EspañolWalmart workers and labor groups are planning to protest at more than 2,000 stores on Black Friday to demand higher wages and better working conditions. Black Friday is the day most retailers expect to go from losing money — being “in the red” — to getting back “into the black” and turning a profit, and is largely considered the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States.
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is coordinating the demonstrations, as it has in years past, to demand workers be paid at least US$15 per hour and be given greater opportunity for full-time work. The group says Walmart’s yearly profits total over $16 billion and should allow the company to provide better wages for its employees.
“Walmart can afford to pay us more, but instead, they manipulate our schedules and hours and pay most of us less than $25,000 a year. That’s not enough for us to pay our bills,” says the campaign website.
While Walmart executives claim the average hourly wage for a store employee is $12.78 an hour, OUR Walmart says wages generally range between $8 and $10 per hour. “[The] wage rate does not take into account part-time average wage, which is up to 49 percent of the company’s workforce,” claims the labor group. The federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 an hour.
— AFL-CIO (@AFLCIO) November 16, 2014
The Black Friday protesters launched an online petition, which already gathered over 70,000 signatures, to demand a response from the Walton family, owners of the largest retailer in the world.
“Income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928. Corporate profits are at an all-time high. Meanwhile, wages are at the lowest point since 1948 – even as productivity increases,” says the petition.
Demonstrations began this year on November 13, when roughly 30 Walmart employees carried out a silent sit-in protest at a store in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department later arrested 23 Walmart workers who protested outside a different store location.
— Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt) November 14, 2014
Walmart spokesman Brooke Buchanan said the company does not retaliate against workers who strike or protest for better working conditions. “The reality is that few Walmart associates participate in these labor-organized protests,” she said.
CEO Douglas McMillon said last October that only a minority of Walmart employees earn the minimum wage.
“We only have a few thousand associates in the [United States], less than 6,000 of our 1.3 million associates in the [United States], that currently make a minimum wage, and it is our intention over time that we will be in a situation where we don’t pay minimum wage at all,” explained McMillon.
In 2013, over 22 million people shopped at Walmart during Black Friday, and the company expects an even greater number this year based on price drops in electronics, games, and other products. OUR Walmart claims it disrupted company sales in over 1,200 stores on Black Friday in 2013.
Fast-Food Workers Strike
Earlier this year, fast-food workers protested across the United States and 33 countries around the world in response to social inequality and to demand a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
The protests sprang up amid nationwide debate over income distribution, and a proposal from the Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Republicans in Congress ultimately rejected the proposal.
Goodbye Low Prices
Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University New Orleans, explained to the PanAm Post that those who demand a $15 per hour minimum wage falsely believe salaries are based on employer generosity.
“This is incorrect. The correct theory of wage determination is based upon productivity of the worker,” said Block. “Why is it that a lawyer can earn $500 per hour, an accountant $200 per hour, a plumber $50 per hour, [and] a person who pushes a broom $10 per hour? Is it because of the different amounts of generosity of their employers? No, it involves productivity.”
Block claims increasing the minimum wage will lead to greater unemployment, because employers will not hire workers who are less productive than they are federally mandated to earn.
“Suppose the productivity of a worker is $10 per hour, and the minimum wage is $15 per hour. Any employer who hires him will lose money. The firm will not hire such a person. He will become unemployed. Who gains from the unemployment of relatively low skilled, low productive people? Unions who compete with them. The minimum wage is an unemployment law.”
Best-selling author and investment broker Peter Schiff believes the minimum wage issue has less to do with whether or not the public wants an increase, and more to do with whether it is economically feasible.
“First, say goodbye to everyday low prices! In order to stay in business, Walmart would have to start charging more, not less,” Schiff told the PanAm Post.
“Because of the minimum wage, consumers miss out on the indirect benefits of free labor relations, including lower prices. Without a minimum wage, everyone ends up winning: producers, workers, and consumers,” said Schiff.
“The producer gets higher productivity, which yields a better bottom line. The worker gets a job which gives him money, on-the-job training, and work experience. Finally, the consumer — and we are all consumers — gets to spend less than he otherwise would have for the same goods and services,” he explained.
Translated by Adam Dubove. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.