Walmart: Always Low Salaries? Yep, Still Pretty Much Always.

When you think about Walmart and the deep dark cave of crazy that is Black Friday, you can’t help but recall mayhem and violence—mobs rushing the store in the middle of the night, fighting one another for toys and video game consoles, even pulling knives or guns.  Over the last ten years, it’s become a strange and terrible part of the day, so much so in fact that this year Walmart has foregone a one-day “Black Friday” sale in favor of a five-day event.

What you probably don’t think about when you think about Walmart and Black Friday is the employees who are forced to leave their own Thanksgivings early (or this year are forced to work through Thanksgiving) to deal with our collective bouts of insanity.

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But this year, they might not be so easy to ignore. In Los Angeles yesterday, employees at two stores staged the first-ever sit-in of a Walmart. With tape over their mouths to protest Walmart’s history of retaliating against any employee who speaks out in favor of higher salaries or unionization, these employees sat for hours near registers and racks, holding signs asking for a living wage and for 40 hour work weeks, while hundreds of others outside chanted “Stand Up, Live Better.” The event was promised as a prelude to Black Friday, when employees at dozens of stores around the United States (listed here) will protest if Walmart does not act.

Protests like these have been happening more and more over the last five years. And the reasons are hard to refute: Walmart claims profits of $16 billion and its owners the Waltons are the richest family in America; but more than half of its 1 million plus store employees make less than $25,000 a year – and its part-time employees (who constitute almost half of its work force) far less. The company is notoriously stingy not only about salary but about hours; when the company announced in October that many of its employees would be asked to work Thanksgiving Day, it assured them that they’d be paid extra. But employees noted that last year, those who worked the holiday had shifts cut from earlier in the month, reducing or erasing any extra pay.

Just this week the New York Times ran an article about a recent report from within Walmart, citing the general mess and lack of adequate stocking of shelves at many stores. The report attributes the problem in part to a lack of employees; yet one assistant manager told the Times he was not being allowed to hire more staff. And the report also pushed managers not to increase employees’ hours or generate overtime.

Though to date the employees from 2,100 stores are calling for changes, and last Black Friday there were actually 1,500 protests, the press by and large seems uninterested in the story. Most TV and newspaper stories about the protests last night spent more timesaying peoplehad been arrested than it did saying anything about why. The Los Angeles Times reported that according to “authorities” the protest was “part of nationwide efforts to organize the retailer’s employees.” But who those authorities were – members of the OUR Walmart employee group? or administrators and flacks from Walmart itself? – went unsaid.

As the holidays descend, it’s easy to become wrapped up in our own needs and pressures. In fact it’s often a necessary coping mechanism. But these protests are an important reminder that all those “deals” we’re wrestling over are coming at the expense of others just like us.

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ed gleason
3 years 11 months ago
I say not always..The National job growth, while extremely slow, has edged up for over 50 straight months. Coming very soon there will be a tipping point when Walmart will have fewer and fewer people willing to work for Walmart's stingy wages. I hope this holiday season we will see this tipping point. Their stock has been flat for a year and a half in a growing stock market. [ and I have lived a long life w/o ever being in their stores... booming San Francisco won't allow one to open... ever[]
Marie Spadaro
3 years 11 months ago
Communicate with Walmart in the only language they understand. Refuse to shop on Thanksgiving (heck, skip the whole weekend), and send an email explaining why. Or, suggest that you will be happy to patronize your local Walmart on Thanksgiving if the Walton family and Walmart board promise to leave their own dinners and work the same schedules as their underpaid employees.
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 11 months ago
Whew. This is another one of those things that I've witnessed in my lifetime. The change from small, locally owned stores to giant super stores (with lower prices). The change from high school graduates being able to find work that paid enough to live on: buy a car, rent (or buy) a house, afford health care. The change from quality merchandise that lasted for years (or a lifetime) to cheap stuff that has to be thrown away or replaced almost seasonally. Walmart is the symbol of this change in my mind. I have probably been in a Walmart store less than 5 times. But I realize that it is a major source of employment for many people. It is also a place where you can get a cartload of junk for not a great amount of money. Junk that has been made in another part of the world by slave labor. I don't know what the answer is. For my part, I'm learning to not buy anything that I don't absolutely need. I don't have to go to Walmart. Does my not partaking in this weird "economy" deprive others of jobs? I would rather spread around the little cash I have to pay the man who trims my trees than by buying more stuff that I don't need. But he probably shops at Walmart. Perhaps Obama has made some subtle change that may shift this strange economic downturn for Americans. Elizabeth Warren certainly talks the talk, but can she do anything? Something tells me that there is a deeper systemic flaw that is carrying us to a very dark time and that systemic flaw can only be addressed by a fundamental change of heart. Pope Francis gets it.
William Atkinson
3 years 11 months ago
When you look at wages and benefits in America, everything is askewed due to extreme highly paid CEO's, Executives and Union workers; but looking at world wages in stores like Walmart, wages are higher than average. What needs to be done in America is fair taxes applied to all, that will bring wages down to levels more like what is a good medium. Last year Bill Gates, Mitt Romney's estates earned billions, but both paid very few taxes on these earnings. If Bill Gates earned 15 billion and paid 10% (1.5 billion) in taxes, well wages for Walmart employees, who pay 35% of income in taxes would make their income greater as their taxes would only be 10%.
John Walton
3 years 11 months ago
shhh, don't tell anyone....if you start working at Walmart in your 20's there's a very high probability that you will retire with over a million bucks in your 401k. Walmart has one of the most generous employee stock ownership plans in America. If memory serves correctly, Walmart has made more millionaires out of middle class and low income folk than Microsoft. Same is true of Costco.
Harry Childers
3 years 11 months ago
Please add -sarcasm- to any posts like this.
MICHAEL BRINKMAN
3 years 11 months ago
Oh, really? Can you site examples of employees other than those related to Sam Walton who upon retirement had over a $million in their 401k? And as for your statement beginning with, "If memory serves correctly...." I ask you, is it your memory of what some either biased or uniformed person told you--or that you overheard--that "Walmart has made more millionaires out of the middle class and low income folk than Microsoft. Same is true of Cosco."? But did you consider the fact that the "middle class and low income folk" that Walmat may have helped to become millionaires are the suppliers of merchandise and services rather than those who are the typical employee at Walmart? And that many--if not most--of those who have been enriched by Walmart's purchases live in China? Summarily, I think you need to learn more factual information and keep an open mind before you draw your conclusions and statements about serious issues.
John Walton
3 years 10 months ago
I stand by my statements. I've been analyzing companies for over 40 years, and for a reasonable amount of that time bossed around people who were charged with the same. Brer Bear, this is my briar patch. Why such contempt for the Chinese? If you pluck their beard they don't say ouch?
Robert Hugelmeyer
3 years 11 months ago
If this Democrat administration in Washington changed its failed economic policies and lowered taxes the demand for workers would rise resulting in higher wages.
Harry Childers
3 years 11 months ago
Sorry, Walmart wages have been like this through good times and bad, Democrat and Republican.
MICHAEL BRINKMAN
3 years 11 months ago
Your attack on this Democratic administration's so-called failed economic policy, i.e., by not lowering taxes, as a reason for Walmart's low wages is entirely flawed. Obviously, you have not taken into account the historical fact of Walmart's policy of hiring the vast number of its workers at the lowest wage possible. So your blaming President Obama for this situation is entirely uncalled for.
Barbara Fox
3 years 11 months ago
My problem with Walmart pertains to the environment and building practices. I have seen more than once when Walmart has taken over a large tract of land sometimes within a mile of another Walmart and has literally killed the small businesses that formerly thrived there. Not having the billions that Walmart has, the entrepreneurs are unable to set up their business in another location. Does Walmart really need all that space that 2/3rd of the time is unused? They are environmental resource hogs without boundaries.
John Walton
3 years 10 months ago
Truck drivers for WalMart make, on average, $76,000 per year. They are home at least once week, have the highest safety rating in the industry, get to participate in the 401k, stock purchase plan, and, of course, get a discount card for purchases at WalMart and Sam's Club. Tell that to your average driver for even great trucking companies like JB Hunt and Schneider. That WalMart driver is making more than the pilot flying you on a regional jet. WalMart employs close to 1.5mm people. Of these roughly 6,000 are minimum wage entry level jobs.

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