers doesn’t wash either: “Companies that pay a decent wage and provide benefits to their workers help create a middle class that is able to buy the kinds of products that Walmart sells,” Greenberg explained. “It is actually a plus for companies if they provide fair compensation to workers. It’s also better for consumers when they’re able to actually afford housing, healthcare and have access to benefits of the kind we think Walmart, with all its success and profits, ought to be able to pay workers.
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