Hundreds of Walmart workers, desperate enough to risk retaliation from the retail giant, joined community organizers and labor activists last month to protest Walmart’s poverty-level wages and lack of benefits.
OUR Walmart, the organization that coordinated the protests, estimated that there were 1,000 demonstrations in 46 states over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Basic improvements in pay and benefits for retail employees like those at Walmart would move 1.5 million workers away from poverty, according to a recent study published by the public policy research organization, Demos. Titled “Retail’s Hidden Potential” the study also reports that low wages in the retail sector are stifling economic growth. Better pay for retail workers would add between $4 and $5 billion in sales nationally, stimulating the economy.
Last month’s Black Friday protests were a part of OUR Walmart’s ongoing effort to convince Walmart to show respect for its workers—and for taxpayers. In addition to $13 an hour in minimum pay, affordable healthcare and the right to organize, OUR Walmart wants the retail chain to “ensure that no Associate has to rely on government assistance.”
Less than 45 percent of Walmart’s employees receive employer-sponsored health insurance, forcing many to turn to Medicaid. Studies at the state level show high numbers of Walmart employees relying on taxpayer-sponsored programs like food stamps, free lunch programs and public assistance.
The average retail worker earns $21,000 a year. The median wage for retail cashiers is even less, only $18,840, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer, with 1.4 million American workers. Because of its size, Walmart has the capacity to set the standard for wages and benefits throughout the retail industry.
Walmart currently pays most of its workers little more than minimum wage. It also recently amended its policies to further limit eligibility to its health insurance plan, denying coverage to new employees working fewer than 30 hours per week. Full time workers whose hours slip under 30 per week may also be affected.
“By raising wages and putting more than $4 billion into the hands of its underpaid workers,” the Demos study concludes, “Walmart could have a significant impact on retail employment and the overall economy, while taking the lead as a trailblazer for the industry as a whole.”
Posted December 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm, in Union Matters