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Walmart raises minimum pay again, while Sam’s Club closes many stores

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There are the Walmart-related headlines Walmart wants you to read, the headlines Donald Trump wants you to read and the headlines neither Walmart nor Trump want you to read. Walmart wants you to read the good news: it’s raising its minimum wage from $9-10 to $11 an hour, and expanding paid parental leave benefits. Donald Trump wants you to read that the company is giving credit for that move to the recent Republican corporate tax cuts. Neither of them wants you to think much about the years-long worker organizing campaign to demand improved wages and benefits, and they definitely don’t want you to think about the news that also just came out that Sam’s Club, the Walmart warehouse chain, is closing dozens of stores, if not more.

At least 63 Sam’s Club stores¬†are closing, with some having closed Thursday without notice to workers. That‚Äôs the number the company is giving out, but CBS News says it¬†may be much higher‚ÄĒup to 260 stores. With an estimated 175 workers per store, on average, that means that around 11,000 to as many as 45,000 people could be out of work. At the same time as Walmart says its raises are all about those tax cuts, mind you.

Now, about those Walmart raises and benefits. It’s great that the company is raising its minimum wage to $11. But isn’t it interesting that this is the third recent company-wide minimum pay raise in recent years, and yet we’re supposed to believe that it’s all about the Republican tax law?

‚ÄúWalmart has made similar announcements in the recent past‚Ķ even when no tax reform could have affected its decision,‚ÄĚ said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution.

The new Walmart employee wage increase follows two earlier pay hikes the retailer implemented in 2015 and 2016 that raised hourly worker pay to $9 and $10 an hour, respectively. (Today, new hires start at $9 and move up to $10 after completing a training course.)

Workers already making $11 an hour will get bonuses based on how long they’ve been working at Walmart. Full-time hourly workers will also become eligible for 10 weeks of paid maternity leave and six weeks of paid parental leave, up from a shorter period of partially paid maternity leave and zero parental leave. But the fact that this only applies to full-time workers means that Walmart’s large part-time workforce is left out. And workers have been pressing hard for these changes.

In December, 2017, Mary Pat Tifft, a Walmart associate, with support from PL+US and Zevin Asset Management, filed a shareholder resolution calling on the company to address the discrepancies in their Paid Leave Policy.  In June 2017, OUR Walmart and their supporters delivered over 100,000 signatures to Walmart Headquarters last year calling for the change to Walmart’s Paid Leave Policy.  The changes directly address the issues OUR Walmart, PL+US and others have raised: adding paternity coverage, adoptive parent benefits and parity with the policy provided to Walmart executives. While impactful for full time associates, Walmart has a high percentage of part-time employees who will not be covered by this new policy.

Walmart associate and OUR Walmart leader Carolyn Davis spoke at Walmart‚Äôs 2017 annual shareholder meeting said: ‚ÄúInvesting in associates means that new parents at Walmart are allowed time to bond with our children. ¬†Walmart‚Äôs female executives receive 10 weeks of paid family leave. Let‚Äôs do the same for hourly associates – women and men‚ÄĚ.

‚ÄúThe change in policy to 10 weeks paid maternity leave to match what Walmart executives were getting is exactly what OUR Walmart and our Respect the Bump campaign has been calling for. I just had a baby, if I had 10 weeks of paid leave it would have made all the difference in the world. Instead, I had to postpone paying for car insurance and had to leave my newborn and get back to work before I was ready. ¬†This new policy will make sure that full-time associates like me won‚Äôt have that do that, but it leaves part-time associates behind,‚ÄĚ explained Walmart associate Liz Loudermilk from Seneca, SC.

Yeah, Walmart is getting a fat tax cut from Republicans. But that didn’t save Sam’s Club workers, and this isn’t the first time in the past few years Walmart has given its lowest-paid workers a raise. And the workers pressing the company to do better not just on wages but on parental leave clearly helped shape its new policy on that front, even if the company didn’t go all the way.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on January 11, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

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Hey, Walmart, Want to Fix Those Sales Problems? Why Not Invest in Workers?

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Kenneth Quinnell
Kenneth Quinnell

An internal memo, recently leaked by a Walmart manager, urged store managers to improve lagging sales, primarily through addressing problems with understocked shelves and with keeping fresh meat, dairy and produce stocked and aging or expired items off the shelves. Such complaints are widespread at Walmart stores and are likely a significant factor in the company’s sales, which have lagged for 18 months. While the memo catalogs problems the company faces, it ignores the two most obvious solutions‚ÄĒgiving workers adequate hours and paying those workers the $15 living wage they’ve been calling for.

Janet Sparks, a member of the OUR Walmart campaign seeking to improve wages and working conditions, said that substantial staffing cuts that began in 2010 are a big part of the problem: ‚ÄúUnderstaffing, from the sales floor to the front end, has greatly affected the store.‚ÄĚ

Retail consultant Burt P. Flickinger III echoed Sparks’ comments:

“Labor hours have been cut so thin, that they don‚Äôt have the people to do many activities. The fact that they don‚Äôt do some of these things every day, every shift, shows what a complete breakdown Walmart has in staffing and training.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on November 13, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Hey-Walmart-Want-to-Fix-Those-Sales-Problems-Why-Not-Invest-in-Workers

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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Kentucky Couple’s ‚ÄėRide for Respect‚Äô at Walmart

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berry craigJames and Trina Vetato knew about the freedom riders from history books.

This week, the Paducah, Ky., couple expects to join a¬†civil rights movement-style¬†protest against the¬†world’s largest retailer. The Vetatos are activists in the employees‚Äô group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or¬†OUR Walmart¬†for short. Trina currently works at a Walmart store and James is a former Walmart employee.

Called the ‚ÄúRide for Respect,‚ÄĚ the¬†demonstration at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., will be modeled on civil rights volunteers who rode buses into the South in the 1960s to protest Jim Crow racial injustice, says James Vetato.

Busloads of OUR Walmart members will converge on Bentonville from across the country. They will be in town for the annual shareholders‚Äô meeting June 7. Vetato¬†says he expects¬†300 or more OUR Walmart members to¬†begin arriving the week before the meeting. Most of the protesters‚ÄĒincluding Trina Vetato‚ÄĒwill be taking part in an unfair labor practice strike, says her husband.

The protest will go on¬†the whole week before the meeting. We especially want to draw national attention to¬†Walmart management’s threats and retaliation against workers who speak up for better pay, more hours and respect on the job.

Vetato worked at his wife’s store in Paducah. When he stood up for his rights, he says:

I was threatened and intimidated by management who made my life so miserable I finally quit.

Our Walmart wants better pay, benefits and working conditions. ‚ÄúLike the freedom riders, we will be standing up for¬†dignity and respect and justice and¬†will be protesting peacefully,” Vetato says.

OUR Walmart isn’t a union, but the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is helping the group, says Vetato.

Some¬†other unions¬†are in¬†OUR Walmart’s corner, too.¬†The¬†Paducah-based¬†Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council¬†unanimously passed a¬†resolution¬†expressing its solidarity with the workers‚Äô struggle at Walmart.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on June 2, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is the recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.  He is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.

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“Wal-Mart is Not a Feudal Manor”

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The manager at the Southside Walmart in¬†Paducah,¬†Ky., might have figured he’d quashed the protest at his store.

After all, he made James Vetato and three other OUR Walmart picketers leave from near the front door.

The quartet retreated, but to regroup at the entrance road to the busy shopping center the Walmart store anchors.

They redeployed under a big blue and white Walmart sign¬†and held up¬†hand-lettered placards reading, “ON STRIKE FOR THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT,” “RESPECT¬†ASSOCIATES¬†DON‚ÄôT SILENCE ASSOCIATES,” “ULP¬†[unfair labor practice]¬†STRIKE” and “WALMART¬†STOP¬†BULLYING ASSOCIATES WHO¬†SPEAK¬†OUT.”

Vetato, his wife, Trina, Rick Thompson and Amber Frazee were among¬†many¬†members of Organization United For Respect at Walmart — “OUR Walmart”¬†for short —¬†who struck and walked picket lines at¬†stores in¬†a reported¬†100¬†cities and towns in 46 states¬†on Thanksgiving¬†night and on¬†Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

The group, which¬†numbers¬†thousands of current and past Walmart employees¬†across the country,¬†wanted to focus national attention on¬†Walmart’s abuse of¬†its workers,¬†Vetato¬†said.

The world’s richest retailer, Walmart is known¬†for paying low wages to its employees, called “associates.”¬†In addition,¬†Walmart is¬†fiercely anti-union.

Said Trina Vetato:

“People honked¬†and waved to show their support,¬†and¬†they slowed down to read the signs. Some people stopped and told us they supported what we were doing.”

Vetato works at the Southside store. Her husband did, too, until he said management drove him to quit.

Frazee is employed at another Walmart in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. She and Vetato expect retaliation from Walmart management.

“They said that there will be consequences,”¬†Vetato said. “I‚Äôll probably get fired or put on suspension or something. But it‚Äôs well worth it to me.”

Frazee agreed. “All we want is respect,” she said.

The¬†Vetatos, Frazee and Thompson handed out leaflets explaining, “We are the life-blood of Walmart, yet we are not always treated with respect.”

Some of the¬†literature¬†outlined a “Declaration of Respect,” which nearly 100 OUR Walmart members, including James Vetato,¬†delivered¬†to Walmart’s top¬†management at¬†company headquarters in¬†Bentonville, Ark.

The declaration calls on Wal-Mart management to

—¬†Listen to associates.

—¬†Respect¬†associates¬†and recognize their right to free association and free speech.

— Allow¬†associates¬†to¬†challenge¬†working conditions without fear of retribution.

— Pay a minimum of $13 an hour and¬†make¬†full-time jobs¬†available¬†for¬†associates¬†who want them.

— Create dependable and predictable work schedules.

— Provide affordable health care.

— Furnish each¬†associate¬†a policy manual that ensures “equal enforcement of policy and no discrimination” and affords¬†every employee¬†an “equal opportunity to succeed and advance in his or her career.”

The four Paducah protestors brought a cardboard box filled with OUR Walmart literature. They said management tried to keep it out of the store. Shoppers helped get it in.

“On Thanksgiving night, a community member took one of the fliers and taped it to the front of his shirt and walked through the store to get the word out to everybody,” Trina Vetato said.

Thompson, a Pittsburgh union activist, came to Paducah to join the picket line. When a member of management tried to stop him from handing out leaflets, another customer came to his aid.

Explained Thompson, a member of Vacaville, Calif.-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245:

“The manager started bullying me for peacefully disseminating information, which I had the right to do. When the customer¬†saw the manager walk away, she said ‘Give me a stack of those. I’ll take them in for you and pass them out.'”

Thompson said OUR Walmart is not trying to drive¬†Walmart out of business. “We are not asking a single customer to turn away. We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.

“We want employees to have a chance to form their own association¬†and¬†have their own concerted actions¬†without retaliation and unfair treatment.¬†Walmart is not a feudal manor. The associates are not serfs. Walmart does not own every aspect of their lives.”

This post was originally posted on November 24, 2012 at Union Review. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. His articles can also be featured on AFL-CIO NOW.

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