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Despite Huge Earnings, Walmart is Notorious for Low Pay

According to the Fortune Global 500 list, based on revenue, Walmart is the world’s biggest company. With more than 2 million workers, it is also the largest employer.                                                 

But despite its huge earnings, Walmart is notorious for the low wages it pays its workers. In fact, wages are so low, the company counsels its workers on how to apply for government assistance!

Walmart is also infamous for its staunch opposition to unions. The giant retailer closed a brand new store in Canada because the workers there organized a union, and it closed all in-store meat processing soon after meat cutters at a Texas Walmart voted to form a union.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Walmart managers are instructed to call a hotline at the first sign of union activity. A phone call to the hotline prompts a visit by a team from the company’s headquarters to disrupt union organizing.

Walmart’s opposition to unions originated with its founder, Sam Walton, who wrote in his 1992 autobiography, “I have always felt strongly that we don’t need unions at Walmart…. The partnership we have at Walmart – which includes profit sharing, incentive bonuses, discount stock purchase plans, and a genuine effort to involve the associates in the business so we can pull together – works better for both sides than any situation I know of involving unions.”

Can't Afford the Rent

That sounds fine until you realize that at $8-10 an hour, few associates can pay their rent, let alone buy stock. Walmart’s stance on unions is: “At Walmart, we respect the individual rights of our associates and encourage them to express their ideas, comments and concerns. Because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communication, we do not believe there is a need for third party representation.”

There are several problems with this statement. What voice do individual workers actually have? They don’t talk to the policy-makers – not the CEO, the board of directors, or stockholders. At best, they may speak to a store supervisor and hope he or she does the right thing.

Rather than respecting the rights of its employees, the very opposite has been the practice at Walmart. The company has been sued for failing to promote women, requiring associates to work overtime without compensation, firing pro-union workers, and engaging in other labor-law violations. 

By calling their employees “associates,” Walmart hopes to promote the myth that they are business partners rather than an exploited work force. The so-called right to “express their concerns” is bunk. Walmart dismisses workers who speak out for better wages and working conditions.

Finally, the suggestion that the union is a third party is false. Unions are organized, empowered, and run by workers.

Walmart – and many other companies – try to convince working people that they don’t need to be organized in a union to promote their own interests. But those same companies are organized as corporations to earn profits for their stockholders. They understand the necessity of being organized to promote their interests.

Not Fooled

Recent job actions by Walmart “associates” make it clear that not everyone has been fooled by the corporate message.

In November, Walmart workers staged a sit-down strike at a Walmart store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. The striking workers sat on the floor near registers and racks, with tape over their mouths. The tape signified the company’s illegal efforts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs.

Even as the mega-retailer brings in $16 billion in annual profits and the Walton family builds on their $150 billion in wealth, the majority of Walmart workers are paid less than $25,000 a year. “I’m sitting down on strike today to protest Walmart’s illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can’t continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work that workers are raising across the country,” said Kiana Howard, a Walmart striker.

“Walmart and the Waltons are making billions of dollars from our work while paying most of us less than $25,000 a year,” Howard continued. “We know that Walmart and the Waltons can afford fair pay, and we know that we have the right to speak out about it without the company threatening the little that we do have.”  

The Walmart workers are fighting back for a living wage. We urge postal workers to support them and participate in local protests.