Last month in Chicago, union and labor representatives joined political and faith-based community leaders in a first of its kind forum to discuss the alleged unfair labor practices and policies of America’s #1 private employer, Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart’s ability to battle back against its critics is the most successful corporate campaign of divide and conquer — laborers against consumers. Hosted by the Illinois State Labor Press Association, proponents of fair employment practices and living wage agreements hope to turn the tide in a public arena. A complete audio capture of the landmark event can be found on-line at http://www.outreachradioonline.com, which was sponsored by Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, LTD.
In addition to the economic damages felt by small businesses forced to close in Wal-Mart’s shadow, this is a labor issue that strikes a chord at the very heart of what binds Chicago’s legendary history – the ability of organized labor efforts to ensure safe working conditions, fairness in promotion opportunities and support of living wages and health benefits for workers.
Reports by virtually every major news organization in recent years has exposed Wal-Mart’s alleged propensity for harsh and hostile work environments, discrimination against African Americans, the disabled, and women (resulting in the nation’s largest class-action law suit involving 1.6 million current and former female workers). Wal-Mart is further accused of “rolling back” decades of hard-won, basic worker rights, and of violating federal labor laws.
In addition to illegally denying breaks and meals, the very whisper of union organization has allegedly brought swift retaliation against workers, and was enough to cause Wal-Mart to close a company-wide meat-cutting division in Texas when ten butchers voted to unionize (Associated Press, 3/03/00; 02/09/05). According to Paul Blank (WakeUpWalMart.com), when a manager at a Wal-Mart sweat shop overseas requested one-cent an hour more for his workers, they were punished by a reduction in wages of two-cents an hour just for asking.
Wal-Mart’s discounts to consumers, however beneficial to the average family during difficult economic times, come at a hefty price tag overall to both regular shoppers, as well as those who rarely see the inside of a store.
Health care benefits are at the very heart of the controversy and represent the true cost of Wal-Mart’s discounts on taxpayers in general. Sixteen states report that Wal-Mart employees top their Medicaid roles, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. 52% of Wal-Mart’s employees survive on public assistance, a percentage that is simply unacceptable.
There are virtually no full-time jobs for the majority of Wal-Mart’s work force. 28 hours per week is considered full-time, thus an employee is eligible for healthcare benefits after six months (vs. the standard probationary period of 90 days for most industries). Part-time employees must wait 2 years for eligibility.
While Wal-Mart cites their average hourly pay as $9.68, the majority of employees are cashiers or sales associates, who earn, on average $7.70 (cashier) and $8.23 (sales associates), resulting in a living wage of $12,000 – $15,000 annually (below the poverty level for a family of 3).
The high cost of employee contributions to the company’s health plan combined with low wages, makes it impossible for workers to afford the $1000 standard deductible. High premiums and policies stacked with surcharges force workers by default to decline the coverage and seek public assistance through Medicaid.
More than ANY OTHER AMERICAN CORPORATION, over 600,000 Wal-Mart employees (half the 1.2 million employed) are without healthcare benefits. As Wal-Mart earned $10 Billion in profits during 2004, the public subsidized the medical care for half of its workforce in exchange for discounted toilet paper, clothing and household appliances.
In contrast, Costco reportedly pays their employees 65% more per hour, yet enjoys higher profits per employee.
Jobs lost to Wal-Mart’s overseas manufacturers are staggering. According to the New York Times (04/17/04), if Wal-Mart were an independent nation, it would be China’s 8th largest trading partner, as 70% of its merchandise contains components now manufactured and imported from China. While Wal-Mart estimates it imports at $15 billion in Chinese goods annually, others estimate that number to be as high as $20 – $30 billion.
November 13-19 marks the beginning of a national consumer campaign against the unfair and discriminatory practices of Wal-Mart, as Small Business Associations, faith-based organizations, women’s groups and labor organizations nationwide join forces to put the face and needs of Wal-Mart’s workforce and the communities burdened by such corporate welfare in the limelight. More information about this effort can be found at http://www.walmartwatch.com.
To hear the entire audio captured during October’s Labor Press Community Forum on Wal-Mart in Chicago, visit Outreach Radio Online at: http://www.outreachradioonline.com
Cliff Horwitz welcomes your comments on this article and can be reached at (800)-985-1819.