Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How Walmart brought Southern wages to the North

Walmart lowers everybody's wages. 
When Walmart opens a new store in a community, it doesn't just lower wages for retail workers. Walmart lowers them for all workers until they're as much as 4.8 percent below wages in counties without Walmarts.

It's not as if Walmart can't afford to pay better wages. Stephen Gandel at Fortune Magazine reported recently that Walmart could easily pay its workers 50 percent more. Here's how Gandel calculated:
Wal-Mart has a book value of $76.7 billion. Take 15.4% of that, and that means investors are looking to get paid $11.8 billion a year. That leaves $101 billion to pay employees. 
Wal-Mart paid its top executives and board members $66.7 million last year. The rest of the money has to be split among Wal-Mart's remaining roughly 2.2 million employees. Of those, about 1.4 million work in the U.S. Assume that Wal-Mart spends about 2/3 of that on the salaries of its U.S. employees, because salaries are generally higher here. That leaves $66.6 billion for the U.S. workers, or $47,593. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 30% of the average U.S. workers' total compensation is spent on benefits. 
That means the average Wal-Mart employee's take home pay should be $33,315. Wal-Mart doesn't say what its actual average salary is. But Payscale estimated it to be just over $22,000 at the end of last year.
Of course, Walmart management won't do that. Walmart CEO Mike Duke has to earn 1,034 times more than the company's average worker.

Harold Meyerson points an accusing finger at Walmart for bringing Southern pay practices North. He gives a brief history in an American Prospect essay about the decline in American wages that began in 1974. (Thanks, Richard Nixon.)
The definitive Southern company, and the company that has done the most to subject the American job to the substandard standards of the South, has been Wal-Mart, which began as a single store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. That year, the federal minimum wage, set at $1.15 an hour, was extended to retail workers, much to the dismay of Sam Walton, who was paying the employees at his fast-growing chain half that amount. Since the law initially applied to businesses with 50 or more employees, Walton argued that each of his stores was a separate entity, a claim that the Department of Labor rejected, fining Walton for his evasion of federal law. 
Undaunted, Wal-Mart has carried its commitment to low wages through a subsequent half-century of relentless expansion. In 1990, it became the country’s largest retailer, and today the chain is the world’s largest private-sector employer, with 1.3 million employees in the United States and just under a million abroad. As Wal-Mart grew beyond its Ozark base, it brought Walton’s Southern standards north. In retail marketing, payroll generally constitutes between 8 percent and 12 percent of sales, but at Wal-Mart, managers are directed to keep payroll expenses between 5.5 percent and 8 percent of sales. Managers who fail at this don’t remain managers for long. While Wal-Mart claims the average hourly wage of its workers is $12.67, employees contend it is several dollars lower... 
By controlling a huge share of the U.S. retail market, including an estimated 20 percent of the grocery trade, Wal-Mart has also been able to mandate reduced prices all along its worldwide supply chain. In response, manufacturers have slashed the wages of their employees and gone abroad in search of cheaper labor. The warehouse workers who unload the containers in which the company’s goods are shipped from China to the U.S. and repackage them for sale are retained by low-wage temporary employment agencies, though many of those workers have held the same job for years.  
Shunting its workers off to temp agencies is just one of the many ways Wal-Mart diminishes what it sees as the risk of unionization. When the employees in one Canadian store voted to unionize, Wal-Mart closed the store. When butchers in one Texas outlet voted to go union, Wal-Mart eliminated the meat department in that store and in every other store in Texas and the six surrounding states. But Wal-Mart’s antipathy to unions and affinity for low wages merely reflects the South’s historic opposition to worker autonomy and employee rights. By coming north, though, Wal-Mart has lowered retail-sector wages throughout the U.S.
Read the whole thing here.