On Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, shoppers will be greeted by demonstrations in support of striking Walmart employees at hundreds of Walmart stores across the country.
The intent of the demonstrations is not to discourage shoppers from shopping at Walmart but to bring to their attention that those low prices they enjoy have a cost and that cost is the horrendous working conditions of Walmart employees.
Walmart’s unfair treatment of its employees is legendary: poverty wages; insufficient hours, most employees are not full-time even though many stores are understaffed; no overtime pay; inadequate or no health insurance; and no holiday pay despite the fact that stores are forcing their employees to work from 7:00pm on Thanksgiving to 4:00am on Friday and then return to work at 7:00am.
Walmart has been sued in the past for forcing employees to work off the clock and other wage-theft activities and their virulent anti-unionism has resulted in law suits for unfair labor practices.
Walmart has been brilliant in the art of socializing their costs and privatizing their profits. By paying their employees poverty level wages Walmart gets the public to subsidize a major part of their business expenses. The average salary for a Wal-Mart employee is less than $9.00 an hour. Even at $9.00 and a forty-hour work week - and almost no one gets forty hours - that would come to an annual salary of $18,700 which is $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of four. Whenever a Walmart employee uses food-stamps to feed his or her family, or puts their children on Medicaid or uses the emergency room for lack of health insurance the American public pays the bill in higher taxes. With 1.4 million workers the Walmart tax bill is in the billions of dollars.
Walmart‘s success as a standard setter for low-wage employers feeds one of our country’s long term economic structural problem: the growing inequality of income and wealth and the resulting increase in poverty. And a new study shows that Illinois now ranks fourth among states in the growth of income inequality. This should be of particular concern to residents of Will County where the fastest growing work-force is warehouse workers whose working conditions, as the recent strike against the Walmart warehouse in Elwood exposed, are even worse than those of Walmart retail employees. Communities in and around Will County cannot prosper if its fastest growing work force makes less than a subsistence wage. This is an intolerable situation and cannot continue.
Walmart‘s business plan has made Walmart one of the most successful businesses in the world and made the Walton family fabulously rich. But their business and financial success has come at an appalling cost to their employees and to society in general.
This coming Friday, Warehouse Workers for Justice and their supporters will gather at Sacred Heart Church, 329 S. Ottawa St., Joliet at 8:00am and then caravan to a Walmart somewhere in Will County to show support for all striking and non-striking Walmart workers across the country.
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