The Walmart Threat
Walmart threatens the wages, health-care, benefits, and livelihoods of workers across the country and around the world. Whether you work or shop at Walmart, the giant retailer's employment practices affects your wages. Walmart leads the race to the bottom in wages and health-care. The company's disregard for the law and systematic suppression of the basic democratic rights of workers is undermining fundamental American values.
There is no questioning the company's incredible efficiency and shrewd market sense. The innovative business strategy of Sam Walton has transformed the retail industry. But along the way his successors have lost track of the community and worker focused values on which Walton built his success.
As the largest corporation in the world, Walmart has a responsibility to the people who built it. Walmart jobs offer low pay, inadequate and unaffordable healthcare, and off the clock work. Having a job at Walmart means relying on family, the community, or the government to pay the bills and provide health care. Walmart's growth actually depresses natural wage increases. In areas where Walmart increased its share of the retail food market by 20% or more 1998-2002, cashiers' wages fell 40%-31% below the national average increase.
Walmart's disregard for its workers encourages other employers to do the same. The company pressures its extensive network of vendors to cut labor costs and lower prices every year. The demands force clothing, toy, plumbing, and grocery suppliers to layoff workers, lower wages and benefits, and take their factories overseas or move from one low cost country to another. As one Honduran manufacturer, worried that his business will soon lose out to Chinese factories, told the LA Times, "We're earning less and producing more."
But even in Walmart's shadow, every business must take responsibility for its own choices. In the contract dispute that ended in 2004 in Southern California-- which resulted in 70,000 grocery workers on strike and locked out for four and a half months--three of the most profitable companies in the industry hid behind Walmart while effectively eliminating health care for their employees. Safeway, Kroger, and Albertsons control 61 percent of the grocery market in Southern California and their combined profit rose 91 percent over the five years leading up to the strike; yet, the companies demanded their workers to sacrifice their health to increase those profits even more.
At the heart of this fight is a question of values -- the values of the hard-working, middle class American worker or the underlying greed of the largest company in the world. Every person working hard for a living earns the right to a decent wage, affordable health care and a voice on the job. But Walmart's greed provides other companies a license to chip away at the rights of working America, influencing everything from wages to working conditions. Walmart is transforming America from a secure middle class country to one of extremes: those struggling to survive at the bottom and the rich getting richer at the top.