This Black Friday, Fight Back Against “Always Low Wages” at Walmart and Other Big Box Stores

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

I spent a large part of my childhood in Arkansas, a state that is known primarily for two things – being the former home state of President Bill Clinton, and being the birthplace of the big-box behemoth Walmart.  Walmart started as one store in the northwest corner of Arkansas in 1962.  When I was a child in the 1980s it was still a regional business that had barely been heard of outside of the South.  But in the 1990s, Walmart spread like wildfire throughout the country, so that there are now more than 4,200 Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs in the US.  (Click here for a fascinating animated gif tracking the opening of every Walmart in the US between 1962 and 2010).  And the rise of Walmart helped pave the way for the proliferation of other big box stores such as Target, Home Depot, and Lowes.

These big box stores work on the straightforward business model of destroying their competition by doing everything they can to keep prices as low as possible. Characteristics like providing good customer service, selling quality products that last, and treating one’s workers well are all sacrificed at these big box stores in the name of trying to drive prices down.  And while the proliferation of this strategy may have helped increased access to basic products for people living in or near poverty, the impact of the spread of big box stores on wages, economic inequality, local economies, the environment, and society as a whole has been disastrous.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has compiled a lengthy list of studies documenting the deleterious impact that Walmart and other big box stores drive wages and benefits at existing stores in a community down, reduce overall employment and put local stores out of business, and increase poverty rates. One of the most shocking statistic from these studies is that wages and benefits are so low at Walmart that the company’s 1.4 million US employees collect nearly $2.66 billion in public assistance (primarily food stamps and Medicaid).  This from a company that, in fiscal year 2011, had $447 billion in sales and $15.7 billion in profits, and that is owned by a family – the Waltons – that had a net worth of $89.5 billion in 2010, which is the same amount of wealth as is held by the bottom 41.5% of all Americans combined. And one way they’ve managed to amass such wealth and corporate profit while keeping wages and benefits low is by aggressively, and allegedly illegally, working to keep employees from unionizing. As a result, not a single Walmart store in the US is unionized, and most other big box stores in the US are similarly non-union.

The good news is that big box stores do not have to be this way.  For example, a recently released study from the non-partisan public policy organization Demos found that big box retailers could raise their wage floor to $25,000 per employee without significantly raising prices or impacting profits.  Such a wage standard would raise more than 700,000 people out of poverty, create at least 100,000 new jobs, and increased gross domestic product by at least $11.8 billion.  Other studies have found similar results. And retailers such as Costco have shown that they can be more than competitive while providing higher wages and benefits.  For example, in 2006, Costco paid approximately 72% more on average than Sam’s Club did, while providing health insurance to 82% of its employees and retirement plans to 91%.  But Costco remained competitive in part because, by treating its workers better, it had far lower employee turnover and higher worker productivity.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday” because it is the biggest retail day of the year, provides a great opportunity for all of us to help improves the wages, benefits, and lives of people who work in big box stores by supporting the strikes that Walmart employees have planned for that day.  Labor unrest at Walmart has escalated significantly since this past September, when workers at Walmart warehouses in California and Illinois walked off the job to protest poor working conditions and low wages.  These worker actions were then followed by a growing number of strikes by Walmart associates at stores in Miami, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, and numerous other cities throughout the country.  To continue pushing for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, Walmart employees and their allies are planning as many as 1,000 actions in stores throughout the country and online on Black Friday.

Let’s help make sure the message of fair wages, benefits, and working conditions for employees of Walmart and other big box stores gets through by taking action on Black Friday and staying involved thereafter.  Here are some steps you can take to help:

* Join one of the many planned protests throughout the country by searching for one near you at this website

* Help support a big box employee by donating to a fund to provide $50 grocery gift cards to people who are striking

* Support the organization Making Change at Walmart or, if you are a Walmart employee, join OUR Walmart

* Support local businesses or stores such as Costco that are known to treat their employees well

* Spread the word by writing a letter to your local newspaper editor in favor of fairer wages, benefits, and working conditions at big box stores, and by sharing the video below of Walmart employees explaining why they are standing up for better treatment


Take Action to Support American Jobs

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

(By Asimo727)

American workers need your support. Congress and the states are considering several bills and other initiatives that would help our economy and our workers. Here are just a few:

1. “Buy American” Bill: This would require government agencies to purchase goods and services from American companies.

2. American Jobs Act: Decreases taxes on working poor. Creates work through the improvement and upgrading of public infrastructure, and by allocating funds to hire or save local jobs for teachers, firefighters, and police. Fully funded by closing corporate loopholes.

3. Regional purchasing preference ordinances: Local governments and municipalities would have to give preference to small businesses regionally before they go out of area to pay for goods and services or public work projects. Keeps tax money local and supports your local economy/small businesses. If your local government is considering such a move, support it. If not, suggest it.

4. Fair Trade agreements: Level the playing field for American workers and stop the race to the bottom. End NAFTA/CAFTA.

5. Employee Free Choice Act, Second Bill of Rights: Improve workers’ ability to organize and collectively bargain, Increase penalties to corporations who suppress or deny workers rights. Implement a corporate death penalty for corporations whose actions kill workers and for corporations who bankrupt and or steal from citizens.

6. Close corporate tax loopholes: This can happen at both the state and federal levels.

7. Buy American whenever possible and from a union shop when available.

8. Civilian Conservation Corps: Creates jobs to rebuild our aging infrastructure.

Please call or write to your federal, state, and local leaders to support these bills.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (

President Obama Showing Some Fight in the 313

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

President Obama yesterday traveled to Detroit (sometimes referred to as ”The 313″ after the area code for the city) to give a Labor Day speech that also served as a preview of Thursday’s announcement of the President’s new agenda for promoting job growth.  Yesterday’s speech was music to the ears of folks looking for President Obama to be aggressive in standing up for progressive values and fighting back against the GOP, as the President presented a strong defense of workers’ right to organize and made clear that he intends to call the GOP’s bluff when they fail to put country before party in the upcoming jobs fight. 

The President started with a recognition of everything that unions have done to build America’s middle class:

I also want to talk about the work you’ve been doing for decades:  Work to make sure that folks get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.  Work to make sure that families get a fair shake.  The work you’ve done that helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known. I’m talking about the work that got us a 40-hour workweek and weekends, and paid leave and pensions, and the minimum wage and health insurance, and Social Security and  Medicare — the cornerstones of middle-class security.  That’s because of your work. 

If you want to know who helped lay these cornerstones of an American middle class you just have to look for the union label.

That’s the bedrock this country is built on.  Hard work.  Responsibility.  Sacrifice.  Looking out for one another.  Giving everybody a shot, everybody a chance to share in America’s prosperity, from the factory floor to the boardroom.  That’s what unions are all about.

  Next, the President highlighted the work that his Administration did to successfully rescue the US auto industry:

And here’s what else we said, Detroit.  We said that American autoworkers could once again build the best cars in the world.  So we stood by the auto industry.  And we made some tough choices that were necessary to make it succeed.  And now, the Big Three are turning a profit and hiring new workers, and building the best cars in the world right here in Detroit, right here in the Midwest, right here in the United States of America. 

President Obama then provided a preview of his upcoming jobs agenda, identifying infrastructure investments and an extension of the payroll tax cut as core elements of that agenda:

We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding.  We’ve got private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the building.  We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now.  There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it.  Labor is on board.  Business is on board.  We just need Congress to get on board.  Let’s put America back to work. 

Last year, we worked together, Republicans and Democrats, to pass a payroll tax cut.  And because of that, this year the average family has an extra $1,000 in their pocket because of it.   But that’s going to expire in a few months if we don’t come together to extend it.  And I think putting money back in the pockets of working families is the best way to get demand rising, because that then means business is hiring, and that means the government — that means that the economy is growing. 

Our President then made clear that while he would like to work with folks on both sides of the aisle to promote job growth, he is not going to wait around for the GOP or put up with them distracting the discussion with manufactured crises or petty games:

So I’m going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems.  And given the urgency of this moment, given the hardship that many people are facing, folks have got to get together.

But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress.  We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.  We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, do you want to create jobs?  Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed?  Open up new markets for them to sell their products.  You want — you say you’re the party of tax cuts?  Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans.  Show us what you got. 

The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now.  No more manufactured crises.  No more games.  Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs. 

President Obama then harkened back to President Harry Truman and vowed to fight for collective bargaining rights for as long as he is in office:

What was true back in 1948 is true in 2011.  When working families are doing well, when they’re getting a decent wage and they’re getting decent benefits, that means they’re good customers for businesses. That means they can buy the cars that you build. That means that you can buy the food from the farmers.  That means you can buy from Silicon Valley.  You are creating prosperity when you share in prosperity. 

So when I hear some of these folks trying to take collective bargaining rights away, trying to pass so-called “right to work” laws for private sector workers that really mean the right to work for less and less and less — when I hear some of this talk I know this is not about economics.  This is about politics.

And I want everybody here to know, as long as I’m in the White House I’m going to stand up for collective bargaining

Winning Progressive hopes that yesterday’s speech was just a preview of the fighting spirit that President Obama will bring to the jobs agenda this fall and through next year.  But the President cannot do this alone.  Instead, we progressives all need to help echo the President’s message by writing letters to our local newspaper editor and calling our Congresspeople in support of a pro-jobs, pro-labor agenda that invests in infrastructure and protects workers’ right to collectively bargain.

The Fighting Spirit on Labor Day and Beyond

Monday, September 5th, 2011

2011 has, admittedly, been a hard time for progressives.   After a series of significant progressive victories during the first two years of the Obama Administration, over the past year the economic recovery has largely stalled and unemployment remains far too high.  Whatever jobs are being created are providing lower wages and fewer benefits than before the Bush Recession.  Republicans have used their takeover of the House to prevent any action to achieve economic recovery, and pushed the country to the brink of default in order to obtain cuts in programs that benefit the middle class, working class, and poor.  Economic inequality continues to be at the highest level since the New Deal, the middle class continues to struggle, and new GOP Governors in various states have launched a broad scale attack on the rights of workers to negotiation over wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Despite all of this bad news, there is hope, as the past year has also seen a renewed vigor in organized labor and the rest of the progressive community.  In Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and other states, labor and their allies have mobilized and fought back against the reactionary agendas of those states’ GOP Governors.  That work has led to some significant successes with reactionary state legislators being recalled and the approval ratings for those GOP Governors plummeting.  And, as the weeks of rallies attended by tens of thousands of people in Madison, Columbus, Lansing, and numerous other cities throughout the country have shown, a progressive movement is awakening in order to fight back against the conservative policies that are causing so much economic pain and in favor of the progressive policies that can  rescue our economy, fiscal balance, and country.

The above video from the United Steelworkers provides an inspiring rallying cry for labor and the rest of the progressive movement as it reminds us that we’ve had to fight to win and protect every progressive victory that we have achieved over the past hundred years.  As the video shows, labor and others are already mobilizing to engage the battle again.  Let’s make sure we all join them by calling our elected officials, writing letters to the editor, and volunteering for political campaigns in support of creating jobs, protecting the right to organize, making the wealthy pay their fair share again, and protecting Social Security, Medicare, and the social safety net.

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

For this weekend’s reading list, we have an article about the link between the decline of labor unions and increase in economic inequality, discussions about how progressives need to be more effective in recognizing who their political friends and enemies are even when their friends have to make compromises, and a status report on the Supreme Court over the next couple of years.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next weekend’s reading list, please let us know at Winning Progressive’s Facebook page

Labor’s Decline and Wage Inequality - an article about a new study documenting the connection between the decline of private sector labor unions and the increase in economic inequality in America

On Peter Daou’s Analysis – a blog post from Booman Tribune about how we progressive activists need to be more effective in advocating our positions even while understanding the political limits faced by President Obama and Democrats in Congress.  In a similar vein, we’d also recommend Booman’s post Know Your Enemies.

Getting Tough is Harder Than It Looks – a blog post from Kevin Drum about how President Obama’s compromising approach, while frustrating for we progressives, has gotten far more achieved than a more aggressively partisan approach would have.   

The Supreme Court’s Painful Season – an overview of the series of high profile issues that the Supreme Court will hear over the next couple of years, and a description of how Justices Sotomayor and Kagan are becoming an effective progressive duo on the Court.

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

For this weekend’s reading list, we have articles on the courageousness of the House Progressive Caucus budget proposal, the importance of the moral vision set forth in President Obama’s recent budget speech, why we should rename Earth Day, how charter schools unload the students with the most needs onto public schools, and new aggressive enforcement of our nation’s labor laws.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next week’s reading list, please let us know at the Winning Progressive Facebook page.

The Courageous Progressive Caucus Budget – the Economist’s Democracy in America blog notes that the House Progressive Caucus’s budget proposal – which eliminates the deficit by 2021 with military spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy, is the truly courageous budget proposal.

Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully! - George Lakoff praises President Obama’s focus on explaining the moral vision behind progressivism in his recent The Country We Believe In speech on the budget.

Let’s Rename Earth Day – A somewhat humorous suggestion at Climate Progress that we rename Earth Day to something that better reflects the fact that environmentalism is about protecting the ability of the planet to sustain human life, not just about protecting the Earth.

Stacking the Odds in Favor of Charter Schools – a story from Ben Joravsky at the Chicago Reader about how it is unfair to compare the performance of charter schools to neighborhood public schools because the charter schools unload the students with the most needs and problems onto the public schools.

Labor Case Board Against Boeing Points to Fights to Come – a NYT article about how Lafe Solomon, the acting general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, is aggressively enforcing our nation’s labor laws, which are supposed to protect worker’s rights to collectively bargain over their wages, benefits, and working conditions.