While presidential candidates are fighting over accurate jobs numbers, Wal-Mart's associates are striving to address income inequality and depraved working conditions.
The first retail worker strike against Wal-Mart has spread from Los Angeles, where it began last week, to stores in a dozen cities, a union official said Tuesday. According to the Huffington Post, Wal-Mart workers walked off the job in Dallas, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay area, Miami, the Washington, D.C., area, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Chicago and Orlando, said Dan Schlademan, director of the United Food and Commercial Workers' Making Change At Wal-Mart campaign. Workers also went on strike in parts of Kentucky, Missouri and Minnesota, he said.
Tuesday's walkouts included 88 workers from 28 stores ... a fraction of the 1.4 million who work at Wal-Mart, the world's largest private employer. Until Friday, when about 60 Wal-Mart employees walked off the job for a day in LA, no Wal-Mart retail workers had ever gone on strike, the union said.
The workers are protesting company attempts to "silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job," according to a United Food and Commercial Workers news release. Walmart workers, who are not unionized, have long complained of low pay and a lack of benefits.
These workers must be heard. Here are 9 reasons why:
1) In under a week, a strike that started out of a Los Angeles warehouse has spread to over 12 cities across the country. Clearly, the workers’ issues of poverty-wages, horrendous working conditions, and unaffordable health care policies are widely and deeply felt. Moreover, they are specific and can be addressed directly with management.
2) 90% of Americans live within 15 minutes of a Wal-Mart. As the walk-outs persist, Wal-Mart associates will be able to educate more customers about their employer’s abusive working conditions. Flyering at a Wal-Mart can potentially have the reach of a major Super PAC ad buy.
3) As the general public engages the strikers, so will the media. As the press investigates, the truth will unfurl. The last time this happened, it was discovered that Wal-Mart de Mexico had allegedly been involved in a bribery campaign to open new stores. This seems like the tip of an iceberg. Who knows what will come out next?
4) As the workers’ issues gain more press, straddling politicians will get off the fence. For example, Bill de Blasio, New York City’s ambitious public advocate eyeing a mayoral bid, launched a website detailing Wal-Marts investments, business practices, and legislative work in state capitols across the country. Check it out here.
5) As the discourse around working conditions and business practices becomes more commonplace, more heart-wrenching stories will surface. There are bound to be issues which appeal to both sides of the aisle. For example, freedom of religion in the workplace. A topic dear to the Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, I would like to hear him reflect on this particular situation.
6) In small numbers and at specific sites, the strikers are winning. Most employees have not seen their issues addressed, and they will be encouraged by their peers to organize at their work site.
7) They are winning because the workers understand Wal-Mart's supply chain economics. Warehouse workers might not have MBAs, but they do understand they are the key player in Wal-Mart’s efficiency low costs.
8) As Wal-Marts low-costs get overshadowed by its distasteful practices, more institutions will divest. Many large pension funds with Wal-Mart stock are awaiting the Walton Family's reaction. Shareholder meetings in Bentonville are bound to get more interesting.
9) India’s workers, standing up in the world’s largest democracy, are following our lead. The more Wal-Mart associates can win in the U.S., the more merchants and laborers will be able to win abroad.